The Thin Green Line: Geographies of Ecoterrorism in the United States
Advisor: Dr. Susan L. Cutter
While many Americans tend to believe that the biggest threat we face as a nation is international terrorism carried out by religious fundamentalists or “radicals”, the truth is that in recent years we face a burgeoning threat of domestic or homegrown terrorism. Today terrorism has taken on a new form in the United States with an increase in both the frequency and intensity of attacks perpetrated by radical environmental and animal rights groups. This dissertation documents the changing geographies, strategies, and methods of attack among radical environmental and animal rights groups in the United States. The specific questions asked are:
- To what extent does ecoterrorism vary in geography, strategies and methods of attack in the United States?
- What prompted this change in strategy and targets of ecoterrorist groups in the United States and how has this change influenced the method of attack employed by these groups?
- Is there a distinct spatiotemporal clustering of ecoterrorist incidents in the United States throughout the time period of interest (1970-2008)?
To answer these questions, a Comprehensive Ecoterrorism Database (CED) was constructed and the incidents were mapped in a Geographic Information System (GIS). A retrospective space-time permutation scan statistic was employed in SaTScan to determine where terrorism is clustered in both time and space. The majority of ecoterrorist incidents perpetrated in the United States showed a relatively stable, slowly increasing trend over time, with peaks in the 1990s and 2000s when the most actions took place. In terms of the spatial distribution of ecoterrorism, while larger numbers of events were perpetrated in urban centers like New York, it by no means implies that all ecoterrorist activity is focused in those areas. In fact, we see an array of ecoterrorism with very complex, unique geographies, with pockets of activity in the Southwest, Northeast, and Midwest. Furthermore, actions seem to indicate a trend towards targeting everyday places of business like banks, restaurants, and department stores. Using the space-time permutation model three separate analyses were carried out for the designated time period (1970-2008) to assess the sensitivity of parameters related to the spatial window.
Overall, spatiotemporal clusters of ecoterrorist incidents were detected in places like Central California, South Florida, Central Arizona, Northwestern Oregon, the Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern United States. In some cases, incidents contained within these clusters were carried out exclusively by a single group, employed a single attack type, and corresponding weapon type against a single target type It was not surprising that a complex pattern of ecoterrorist activity emerged both temporally and spatially. Patterns of pervasive, sporadic, and isolated activity are discernible. This research furthers geographic analyses of terrorism and hazards research to date, by serving as a first step to understanding the behavior and motivations of terrorist groups, who these groups are targeting, and where in geographic space.