Burning one for the road

Ecoterrorists strike in Southern California, and an SUV owners’ group lashes out at environmentalists

  • A contractor walks past a Hummer destroyed by vandals

    SARAH REINGEWIRTZ PHOTO, SAN GABRIEL VALLEY TRIBUNE
 

Occupying nebulous ground between a military Humvee and a limousine, General Motors’ Hummer H2 represents American ingenuity and corporate marketing at its best. The 316-horsepower H2 weighs in at 8,600 pounds, can ford water up to 20 inches deep, and gets somewhere between 8 and 10 miles per gallon. With its $50,000 price tag, it also comes with a 6-disk CD changer and leather seats and is available in colors like “sunset orange metallic.” Popular among “soccer moms,” urban hipsters and celebrities such as Mike Tyson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and rapper Coolio, the Hummer has also become a unifying symbol among environmentalists lobbying both Detroit and Washington, D.C., for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Its cumbersome size and chic status make the Hummer an easy target: Earlier this summer, the Sierra Club launched its “Hummerdinger” Web site, featuring a spoof of GM’s advertisements for the vehicle. Even Arianna Huffington, the Independent gubernatorial candidate in California’s recall election, has taken a stab at the Hummer: On her Web site, she pokes fun at Republican candidate Schwarzenegger and his yellow Hummer.

But in Southern California, radical environmentalists went beyond virtual criticism and took direct action against the gas-guzzlers: At the end of August, vandals swarmed four car dealerships, destroying or damaging more than 100 H2s and SUVs. A West Covina Chevy dealership was hardest hit: Vandals torched about 20 H2s and set fire to a parts warehouse, damaging 20 more H2s and Chevy Tahoes — and causing about $1 million in damage.

Smoke and (rearview) mirrors

Once the smoke cleared, investigators found “terrorist,” “killer,” “gross polluter,” “American Wastefulness” and “ELF” spray-painted across the vehicles. And by the next morning, the Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, had claimed credit for the crimes on its Web site.

The amorphous underground group was spawned by disgruntled activists in 1992, after Earth First! abandoned its “monkey-wrenching” sabotage tactics. Since 1997, ELF has claimed responsibility for more than $100 million in property damage across the nation, including fires at a Vail, Colo., ski area, a Phoenix subdivision and a logging company’s headquarters in Oregon (HCN, 11/9/98: Vail fires outrage community) (HCN, 2/1/99: ELF strikes again).

Despite the high visibility of its actions, ELF, which the FBI considers a domestic terrorist organization, has remained elusive to investigators. Individuals commit “direct action” under guidelines listed on the ELF Web site, then leave graffiti or banners at the scene of the crime, proclaiming solidarity with the ELF cause. Then, the ELF Web site posts press releases, claiming ELF responsibility for the action. In the wake of the Hummer attack, the ELF Web site has been shut down (an FBI spokeswoman says her agency is not responsible).

Road rage

While FBI investigators seek underground criminals, SUV Owners of America (SUVOA) is looking for someone visible to blame. SUVOA, which bills itself as a nonprofit — but which watchdogs call an “industry front group” — has accused the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), as well as Arianna Huffington, of inciting the violence. Rob DeFore, SUVOA’s communications director, says the environmental groups’ campaigns have given “political permission” to groups like ELF to commit crimes.

Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club’s global warming and energy program, says acts of violence undermine the efforts of environmentalists who are working with automakers and Congress to develop more responsible vehicles. Both the Sierra Club and NRDC also condemn SUVOA’s efforts to link them to the vandals. “We and other mainstream environmental organizations advocate tougher fuel efficiency standards,” says Daniel Hinerfeld, spokesman for NRDC. “To try and associate (us) with ELF is nuts.”

The author is an assistant editor for High Country News.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Western Slope Conservation Center Paonia, CO WSCC seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking and a creative problem-solver. Position Summary: The Executive Director leads...
  • ARIZONA STATE DIRECTOR
    A LITTLE ABOUT US Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT/HOSPITALITY SERVICES
    Seasoned ranch manager of award-winning conservation ranch seeking position as nature reserve/resort or ranch manager. Visit philipmoonwalker.com for resume and certifications. Contact: [email protected]
  • PART-TIME OREGON GRANT WRITER
    Help advance rights for people, communities, and nature - Part-time grant writer. The Oregon Community Rights Network (ORCRN) has been active over the last six...
  • UTAH PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Job Title: Utah Public Lands Program Director Location: Southern Utah Position: Full Time (40 hours per week) Supervisor: Conservation Director About us: The Grand Canyon...
  • FSBO PROPERTY-SOUTHEAST ARIZONA
    Located in an area steeped in history, this gentleman's ranch sits at the entrance to the renowned Cave Creek Canyon. Enjoy picturesque views of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • LAND CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    JOIN OUR TEAM! The New Mexico Land Conservancy in Santa Fe is seeking a Land Conservation Project Manager who will work to protect land and...
  • HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NP
    Comfortable home at foot of Boulder Mountain, on one fenced acre. Amazing views!
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • NEW MEXICO PROPERTY - SILVER CITY
    20 acres, $80,000. Owner financing, well, driveway, fencing possible, very private, sensible covenants, broker owned. Contact - 575-534-7955 or [email protected]
  • SECLUDED COLORADO HIDEAWAY
    This passive solar home sits on 2 lots and offers an abundance of privacy and views while being only 15 minutes to downtown Buena Vista....
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.