When many people think of "animal rights," they may picture trendy celebrities posing in nude photographs to combat the fur industry. Or perhaps, they will roll their eyes and smile when they hear that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reported the California Milk Advisory Board to the FCC for false advertising because its television ads claim "California cheese comes from happy cows."
But the animal-rights/liberation (ARL) movement isn't funny anymore. Unable to get most of society to agree that animals are the moral equals of people or that farming pigs is akin to holding human slaves, some ARL activists have crossed to the dark side — animal-rights terrorism. Indeed, violence, vandalism, and personal threats from groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF), and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) have ratcheted up so radically against medical researchers, ranchers, and others in recent years, that animal-rights terrorism is now being scrutinized by one of the most respected antiterrorist organizations in the world, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
You have to be especially dangerous and potentially violent to warrant attention from the SPLC. Cofounded by renowned civil-rights attorney Morris Dees, the group is best known for its successful legal struggle against hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nation. One of the center's most useful projects is the respected SCLC Intelligence Report (IR), a quarterly magazine that offers in-depth analysis of political extremism in the United States. The Fall 2002 IR exposes the depth of the threat of ARL terrorism — earning ALF, ELF, and SHAC a level of infamy usually reserved for American extremist groups such as the KKK, Aryan Nation, and the American Nazi party.
According to the IR expose, "From Push to Shove," ARL terrorists such as ALF and SHAC regularly employ "death threats, fire bombings, and violent assaults" against those they accuse of abusing animals. Some of the cruelest attacks have been mounted by SHAC against executives for Huntingdon Life Sciences, a British drug-testing facility that uses animals to test drugs for safety before they are tested on people. Indeed, the threats and violence became so extreme that Huntingdon fled Britain out of the fear that some of their own were going to be killed. They had good cause: The company's managing director was badly beaten by three masked assailants swinging baseball bats, while another executive was temporarily blinded with a caustic substance sprayed into his eyes.
Unfortunately for Huntingdon, the ARL terrorist network is international and a mere move across the Atlantic Ocean did not protect it. Not only has the terrorism continued here, but U.S. companies with business ties to the company have also been targeted.
This tactic, which has the goal of driving Huntingdon out of business, has already produced fruit. In Britain, SHAC terrorists caused Barclay's Bank to withdraw financing from Huntingdon when their executives came under assault. Similarly, after it was subjected to terrible threats and intimidation, the Stephens Group of Arkansas withdrew a promised $33 million loan. Now, Marsh USA and its executives have been warned by SHAC to revoke the insurance of a Huntingdon facility. To the company's credit, as yet it has not allowed ARL Brownshirts to dictate its business decisions — even when SHAC published executives' home addresses, phone numbers, and Social Security numbers. Meanwhile, according to the Intelligence Report, a United States-based Huntingdon vice president has been so badly and repeatedly harassed that the man's "wife is reportedly on the brink of a nervous breakdown and divorce."
The deafening lack of condemnation by mainstream ARL organizations against these terrorist tactics speaks louder than their oft-stated claims to being a peaceful social movement. Indeed, the firewall that groups such as PETA have long maintained between themselves and ARL terrorists seems to be breaking down. PETA's tax-exempt status is being challenged because it admittedly paid $1,500 to ELF. (According to the FBI, ELF is one of the nation's largest terrorist groups.) According to the SPLC, PETA also provided funds to convicted animal- or environmental-rights terrorists, including contributing $20,000 to Rodney Coronado, convicted of a research lab at Michigan State College, and $7,500 to Fran Trutt, convicted of attempting to murder a medical executive.
The Intelligence Report also reveals that known ELF and ALF activists are routinely invited to speak at the yearly Washington, D.C. animal-rights conference sponsored by PETA and the Humane Society of the United States. Further, the IR quotes PETA's Bruce Friedrich as stating:
"If we really believe that animals have the same right to be free from pain and suffering at our hands, then of course we're going to be blowing things up and smashing windows. … I think it's a great way to bring animal liberation, considering the level of suffering, the atrocities. I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories, and banks that fund them, exploded tomorrow."
PETA should be roundly condemned for permitting one of its own to advocate violence and for associating with violent groups such as ALF. In this regard, it is worth pointing out that ALF has gone so far down the terrorist path that it posted a how-to-commit-arson manual on its website. Called "Arson Around With Auntie ALF," the tract promotes the use of incendiaries to destroy animal "abusing" facilities because "pound for pound" they "can do more damage than explosives against many types of targets." There is a downside, however, which ARL terrorists are advised to consider when deciding how to best carry out their planned attacks. During the "time lag" between the setting of the fire and "the destruction of the target," Arson Around warns, the "fire may be discovered and controlled or put out." Thus, even though it may do less damage, the upside of explosives is that "once detonated, [the explosion] has done its work."
Unlike hierarchical terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda that keeps close control over operations, the ALF terrorist manual urges its minions to adopt an anarchist approach. They are to join together in small cells of two or three people and never tell anyone about their ALF affiliation. When they carry out their assaults, they are instructed to spray-paint animal-rights slogans signed by "ALF" all over the crime scenes before fleeing. In that way, it will be all but impossible for law enforcement to infiltrate the terrorist cells or solve the crimes. Best of all, ALF will get the credit for the terror attack but its known organizers will honestly be able to claim that they had no foreknowledge of the plan or who actually carried out the attack.
Where do we go from here? Downhill, apparently. The SPLC Intelligence Report worries that "further violence seems almost inevitable" as animal-rights terrorist leaders inspire "a new breed of activist." Sooner or later, someone is likely to be killed.
This isn't alarmist rhetoric. In the Netherlands, an animal-rights extremist allegedly assassinated a candidate for parliament, perhaps because he defended pig farming in a debate with animal-rights activists. An ELF representative recently suggested that it might be time to "take up the gun," while the Intelligence Report quotes Kevin Jonas of SHAC-USA as personalizing JFK's famous quote, "If you make peaceful revolution impossible, you make violent revolution inevitable."
— Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. He is currently working on books about human cloning and the animal-rights movement.