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Profile: Charles C. Russo
Charles C. Russo was a participant or observer in the following events:
Three teenagers affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF—see 1997) environmental activist group burn down luxury housing units under construction on Long Island, New York. ELF activists take credit for two more fires in the area, along with numerous acts of vandalism, including breaking windows and painting “Meat is Murder” on a McDonald’s corporate office. Suffolk County Detective Charles Dohrenwend says: “We have to devote a lot of energy to this thing because these people are not going away. They are dangerous.” The Long Island housing units are set ablaze with crude, homemade explosive devices at about 6 a.m. No one is injured in the fire. Three houses are damaged by fire and smoke; a fourth has the words “ELF,” “Stop Urban Sprawl,” “If you build it we will burn it,” and “Burn the rich” spray-painted on exterior walls in red paint. Damage is estimated at $35,000 to $40,000. An ELF press release will be sent out the next day claiming that the fires are “an early New Year’s gift to Long Island’s environment destroyers,” and saying ELF is trying to cost “the rich sprawl corporations” enough to force them to stop. ELF has long said that “urban sprawl” causes widespread damage to wildlife habitats and natural features. Local environmentalists condemn the arson, but say overdevelopment of Long Island was still a valid concern, as developers of new housing projects vie for limited open space on which to build. Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society says: “The reaction of these terrorists is wrong. But they are not wrong about the fact of overdevelopment of Long Island. Just because they are behaving like terrorists doesn’t mean we are not overbuilt.” The ELF press release also says that the arson is done in support for a local animal rights activist, Andrew Stepanian, who was recently convicted of throwing a brick through the display windows of a fur store in Huntington. Two months later, three teenagers, Matthew Rammelkamp, George Mashkow, and Jared McIntyre, will plead guilty to setting the fires, and will agree to cooperate with federal authorities investigating ELF. Rammelkamp will say he learned of the site from the ELF Web site. According to Rammelkamp’s testimony, he “obtained and received information from the ELF Web site and used that information in furtherance of that conspiracy. I and others then reported, by press release, those acts.” It is unclear if Rammelkamp, Mashkow, and McIntyre are active members of ELF (which has virtually no hierarchical organizational structure and no official membership lists), independent sympathizers, or merely used the ELF information as an excuse to commit arson. It is common practice for ELF and other such organizations (see 1970s) to post “target” listings on Web sites and, when someone burns or vandalizes those targets, to post news of the actions on the sites. Thomas Liotti, Rammelkamp’s lawyer, will say: “I think these kids had the best of intentions. In no way are they involved in any organized, national ELF effort.… This is a little bit McCarthyesque. What organizations are terrorist organizations? Can 16-year-old kids be charged in federal court?… I don’t think the federal government should be involved in this case. To me, it is nothing more than an arson case, and [Rammelkamp] should be afforded youthful-offender treatment in state court.” Mashkow’s lawyer, Charles C. Russo, will say: “I am not representing an environmental activist. I am representing a 17-year-old misguided kid who basically made the monumental mistake in his life.” Russo will say that Mashkow does not claim membership in ELF and is remorseful for his participation. [New York Times, 1/3/2001; New York Times, 1/8/2001; New York Times, 2/14/2001; New York Times, 2/15/2001; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
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