Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2016


John Van Buren


This thesis examines the extremist side of the environmental activism commonly known as ecoterrorism, and the subsequent implications of categorizing criminal activism as terrorism. Groups such as Earth First!, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), and the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) strive to protect the natural world from the detrimental impacts of industrialization. Activists affiliated with these groups endorse direct action against environmentally harmful enterprises. Extremists are motivated by the belief that they are on the frontline defending the defenseless. They hope to dissuade corporations and government agencies from exploiting the natural world by exposing unethical practices and causing economic damage. The strategy of direct action can involve sabotaging of industrial equipment (monkeywrenching), arson, and tree spiking. Direct action also promotes nonviolent protest and civil disobedience to obstruct industrial development. Both forms of direct action are effective at inflicting economic damage onto target enterprises. In response to ecoterrorism, national security agencies began to prioritize the incarceration of affiliated activists and include them in a registry of domestic terrorists. New legislation, such as the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and the proliferation of states adopting “Ag-gag” laws, criminalize acts of direct action that threaten food and pharmaceutical industries. These laws are criticized for grouping together environmental extremism with environmental advocates who practice civil disobedience. In effect, the new legislation protects environmentally destructive enterprises from their practices being exposed to the public. In order to weigh the significance of these claims, this thesis proceeds through the lenses of three disciples: the history of ecoterrorism, the philosophical foundation of deep ecology, and the scope of policy that delineates ecoterrorism and advocacy.