CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Michigan State University says the 1999 New Year's Eve arson destroyed federally funded plant genetic-research records and caused more than $1 million damage. The FBI today made four arrests and linked the incident to the Earth Liberation Front -- a loosely organized underground movement of environmental activists -- who have been accused of violent acts across the nation. The group had seemed more active on the West Coast than the Midwest. But Cincinnatian Marie Jeanette Mason, 46, was among the four charged with conspiracy to commit arson, aggravated arson and arson at Agriculture Hall on MSU's main campus. The group also is accused of arson on commercial logging equipment in Michigan.
[UPDATE: 7:34 PM -- This turned up on the Internet and describes how Mason found a GPS tracking device planted on her vehicle, which indicates she was under surveillance for some time prior to the arrests. She is identified as an Earth Firster.]
[UPDATE: 7:50 PM -- There are pictures of today's events at this Website, which also says that authorities apparently have Mason's cell phone and are dialing her contacts. She is reportedly being held in the Butler County Jail in SW Ohio and was described in good spirits. The Web site urges Mason's friends to "stay focused, stay safe, and don't talk to law enforcement no matter how innocent it seems." It also accused the feds of using COINTELPRO tactics -- the J. Edgar Hoover smears that targeted civil rights and anti-war activists of the 1960s.]
Last month, the Earth Liberation Front was credited, or blamed, with burning luxury homes in Seattle. Its own Web site seems to have been hacked by Viagra spammers, and there has been much made of cyber-terrorists striking at the so-called eco-terrorists. Federal officials call the Earth Liberation Front a movement "with a history of destroying property, often by arson, in order to intimidate and coerce communities, businesses, and governments into abandoning activities that ELF adherents consider harmful to the environment." More about ELF is available here.
MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon described the arson as an attempt to shut down scientific inquiry:
"This was more than an attack on a building and the destruction of valuable property. It was an assault on the core value of free and open inquiry at a research university. We always must be open to ideas that challenge our own, but what we must never allow are disruptions meant to shut down the open marketplace of ideas."
Of course, some see fighting the system as standing up for the planet.