SUV Owners Find Hill Ally in Fight Against ELF

Posted November 21, 2003 at 4:45pm

With 18,000 members behind him, SUV Owners of America President Jason Vines is lashing out against violent environmental groups that have targeted his constituency.

But in his efforts on behalf of sport utility vehicle drivers, including support of eco- terror legislation introduced by Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.), Vines is targeting the tamer groups as well.

“We’re concerned nonviolent groups create an encouraging environment for these wackos,” Vines said.

The “wackos” Vines refers to are the guerrilla-like protesters belonging to the Earth Liberation Front, an organization known for its pyrotechnic stunts with pricey Hummer SUVs. An underground movement of anonymous activists, the “elves” descend on virtually anything they consider not eco-friendly, Vines said, adding that to date, their protests have caused nearly $100 million in damages.

Like the cars they ignite, the people of ELF have been under fire themselves lately with some of the heat coming from Capitol HIll. Chocola introduced a bill Oct. 16 that proposes a new statute of terrorism be created. Any act done “intentionally to cause damage in the name of the environment” would be considered eco-terrorism, with perpetrators facing possible jail time of five years or more, said Brooks Kochvar, Chocola’s chief of staff.

Of course, the anti-SUV stunts ELF performs hit especially close to home for members of the 4-year-old SUV Owners of America. Vines, who drives a Chevrolet Suburban, is working to rally support for the bill. A former employee of Ford, Nissan and Chrysler, Vines is now a senior public relations representative at Stratecomm, a firm whose client list, which includes his pro-SUV group, reads like a car magazine.

“We’re very open about our agenda,” Vines said in an interview. “We’re sick of all the crap out there.”

With no plans of hiring a lobbying group or getting involved with the politics of the legislation, Vines said he’s conducting a pure grassroots effort to support Chocola’s bill. Asking his fellow four-wheel-driving friends to contact their Representative and spreading word of his cause via the Internet, Vines hopes to give Chocola’s bill a big push. Additionally, the SUV Owners president wants to multiply membership of his group to 50,000 within three months.

While Vines has been reaching out, Chocola’s office has called on other, more subdued environmental organizations to lobby for the bill. The Sierra Club, an environmental group that boasts a membership of 700,000, is reluctant to give an endorsement of the terrorism bill.

“We don’t believe it necessary to adopt legislation to outlaw a new crime,” said Bruce Hamilton, the group’s national conservation director.

Although he says the Sierra Club does not support ELF, Hamilton said he is content with existing laws.

“The reason for a fire shouldn’t matter,” he said. “This is not a good path to go down.”

Vines finds it difficult to believe there would be any opposition to the bill.

“We have a right to own,” he said. “Once we saw that bill, we got right behind Congress.”