Lawmakers, researchers, and peaceful activists all say they deplore violence committed in the name of animal rights. But laws that may label some protesters as “domestic terrorists” are upsetting activists.
by Sue Russell (Miller-mcCune)
This is the third of several stories exploring the contentious relationship between the scientific community, which insists animal research is essential to medical progresss, and the animal rights activists working to abolish animal experimentation. Earlier pieces included the effort to shift the debate from sidewalks to courtrooms, and efforts to establish the “personhood” of species like apes and whales.
Daniel Andreas San Diego joined Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” watch list in 2009. Bin Laden is gone, but San Diego remains. Listed as “armed and dangerous,” with a $250,000 price on his head, the Berkeley, California, native is only the second U.S. citizen to make this particular FBI list. He is 34, a vegan, and a skilled sailor. His tattoos depict burning, collapsing buildings. On his chest is a burning hillside coupled with the words, “It only takes a spark.”
San Diego is an animal rights zealot. He is under federal indictment for allegedly igniting explosive devices outside two Northern California firms – biotechnology giant Chiron and homecare-product manufacturer Shaklee — in 2003. The FBI says a potentially deadly second explosive at Shaklee, strapped with nails and likely targeted at first responders, was defused.
Frankie Trull, founder and president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, calls these “inexplicable, unforgiveable kinds of actions.”
FBI assistant director Mike Heimbach calls them acts of terror, possibly meant to take lives, destroy property, and damage companies. The FBI has noted an uptick in violent rhetoric by animal activists and a shifting away from the code of nonviolence toward blatant threats and intimidation. Its website asserts that between 1979 and 2008, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth Liberation Front, and other extremist groups have committed more than 2,000 criminal acts and caused $110 million in damages.
In a February 2011 Nature magazine poll, nearly a quarter of the animal research scientists who responded reported being affected by or knowing someone affected by animal rights activists. A little more than 15 percent had changed practices or direction as a result. Whether driven by fear or conscience, some large institutions are responding to calls for animal rights — this week, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inked a deal with cosmetic maker L’Oreal that they hope brings them closer to one day using a computerized system to forecast a chemical’s safety instead of using live animals.
Ultimately, as long as biomedical researchers continue experiments using animals, they’re likely to have their own image problems in the war for hearts and minds.
In January, protesters waved signs asking the government to remove Harvard’s animal-testing license for violations in Harvard-affiliated labs and to suspend animal testing there. Then, on March 1, the director of Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center stepped down after the death of a fourth monkey in 21 months attributable to “human error.”
In June 2010, a dead animal was found after being left in a cage being sanitized with water reaching 180 degrees Fahrenheit. The facility said it died before entering the washer. Research is currently suspended at the center, which has more than 1,700 monkeys and has received 19 citations from the USDA for Animal Welfare Act violations in three years.
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Daniel Andreas San Diego’s gripe with Chiron and Shaklee, authorities believe, was that both companies apparently did business with Huntingdon Life Sciences, one of the world’s largest contract research organizations, with operations in the United Kingdom, United States, and Japan. It provides animal-testing facilities and services to clients in such industries as pharmaceuticals, food, and chemicals.
Huntingdon has long aroused the ire of moderates as well as extremists. Since 1989, disturbing undercover footage — from showing a beagle pup being punched in the face to a live monkey being dissected apparently while conscious — has emerged from various undercover investigations. In 2001, a Huntingdon executive in the U.K. was severely beaten by three masked extremists bearing bats.
The FBI believes San Diego has ties to Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and ALF — two groups blamed for some of the most dangerous criminal acts in the name of animal liberation. ALF is an amorphous organization with autonomous underground cells of outliers. San Diego has been described as a “lone wolf,” Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and the ALF as “leaderless resistance.”
ALF’s website says it “has historically been opposed to violence against any living being, though other groups and activists do not observe this limitation.” Defending illegal actions like property destruction, it says: “Members of the ALF and other underground organizations feel that in order to truly liberate animals, the unjust laws that allow their exploitation must be broken.”