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"I'm protecting voiceless beings from animal exploiters," says Darren Thurston, who was indicted in the United States on a series of charges for arson and other crimes linked to radical animal rights groups between 1996 and 2001.
Canadian indicted for 'domestic terrorism'
Animal rights activist accused of attacks in five American states
Stewart Bell, National Post
January 21, 2006
Photograph by : Ian Smith, CanWest News Service
TORONTO - Fourteen years after he was arrested for "liberating" 29 cats from a University of Alberta research lab, a Canadian animal rights activist has been indicted in Oregon for his alleged role in a "domestic terrorism" campaign that spanned five Western states.
Darren Todd Thurston is one of 11 suspected members of a Portland-based cell of animal rights and environmental extremists facing 65 counts of arson and other charges stemming from incidents between 1996 and 2001, according to an indictment unsealed yesterday.
The group is accused of carrying out 17 attacks that targeted a ski resort, tree farm, police station, lumber mill, car dealership, meat company, high-tension power line, government buildings and university research facilities.
"The indictment tells a story of four-and-a-half years of arson, vandalism, violence and destruction claimed to have been executed on behalf of the Animal Liberation Front or Earth Liberation Front, extremist movements known to support acts of domestic terrorism," said U.S. Attorney- General Alberto Gonzales.
"Specifically, the indictment alleges that a group of defendants who referred to themselves as 'The Family' worked together with extensive planning to influence the conduct of government and private businesses through the use of co-ordinated force, violence, sabotage, intimidation and coercion."
They left a "trail of destruction" that caused millions worth of damage to private and government property, he said.
"Today's indictment proves that we will not tolerate any group that terrorizes the American people, no matter its intentions or objectives."
Mr. Thurston, 35, has been active in the fringe of the animal rights movement since his teens. Although he used to enjoy shooting birds, after reading a pamphlet he stopped eating meat and became the spokesman for a small band of Edmonton activists called Citizens Organized for Animal Liberation.
At 19, he led protests against the circus, furriers, and deer culls at CFB-Edmonton.
He called for the animals at West Edmonton Mall to be set free, and held a candlelight vigil against the use of animals in experiments at the University of Alberta.
"I believe animals are just as worthwhile as people," he told the Edmonton Journal in a 1989 interview. "I'm protecting voiceless beings from animal exploiters, who have black hearts and don't feel anything, basically."
While he advocated radicalism and civil disobedience, he said he would not break the law. But in 1993, he pleaded guilty to firebombing three fish shop trucks and stealing more than two dozen cats from a university lab. He was sentenced to two years.
Four years later, police identified Mr. Thurston as a suspect in an RCMP investigation into mail bombs and booby-trapped letters that were sent to a variety of Canadian addresses. He and David Barbarash were charged with 27 counts each, but the charges were stayed in 2000 when police decided to drop the case rather than disclose documents concerning another investigation.
Mr. Thurston later moved to Portland where, the indictment alleges, he lived with Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, alias "Country Girl," who has also been indicted.
The indictment accuses Mr. Thurston of taking part in an Oct. 15, 2001, arson attack at the Litchfield Wild Horse facility in California. The Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility in a communique publicized by another Canadian, Mr. Barbarash, the indictment says.
He was arrested in Portland on Dec. 7 and charged with possessing a fake green card and social insurance card, but he now faces more severe charges of conspiracy to commit arson and destruction of an energy facility.
A search of his home turned up false documents, information on manufacturing false documents and a book titled Advanced Anarchist Arsenal: Recipes for Improvised Incendiaries and Explosives.
The charges are the result of a lengthy federal investigation called Operation Backfire that probed a string of sabotage attacks in Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, California and Colorado.
The suspects are accused of using incendiary devices made from timing devices, milk jugs and plastic buckets filled with petroleum products to wage their eco-campaign. Eight have been arrested; the other three are believed to be outside the United States.
According to the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) Web site, the group's aim is to "reduce animal suffering in the world," while the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) calls itself "an underground movement with no leadership, membership or official spokesperson."
"Terrorism is terrorism, no matter what the motive," FBI director Robert Mueller told reporters. "There is a clear difference ... between constitutionally protected advocacy, which is the right of all Americans, and violent, criminal activity. It is one thing to write concerned letters or to hold peaceful demonstrations.
It is another thing entirely to construct and use improvised explosives or incendiary devices to harass and intimidate victims by destroying property and to cause millions of dollars in losses by acts or threats of violence."
The ALF and ELF have also been active in Canada, where they firebombed two Vancouver butcher shops and a British Columbia hunting outfitter they accused of "crimes against the Earth." The ELF initials were spray-painted near two recent fires in Guelph, Ont., in which a Zellers outlet and a golf and tennis club were torched.