A new breed of animal rights activist isn’t content with vandalism or arson, but is encouraging deadly acts of terrorism instead.
In the wee hours of March 7, 2009, David Jentsch was startled out of his sleep by the sound of an explosion. The UCLA professor ran outside to find his car engulfed in flames. The fire quickly spread to a nearby tree before firefighters were able to douse it.
The next day, self-described members of the “Animal Liberation Brigade” claimed responsibility for the firebombing. They also warned ominously: “we will come for you when you least expect it and do a lot more damanage [sic] than to your property.” The message was posted on the website of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which publishes communiqués from underground animal rights activists.
Soon afterward, Jentsch, a professor of psychology and psychiatry whose research involves rodents and non-human primates, began receiving menacing E-mails and packages containing razors.
Who would do such a thing?
That person would be Camille Marino, 47, who lives in Wildwood, Fla., and who formerly worked in the investment banking business. In recent years, she has devoted herself full-time to the animal rights movement. NIO is her brainchild, and she doesn’t care if someone gets hurt.
Like many animal rights activists, Marino opposes the consumption of meat, eggs and dairy, and the use of leather, fur and wool. The bulk of her wrath, however, is reserved for “vivisectionists,” the scientists who use live animals for research purposes.
Using language and tactics consciously borrowed from violent anti-abortion extremists, Marino sends threatening E-mails, publicizes the personal information of her targets, and encourages NIO sympathizers to destroy their lives by whatever means they deem appropriate, whether lawful or not.
No one is off limits. The group has verbally attacked students — among them an undergraduate researcher at Florida Atlantic University whose work involved fruit flies. And it has gone after professors who don’t work directly with animals but use open source data collected by others who have.
Marino and her group have caught the attention of the FBI, which in a recent biosecurity briefing to agents identified NIO’s campaign against student researchers as a “new trend in domestic threats.”
NIO’s crusade represents a sharp escalation of movement tactics that emerged a little more than a decade ago, when activists began to target individuals rather than institutions and labs. So far, no murders have been attributed to the movement. But scientists are clearly worried.
“She [Marino] has taken this to a level that very few others have,” Jentsch said. “She’s really become sort of the nationally visible representative of ‘just pummel people, take them on personally, put all the cards on the table and do everything possible to crush them.’ That part is distinctive about her; it’s almost an art form.”
A ‘Chalk Outline’
About a year after she started harassing Jentsch, Marino posted an image of a chalk outline with the words “Animal Abuser Was Here” and announced that her group was ramping up its war against researchers. Mentioning Jentsch by name, she wrote, “The image on this page is not a cute logo. It is my personal belief that if you are a sadistic animal torturer, that is all you deserve — a chalk outline.”
As if the message weren’t explicit enough, she reinforced it: “If you spill blood, your blood should be spilled as well. [W]e’re no longer playing games. We will print your information. And we’ll be at your homes. We’ll be at your work. We’ll be at your country clubs and golf courses. We’ll see you at your manicurist and we’ll be kneeling next to you when you take that next holy communion wafer on Sunday. If I have my way, you’ll be praying to us for mercy.”
Jentsch did not ignore the warning. He moved and changed his phone number. It didn’t do much good. An NIO sympathizer soon found him, and his new address appeared on the website, along with a photo of his gate and instructions on hacking into a home security system. In July 2010, Marino sent him a mocking E-mail: “Everyone at NIO is most anxious to throw you a housewarming … a very very hot housewarming. haha. Just joking.”
Frightened by what he saw as a threat of arson, Jentsch obtained a permanent restraining order against Marino. Though he is still listed among NIO’s “Most Wanted,” the group has turned the bulk of its attention to new prey — especially students, whom Marino sees as highly vulnerable to the type of pressure her followers are willing to exert. NIO has even offered “Ea$y Money” to undergraduates willing to provide information about peers involved in animal research.
“Aspiring scientists envision curing cancer at the Mayo Clinic,” Marino wrote in March 2011. “We need to impart a new vision: car bombs, 24/7 security cameras, embarrassing home demonstrations, threats, injuries, and fear. And, of course, these students need to realize that any personal risk they are willing to assume will also be visited upon their parents, children, and nearest & dearest loved ones.”
ITTS has already claimed responsibility for wounding researchers and support staff on three continents and says it will continue “without compassion and without mercy.”
Ditto for Marino. She openly acknowledges that she considers violence an acceptable tactic. “There is a war being waged against animals and any act committed in the name of love and compassion against those who are waging the war I do not consider an act of terrorism,” she told the Intelligence Report. “I’ve never done anything violent and I don’t intend to. But if some unknown person took that step, I would support and applaud it.”
In fact, she already has. Marino lavishes attention on Walter Bond, a self-identified ALF “operative” who is currently serving an 87-month prison sentence for arsons in Colorado and Utah. Describing him NIO’s “director of Militant Direct Action,” Marino has made her website a conduit through which Bond can spread his ideology.
“I regret that I did not take more drastic action when I had the chance,” he wrote on the NIO website last December. “My arsons were good but I could have made a stronger and more permanent statement with my actions.”
A month later, Bond wrote: “Let’s be honest, the world would simply be a better place for Animals if people like Animal researchers, slaughterhouse workers and even non-Vegans were disposed of. It’s kind of difficult to harm an Animal if you’re dead.”
