Some congressmen and industry advocates want the federal government to take a hard look at some well-known animal rights and environmental groups, and maybe shut them down as supporters of terrorism.
The idea was floated earlier this month at a congressional subcommittee hearing on ecoterrorism by Richard Berman, the executive director of a group called the Center for Consumer Freedom.
Berman, whose group represents restaurant and tavern owners and advocates protecting "the public's right to a full menu of dining and entertainment choices," said a number of high-profile activist groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have links to groups named on the FBI's domestic terrorism list, such as the Earth Liberation Front.
He came to the hearing advocating that the government wage war against domestic terrorism the way the war has been waged against accused terror mastermind Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network — not just by going after those who carry out illegal acts, but by trying to cut off financial support for organizations identified as being terrorist.
In cases of domestic offenders, he said the federal government could crack down by revoking the tax-free status of not-for-profit organizations found to fund domestic terror groups.
"I'd like Congress to look at the tax-exempt status of groups like PETA," Berman told ABCNEWS.com. "I don't see this being any different from George Bush being able to shut down foundations funneling money to al Qaeda. The difference in degree of activity doesn't mean anything if you're on the receiving end of it."
Where Does the Money Come From?
Berman was dismissed by officials at PETA and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — another group that he accused of ties to organizations that have been linked to criminal activity — as a showman doing his best to earn his paycheck as a lobbyist for restaurant and tavern chains.
But many members of the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health seemed to take him more seriously.
"I would say there is real cause for concern," said Joshua Penry, the staff director of the subcommittee. "A lot of the evidence is circumstantial, but in some cases it's deeply troubling."
As one piece of evidence, Berman submitted a federal tax return showing that PETA gave $1,500 to ELF, which has taken credit and been blamed for millions of dollars in vandalism in recent years.
"The reality is these groups are getting their money from somewhere," Penry said. "That's the question, just where are these groups getting their money?"
James Jarboe, the domestic terrorism chief of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division, said during testimony at the hearing that ELF and the related Animal Liberation Front have caused more than $43 million in damage in more than 600 attacks since 1996, including the firebombing of the Vail ski resort in 1998, which did $12 million in damages. The FBI calls both groups terrorist operations.
"These are hardened criminals," said subcommittee Chairman Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo. "They are dangerous, they are well-funded, they are savvy, sophisticated and stealthy, and if their violence continues to escalate, it is only a matter of time before their parade of terror results in a lost human life."
Members of ALF, ELF Elusive