Feds still probing attacks by Earth Liberation Front
BY LISA THOMPSON and ED PALATTELLA, Erie Times-News
Radical environmentalist Kevin Tucker took the stage at Mercyhurst College two years ago to sound his call for a world freed from civilization.
Today, he is scheduled to take a seat before a different kind of Erie audience — a federal grand jury.
The 28-year-old former Pennsylvania resident said he has been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury that is investigating a series of arsons and other politically motivated acts of sabotage and vandalism in the Erie area in 2002 and 2003.
The Earth Liberation Front, or E.L.F., and the Animal Liberation Front,
or ALF, variously took responsibility for the local actions, which
occurred amid a nationwide wave of crimes committed in the name of
environmental and animal liberation.
The government wants to know if Tucker, who now lives in Athens, Ga.,
has information about incidents in northwestern Pennsylvania.
The actions, six in all, caused an estimated $1.5 million damage, the
FBI said. They include a costly arson at a U.S. Forest Service research
station in Warren County, the release of animals from local fur farms in
Erie County and the torching of a $500,000 construction crane at
Tucker said he knows nothing about the incidents under investigation and
is not a target of the probe. He said his role in the green anarchy
movement is as a writer and speaker.
“It would be extremely stupid to be a public figure and try to have
nighttime activities,” he said in an interview with the Erie Times-News.
“I think they know I don’t have any information. I think this is
Tucker said he plans to appear today as summoned. He declined to comment
on how he will respond when questioned.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, though witnesses are allowed to
discuss their testimony publicly. Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall
Piccinini, the chief federal prosecutor in Erie, and Andrew Wilson, head
of the Erie FBI office, declined to comment on Tucker’s subpoena or
confirm that a grand jury is in session.
Wilson said only that the crimes that occurred remain “under active
WHAT IS DOMESTIC TERRORISM?
“Domestic terrorism involves acts of violence that are a violation of
the criminal laws of the United States or any state, committed by
individuals or groups without any foreign direction, and appear to be
intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, or influence the
policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, and occur primarily
within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
SOURCE: John E. Lewis, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s
Counterterrorism Division, speaking before the Senate Judiciary
Committee in May 2004
Law enforcement classifies illegal actions such as those taken in the
name of E.L.F. and ALF as domestic terrorism. Solving the crimes remains
a top priority for the FBI, Wilson said.
“We saw as many or more direct actions than any other part of the
country at that time,” Wilson said of the E.L.F. and ALF actions in the
Erie region in 2002 and 2003.
Tucker’s appearance before the grand jury comes more than six years
after the first E.L.F. action in the Erie region. But the FBI still has
time to investigate and prosecute. Allegations of conspiracy or arson
have allowed prosecutors in other eco-terrorist cases nationwide to
extend the statute of limitations beyond the typical five years.
While the investigation continues, those targeted by activists await
their own reckoning.
In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2003, arsonists torched two
pickups and two sport utility vehicles at Bob Ferrando’s car dealership
in Girard. Ferrando said he had not heard from investigators since
shortly after the January 2003 fire. He said the incident left him
unsettled at the time.
“You don’t know what is going to happen next,” he said.
Forrest Mindek and his brothers operate a Harborcreek Township mink farm
that was targeted. He did not respond to a request for comment from the
In 2002, Mindek told the Fur Commission, a California-based trade group:
“Whoever committed this cowardly crime must be punished to the full
extent of the law. It’s bad enough that they try to destroy our
livelihood, but they put the lives of our animals, our family and the
firefighters at risk.”
LOCAL ACTION OF THE E.L.F. AND ALF IN 2002-03
Members of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front
claimed responsibility for a series of actions in northwestern
Pennsylvania in 2002 and 2003:
# March 24, 2002: A $500,000 construction crane was torched in
Wintergreen Gorge in a failed attempt to halt construction of the
Bayfront Connector. Activists also sprayed graffiti on construction
equipment and drove metal spikes into trees to pose danger to anyone who
might try to cut them down.
# May 2002: Sixteen foxes were released from the Lawrence Dana Fox Ranch
on Station Road, Greenfield Township. Several died after being struck by
# Time not specified in E.L.F. release: Two northwestern Pennsylvania
farm fields were destroyed; genetically modified crops were being tested
in the fields.
