Eco-terrorist activities have caused much property damage and are considered one of the leading domestic terrorism threats. However, despite the threat posed by these activities, the possibility of spatial displacement of eco-terrorism as a result of police crackdowns has not previously been empirically examined. The current study focuses on addressing this knowledge gap by examining the displacement of radical environmental and animal rights movement terrorist activities after a successful police crackdown (i.e. Operation Backfire).
The study uses data collected from two sources: The Global Terrorism Database and the Eco-Incidents Database. To measure the extent of spatial displacement, two types of displacement statistics were used: weighted displacement quotient (WDQ) and Local Indicators of Spatial Association (LISA) statistics.
Results from WDQ analysis and LISA statistics show that the key intervention of Operation Backfire did not displace the attacks of the eco-terrorist groups. On the contrary, the law enforcement intervention effectively resulted in diffusion of benefits in adjacent areas.
Overall, the results show that traditional police tactics may be a useful way to counter eco-terrorism without leading to spatial displacement. This is important as it shows that radical environmentalists and animal rights activists may be deterred, like regular criminals, by conventional law enforcement.
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In the past, the label “eco-terrorist” has been applied to environmentalists by private companies as a strategy to stigmatize environmentalists in order to reduce their credibility (see Eagan (1996) for a description of the long-running public relations dispute between Clorox and Greenpeace).
This group’s first attack was carried out in December 1995 by a member known as “Tubbs,” who used a homemade bomb to attack three trucks at the Dutch Girl Dairy company in Eugene, while also painting several slogans including “ALF” and “Dairy = Death” (Contenta 2014).
These attacks targeted, among other structures, two Elks Lodges and several ski-lifts.
While their actions have rarely resulted in fatalities, radical environmental and animal-rights groups have committed hundreds of crimes over the past two decades, inflicting more than $100 million worth of damage in the US alone (FBI 2002). Nonetheless, among scholars, there is no clear consensus as to the definition of eco-terrorism, and its designation as terrorism remains controversial (see Eagan 1996). Some scholars argue that the use of “eco-terrorism” can be seen as a pejorative term that stigmatizes environmental or animal rights activists who use extreme measures to express their ideologies and achieve their goals (Vanderheiden 2005; Eagan 1996; Yang et al. 2014). Debate continues as to whether this terminology attaches a harmful and negative label to environmental and animal rights groups (Eagan 1996; Liddick 2006).
Though spatial displacement is less often observed, other forms of crime displacement are possible consequences of focused police interventions. For instance, Yang (2008) examined the results of preshipment inspection, a customs reform, on shipments’ duty-avoidance behaviors in the Philippines. He found that enforcement did lead to method displacement by actors in the Philippines wishing to avoid high taxes.
Hsu and Apel (2015) examined the displacement and diffusion effects of the implementation of airport metal detector on subsequent terrorist attacks. However, they focused on the method and target displacement, not spatial displacement of terrorist attacks. Additionally, Draca et al. (2010) examined the displacement effects of Operation Theseus by the London Metropolitan police after a terrorist attack in London in 2005. However, their outcome measure was crime rates at the borough level, not terrorist activities.
This agency was renamed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2002, i.e. during the period when Operation Backfire was taking place, but is still referred to as the ATF today.
While multiagency collaboration is not commonly seen in hot spots policing research, it is quite common in evaluation research that focuses on interventions applied at a larger geographic level (see Telep et al. 2014).
Global Terrorism Database. Overview of the GTD. Retrieved 30 Aug 2017 from http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/about/.
Based on the EID, during this period, 234 attacks were initiated by the ALF, 214 by the ELF, and 22 by The Family.
Braithwaite and Johnson (2015) argue that sub-national conflicts tend to exhibit spatial dependencies. However, the spatial dependencies they refer to are related to the locations of previous successful attacks, not the locations that perpetrators are familiar and dependent with.
It is important to note that this approach compares the activities of a given location relative to the surrounding areas between two time periods. Thus, the number of increasing pairs will not be equal to the number of decreasing pairs.
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The research was made possible through a grant award “Eco-Terrorism and the Corresponding Legislation Efforts to Intervene and Prevent Future Attacks” from The Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security & Society (TSAS). The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of The Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security & Society (TSAS). We would like to thank David Weisburd, Joshua Hinkle, Jennifer Carson, and the anonymous reviewers whose comments were invaluable in strengthening this paper. We also want to express our gratitude to L. Caitlin Kanewske and Paige Thompson for their editing assistance and thoughtful suggestions on earlier drafts of this manuscript.
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Yang, SM., Jen, IC. An Evaluation of Displacement and Diffusion Effects on Eco-Terrorist Activities After Police Interventions. J Quant Criminol 34, 1103–1123 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-017-9367-4