December 8, 2005
By Tracy Vedder
SEATTLE - The feds have a major break with six arrests in a string of eco-terrorism arsons in the Northwest.
They were hellish fires that destroyed millions of dollars worth of research and forest facilities around the Northwest, including an important research facility in Olympia.
Before someone torched the USDA’s research labs in Olympia, there had been threats and protests. Earlier, the radical group Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for other acts of vandalism in the area. But the group operates in secrecy and the investigation seemed to falter.
"These are organizations with membership rolls or with lists of members," says Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Friedman.
Now the U.S. Attorney’s Office says Kevin Tubbs of Springfield Oregon, along with William Rodgers of Arizona are behind the Olympia fires that the government calls eco-terrorism. The investigation took years, says Friedman, "a lot of work and obviously these were people who had been under investigation for some time during the course of this but were living otherwise normal lives."
In addition to the fires in Olympia, the feds arrested four other people with connections to three other fires in Oregon. And Chelsea Gerlach of Portland is charged with destroying a BPA transmission tower near Bend, Oregon.
"It’s an important day," adds Friedman, "it’s the culmination, partial culmination of a long investigation into some serious crimes."
It’s a partial culmination because there are still several unsolved cases of eco-terrorism in the Northwest, -- including the 2001 destruction of the University of Washington’s Horticulture Center.
In addition to losing the building, irreplaceable research was lost forever. Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility. "I think people did feel attacked," says Fred Hoyt of the UW’s Urban Horticulture Center. "It was a misguided attack but we did feel attacked, I think."
Even though Thursday’s indictments don’t include arrests for the UW fire, it happened at exactly the same time as one of the fires in Oregon where two arrests were made -- an interesting coincidence.
"It’s important that there be some resolution to that," adds Hoyt, "and with the arrests today there is some hope."
The US Attorney’s Office will not say if there is any connection between Thursday’s indictments and the attack at the UW. However they do stress that the investigation is continuing.
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