Operation Backfire

In 2004, several separate FBI investigations into the animal rights and environmental movements were combined into Major Case #220, also called Operation Backfire. On December 7, 2005, the FBI’s “Operation Backfire” revealed its public face. That day, seven people living in four different states— Chelsea Gerlach, Darren Thurston, William Rodgers, Kendall Tankersley (Sarah Kendall Harvey), Kevin Tubbs, Daniel McGowan, and Stanislas Meyerhoff—were arrested in connection with a variety of sabotage actions. Many of these actions were claimed by the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) or the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The targeted acts of sabotage included attacks against wilderness “management” programs, meat and lumber companies, and sites allegedly linked to genetic engineering and ecocidal development in general. None of this sabotage caused physical injury to any human being or other animal, although several of the actions caused significant economic damage to industry.

Before these defendants ever set foot in the courtroom, they were labeled in the press as “eco-terrorists.” The government successfully pushed for “terrorism enhancement” penalties in many of these cases. As a result, many of these activists are now in prison as “terrorists,” a label that drastically changes their prison life and will follow them long after release. Another result of the “terrorism enhancement” is that the FBI claims these cases as a victory in the “War on Terrorism.”

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United States