Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty Threatens Terrorist-Style Attack
Radical environmental and animal-rights groups have always drawn the line at targeting humans. Not anymore.
SHAC Ups the Ante
Meanwhile, SHAC was teaching other potent lessons — and getting results that have only spurred eco-radicals on.
Last year, Barclay's Bank in the United Kingdom pulled its financing of Huntingdon Life Sciences, saying it "couldn't guarantee the safety" of its employees. Charles Schwab, an American financial firm, also pulled out after protesters occupied its offices in Birmingham, England.
When Huntingdon moved to the U.S. last year, hoping to escape the wrath of U.K. activists, the violence didn't let up. SHAC-USA's Web site boasted that a company vice president here "was visited several times, had several car windows broken, tires slashed, house spray painted with slogans. His wife is reportedly on the brink of a nervous breakdown and divorce."
In July 2001, a related group, "Pirates for Animal Liberation," took responsibility for trying to sink the private yacht of a Bank of New York executive to protest the bank's connection with Huntingdon.
The Stephens Group, an investment firm in Arkansas, was subjected to a campaign of harassment after announcing a $33 million loan to Huntingdon. After backing out this February, CEO Warren Stephens said the company had been "aware of the activists, but I don't think we understood exactly what lengths they would go to."
SHAC-USA rejoiced along with its allies in the ALF and ELF.
S"If we can push this domino down," Kevin Jonas told US News & World Report, "there is no domino we can't push down."
Targeting Scientists, and Others
Scientists have been increasingly targeted — with similar success. In July, Dr. Michael Podell halted his AIDS studies and resigned from Ohio State University, giving up a tenured position and a $1.7 million research project.
Podell, who was using cats to study why drug users seem to succumb more quickly to AIDS, received nearly a dozen death threats after PETA put the experiment on its "action alert" list. Podell was sent a photograph of a British scientist whose car had been bombed. "You're next" was scrawled across the top of the photo.
The use of animals in research has decreased in the last few decades, according to government estimates — and the use of cats has dropped a whopping 66 percent since 1967. But scientists say that some research, like Podell's, cannot be done with computer modeling or with human subjects.
"It's a small number of animals to get information to potentially help millions of people," Podell told The New York Times.
But that argument did not hold water with PETA, or with the local protest group that sprung up in Columbus. Eventually, they wore down Podell.
"Scientists tend to be good targets," Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, which promotes "humane and responsible" animal testing, told the Intelligence Report. "Their temperament is such that they don't really fight back. The ALF is like the bully in the schoolyard for them."
Pumped up by their victories, eco-radicals have made it clear that their agenda is broadening in a big — and potentially dangerous — way.
If President Bush expands the nuclear-power industry, said a spokesperson for SHAC-USA, that industry will be targeted next. The ultimate target, as the ELF says in a video, is nothing short of "the entire capitalist system."
The Justice Department
While SHAC sets a new standard for eco-terrorism, another British import is making American and Canadian authorities even more nervous.
Since it sprang up in 1993, the so-called Justice Department has claimed responsibility for hundreds of violent attacks in the U.K. With an underground cell structure similar to those of the ALF and ELF, the Justice Department has made creative use of letter bombs, which have injured several people, and sent out scores of envelopes rigged with poisoned razor blades.
The London Independent called the Justice Department's attacks "the most sustained and sophisticated bombing campaign in mainland Britain since the IRA was at its height."
In January 1996, after the group became active in North America, the Justice Department claimed responsibility for sending envelopes with blades dipped in rat poison to 80 researchers, hunting guides and others in British Columbia, Alberta and around the United States.
The blades were taped inside the opening edge of the envelopes, poised to cut the fingers of anyone opening the letters.
"Dear animal killing scum!" read the note inside. "Hope we sliced your finger wide open and that you now die from the rat poison we smeared on the razor blade." The letter signed off, "Justice Department strikes again."
Authorities in Great Britain have suggested that Keith Mann of the ALF currently serving an 11-year prison sentence in Britain, founded the Justice Department, although that has not been proven.
A Taste of Fear
Just as EarthFirst! ultimately became too "tame" for the eco-saboteurs who formed the ELF, groups like the Justice Department seem to attract frustrated activists who don't want to hold the line against harming humans. The existence of such violent spinoffs, including the Animal Rights Militia, allows ELF and ALF to continue claiming ethical purity by way of comparison.
How do these groups defend their methods? "If the animals could fight back," says the Justice Department, "there would be a lot of dead animal abusers already."
The group's fact sheet — posted on an ALF Web site — makes it clear that the Justice Department thinks of itself as a more extreme version of the ALF.
"The Animal Liberation Front achieved what other methods have not while adhering to nonviolence," the Justice Department manifesto reads. "A separate idea was established that decided animal abusers had been warned long enough. ... [T]he time has come for abusers to have but a taste of the fear and anguish their victims suffer on a daily basis."
