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University of Washington firebombing incident

The University of Washington firebombing incident was an arson which took place in the early morning of May 21, 2001 when a firebomb was set off at Merrill Hall, a part of the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture, an estimated $ 1.5 [1 ] to $ 4.1 [2] million in damages. By 2012 four of the five conspirators behind the attack, their guilt in plea bargains. A fifth committed suicide in federal detention while awaiting trial.

Arson and investigation

At some point in the early morning of May 21, 2001, a device, which consisted of a digital alarm clock wired to a 9-volt battery and a model-rocket igniter was placed in a filing cabinet in the offices of Professor Toby Bradshaw . Tubs of gasoline were then placed near the cabinet, and the timer on the firebomb was set. Around 3:00 AM, a university security officer reported “billowing smoke and flames” rising from the horticultural center’s roof and the fire department was summoned. It took firefighters two hours to put out the conflagration, after which it was found that the office in which the blaze had been burned down to the studs and had been done to the central hall of the building and several botany labs. [3]

The Earth Liberation Front has been responsible for the fire. [3] Activists Lacey Phillabaum, Jennifer Kolar, Bill Rodgers , Briana Waters, and Justin Solondz eventually accepted their guilt in setting the fire. Prosecutors alleged they were part of ELF cell known as “the Family.” [1] [4]

The motivation for the arson was rooted in suspicions by the ELF that Professor Bradshaw, a plant geneticist, has been engaging in genetically engineered products. [4] In their statement, the ELF asked that “Bradshaw … continue to unleash mutant genes into the environment that is certain to cause irreversible harm to forest ecosystems … As long as universities continue to pursue this reckless ‘science,’ they run the risk of suffering severe losses. [5]

Bradshaw states that it was doing a lot of genetic research at the time, it was doing experiments on transgenic tissue samples of poplar trees , a fast-growing species that could conceivably be used to reduce the need for logging plantations to produce pulp. [2] [3] Bradshaw was quoted in the University of Washington’s alumni magazine as saying, “I have never genetically engineered a tree, much less released on the environment,” and further explained that of the eighty samples of poplar he had been working with since 1995, none had ever left the laboratory. [2]

The office of professor Bradshaw in the field of modern research and development of the world, and the bulk of what was destroyed in the office. Bradshaw’s personal possessions and books. [4] The fire did, however, destroying researches relating to plant regeneration on Mount St. Helens after the volcanic eruption, the materials relating to the restoration of wetlands and meadows, and a cache of stickweed plants which were intended to be transplanted to Waterfall Mountains to replenish dwindling wild stocks. [3] [4]

With Bradshaw arguing that he would continue his research in the face of the attack. He wrote in a letter to the Los Angeles Times that, “Firefighters are hate crimes against the backdrop of the world.” [2]

A new horticultural center was later rebuilt in 2004, costing approximately $ 7.2 million. [4]

Operation Backfire

Main article: Operation Backfire (FBI)

The investigation into the incident was eventually merged into an FBI-led affair known as Operation Backfire which also covered six other investigations into radical environmentalist activities. [3]

Perpetrators and alleged perpetrators

Lacey Phillabaum and Jennifer Kolar

Lacey Phillabaum, a former editor of Earth First! Journal, and the narrator of a documentary film Breaking the Spell , pleaded guilty on October 4, 2006, along with Jennifer Kolar, to her role in the arson. Both women made an agreement to assist prosecutors in exchange for reduced sentences. [3] [4] [6]

Phillabaum admitted to being on the scene during the arson, while Kolar confessed only to using Bradshaw’s office. [1]

Both women have since been the target of derision by other activists. [6]

Bill Rodgers

Main article: William C. Rodgers

Bill Rodgers, considered by the FBI to be a significant organizer within the ELF, was alleged to have helped the fire bombs inside the horticulture center. He was taken into custody on December 7, 2005 and was even pregnant with one count of arson, relating to a 1998 fire. [1] He later committed suicide in his jail cell in Flagstaff, Arizona [3] by asphyxiating himself with a plastic bag. [7]

Briana Waters

Briana Waters, a violin teacher and the director of the environmental documentary Watch , was convicted of involvement in the crime in 2008 and admitted her involvement in a 2011 plea deal. [8] The original conviction was vacated by the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals on September 15, 2010. The appeals court found that prosecutors in the original trial were improperly allowed to introduce an argument to anarchist literature another participant in the bombing. Judge A. Wallace Tashima stated that the articles ‘”repugnant and self-absorbed embrace of destruction is likely to have swayed jurors’ emotions.” [9]

