"This is the new face of radical environmentalism," says Rodney Coronado, a spokesman for the so-called "Earth Liberation Front," ELF is one of the groups linked to multiple acts of violence and arson.
During September of 2003 fires destroyed four houses under construction and damaged two more in San Diego's Torrey Highlands neighborhood. Banners found at two of the fires said ELF was responsible. Damage initially was estimated at $450,000.
ELF also claimed responsibility for a fire in August that destroyed a five-story residential building University City, which caused $50 million in damage.
In August two pipe bombs exploded at the Chiron biotechnology in the San Francisco Bay Area attributed to the "Revolutionary Cells Animal Liberation Brigade." No one was hurt, but the groups said it would target Chiron employees.
ELF is a splinter group that broke away from "Earth First" in 1992 according to a statement at its Web site.
The site states that ELF is "an international underground organization that uses direct action in the form of economic sabotage to stop the destruction of the natural environment."
ELF claimed more than $100 million in damage "to entities who profit from the destruction of life and the planet."
ELF took responsibility for a 1999 fire at the Michigan State University's Agricultural Hall and also the 1998 destruction of a ski resort under construction in Vail, Colorado.
Law enforcement has had difficulties apprehending such criminals because they often operate in small cells.
Jan Caldwell, FBI spokeswoman told the San Diego Union Tribune, "I liken it to having the skeletal structure of a slug: They have none. It's like herding cats or trying to shovel smoke."
"They're just thugs, looking for any reason to commit a criminal act. They're kids who never grew up and like to cause mayhem," Caldwell added.
Environmentalists disclaimed the criminals.
"It's an insane act by insane individuals," said Carolyn Chase, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County Chapter of the Sierra Club.
"We don't condone it. We don't support it, and we hope it stops right now!" said Mel Hinton, vice president of the San Diego Audubon Society
"They have the choice to believe the things they do, but how they choose to show that belief, burning down houses, is absurd," said Rod Woodbury a local resident.
Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University San Bernardino told a reporter, "These are people who believe our system is illegitimate and they consider themselves at war with that whole system," he said. "They are buying out of society."
Note: This news summary was based upon an article titled "Militant environmentalists set their sights on sprawl" by Gregory Alan Gross published by the San Diego Union-Tribune September 21, 2003