July 3, 2006
IN THE NAME OF THE ANIMALS
America faces a new kind of terrorism
JOHN J. MILLER
Six days after the World Trade Center was destroyed, the New York Stock Exchange rang its opening bell and traders sang “God Bless America” from the floor: They wanted to send a loud-and-clear message to the world that al-Qaeda could not shut down the U.S. economy. Even though the Dow suffered its biggest one-day point-loss in history, the mere fact that buying and selling could resume so quickly marked an inspiring day for capitalism and against terrorism.
On September 7, 2005, however, terrorists struck again, and the NYSE still hasn’t recovered. This time, they didn’t target a couple of skyscrapers near the exchange, but rather a company called Life Sciences Research (LSR). It had recently qualified for a NYSE listing and its senior management had gathered on Wall Street to celebrate the occasion. Just a few minutes before the first trades were set to occur, NYSE president Catherine Kinney informed her guests that their listing would be postponed. It was immediately obvious to everyone from LSR what had happened: “A handful of animal extremists had succeeded where Osama bin Laden had failed,” Mark Bibi, the company’s general counsel, would say in congressional testimony the next month.
LSR is better known by the name of its operating subsidiary, Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), which is in the business of testing products on animals to assess their safety and comply with government regulations. Most people probably don’t like to think about what goes on in these labs — vivisections of monkeys, for instance — but they also appreciate the importance of research whose ultimate goal is the protection and enhancement of human health. About 95 percent of all lab animals are rats and mice, but for animal-rights extremists who believe that “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” (as Ingrid Newkirk of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals once said), the whole endeavor is deeply immoral. And some of them have decided that because the traditional practices of honest persuasion and civil disobedience haven’t changed many hearts or minds, they must now adopt a different strategy — something they euphemistically call “direct action.” These are efforts to intimidate and harass animal researchers and everyone who comes into contact with them. In recent years, hardcore activists have embraced property destruction and physical assaults. “This is the number-one domestic terrorist threat in America,” says Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican. Keeping LSR off the Big Board probably represents their greatest achievement yet.
RED IN TOOTH AND CLAW
The animal-rights movement may be wrongheaded, but there’s no denying that most of its members are motivated by genuine compassion for animals and a sincere commitment to preventing cruelty. There’s also no denying that violence in their name has become a significant problem. Just as the pro-life movement is haunted by the murderers of abortion doctors, the environmental and animal-rights movements are cursed by their own packs of fierce radicals. A year ago, the FBI said that 35 of its offices were conducting more than 150 investigations into “animal rights/eco-terrorist activities.” The number of illegal incidents involving these activities has risen sharply, from 220 in the 1980s and 1990s to 363 in just the last five years, according to a recent report by the Foundation for Biomedical Research, an association of businesses and universities that conduct animal research. (By contrast, abortion-clinic violence appears to be subsiding.)
“Other groups don’t come close in terms of the financial damage they’ve done,” says John Lewis, an FBI agent who until recently coordinated federal efforts against domestic terrorism. Not even militants in the mold of Timothy McVeigh, the man behind the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995? “We have an acute interest in all of these groups, but when the rubber meets the road, the eco- and animal-rights terrorists lately have been way out in front.” Lewis estimates that they’ve caused around $100 million in damage, mostly property destruction affecting businesses, much of it from arson. This fall, eleven defendants will face trial in Oregon for causing an estimated $20 million in damage in five states.
Although animal-rights terrorism is fundamentally barbaric, its execution has assumed increasingly sophisticated forms. The campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences began in the United Kingdom seven years ago with the formation of a group called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, or SHAC. Soon after, SHAC recruited members in the United States to focus on an HLS facility in New Jersey, using methods that were deployed to great effect in the U.K. A federal trial earlier this year — perhaps the most important trial ever held involving animal-rights extremism — put the group’s methods on full display.
Many of SHAC’s efforts targeted HLS directly. An electronic attack in 2002, for instance, caused the HLS server to overload. But other confrontations involved HLS employees away from work: cars vandalized in driveways, rocks tossed through the windows of homes, and graffiti messages such as “PUPPY KILLER” spray-painted on houses. Descriptions of these incidents were dutifully posted on SHAC’s own website, often with an unnerving sense of glee. After a tire-slashing visit to the home of one HLS employee, for example, the SHACtivists seemed pleased that “his wife is reportedly on the brink of a nervous breakdown and divorce.” These messages were meant to generate publicity, build a sense of momentum, and serve as models for activists spread across the country. In Britain, one top HLS employee was attacked by a group of hooded men wielding ax handles. “It’s only a matter of time before it happens in the United States,” warns Frankie Trull, head of the Foundation for Biomedical Research. “Everything they do over there eventually comes over here.”
Intimidating employees in their private lives places pressure on HLS itself. But SHAC’s harassment didn’t stop with HLS employees. They also engaged in “tertiary targeting” — i.e., taking aim at companies with ties to HLS, plus their workers. Dozens of firms decided that doing business with HLS simply wasn’t worth it. Deloitte & Touche, which had audited the HLS books, ended its relationship. Lawn gardeners quit. Even a security company that provided services to HLS succumbed to the abuse.