‘Extensional’ self defense
However much she lionizes him, Walter Bond is not Marino’s chief ideological idol. That honor belongs to Steven Best, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who last year was barred from entering the U.K., where he had been invited to speak at an animal rights rally.
Best declined repeated interview requests from the Report, saying via E-mail that a productive conversation would not be possible unless the Southern Poverty Law Center (the Report’s publisher) gets its “moral bearings straight” and takes on the “academic-industrial complex” as “the true forces of hate.”
Best’s views, though, are easily found in his essays, blog posts and YouTube videos.
“Let every motherfucker who shoots animals be shot; Let every motherfucker who poisons animals be injected with a barrel of battery acid; Let every motherfucking vivisector be vivisected and thrown away like the shit they are,” he wrote in 2011. “May this upside down world be set right … and the human voice never again be heard.”
Best has never faced criminal sanctions for acting on his beliefs, but he has flirted with what activists call “direct action.” In April 2010, he posted on NIO a video of himself attempting to confront a man rumored to trap and poison cats that wandered into his yard. The man wasn’t home, but his wife and small daughter were. “If I hear he’s hurting cats, I’m going to be all over his office,” Best told them. “You tell him I’ll have a thousand people all over this place. You tell him Steve Best dropped by. You remember that name.”
Best posted the man’s phone numbers and addresses, along with pictures of his wife and children, beneath the video. In an update the next day, he thanked “all who called and expressed concern” for letting the alleged cat-poisoner know “he is being watched.”
Best is much admired within the radical fringe of the animal liberation movement. As co-founder of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office (with which Marino is also involved), he’s helped enable “underground” activists — like the Animal Liberation Brigade member who firebombed Jentsch’s car — to anonymously claim credit for terrorist acts.
His biggest contribution to the movement is ideological. Under his notion of “extensional self-defense,” humans are morally justified to act as “proxy agents” for animals and use violence against their “oppressors.” This doctrine is virtually identical to that embraced by anti-abortion extremists, who call the murder of abortion practitioners “defensive action” and celebrate those who do it.
Marino — who told the Report that she considers herself pro-choice — is well aware of this parallel. She routinely refers to Jentsch as “David ‘Tiller’ Jentsch,” a reference to George Tiller, the Wichita, Kan., abortion provider who was shot dead at his church by activist Scott Roeder in 2009. In March 2011, Marino posted on NIO a news story about a push in some states to broaden the definition of “justifiable homicide” to include murder committed in defense of an unborn child. “Animal liberationists are encouraged to pay close attention to the anti-abortionists’ tactics and strategies,” she wrote. “The logical extension of their efforts is to expand the definition further to include murder committed in defense of an imprisoned and tortured nonhuman animal.”
Recently, Marino’s rhetoric has become even more extreme, leaving no doubt that she endorses murder. “If abusers are dead, they cease being abusers,” she wrote on her Facebook page in January. “I fully support justifiable homicide in the war for animal liberation.”
A Schism Within the Movement
Violence is by no means universally accepted within the radical animal rights community. Indeed, Best and Marino spend nearly as much energy jousting with their opponents within the movement as they do lambasting researchers and others who occupy the so-called “academic-industrial complex.”
A favorite target is Gary Francione, a Rutgers University law professor who is famous in some circles for proposing that there is no morally justifiable use of animals by humans but who also categorically opposes violence as a means of stopping it.
Best’s collaboration with NIO came under scrutiny of late.
In late October, Marino announced that she was having financial difficulty and began collecting donations through a PayPal link on her site. After an online publication called Death & Taxes reported that the PayPal account belonged to Best, she removed the link and posted a lengthy and unconvincing essay attempting to distance her organization from the professor, though her reason for doing so was unclear.
Although Best was “once” a senior editor (he left in 2011 and continued posting on the site frequently after that) and did indeed help “keep the website afloat” for a time, Marino insists he has no direct role with the group. “Dr. Best and I are friends,” she wrote. “It is appalling that his profession and livelihood are being assailed because of our personal association.” Though the PayPal button was removed almost immediately after the Death & Taxes article appeared, she wrote, the two events were entirely unrelated. (As of press time, Marino had not re-established a means of raising money online; instead, she asks supporters to send donations by regular mail.)
Marino owes more than $6,000 in legal fees she was ordered to pay as the result of a legal bout with Donal O’Leary, a cardiovascular researcher at Detroit’s Wayne State University who obtained a protective order after she targeted him in October. Having violated a judge’s order that she remove all references to O’Leary from her site and refrain from discussing him on social media, she faces arrest and possible jail time if she ever sets foot in Michigan.
But Marino is chugging along faster than ever, posting pictures, naming names and declaring war against so-called animal oppressors. Recently, she bragged about NIO’s victory in a freedom of information lawsuit against the University of Florida, which in early January was ordered to turn over certain information about its animal research labs.
Certain information, but not all. Citing “substantial concern for the personal safety of individuals,” the judge permitted the school some discretion in redacting information it feared could expose faculty, staff and students to harassment. In the meantime, campus police — in consultation with local authorities as well as their counterparts at Wayne State and UCLA, where Jentsch works — are developing strategies to keep current and future targets safe.
“It’s kind of disheartening, because you do have to wait for something to happen,” Linda Stump, the University of Florida’s chief of police, told the Report. Working within the limits of laws that allow Marino tremendous leeway to post her messages of hate, she said, the department is doing its best “to get out in front of this” before anyone gets hurt.