# Aug. 11, 2002: A U.S. Forest Service research station in Irvine,
Warren County, was torched. Seventy years’ worth of research was
destroyed; $700,000 in damage.
# Nov. 26, 2002: The feed barn at the Mindek Brothers Fur Farm in
Harborcreek Township went up in flames. Also 200, and 50 breeding mink
were released there in May and September 2002, respectively.
# Jan. 1, 2003: Two sport utility vehicles and two pickup trucks were
destroyed by fire at Bob Ferrando Ford in Girard, causing $90,000
damage. Ferrando said insurance covered the loss.
SOURCES: FBI; communiqués from E.LF. and ALF.
The FBI estimates animal-rights extremists and environmental extremists
have committed 2,000 criminal acts in the United States since 1977.
No one was injured in the local attacks, but the fire at the Warren
County research station stood out in the arsonists’ expressed
willingness to employ violence against people.
“Where it is necessary,” according to a statement that E.L.F. released
at the time, “we will no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement
justice, and provide needed protection for our planet.”
A person speaking for E.L.F. later dismissed the remarks as representing
only one E.L.F. cell. The comments still alarmed law enforcement because
they appeared to clear the way for a new threshold of violence.
In response to the outbreak of eco-sabotage, the FBI, the Erie County
District Attorney’s Office and Corry, Erie and Millcreek Township police
departments formed a joint terrorism task force in 2004 to target
terrorism, especially the E.L.F. and ALF actions.
The group’s formation followed the creation of similar task forces in
all major U.S. cities in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
Despite investigators’ efforts, no one has been arrested in the local
cases. The FBI continues to offer a reward for information leading to
the arrest of those responsible, Wilson said.
Nationwide, the FBI has made a number of eco-terrorism arrests in
Western states, but many cases remain unsolved. One difficulty is the
loose, secret ties that make up E.L.F. and ALF. Their methods have been
described as built around an idea, rather than an organization. Their
crimes resist traditional investigative tactics.
“It is not the standard leadership or hierarchy that a criminal
enterprise uses,” Wilson said.
There is no membership roster or organized structure for investigators
to infiltrate. Instead, like-minded activists come together in highly
secretive cells, or affinity groups, plot actions and commit them in the
name of E.L.F. or ALF. The actions are then announced through anonymous
press releases or “communiqués.” After each action in the Erie area,
releases were faxed to news organizations explaining the rationales for
Tucker: Movement targeted, not him
E.L.F. took credit for spraying graffiti on the earthmoving equipment at
the Wintergreen Gorge construction site in spring 2002. The FBI in Erie
formed a domestic terrorism task force to probe the radical group. (FILE
Tucker, a former Greensburg resident who studied anthropology at the
University of Pittsburgh, describes himself as an anarcho-primitivist.
He believes human nature is best realized in small hunter-gatherer
societies freed of all forms of domination — namely government and
He and green anarchists John Zerzan, of Eugene, Ore., and Derrick
Jensen, of California, spoke on the themes of “Revolution,
Sustainability and the Eradication of Domination” in a lecture at
Mercyhurst College in April 2006.
Tucker also appeared in Erie at the Erie Art Museum Annex in January
2004 with other high-profile radicals at the Total Liberation Fest, an
event described as a “revolution conference on state repression,
political prisoners, social justice, and earth and animal liberation.”
Tucker said his subpoena is not the first time the FBI has carried its
investigation into the inner workings of those in the environmental
He said others in the Erie area have been contacted by the FBI in the past.
An anonymous Internet blog posting in October 2005 reported that
activists and organizers from throughout western Pennsylvania had been
subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury in connection with the E.L.F.
and ALF actions.
In an interview, Tucker’s colleague, Zerzan, 65, a green anarchist
author and radio show host, said Tucker has always been careful to tell
others that he does not want to know about any E.L.F. or ALF direct actions.
Zerzan said he believes Tucker has been called to testify because of his
strong leadership in the green anarchy movement.
“I wasn’t surprised by any of this,” he said. “In a way, it is kind of
an occupational hazard.”