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Is This Elf a Terrorist?

The first New Yorker convicted of ecoterrorism.


Daniel McGowan was the son of a Rockaways cop, but he made a name for himself as a radical. He was a Greenpeace volunteer; a contributor to the seasonal St. Mark’s Really, Really Free Market; and, under his sometime-alias Jamie Moran, a key protest organizer during the 2004 Republican National Convention. He never seemed like a criminal, but this month he pled guilty to serving as a lookout while the Earth Liberation Front burned down a lumber company and a farm of genetically modified trees in Oregon in 2001 (no one was injured). Before 9/11, this might’ve earned him an arson rap, but he was sentenced according to new federal guidelines that lump eco-radicals with Al Qaeda. The FBI argued that the torching fell under the definition of terrorism that includes crimes of intimidation, coercion, and retaliation aimed at the conduct of government, because an ELF communiqué said they hoped to influence state legislation. By the time he was caught in 2005, McGowan was in acupuncture school, working days at a battered-women’s shelter in Brooklyn Heights, and participating in Critical Mass bike rides. Then he ran into an old friend, Jacob Ferguson, a onetime East Village squatter and heroin addict, at an animal-rights conference in Washington Heights. Ferguson turned out to be an FBI informant. They hung out for two days, and while McGowan didn’t quite confess, he said enough to get arrested, along with nine other ELFs. McGowan will go to prison for seven years on July 2.

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