Animal rights activists or thugs?

Friday, June 11, 2004

A federal grand jury in Newark, N.J., recently indicted seven animal rights activists on charges of "animal enterprise terrorism."

All are linked to an extremist group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, or SHAC, which has targeted Huntingdon Life Sciences, a British-founded, New Jersey-based pharmaceutical testing company that uses animals in its testing.

SHAC's fanatics have also targeted companies that do business with Huntingdon, including Ligand Pharmaceuticals, which has research facilities in San Diego.

Federal prosecutors say that SHAC actually posted an online list of its "Top 20 Terror Tactics," including vandalism, threatening letters and phone calls, e-mail "bombs" to crash computers, home invasions and physical assaults.

"Their business, quite frankly, is thuggery and intimidation," Christopher Christie, U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, said during a recent news conference.

Indeed, the grand jury indictment of the SHAC seven lists several acts of borderline terrorism by the extremist animal rights group that includes the instigation of protesters to smash the windows of a Huntingdon employee and vandalize his cars, and to spray-paint the home of another Huntingdon employee and slash the tires on his car.

SHAC also waged an intimidation campaign against New York-based Marsh Inc., which provided insurance for Huntingdon.

The animal rights militants allegedly acquired personal information on a number of Marsh employees--including, in some cases, the names, ages and schools attended by their children--and posted the information on its Web site. The site later carried reports that the homes of several of those Marsh employees were vandalized.

Then there was Chiron Corp., an Emeryville, Calif., biotechnology company, which SHAC listed as a target on its Web site. Last August, it was rocked by two pipe bombs.

In an e-mail posted on the Web site of Bite Back magazine, animal rights terrorists threatened to double the size of their bombs. "Today it is 10 pounds (of explosives), tomorrow 20," they declared, "until your buildings are nothing but rubble."

And the animal rights extremists--"violent fanatics," as U.S. Attorney Christie describes them--promise they will not stop at merely destroying buildings. "All customers and their families are considered legitimate targets," they warn.

That's why it is so imperative that the Justice Department crack down on groups like SHAC. Those animal rights extremists have crossed the line in pursuit of their political ends--from peaceful advocacy to domestic terrorism.

Indeed, in recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, John E. Lewis, the FBI's deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, told lawmakers that groups like SHAC, like the so-called Animal Liberation Front (ALF), have committed more than 1,100 criminal acts in this country over the past three decades, resulting in damages of more than $100 million.

Lewis testified that ALF, closely aligned with SHAC, has in recent years become one of "the most active criminal extremist elements in the United States." In fact, much of the animal rights "movement" is extremist, a gathering danger to American society, including the radically chic People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

Having failed to persuade much of the American population that "animals have the same rights as retarded children," to quote PETA co-founder Alex Pacheco, animal rights militants are resorting to more drastic measures to make their point.

"Those who make peaceful change possible make violent revolution inevitable," declared PETA, bastardizing a quote from John F. Kennedy, in a statement to the Judiciary Committee.

And PETA has put its money where its heart is. It has donated more than $150,000 to criminal activists, to individuals jailed for arson, burglary and attempted murder, according to the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit group that supports animal research.

In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, McGregor W. Scott, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, noted that "millions of Americans belong to legitimate animal welfare and animal protection groups.

"They speak for a long-standing tradition in this country that abhors cruelty to animals. They advance their cause and seek reforms by lawful means, in legislative votes, court decisions and ballot initiatives."

That's the right way to campaign for humane treatment of animals. The tactics employed by extremist groups like SHAC, like ALF, like PETA, are the wrong way.

Joseph Perkins is a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune and can be reached at Joseph.Perkins@UnionTrib.com.

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