SHAC’s methods certainly can be menacing, as transcripts from the trial make clear. One of SHAC’s main targets was Marsh, a company that sold insurance to HLS. There was a smoke-bomb attack at an office in Seattle, forcing the evacuation of a high-rise building. In San Antonio, SHAC members glued the locks to a Marsh office and plastered the windows and doors of the building with pictures of a mutilated dog. Once they even stormed inside, screaming threats: “You have the blood of death on your hands! . . . We know where you live! You cannot sleep at night! We will find you!”
And they made good on these threats. Marsh employees were repeatedly harassed at home. There were late-night phone calls: “Are you scared? Do you think the puppies should be scared?” Other calls were more menacing: “We know where you live. You shouldn’t sleep at night. You shouldn’t rest until the puppies rest.” Marion Harlos, who was managing director for Marsh in San Antonio, said that people went through her mail, ordered magazine subscriptions in her name, and rang her doorbell and dashed off in a kind of never-ending Devil’s Night. Sometimes protesters would gather in front of her house, banging drums and hollering into megaphones. “They proceeded to parade the neighborhood, shout my name, that of my children,” she said. “I was petrified. I was petrified for my children.” The kids were kept indoors: “We did not know what was going to take place. Would someone be in the front yard? Would someone be in the back yard? Would someone come up and talk to them? Would someone try and take them?” To make a bad situation even worse, a neighbor threatened to sue Harlos, claiming that the ongoing presence of protesters was hurting property values. Harlos eventually moved.
Sally Dillenback, a Marsh employee in Dallas, had a similarly harrowing experience. A SHAC website published private information, some of it probably obtained by going through her trash: her home address, her car’s license-plate number, and even her auto-insurance policy number. Most unsettling, however, was the information about her children: their names, the names of their schools and teachers, and descriptions of their after-school activities. “I felt that my family might be threatened with that kind of information being posted,” she testified. The activists certainly didn’t leave her alone; they plastered pictures on the side of her house, her mailbox, and her sidewalk. A SHAC website described the strategy: “Let the stickers serve to remind Marsh employees and their neighbors that their homes are paid for in the blood, the blood of innocent animals.” On other occasions, animal-rights radicals held protests outside her home with drums and bullhorns. They followed her to church. The scariest moment may have been when Dillenback read an e-mail: “It asked how I would feel if they cut open my son . . . and filled him with poison the way that they, Huntingdon, [were] doing to animals.” Her husband bought a semi-automatic shotgun, even though Mrs. Dillenback doesn’t like guns: “He was wanting to protect the family.”
PUNDITS IN BLACK SKI MASKS
Marsh employees were by no means the only tertiary victims of abuse. Two bombs went off at a California office of Chiron, a biotech company. Nobody was hurt, but the second explosion was delayed — a tactic sometimes used by terrorists to kill first responders. Workers at GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company, also had their windows smashed and mail stolen. In one case, SHAC posted information about the spouse of a GSK employee who was undergoing treatment for alcoholism. Another employee was summoned to the Baltimore morgue to identify a dead relative — but when she arrived, she learned the call was a hoax.
Sometimes, the connections between SHAC targets and HLS were so tenuous as to be almost nonexistent. Elaine Perna, a housewife who is married to an executive who retired from the Bank of New York — another company with ties to HLS — confronted SHAC when protesters appeared on her porch. “When I opened the door, they were yelling at me through the bullhorn. One spat at my face through the screen and yelled obscenities at me, about me, about my husband.” A defense lawyer’s attempt to minimize the incident — “All Ms. Gazzola did was she screamed through the bullhorn, didn’t she?” — irritated Perna: “They were yelling at me through a bullhorn, they were calling me effing this and my husband effing that and spitting in my face through a screen. Now, if you think that ‘that’s all,’ you know, you can call it ‘that’s all.’ But to me, it wasn’t ‘that’s all.’” The mayhem didn’t stop until the police arrived.
On March 2, a jury convicted six members of SHAC (at press time, sentencing had not yet occurred). This is an important victory, but animal-rights extremism isn’t going away — groups such as Hugs for Puppies and Win Animal Rights are now on the scene, continuing their perverse crusade. They certainly don’t lack for true believers. In Senate testimony last fall, Jerry Vlasak of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office announced that violence against HLS was “extensional self-defense” in behalf of “non-human animals.” Recently, a mysterious full-page advertisement appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. It featured the image of a man in a black ski mask, alongside the words “I Control Wall Street” and a short account of the NYSE fiasco. “Nobody knows who paid for it,” says Trull. One theory proposes that a group of institutional investors are responsible; another claims that it’s a backhanded attempt by animal-rights activists to raise anxieties even further. HLS still isn’t listed.
Several members of Congress have tried to address this species of domestic terrorism by proposing legislation that would toughen the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, a law that was passed before the advent of “tertiary targeting.” At the recent trial, prosecutors secured convictions against SHAC only because they were able to rely on anti-stalking laws. “They had to scour the federal code, looking for violations,” says Brent McIntosh, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice. “This is an enormous, surreptitious, and interstate conspiracy. We need to strengthen laws against it.” Bills to do so have been introduced in both the House and the Senate, but a crowded legislative calendar probably means they won’t be debated until a new Congress convenes next year.
The stakes are high. “Five years from now, we don’t want to count up another $100 million in losses,” says the FBI’s Lewis. That’s true, although the real costs of animal-rights terrorism aren’t really quantifiable: They come in the form of medical discoveries that are delayed or never made, products that aren’t approved, and careers that aren’t started. Whatever the real price tag, one thing is certain: Each time an animal-rights terrorist wins, people lose.