The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is a radical activist group which performs acts of ecotage in an attempt to put a stop to the exploitation of the environment. In the United States, the ELF has been classified as a serious domestic terror threat by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, thanks to its aggressive tactics. Supporters of the group believe that it is hitting industry where it hurts, forcing people to reevaluate their relationship with the environment. Others condemn the actions of the Earth Liberation Front, pointing out that the organization is often grouped with peaceful, non-violent environmental groups by association, thus weakening the overall cause.
In 1992, a group of breakaway Earth First! members in England founded the Earth Liberation Front, arguing that it was time for direct action to be used in the environmental movement. They modeled the ELF after the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an activist group which claims to promote animal rights through direct action and sabotage. The founders put forward the Earth Liberation Front as an alternative to Earth First! membership for people who felt that the organization was not doing enough on behalf of the environment.
Like the ALF, the ELF lacks formal leadership, and consists of a large and disparate group of members all over the world. Some members act entirely independently, while others band together in cells to perform acts of coordinated sabotage. Depending on the region, ELF members may engage in subtle covert operations, or showy acts of sabotage which are designed to attract attention. One of the more spectacular Earth Liberation Front actions was the 1998 firebombing of a recently expanded ski lodge in Vail, Colorado.
The organization has three guiding principles. The first is that members must be committed to inflicting serious economic damage to individuals and corporations which profit from environmental exploitation such as logging, mining, trapping, and development, among many others. The second goal of the group is to alert the general public to serious emerging environmental issues and threats. Finally, members of ELF are expected to undertake actions without threat to life.
Critics of the organization have pointed out that some of its direct actions have actually harmed the environment, rather than helping it. In addition, the organization's regard for the sanctity of life started to decline rapidly in the early 2000s, with the group essentially declaring war on developers and urban sprawl in press releases. Some Earth Liberation Front members have indicated that they will not hesitate to injure people who exploit the environment, despite the fact that this is in direct conflict with the stated goals of the organization.
In the United States, ELF activists have been heavily pursued and prosecuted, where possible. Some radical environmentalists refer to the growing pursuit of radical activists as the “green scare,” suggesting that the American government is trying to frighten the general public with horror stories about the environmental movement. Given the decentralized nature of the Earth Liberation Front, law enforcement has had trouble with trying to put a stop to ELF actions, since more cells quickly rise up when one cell is taken down.