About ALF > History
Categorizing the ALF/ELF members


A U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., heard defense arguments May 23 before sentencing Stanislas Meyerhoff for his role in a number of attacks against U.S. government and commercial targets in Oregon and Colorado from 1995 to 2001. Meyerhoff, a member of a group called "the Family," pleaded guilty in July 2006 to 62 counts, including arson, attempted arson, conspiracy and destruction of a federal energy facility. The Family conducted many of its attacks in the name of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) or the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

The U.S. government has labeled Family members "domestic terrorists," and because of this is seeking stiffer federal sentences for Meyerhoff and other convicted members of the group. Though some civil liberties, animal rights and environmental organizations say the government's label is unfounded, an examination of the Family's operations suggests it meets the legal definition of domestic terrorism -- and that is without the broader definition found in the 2001 Patriot Act, which is not being applied in this case.

Members of environmental and animal rights movements use the term "direct action" to describe a wide range of protest activities. These actions can range from passive activities, such as vigils and letter-writing campaigns, to aggressive acts such as arson, physical assault, toppling electrical lines and more. Most direct action involves some sort of civil disobedience, but some, like the acts committed by Meyerhoff, involve outright criminal acts. ...
The people involved with ALF/ELF can be roughly divided into four groups. The first group, one of the smallest, is made up of those who surreptitiously engage in illegal direct action activities, such as arson, assault, etc. The groups' wealthy, anonymous donors also make up a small second group. The third, larger group is made up of activists who publicly engage in legal actions, attend rallies and collect and disseminate the personal information of potential targets. In the fourth and largest group are the mainly passive sympathizers who identify with environmental or animal rights issues. Because neither ELF nor ALF has a formal membership list, the numbers are in no way fixed -- meaning anyone can read about them, identify with their cause and then engage in an illegal activity that propels them directly into the first group.
The government's labeling of Meyerhoff and other environmental and animal rights activists as "terrorists" has created some controversy -- especially among civil rights groups, environmental and animal rights movements and their supporters. Organizations such as the Eugene-based Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) say that, by defining activists as "ecoterrorists," the government is widening the war on terrorism too far and diverting attention and government resources from the real terrorist threat from groups like al Qaeda. According to the CLDC's Lauren Regan, "When everyone is a terrorist, no one is."

Attorneys for the various defendants in the Family case say, too, that Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission did not intend the terrorism enhancement to apply to acts designed to damage property, such as arson, but not to kill or maim people. They also say that only crimes that create a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury constitute crimes of domestic terrorism.
Though most of the attacks committed by Family members did not seek to harm people, the case materials indicate the tenor of the group's activities could have been changing. In spite of the many successful attacks committed by the Family, many of its members reportedly were disappointed by the lack of results they generated. Ferguson testified that Meyerhoff, William Rodgers, Joseph Dibee, Daniel McGowan and others discussed escalating their level of violence to include targeting specific individuals.

According to the sentencing memo submitted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the spring of 2001, Meyerhoff had conversations with Rodgers about assassinations. Rodgers and Meyerhoff discussed the tactic of two riders on a motorcycle being able to weave in and out of traffic, shooting someone and then fleeing the scene and dumping the gun. Meyerhoff told authorities that this talk is one of the factors that caused him to drop out of the movement and enroll in school in Virginia. It does appear, however, as if members of the Family were beginning to arm themselves to begin more traditional attacks.

If the actions of the Family are found to be terrorism and the sentencing in the cases is enhanced, it will likely put a damper on the future activities of some activists and create an even greater divide between the mainstream activists and the radical tier. It also might force those who are dedicated to violent action to be even more careful in planning and carrying out their attacks -- making them harder to catch.

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