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'Eco-terrorists' beat destructive trail

BY SUSAN KIM | Baltimore, MD | June 21, 2001

"in order for me to ask for integrity from someone else I have to observe that myself."

—Deborah Sanchez

The result is physical destruction, emotional scars, and rising disgust from those trying to

legitimately debate environmental issues. The FBI is still investigating a May 21

multimillion-dollar arson at the University of

Washington (UW) Center for Urban

Horticulture. The lab lost books, historical

documents, and photographs belonging to

faculty, students, and volunteers who worked

there for the past 20 years. Officials believe

environmental extremists targeted the lab

because it houses researchers who work with

bio-engineered plants.

Two extremist groups associated with such

attacks -- which sometimes claim responsibility,

sometimes not -- are the Environmental Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front.

The groups have gone increasingly into hiding as attacks grow more violent and more


Environmental activists and some scientists are concerned that bio-engineered plants,

animals, and bacteria could wipe out native strains or spread their genetic advantages to

weeds and other undesirable species.

Most activists, however, said they don't use destructive tactics to make their point -- no

matter how mad they are.

Deborah Sanchez, who has been fighting to have a radioactive toxic dump removed from

her Denver community for more than 10 years, said being very angry doesn't mean acting

without integrity in an environmental fight.

"In order for me to ask for integrity from someone else I have to observe that myself," said

Sanchez, a pastor with the United Church of Christ. Her 12-year-old son was diagnosed

with radioactive poisoning and faces health problems that are, at times, life-threatening.

"We're all capable of, at best, complacency and apathy, and at worst lying or bending the

truth or being completely caught up in our own needs or our own definition of truth."

Toby Bradshaw, the UW professor and plant geneticist whose office and laboratory were at

the center of the firebomb attack, said that extremist groups believe they know the absolute

truth about what's environmentally right and wrong.

"These people believe that they have the truth and they have the secret insight," said

Bradshaw, whose lab equipment was returned to him Friday after spending more than a

month being professionally cleaned.

Linda Chalker Scott, who researches environmental sustainability, lost her office, too, even

though she doesn't work with controversial bio-genetics. "I consider myself part of the

collateral damage," she said.

Chalker coordinates a community service program in which university students work with

schoolchildren, teaching them about plants that require fewer insecticides, maintenance, and


"We are a state university and I think students should give back to the community that

supports their education. And it's been really fun - up until last month," she said.

Scott has also taught courses about eco-terrorism, and said that, though environmental

extremist groups are often stereotyped as young, angry people, the hundreds of students

she's seen are different. "I see students who are almost defeated, thinking 'everything's so

bad already - what can I possibly do?' " said Scott. "Then they learn about constructive

things they can do and go out and work at it."

Sanchez, still angry in Colorado, said it's hard work to find a rational channel for anger over

environmental injustice. "I honestly haven't had a real opportunity to let a lot of my anger

out," she said. "One of the reasons is I'm not out of the struggle. Looking out the window I

can still see the radioactive waste dump - all 70,000 cubic yards of it.

"But I still believe that, instead of going into a place where you're judging someone for

being wrong, you can say 'I know you can do better and I know there's a part of you that

wants to do better.' From a faith perspective, it's about showing compassion to the people

you believe are doing evil. It's easier for us to show compassion for the down-and-out

people than for people in positions of power." Citigroup currently owns the land that

contains the toxic pile.

Bradshaw said that scientists are often the targets of misdirected attacks. "Whether

genetically engineered trees are used commercially isn't a scientific decision," he said

Bradshaw. "It becomes a political decision. It's not about science at that point.

"There's no denying that there are ethical concerns that can be addressed by science. If I

thought what I was doing was dangerous or immoral, I wouldn't do it. I believe I work for

the public good in that I am increasing the store of human knowledge. Not to mention I

research something that occurs naturally - bacterial genes depositing themselves into plants.

Then I teach my students the latest information. I'm not an advocate and I don't try to take

an advocacy position."

Sanchez said she's undeniably an advocate who's fighting against a corporate giant. "There

are times when I'm so worried about my son that it makes me absolutely crazy. I've

thought 'what could they ever pay me for my son?' "

Scott added that, as part of her research on plant sustainability, she sees many "wrongs"

against the environment and environmental injustices against people. "People are angry

and I think rightly so," said Scott.

But personal attacks undermine legitimate debate and legitimate anger, Bradshaw said. "It's

very personal when you see your name on a Web site as a target for firebombing. I can

understand why people don't like my research. But everything I do is legal and completely

above board."

"There is no excuse for trying to defend the environment through violence," agreed Scott.

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