THE BIA OF WASHINGTON STATE IS applying more heat to politically motivated arsonists. On Sept. 20, the Olympia-based trade group offered a $100,000 bounty—the highest-ever in the housing industry—for information leading to the arrest and conviction of members affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which according to BIA estimates is responsible for $8 million in property damage in the state since 1996. (See “Burning Issues,” August, page 144.)
ELF claims its goal is environmental protection. But its members have a violent history of destroying homes and equipment to achieve their aims. Since April 2004, ELF has been connected to four arsons and four attempted arsons in Washington alone. Tom McCabe, the state BIA's executive director, says two Bellingham homes were set ablaze in July with incendiary devices similar to those that ignited a home in Sammanish in April. (The FBI didn't open a file on the Bellingham fire because no one took credit for it, says Anthony Torres, a special agent in the bureau's Seattle office.)
Other builder groups around the country have offered rewards of up to $25,000. The Washington BIA, on the other hand, hadn't offered any bounty, says McCabe, until his association staked its reward at the suggestion of the FBI, whose surveillance “indicates that some of ELF's members are becoming disillusioned about its increasingly violent tactics, and with the right incentive might come forward.”
But Torres warns it will take more than a bounty to rattle ELF's organization, which generally comprises small “cells” whose members take their marching orders from people whom law enforcement authorities have been hard-pressed to pin to any crimes. “There's always someone else ready to step in,” Torres says about ELF's leadership structure.
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