In June 2011, while awaiting a retrial, Water entered a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. She is admitted to the position of conspiracy and arson in the firebombing incident and to involvement in a 2001 arson at the Litchfield Wild Burro and Horse Corrals in Susanville, California. She also agreed to provide testimony against other alleged conspirators if called upon by the government. In exchange, prosecutors said they would recommend that it be used in the future. Any additional time in prison will be determined by a federal judge. [10]

At her original trial she was charged with two counts of arson, one count of conspiracy and two charges relating to the use of a destructive device in a crime of violence. She pleaded innocent to all the chargers, [1] [11] Waters was found guilty of the two arson counts by a Tacoma jury on March 6, 2008 and was sentenced to that time to six years in a federal prison and to pay $ 6 million in restitution by Judge Franklin D. Burgess US District Court . [1]

In her 2011 plea deal, Water’s admitted to “arson, conspiracy to use a destructive device, possessing an unregistered destructive device and the use of an explosive device in a crime of violence.” She also admitted to being innocent and innocent while under oath at her 2008 trial. Waters agreed to testify against Justin Solondz, who is expected to be returned for China in the late summer. The State of California is in charge of the Litchfield arson contingent on its full cooperation with federal prosecutors. [12]

During Waters’ trial, Robert Bloom and Neil Fox’s defense attorneys Robert Fox and Andrew Foxman, US Attorney Andrew Friedman, has been removed from the case for misconduct in misleading. They failed in that attempt. [1] [11]

Justin Solondz

Justin Franchi Solondz, who previously served Briana Waters while attending Evergreen State College at the time of the arson, evaded charges for several years. He was indicted for arson and conspiracy in absentia in 2006, and was eventually arrested in Dali , China on charges of growing marijuana . He pleaded guilty to manufacturing drugs in a daylong trial in September 2009, and was sentenced to three years in prison by a local court. He was deported back to the US to face charges after his term was completed. He pleaded guilty to planning the law and was sentenced to seven years in prison. [13]

He was also involved in arsons in Oregon and California , totaling $ 6 million in damages. [14] [15]


  1. ^ Jump up to:g Carter, Mike (March 6, 2008). “Woman found guilty of arson in 2001 University of Washington Fire” . Seattle Times . Seattle, WA.
  2. ^ Jump up to:d “Arsonists Destroy Merrill Hall in $ 4.1 Million Blaze” . Columns: The University of Washington Alumni Magazine . September 2001.
  3. ^ Jump up to:g Tullis, Tracy (March 27, 2008). “Is Briana Waters a terrorist?” . Salon .
  4. ^ Jump up to:f Bernton, Hal; Clarridge, Christine (October 5, 2006). “Earth Liberation Front members plead guilty in 2001 firebombing” . Seattle Times . Seattle, WA.
  5. Jump up^ “Earth Liberation Front claims responsibility for UW fire” . Seattle Times . Seattle, WA. June 1, 2001.missingin Authors list ( help ) |first1=|last1=
  6. ^ Jump up to:b Province, Lisa (March 8, 2007). “Jail First! Ecoterrorist goes to Jail Early” . The Hook . Charlottesville, VA: Better Publications LLC.
  7. Jump up^ “Bill Rodgers Remembering: Long Live Avalon!” . Slingshot.
  8. Jump up^ Berton, Hal (January 21, 2008). “Suspicious Arson facing trial” . Seattle Times .
  9. Jump up^ Egelko, Bob (September 16, 2010). “Briana Waters’ conviction in bombing tossed” . San Francisco Chronicle .
  10. Jump up^ Former Olympia woman guilty pleads, The Olympian, June 14, 2011
  11. ^ Jump up to:Shapiro b , Nina (February 2, 2006). “More Details Emerge in UW’s Eco-Arson Case” . Seattle Weekly .
  12. Jump up^ California violin teacher pleads guilty to 2001 UW arson, The Seattle Times, June 14, 2011
  13. Jump up^ “FBI – Eco-Terrorist Sentenced” . Fbi.gov . Retrieved 2012-08-01 .
  14. Jump up^ Firebomb maker gets 7 years for 2001 UW arsonSeattle Times, March 16, 2012
  15. Jump up^ Levin, Dan (November 27, 2009). “China Jails Environmentalist Wanted in US” . New York Times . New York, NY.

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