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START study assesses attacks by environmental and animal rights extremists

New report discusses characteristics of perpetrators

Only 59 offenders were responsible for 147 criminal offenses perpetrated by environmental and animal extremists between 1995 and 2010, according to a new study published by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).

The perpetrators typically targeted property and not people in their attacks. Common targets included private homes, meat or food processing plants, automobile dealerships and universities. The most common motivation of perpetrators was the desire to protect animals or prevent testing on animals; the next most common impetus for these attacks was anti-sprawl concerns, followed by anti-corporation or anti-business development views.

The study, "An Overview of Bombing and Arson Attacks by Environmental and Animal Rights Extremists in the United States, 1995-2010," focused on attacks conducted by individuals affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the perpetrators convicted for them. A research brief summarizing the study is available here.

According to the study, perpetrators have often been difficult for law enforcement to identify because they tend to join the ELF and/or ALF movement through personal contacts, commit offenses working in small cells and rarely engage in other movement-related activities.

This new research gives a closer look at the perpetrators convicted of attacks: most were male (74 percent), unmarried (88 percent) and had at least some college education (69 percent). All of those who committed the attacks were white. The majority of offenders were affiliated with both ALF and ELF.

The research team also found that of the 239 bombing and arson attacks:

  • 55 percent of attacks were attributed to ELF, and 45 percent to ALF.
  • 62 percent of incidents were bombings and 38 percent were arsons.
  • 66 percent of incidents occurred in the West, 14 percent in the Midwest, 13 percent in the Northeast and 7 percent in the South.
  • Only 39 percent of incidents were isolated and unrelated to other incidents.
  • At least one arrest was made in only 34 percent of incidents.

The research team -- Steven Chermak, Joshua Freilich, Celinet Duran and William Parkin -- drew data for the study from the U.S. Extremist Crime Database. Supported by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate's Resilient Systems Division, this research is part of a larger effort to develop a comprehensive database on Terrorism and Extremist Violence in the U.S. (TEVUS) that integrates data from the Global Terrorism Database, the American Terrorism Study, Profiles of Perpetrators of Terrorism in the U.S., and the U.S. Extremist Crime Database.

Download the Research Highlight here.

Download the full report here.