Law enforcement officials have not yet determined who the perpetrators were and it is conceivable that simple vandalism or other motives were at work.
But the evidence strongly suggests eco-terrorism. The development has been under attack by environmentalists for some time for allegedly disturbing a nearby wetland. Moreover, the arson-and there is no doubt that it was arson-fits a pattern of eco-terrorism that has been seen elsewhere.
The term eco-terrorism has been used to describe two similar yet separate groups of terrorists-those mainly concerned with animal rights and those primarily upset by despoiling of the land and air by technology and development. Both have been targeted by the FBI. Earlier this year, Philip Celestini, who heads up the bureau's eco-terrorism task force, said that ecological and animal rights extremists constitute our greatest domestic terrorist threat.
Of the two groups, the animal rights people are by far the more active and dangerous. They mainly target pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and their employees, because they often use animal testing to determine the safety and efficacy of new medicines. This is viewed as inhumane and unjustified even if it leads to cures for deadly diseases like AIDS.
Animal rights activists also target farmers and those who wear fur, even if the fur came from animals raised exclusively for this purpose. In some cases, however, their efforts have been counterproductive. Last year, for example, a few dimwits set 10,000 mink free from a farm in the state of Washington. Now without food, the mink began attacking various endangered species in the area and even devoured each other. Although most of the mink were recaptured, perhaps 1,000 died as a consequence.
Animal rights kooks have been especially active in Britain, where the government views them as a greater domestic threat than the Irish Republican Army. British pharmaceutical companies now spend $130 million per year on additional security to deal with the threat, and some estimates suggest that as much as $2 billion of investment has been discouraged. Unfortunately, those who die because of undiscovered medicines will never know that their deaths resulted because a few lunatics put animal lives ahead of theirs.
Other eco-terrorists have been stepping up their attacks on sport utility vehicles, which are viewed as gas-guzzlers, and land development for housing and recreation. One group known for advocating eco-violence is the Earth Liberation Front. Its members have taken credit for everything from spray-painting SUV's to burning down a $50 million condominium project in San Diego.
ELF's former spokesman, Craig Rosebraugh, recently wrote a book, "The Logic of Political Violence" (Arissa Media, 2004), in which he defends the use of violence in achieving the goals of animal rights and saving the environment from capitalist exploitation. He compares eco-terrorists to Jews resisting the Holocaust. When questioned about his views by the House Resources Committee in 2002, Mr. Rosebraugh took the Fifth Amendment on all but two questions, one being an admission that he is a U.S. citizen.
It is too easy just to say that Mr. Rosebaugh's theory is depraved and absurd. The real problem with using violence to achieve political goals is that it works very poorly as compared to nonviolent methods. Mahatma Gandhi 's efforts in achieving independence in India, Nelson Mandela's bringing down of apartheid in South Africa, and Martin Luther King's victory on civil rights here are testaments to the power of nonviolence to accomplish massive political and societal changes against enormous odds. Just in recent days, we have seen peaceful demonstrators in Ukraine bring about radical political changes in that country almost overnight.
By contrast, the 60-year campaign by murderous Palestinian terrorists against Israel has been a complete and total failure. The IRA's campaign of bombing and assassination in Northern Ireland has also achieved virtually nothing except death and destruction.
Of course, there have been revolutionary wars that were successful, not the least being our own. And sometimes war is needed to achieve necessary change, as in the case of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. But I cannot think of any case where the sort of random terrorist violence against innocent civilians, such as perpetrated by al-Qaida or eco-terrorists, has ever achieved its goal.
When one is pursuing a strategy that is not only immoral but also doesn't work, it might be time consider an alternative.