Six of America's most committed animal-rights activists will soon find themselves entering cages instead of smashing them. Along with their organization, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, they were convicted on federal terrorism charges in March. Their campaign of fear and intimidation targeted employees, customers, and suppliers of a medical research laboratory that uses animals. Yesterday in Trenton, three were sentenced to six years in jail. The remaining three face sentencing this week and next.
Like true terror masterminds, these six took protecting lab rats past the point of earnest debate and honest persuasion, choosing instead to orchestrate a destructive crusade. Was it terrorism? You decide.
The campaign included death threats, overturned cars, bombings and front-lawn midnight protests complete with chants of "Let's burn his house to the ground." There was even a menacing phone barrage directed at New York Stock Exchange employees, targeted for agreeing to list an animal research company on the Big Board.
Real people with real families were terrified.
"You don't need a four-year degree to call in a bomb hoax," one of the SHAC convicts told teens at a 2002 animal-rights convention. At a rally outside a New Jersey laboratory, the same ringleader encouraged activists to end animal-based medical research by targeting "individuals who have weaknesses, who have breaking points, and who have home addresses."
He wasn't kidding. The most compelling testimony in the SHAC trial came from an insurance executive whose company underwrote a policy for that New Jersey lab. She recounted how her 7-year-old son would grab a kitchen knife whenever the doorbell rang, promising to protect her from "the animal people."
Her son's name (and his teacher's) turned up on a SHAC Web site, along with the fact that he sang in his school's choir. One day an anonymous note arrived at the house, threatening to cut him open and poison him.
Empty or not, threats like this translate to sleepless nights and crippling fear. And not all the bombs in this campaign have been hoaxes. Two SHAC-targeted West Coast companies were struck by 10-pound pipe bombs packed with nail shrapnel. One device included a secondary explosive, timed to go off when paramedics arrived.
SHAC's leaders denied any involvement in these two attacks. Since they're headed to prison, it's comforting to think they're just trying to avoid lengthening their rap sheets. But the radical animal-rights world is bigger than just six criminals.
Dozens of organizations in this nationwide movement want what SHAC wants: an end to medical experiments using animals. Most Americans want something very different. Cures for cancer and AIDS, for instance.
If history is any guide, animal research models are where these answers await us. Animal testing has already brought us anesthesia, antibiotics, insulin, vaccines, allergy shots, organ transplants, and literally hundreds of other advances that we take for granted.
The church of animal rights, of which SHAC preaches merely the most recent fundamentalism, would sweep that all aside. Some worshippers make bombs — or, like SHAC, make bombers. Others lobby Congress, file lawsuits, buy expensive advertising, and run propaganda-laden Web sites. Most of them raise millions of dollars every year.
Some are familiar. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The Humane Society of the United States. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The Animal Liberation Front. As varied as their names and tactics are, these groups all share a common goal: "Liberating" animals, regardless of the cost to humanity.
As a spokesman for the oddly misnamed Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in 2003, Dr. Jerry Vlasak (who now speaks for the Animal Liberation Front, an FBI-designated terror group) endorsed the murder of medical researchers in the name of animal rights. "I don't think you'd have to kill — assassinate — too many," he said. "For five lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human lives."
Bruce Friedrich, a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals vice president, famously said in 2001 that "blowing stuff up and smashing windows" is "a great way to bring about animal liberation." And PETA president Ingrid Newkirk has never softened her 17-year-old stance that "even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS, we'd be against it."
Six animal-rights extremists will go to prison, but many more are out there. While law enforcement can respond to arson fires and death threats, subtler attacks on the future of humanity demand everyone's vigilance.
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