A similar thought occurred to one of America's legendary terrorists, Ted Kaczynski. And the connection is more than philosophical.
During his trial, Kaczynski admitted that he was in contact with EarthFirst! during his Unabomber days. In fact, he found at least one of his targets — Thomas Mosser, a New Jersey advertising executive, who was killed instantly when he opened a package from the Unabomber — by reading about Mosser's firm in the EarthFirst! journal.
In his manifesto, Kaczynski sounded for all the world like an eco-extremist as he took credit for Mosser's violent death: "We blew up Thomas Mosser last December because he was a Burston-Marsteller executive. Among other misdeeds, Burston-Marsteller helped Exxon clean up its image after the Exxon Valdez incident."
Officials noted that Kaczynski misspelled the company's name — it should be Burson, not Burston — precisely the same way that EarthFirst! did. They also noted that, as reported in the
Washington Post, the EarthFirst! journal got it wrong: Burson-Marsteller "never worked for Exxon on the spill." Thanks to incorrect information from EarthFirst!, Mosser was killed for something his company never did.
A Murder in the Netherlands
Frustration with the slow pace of nonviolent change appears to be epidemic in the movement. In September 2001, ALF co-founder Ronnie Lee told Jane's Intelligence Review, "So far no one on the other side has ever been seriously harmed or killed. But that may now change."
It didn't take long for Lee to be proved right. This May, as the debate over "eco-terrorism" raged in the United States, an apparent "eco-assassination" in Europe sent shockwaves through the environmental activists and their targets.
Less than two weeks before voters in the Netherlands would choose a new government, animal-rights activist Volkert van der Graaf allegedly pumped six bullets into Pim Fortuyn, a right-wing anti-immigration candidate for prime minister. Van der Graaf may have been enraged by Fortuyn's support of pig farmers in a debate with animal rights activists.
Fortuyn's death at the hands of a veteran activist spawned a wave of "I-told-you-so" editorials in European newspapers, which have sharply criticized the escalating violence of radical activists in recent years, warning that murder was the next step.
Fortuyn, a dog lover whose environmental views were generally more moderate than his hard-right stance on immigration, had expressed similar exasperation earlier in the campaign, telling the green group Milieudefensie, "I'm sick to death of your environmental movement."
Could eco-activism spawn another van der Graaf — or another Kaczynski — in the United States? If it happens, don't expect the ALF or ELF to take responsibility.
The groups' guidelines for cell members always include a crucial escape clause, like this one in "Frequently Asked Questions About the Earth Liberation Front": "If an action similar to one performed by ELF occurred and resulted in an individual becoming physically injured or losing their life, this would not be considered an ELF action."
By refusing to take responsibility for any actions that harm humans, the ALF and ELF implicitly acknowledge that violence directed at people is a foreseeable result of the tactics they promote. Their ever-more-fiery rhetoric and increasingly brash methods could inspire future Kaczynskis and van der Graafs.
In fact, the 32-year-old van der Graaf was the founder of Zeeland's Animal Liberation Front before he went on to found Milieu Offensief (Environment Offensive). His story reads like a cautionary tale, especially now that the American ELF and ALF seem to take their cues from the Europeans.
While van der Graaf was an avowed enemy of factory farming, most of his attacks on farmers had been peaceful. Environment Offensive filed more than 2,200 lawsuits against big farming interests.
"His weapon was the law," a member of Environment Offensive told Dutch television.
But van der Graaf was apparently provoked to more drastic action by his frustration with fighting "the system." When Dutch police searched the suspect's home after Fortuyn's murder, they found documents linking van der Graaf to a recent outbreak of direct-action attacks on a mink factory and a poultry farm.
They also found that van der Graaf apparently hadn't intended to stop with Fortuyn: He had floor plans of the homes of three of Fortuyn's fellow List Party candidates for the parliament.
What happens when U.S. companies and politicians keep getting in the way of eco-radicals' goals? Peter Singer, a Princeton University philosopher and long-time darling of many eco-radicals, recently acknowledged the quandary faced by many in the movement — and the direction in which it clearly seems headed.
"We who have an affinity with non-human animals and nature," Singer told the Australian Herald-Sun, "are finding it increasingly difficult to love our fellow man."
Kevin Jonas of SHAC-USA, which is inspiring a new breed of activist, put it even more bluntly. "There's a very famous quote by John F. Kennedy," he told the Intelligence Report. "If you make peaceful revolution impossible, you make violent revolution inevitable."
Indeed, further violence seems almost inevitable. Just ask Craig Rosebraugh, the long-time ELF spokesman who recently left that post to pursue theoretical work for the movement.
Attending the Institute for Social Ecology at Goddard College in Vermont, Rosebraugh's master's thesis has a revealing working title: "Rethinking Nonviolence: Arguing for the Legitimacy of Armed Struggle."