Is it time to get serious about ARA terrorists?

The firebombing of two biological research scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz undoubtedly represents a novel phase of escalation in the threat level represented by animal rights activists. We are inching forward to the point at which the violent extremists, fueled on by their supposedly mainstream apologists, finally kill a research scientist. It would be very nice if we did not have to reach that point before the underinformed and naive supporter of generic 'animal welfare' (the sensitivities of whom are usually preyed upon by the violent fringe and their front groups to provide cover and support) realizes that there is a time to make hard decisions. A time to confront one's actual priorities and values, in concrete terms instead of comfortable ivory tower "what-ifs". A recent editorial in Science asks for legal solutions before someone dies.


The editorial is penned by three UCSC affiliated faculty and presents the serious underlying problem at hand.

It is of serious concern that these acts of terrorism and their associated incendiary statements were not immediately condemned by our political leaders. There have been no high-profile or unified statements about the incidents, and days afterward, California's governor had still declined to comment.

Gee, ya think? Politicians in leftie-libby California not wanting to touch this during election season?
There is a serious point here which is that legislators think, quite rightfully, that it is dangerous to their careers to come out seriously against actual, evidence based threats of terrorist activity against their own citizens. Nebulous global concerns? Sure. Protecting the handful of humble anonymous laborers for the public health good? Not so much. For example:

A proposed bill in the California Legislature (AB2296), which would extend protection to "animal enterprise workers" similar to that provided for politicians and reproductive health workers, has been much weakened from its original intent. In its original form, it would have prevented the posting of personal information on Web sites with the intent to incite acts of violence or threaten researchers and their families. If passed, the current form of the bill only enacts a misdemeanor trespass law. This is potentially useful in investigating offenders, but does not have stringent penalties.

Why? Why weaken the bill? What is the danger of generating serious penalties for the sort of personal-information publicizing (the back story of the Santa Cruz story, btw) that leads to home attacks? Why would this be controversial in the slightest one wonders? I mean all the public sentiment condemns the home attacks does it not? Questioners condemn the terrorism whilst asking their questions about animal use in research, do they not? So what's the problem?
The editorial closes:

In a 2008 national poll (conducted by Research!America), Americans overwhelmingly supported scientific research (83%). Nearly 70% are more likely to support a presidential candidate who supports research, 75% believe that it is important that the United States remains a leader in medical research, and 90% want the U.S. to train more scientists. Our scientific enterprise lies at the core of our economic success, national security, and our very well-being. This is why all concerned citizens should rally to the call to stop antiscience violence. Our political leaders must reject these criminal acts as forcefully as they reject all other forms of terrorism.

Indeed. Before someone gets killed. (Unless that is what you want, of course)

23 responses so far

  • Steve says:

    Part of the reason why terrorism is effective is because it is so difficult to enforce security. The other thing about these situations is that the animal rights terrorists only target the unlucky few. Everyone else is safe, although they may live in fear. I'm doubtful anything will happen for the safety of scientists who use animals for research until enough of these things happen to make a difference. Sad to say it.

  • Rev Matt says:

    And yet all these same people who decline to condemn this activity are the first in line to decry the bombings of abortion clinics. How is bombing an abortion clinic substantively different from bombing the house of a research scientist? Both are despicable acts by cowards who should rot in jail for the rest of their lives.
    I will note that I grew up in the Bay Area, lived there until after college, and most of my family and friends are still there. Not a one of them supports terrorism and are all astounded that their alleged public leaders have not aggressively condemned these terrorist attacks.

  • Part of the reason why terrorism is effective is because it is so difficult to enforce security.
    Maybe, but another part of the reason why terrorism is effective is because the supposed people in charge don't have the balls to condemn the action. What's the Governator doing? A resounding WTF on that one.
    Everyone else is safe, although they may live in fear.
    As is the case with all terrorism. It is the terror that is so crippling. Case in point: Shortly before I graduated, there were some angry protests outside the homes of several of the university's animal-researching faculty members. My group, at the time, had about 5 active animal protocols. My grad advisor flipped out so much at the prospect of being targeted that he forced us to close out all of our animal research. Our protocols were thrown out. Research is the ultimate loser.

  • As I said in my post on the subject, self-defense is completely legal even in California. A 12-gauge makes a much more convincing statement than any legislator's speech.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    by the time the firebomb goes off, you wake up and get your family to safety, I'm not sure where the 12ga is going to do much good.

  • Epistaxis says:

    That's why this "underinformed and naive supporter" gives to the Humane Society, a group of "supposedly mainstream apologists" that is now offering a $2500 bounty on the arsonists.

  • Azkyroth says:

    All I know is, if there's any justice in the world, the next ARA terrorist will be attacked and killed by a family/facility guard dog.

  • V Profane says:

    I thought there was a war on terror?

  • Paul says:

    Part of the problem for politicians is that when they are deciding whether to make a statement all they see is some very vocal activists on one side and a rather muted, very "official" response from the scientific community on the other. Opinion polls are all very well but as we all know they can be a poor guide to how strongly people feel about an issue, a large majority of voters might favour animal research but is a politicians support or opposition to it really going to alter their voting preferences?
    My view is that before the scientific community can expect politicians to take a public stance against AR extremism (and to be fair more have than the Science article makes out) they need to do more themselves to stand up against AR terrorism.
    If you look at what happened in the UK there were certainly politicians who were willing to support scientists in the face of AR terrorism, but the really strong support did not emerge until the Pro-Test movement got going in Oxford, held a large rally, and provided physical proof of the support that was out there for animal research.
    In short if science is going to defeat AR terrorism we need more of the kind of scientific activism seen in organizations such as Speaking of Research http://www.speakingofresearch.org.

