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Violence in the Name of the Environment

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government

Violence in the Name of the Environment

Federal Bureau of Investigation
May 3, 2004

The Case of the Calculating Eco-Terrorist

In the small hours of August 22, 2003, 125 sport utility vehicles at auto dealerships and neighborhoods near Los Angeles were firebombed with molotov cocktails and spray-painted with Earth Liberation Front (ELF) messages—including an inscrutable mathematical equation on the side of an SUV: eiπ+1=0.

That’s Euler’s Formula, an equation that provides a powerful connection between analysis, trigonometry, and the five most fundamental numbers in mathematics—not exactly your everyday terrorist calling card.

And that’s not all. One of these “eco-terrorists” followed up with an e-mail (using a fictitious name and e-mail address) to the Los Angeles Times. He claimed responsibility for the arsons and vandalism and explained that he had painted the Euler’s Formula on the SUV to identify himself and his co-conspirators. At the time that he sent the e-mail, the details of what was written on the vehicles had not been publicly released.

The FBI traced the e-mail to a physics graduate student at a nearby university.

Following a joint investigation by the West Covina Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the FBI’s Los Angeles Office, the student was arrested and charged with conspiracy, arson, and using a destructive device. He goes on trial next month. If found guilty of all the charges, he faces at least 35 years in prison. His accomplices are believed to have fled the country.

Unfortunately, eco-terrorist attacks are on the rise in the United States. Environmental and animal rights extremists committed 46 acts of domestic terrorism in 2000 and 59 in 2003. ELF has even boasted on its website that its members racked up some $55 million dollars in damages in 2003 through illegal anti-development and SUV dealership attacks.

Richard Garcia, head of our LA office, says this on the subject: “Environmental activists who engage in violent acts such as arson are misguided zealots. The FBI respects, encourages, and protects people who peacefully exercise their right to free speech. But we will relentlessly investigate and bring to justice extremists who commit violent acts, which put the lives of innocent citizens at risk.”

Just as we are doing here in the case of the calculating eco-terrorist.

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