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December 7, 2004
Domestic Terrorism?

The Washington Post reports on a series of arsons in a controversial Maryland development that destroyed a dozen houses and damaged a number of others in a single day. While law-enforcement officials and the builder showed reluctance to attribute the sophisticated arsons to anyone in particular, the development had been the subject of a bitter fight with environmental groups:

A preliminary investigation found traces of a fire-starting accelerant in four houses that were the first to be examined by investigators, officials said. Damage was estimated at $10 million, and William E. Barnard, the state fire marshal, said it was the biggest arson in state history. In addition to the 12 homes destroyed, about 30 were damaged, authorities said.

Investigators said more than 20 fires were set. Some houses were burned to the ground, and the second floors and roofs of others were burned out. The structures seemed to have been targeted at random, investigators said, with some houses spared while others nearby were destroyed.

Investigators said the fires were confined to the unoccupied section of the development, away from homes where people live. About 70 houses had been finished or were under construction in the subdivision, and 319 more were planned, the developer said.

Environmental activists have fought the development in the Hunters Brooke subdivision for five years, arguing that the construction endangers one of the last pristine sweet-magnolia bogs, along with endangered insects and a couple of varieties of plant life. The failure of their effort to stop the build automatically provokes the suspicion that homegrown terrorists like Earth Liberation Front may have set the fires to drive out homeowners and potential buyers. The arsons follow a series of robberies and racial tagging in the subdivision.

Apparently, someone really wants Hunters Brooke to disappear, and so far the only ones who have fought it are the environmentalists. The builder downplays that suggestion, and law enforcement only says that they will keep their options open. However, whoever set the fires qualifies as a terrorist, as the intent to drive people out of the development seems clear enough.

Whether ELF or another lunatic-fringe group is responsible, they should be tried as terrorists and locked up for a very long time, as a message to others. Regardless of the motive, we cannot allow people to burn down buildings they dislike just because they have a cause in which to believe. That's little different than Islamofascists that wanted to destroy the World Trade Center or to attack civilians anywhere. The cause does not justify or even mitigate the means.

The people who burned Hunters Brooke only believe in the rule of violence. In the past, we've treated such people with an unserious attitude. It's time that ELF and every other flavor of bombthrower starts getting life sentences for their terrorism.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 7, 2004 11:39 AM

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