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Ecoterrorists are fbi top domestic terror threat { January 18 2006 }

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Monroe man charged in plot
By Sara Jean Green

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Monroe man suspected of being a member of a radical environmental group was charged Tuesday in a federal court in California with plotting to blow up a U.S. Forest Service facility where genetic research is conducted.

Zachary Jenson, 20, and co-defendants Eric McDavid, 28, of Foresthill, Calif., and Lauren Weiner, 20, of Philadelphia, made their first court appearances in U.S. District Court in Sacramento on Tuesday, said Patty Pontello, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California. The three, who are suspected members of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), are being held in the Sacramento County Jail pending detention hearings next week, Pontello said.

The three were charged with conspiracy to use fire or explosives to damage property, and also may have been planning to bomb a power plant, a cellphone tower and a fish hatchery, according to the FBI affidavit filed in the case. If convicted, they each face prison sentences of five to 20 years, Pontello said.

The affidavit says a confidential informant who has worked with the FBI since early 2004 and has provided information in at least 12 cases started giving the agency information about McDavid, Jenson and Weiner in July.

According to the FBI in Sacramento, Jenson, McDavid and Weiner were arrested Friday in the parking lot of a Kmart store in Auburn, Calif., as they were returning to the informant's car with shopping bags containing bleach, glass cleaner, rubber gloves and masks items apparently needed to construct a homemade bomb, the affidavit says.

After the arrests, FBI agents took a pocket-sized notebook from McDavid that contained drawings of what appeared to be pipe bombs and lists of ingredients for creating homemade explosives, the affidavit says. There were also drawings of the grounds of the Forest Service's Institute of Forest Genetics in Placerville, Calif., near the Eldorado National Forest.

According to the Forest Service's Web site, the Institute of Forest Genetics conducts research on the biodiversity of trees, disease-resistant species and other genetic characteristics of tree populations.

The three apparently spent the Christmas holiday with their families before meeting up in the Sacramento area to allegedly plan their attack, which was to be carried out in the coming months, the FBI says.

Jenson's mother, Valerie, contacted by phone Tuesday at her home about 35 miles southwest of Nashville, Tenn., declined to comment.

The arrests of Jenson and the other defendants came about a month after six people were arrested in connection with numerous alleged acts of eco-sabotage. Federal officials called that the biggest crackdown ever on ELF and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

Among those arrested was Chelsea Gerlach, who federal prosecutors say is a prime suspect in a string of arsons that includes a 2001 fire at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture and several 1998 fires that caused $12 million worth of damage to a Vail ski resort.

The FBI has said groups like ELF and ALF represent the nation's top domestic terror threat, though the groups reject that label and say they are careful not to harm people. The FBI estimates that ELF has caused more than $100 million in damage since 1997.

Confidential informants were instrumental in helping agents build their case against Gerlach and others arrested in December, but Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, said the agency would not divulge any information about its informants.

Jenson, according to the affidavit, has a blog on under a pseudonym. In his last posting on Dec. 31, he spoke about spending a few days in Washington, D.C., before returning to the West Coast. He wrote that he would be going "to northern cali, where i'll be living on an organic farm until april or so. the land up there is beautiful. but i'm scared.

"in about 3 days, you won't be able to contact me until springtime."

He ended the posting by saying, "i'll see you in seattle in the spring. i love ya kids ... "

Seattle Times researchers Gene Balk and Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or

Copyright 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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