Ten members of the two most active ecoterrorist movements in the United States have been sentenced in a Eugene, Oregon, federal court to between 3 and 13 years in prison on charges related to numerous acts of domestic terrorism in five western states.
Calling themselves "The Family," the defendants were part of a cell responsible for a "campaign of domestic terrorism" that caused over $40 million in damages in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming between 1996 and 2001, according to the Justice Department.
The defendants targeted U.S. Forest Service ranger stations, Bureau of Land Management wild horse facilities, meat processing companies, lumber companies and a high-tension power line on behalf of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Four of the defendants were also charged in connection with the 1998 arson at a Vail, Colorado, ski resort, the costliest act of ecoterrorism at that time.
The defendants were sentenced on charges of conspiracy to commit arson, conspiracy, arson, attempted arson, use and possession of a destructive device and destruction of an energy facility. Many of the defendants received a terrorism enhancement to their sentence. The terrorism enhancement, Section 3A1.4 of federal sentencing guidelines, can add up to twenty years to each sentence and makes it possible for the defendants to face incarceration in maximum security prisons.
The defendants met in Oregon, Arizona and California for what they called "Book Club" meetings to practice making firebombs and plan for attacks, according to court documents. The bombs they made were 5-gallon buckets filled with fuel and set off with kitchen timers, matches, sponges and model rocket igniters. During the arsons, they often wore dark clothing, gloves and masks, which they would then destroy, according to court records.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called the investigation, dubbed "Operation Backfire," the largest case against environmental extremists ever prosecuted in the U.S. It involved multiple federal, state and local law enforcement officials and spanned nine years.
During the investigation, authorities worked with informant Jacob Ferguson, a former cell member that secretly tape-recorded some of the defendants and provided investigators with accounts of many of the crimes.
Darren Todd Thurston, a 37-year old Canadian citizen, was sentenced to 37 months in prison on conspiracy and arson charges related to the 2001 fire at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management wild horse corrals in Litchfield, California. His sentence did not include the federal terrorism enhancement.
During a search of Thurston's Portland home, investigators found a book entitled Advanced Anarchist Arsenal: Recipes for Improvised Incendiaries and Explosives, false IDs and instructions on how to make fake ID's, according to the indictment. In 1991, Thurston was convicted of setting fire to trucks belonging to a fish company in Edmonton. Thurston served two years in prison for vandalising and releasing animals from a research laboratory at the University of Alberta in 1992. Thurston also authored The ALF Primer: A Guide to Direct Action and the Animal Liberation Front, according to court documents.
At the time of his arrest, Thurston was living with another defendant, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, in Portland. Gerlach, 28, was sentenced to nine years in prison. The terrorism enhancement was applied to her sentence for her involvement in several arsons, including the Vail ski resort arson and the 2001 arson at a Jefferson Poplar tree farm in Clatskanie, Oregon. The communiqué claiming responsibility for the tree farm arson threatened the government, according to Judge Ann Aiken, the federal district judge who decided the case against "The Family."
Suzanne Nicole "India" Savoie, 29, was sentenced to 51 months in prison and received a terrorism enhancement for her involvement in the tree farm arson. She reportedly also served as a lookout during a January 2001 firebombing of a lumber mill in Glendale, Oregon. According to court documents, Savoie became involved in animal rights causes while spending a year abroad in England.
Savoie said she was the girlfriend of another defendant, Daniel Gerard McGowan, at the time of the lumber mill firebombing, according to the FBI affidavit. McGowen, 31, was sentenced to seven years in prison and received the terrorism enhancement for his role in the tree farm arson. McGowan, who was allegedly affiliated with several anarchist groups, is founder of the North American Earth Liberation Prisoner Support Network, a Web site that provides updated details of incarcerated ecoterrorists.
The longest prison sentence was given to Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff, 30, who was convicted of 10 counts of arson and attempted arson and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Meyerhoff allegedly taught the other defendants how to make timers for incendiary devices and assisted William C. Rodgers, the purported leader of "The Family," in writing Setting Fires With Electrical Timers: An Earth Liberation Front Guide. Rodgers, who was responsible for recruiting at least six other members of "The Family" and was viewed by many members as the principal leader, committed suicide in an Arizona jail after he was indicted in January 2006. He was also identified by federal prosecutors as the mastermind of the Vail arson, but was never charged.
Joyanna Lynn Zachler, 29, and Nathan Fraser Block, 26, the youngest of the defendants, were each sentenced to 7 years and 8 months in prison. They received a terrorism enhancement for their roles in the tree farm arson and another arson a at a truck dealership. Judge Aiken stated that Block and Zachler did not express remorse and wanted to be known as "activist's martyrs" by not cooperating with authorities. The pair took part in the 1999 anti-globalization protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, where Block threw rocks at police, according to prosecutors. They were initially arrested in Olympia, Washington, in February 2006 when police discovered an indoor marijuana growing operation.
Sarah Kendall Harvey (a.k.a. Kendall Tankersley), 30, was sentenced to 3 years and 10 months in prison for her role in the 1998 fire at U.S. Forest Industries in Medford, Oregon. Harvey's criminal history includes three misdemeanors relating to an anti-logging protest in 1997, according to court documents.
Kevin Tubbs, 37, was sentenced to 12 years 7 months in prison and given the terrorism enhancement for charges related to several of the arsons in Oregon and Washington.
Jonathan Christopher Mark Paul, a 41-year-old firefighter, has been charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of arson for his role in the 1997 arson at Cavel West Horsemeat Slaughterhouse. Paul, who had been sentenced to 51 months, waits as his sentence is now in abeyance as lawyers review the court documents and arguments. No new date has been set for Paul's sentencing. Paul lived with convicted ALF arsonist Rodney Coronado in Santa Cruz in 1988, according to court documents. In 1993, Paul spent five months in jail for contempt of court in Spokane, Washington, for refusing to testify in an investigation against Coronado, who served over three years in prison for his role in the 1992 firebombing at an animal research laboratory at Michigan State University.
Prosecutors have linked several other people to five-year domestic terrorism campaign, including Joseph Dibee, Josephine Sunshine Overaker and Rebecca Rubin, all three of which remain fugitives.
In addition, Lacey Phillabaum, 31, pleaded guilty to arson for her role in the May 2001 arson at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture. She began serving her sentence in May 2007 after accepting a plea bargain. The length of her sentence has yet to be determined but is expected to be between three and five years.
As part of the plea bargain, Phillabaum will testify against Briana Waters in September of 2007. Waters, 31, pleaded not guilty to charges related to the University of Washington arson. Waters is charged with arson and using or carrying a destructive device during a crime of violence.
Jennifer Kolar, 33, pleaded guilty on October 4, 2006, to conspiracy, arson and using a firebomb to burn down the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture building. Kolar also pleaded guilty to an attempted arson charge for a failed 1998 firebombing in Colorado and faces five to seven years in prison after she testifies against Briana Waters in September, 2007.