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Craig Rosebraugh insists he is not the leader; he's not even a member; he does not order elves to do their elven mischief at construction sites across the country. He doesn't even have any two-way communication with members, let alone actually meet with them. This is not a hierarchical organization.
Earth Liberation Front members independently plan and execute acts of "economic sabotage," then send Rosebraugh a detailed e-mail or fax. If he believes the communiqué to be an accurate claim of responsibility, Rosebraugh destroys the message and issues a press release to the national media. He has done this dozens of times.
Though he stringently objects to the word "terrorist," this is the same organizational model used by many resistance movements -- scattered cells operating independent of central leadership. It is necessary, they say, to prevent infiltration and arrest. The number of members is unknown. Even the word "member" is used in the loosest possible sense. Anybody who commits an act of economic sabotage can claim responsibility in the name of the ELF.
The reason the ELF has not claimed responsibility for the fires in Phoenix is not out of any ideological objection to the fires, Rosebraugh says, but simply because he hasn't "received any communications for the actions" and, therefore, the arsons are non-ELF. If the Phoenix arsonist is indeed a rogue with a similar philosophical bent, Rosebraugh attributes the actions to an increasing acceptance of economic sabotage.
"I think more recently people are realizing that different entities that are bent on doing anything for the almighty dollar are not going to listen to morals and ethics," he says. "What they're going to listen to is if they stand to lose money in their pocketbook."
The ELF was formed in England in 1994 by disgruntled Earth First! members who wanted to use more extreme methods of protest. Though the ELF committed a few scattered acts of destruction in the early 1990s, it wasn't until 1997 that the group emerged as an active force, announcing in a communiqué, "We are the burning rage of this dying planet."
The ELF has since claimed responsibility for dozens of actions in nine states, mostly in the West and Midwest. Nobody has been seriously injured, and no confessed ELF member has ever been caught. Some law enforcement officials think the ELF is actually a single roving band, migrating from state to state, rather than a scattered network as Rosebraugh implies.
In 1998, the ELF committed the most expensive and elaborate act of destructive environmental protest in U.S. history. A Vail, Colorado, ski resort expansion set on an 11,000-foot-high ridge was set aflame using hundreds of gallons of gasoline firebombs, all set off near-simultaneously. The damage was estimated at more than $12 million. The facility was quickly rebuilt.
Rosebraugh, 28, lives in Portland, Oregon, and runs a vegan bakery. He says making organic pastries and being an ELF spokesman are all part of the same ideology.
"I provide vegan food that I feel is healthy and promoting a better planet for everybody," he says. "And that's the same thing I do with the media work -- trying to provide a better planet for everybody."
A longtime animal rights activist, Rosebraugh began his media work in 1997. The ELF's sister organization, the Animal Liberation Front, released 5,000 minks from a ranch and sent Rosebraugh a claim of responsibility. He says he supposes the ALF chose him because of his public support for the concept of illegal activist action.
After the Vail strike, the FBI raided Rosebraugh's office, confiscating his files and computer. Rosebraugh has since been subpoenaed six times and has appeared before two consecutively impaneled grand juries. He refuses to answer most of their questions.
"They've been quite ruthless in that they just need to find somebody to lock up," he says. "It doesn't need to be the person or persons who're connected to the actions. I think they're just under pressure to lock anybody up they can. People think I'm a terrorist, even though I'm not doing anything except opening my mouth."
Rosebraugh seems somewhat tired and annoyed at absorbing political heat for the actions of others, but says he is entirely unconcerned about their tactics. When asked if he ever worries that one day he'll receive a claim of responsibility saying a person was hurt or killed, his answer is quick and casual.
"I don't worry about it, no."