WASHINGTON - A bill introduced in Congress would make federal crimes out of attacks by "ecoterrorists" on car dealerships, such as the vandalism in California in August attributed to radical environmentalists.
The legislation was introduced on Oct. 16 by freshman Rep. Chris Chocola, R-Ind., and 42 co-sponsors.
Some of the August attacks were aimed at Hummer SUVs. Chocola's district includes the Hummer assembly plant in Mishawaka, Ind.
The FBI, which is investigating the attacks, could charge people arrested under federal statutes, says FBI spokesman Ed Cogswell. But Brooks Kochvar, Chocola's chief of staff, says the bill would give prosecutors another tool and would provide for increased penalties.
The bill would set fines and a prison term of up to five years when property damage occurs.
A 10-year prison term could be applied when people are injured, and a life sentence could be handed down if people die in such an attack.
Ecoterrorism is defined in the legislation as property damage to any business inflicted "with the intent to influence the public with regard to conduct the offender considers harmful to the environment."
The National Automobile Dealers Association hasn't taken a position on the Chocola bill, says Tom Greene, NADA's COO for legislative affairs.
Tim Smith, a California dealer and chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Association, says dealers should support the measure to "send a clear message to these extremists that malicious destruction of property is unacceptable."
The worst of the attacks occurred Aug. 22, when more than 20 vehicles were destroyed and dozens of others were damaged at four dealerships in Los Angeles suburbs.