ELF (the original)
 
Environmental
Life
Force
 
The original eco-guerrilla combat unit.  An interview with ELF founder, John Hanna: the first person to serve prison time for using direct action to defend Earth against pesticides.  In the interview, he discusses ELF's origins, tactics and the consequences of direct action.
 
 


ORIGINAL ELF LOGO BY AWEST, SANTA CRUZ, CA

The radical environmental cadre known as ELF was founded thirty seven years ago in Santa Cruz, California.  The original ELF (Environmental Life Force), disbanded in 1978 but the ELF name and its guerrilla  tactics were copied in the early 1990's by the Earth Liberation Front.  According to the FBI, the latest version of ELF has devolved into a domestic terrorist group. This web site gives an overview of ELF's origins and lessons learned.  To paraphrase a common saying: "Those who fail to understand past mistakes are bound to repeat them".  Regrettably, the convictions and lengthy prison sentences given to ELF activists demonstrates that the individuals now in custody did not learn or benefit from mistakes made by the original ELF three decades ago.  The ELF members now serving lengthy prison terms are issuing statements that they regret their actions and have come to realize that violence is completely counterproductive to their cause.

Above, original ELF founders, Carla Susan Olander and John Hanna, circa 1978, Watsonville, California

     

The original ELF initiated its first action on March 16, 1977 in Watsonville, Santa Cruz County, California.  Subsequent guerrilla attacks in northern California and Oregon were mounted that year by the May Day Ecommando Unit and the Rachel Carson Ecommando Unit.  On November 22, 1977, John Hanna, the founder of  ELF, was arrested at his home in Santa Cruz by the local sheriff's SWAT team and federal agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.  A trial in federal court resulted in a five year sentence which was later modified to time served and probation.  Following the 1977 arrest, a period of self-criticism and introspection ensued.  A dialogue with other activists led to a consensus that terrorist actions were clearly counter-productive to the environmental movement - regardless of the perceived righteousness of a given cause.  The public will always reject violence and destructive actions.  Although the original ELF's attacks were later described as being "symbolic" and "guerrilla theater" the public's reaction was overwhelmingly negative.  Since ELF had strived to inform and inspire the people, this negative response served to end its activities.  ELF disbanded in 1978, having failed to achieve its objective.  One year later, Earth First! was founded.  In the mid 1980's, there was written communications between ELF founder, John Hanna, and Earth First! founder, Dave Foreman (see: Archives page).  At the time, the internet did not exist, so information about the  1977 ELF guerrilla actions circulated slowly within the Earth First! membership.  Today,  anonymous anecdotes found on the internet suggest that the current version of ELF was launched by an extremist Earth First! faction in Great Britain in the early 1990's.  Whatever the origins, contemporary ELF philosophies and tactics generally mirror those expressed by the original ELF.  Unfortunately, the new incarnation of ELF, Earth Liberation Front, makes no attempt to "inform and inspire the people".  The actions employed are violent, intimidating and counter-productive to the environmental movement.  It does not matter that throughout its history, ELF actions have never physically harmed a single person.  The lessons of the past have not been learned.  Today's mainstream environmentalists choose to distance themselves from the new ELF for the same reasons given thirty-seven years ago.  There is no tolerance for terrorism in the environmental movement - never has been and never will be.  A terrorist and environmentalist cannot live within the same skin.

The following interview took place in Greeley, Colorado just five days before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks...

INTERVIEW WITH ELF FOUNDER, John Hanna

Q:  You've been out of the spotlight for a number of years.  Why did you decide to give this interview?

A:  I started hearing about attacks and vandalism claimed by an environmental group called E.L.F.  Years ago, I founded the ELF.  Of course this is a whole new entity but similar in its purpose.  I felt it might be useful to make a statement at this time.

Q:  On November 22, 1977, agents of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrested you at your home in Santa Cruz, California.  Can you describe the circumstances leading to your arrest?

A:  I was charged with violation of federal statutes.  Specifically, I was accused of placing incendiary devices on seven crop dusters at the airport in Salinas, California on May 1, 1977.  There were other charges as well relating to my underground activities.

Q:  What prompted you to take that course of action?

A:  At the time, I was frustrated.  I chose to go underground and employ guerrilla tactics in defense of the earth.  I felt conventional methods of civil disobedience were ineffective.  I was upset because pesticide use and cancer rates were increasing in spite of the best efforts of the concerned scientific community to point out the hazards and alternatives to pesticides.

Q:  To whom are you referring?

A:  Two people influenced me: One was Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring.  The other was Robert Van Den Bosch, professor of entomology at U.C. Berkeley.  He wrote a book titled The Pesticide Conspiracy.  He died shortly after the book was published.

To continue with interview, click HERE

 

 

      

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To view ELF archival photos and news clips, click on: ELF Archives
 To view ELF communiques click here:ELF COMMUNIQUE