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A troubling rise in violence for green causes

No deaths are attributed to 'ecoterror' cases, but authorities see growing use of explosives.

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The trial of seven animal rights activists under domestic terrorism laws focuses attention on a threat which law enforcement officials say has become greater than that of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and right-wing militias.

Defendants in the federal trial in New Jersey, which has just begun and is expected to last into August, are charged with conspiracy and interstate stalking involving the vandalism and harassment of employees of labs that use animals to test drugs and chemicals.

Officials say this is part of a growing trend that in recent years has included more than 1,200 incidents of arson, bombings, theft, animal releases, vandalism, and office takeovers. Targets of what activists call "direct actions" have included laboratories, mink ranches, SUV dealerships, fast-food outlets, and new housing developments. Damages have totaled hundreds of millions of dollars.

"We have seen an escalation in violent rhetoric and tactics," John Lewis, the FBI's deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, told a Senate hearing recently. "Attacks are also growing in frequency and size. Harassing phone calls and vandalism now coexist with improvised explosive devices and personal threats to employees."

Arrests and convictions

The FBI currently has 150 pending investigations involving 35 agency field offices working with other law enforcement agencies on such cases. "The FBI and its partners have made a number of high-profile arrests of individuals involved with animal rights extremism or ecoterrorism," Mr. Lewis told lawmakers.

A federal judge in California recently ruled that William Jensen Cottrell, a graduate student in physics at the California Institute of Technology, should serve at least seven years in federal prison and pay more than $3.5 million in restitution for firebombing more than 100 sport utility vehicles at dealerships and homes near Los Angeles.

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