  • Liam says:

    Part of the solution to this problem is a fair and civilized debate on the issue, which DM has started with earlier posts. Education about these issues is paramount. I am sure there will always be people against animal research, but calling attention to the enormous benefits of animal research to progess in Medicine should be an important part of the research community's PR plan. Even the trauma surgeon (J Vlasak) turned "anti-animal researcher" has used and will continue to use knowledge gained from animals if he wants to use the standard of care in his medical practice (http://www.mercurynews.com/centralcoast/ci_10091237).
    Still, I think another part of the solution is to spread the positive message about animal research to a wider audience. I think writing legislators and other elected officials at the State and Federal levels is a great start --these public figures respond to pressure and more biomedical researchers should be in contact (constantly) with them about important issues. You can bet the anti-animal research crowd is. Hopefully, that would mean government officials would offer swift condemnation the next time an act of domestic terrorism occurs.

  • DuWayne says:

    In its original form, it would have prevented the posting of personal information on Web sites with the intent to incite acts of violence or threaten researchers and their families.
    Unless I am missing something or the above description is mistaken, the first case prosecuted under this, in which the defendant has a halfway competent attorney, would last five minutes on first amendment grounds. Unless the information is posted with an explicit and specific call for violence against the researchers it is protected speech.
    This is not to say that I don't find the terrorists or the people posting the information to be worthy of the very worse scorn. I consider terrorists like this to be worse than pedos. At least pedos have the excuse of mental illness.

  • neurolover says:

    "Part of the problem for politicians is that when they are deciding whether to make a statement all they see is some very vocal activists on one side and a rather muted, very "official" response from the scientific community on the other."
    This is the problem I see, as well, and I blame it on the scientific community at large thinking that they individually might survive by letting the AR activists peel off/attack/segregate the most vulnerable (it used to be folks who worked with large animals). I think there's a lot of unexamined thinking by researchers themselves (people who feel comfortable harvesting egg oocytes, but feel squeamish at the idea of electrodes in primate brains) or more personally, don't want to wear fur, but are happy with the leather armchair in their living room. I think that lack of introspection leads people to not see the grand plan of AR groups like PETA, and a willingness to let the research they're not really invested in and feels a bit icky to them die out. Especially easy, mind you in a tight funding climate, and when some donors might be easier to attract if you hide all that messy stuff away.
    As long as chairs of departments aren't making strong statements, but are instead refining their research programs so that they don't rely on the stuff likely to attract the AR attention, we can plan on seeing more and more of this, until we've made animal research "rare". I don't really know what the health consequences of that will be, but I do think it will contribute to the generally anti-science philosophy I feel is developing.
    One big deal in this particular attack (in santa cruz) is that they're targeting a researcher who uses mice. I wonder if that's starting to hit closer to home for scientists whose research doesn't involve the cutest furry animals (cats, rabbits, monkeys).

  • Paul says:

    "Even the trauma surgeon (J Vlasak) turned "anti-animal researcher" has used and will continue to use knowledge gained from animals if he wants to use the standard of care in his medical practice (http://www.mercurynews.com/centralcoast/ci_10091237)."
    I think that if you look into it you'll find that Vlasak's claims to be a practicing surgeon are somewhat exaggerated. In fact there's little evidence that he's practiced anywhere in the past few years. When people have checked with hospitals he's mentioned they invaribly say that he's no longer practicing there (though he apparently still has some staff rights at one whose name escapes me). Encouraging people to murder your colleagues probably isn't the greatest career move ever.

  • wolfwalker says:

    Yes, it's time to get serious about animal-rights activists.
    It was time to get serious about animal-rights activists eighteen years ago, when they started libeling circuses and other performing-animal acts, releasing lab and fur-farm animals, and performing economic sabotage against the US tuna-fishing industry.
    It was time to get serious about animal-rights activists fifteen years ago, when they started sending spies into university research labs to produce phony videos slandering the university researchers as "animal abusers."
    It was time to get serious about animal-rights activists a dozen years ago, when they started bombing and vandalizing research facilities at night, destroying millions of dollars worth of equipment and data.
    It was time to get serious about animal-rights activists six or seven years ago, when British ARAs basically put Huntington Research Labs out of business by brutally beating several lab employees, then threatening to do the same to anyone who did business with the lab. Threats that they made to Americans as well as other British firms.
    Nothing was done about them then. Nothing will be done about them now. Because the people in charge of doing something don't have the necessary will.

  • wolfwalker says:

    To be fair, I should add that even when there is the will to strike at AR terrorists, there is often no way to do it effectively. ARA's learned well from the failures of their predecessors like the Weathermen and the KKK. They operate in small, tightly knit cells, communicate by untraceable methods like anonymized e-mail, and have no over-arching organization. They disguise themselves when they attack, and they use weapons and tactics which leave little in the way of usable forensics, like firebombs and baseball bats. Even when the police do catch one, he and his immediate cellmates are all they get. The leaders always escape prosecution.

  • Paul says:

    Wolfwalker "It was time to get serious about animal-rights activists six or seven years ago, when British ARAs basically put Huntington Research Labs out of business by brutally beating several lab employees, then threatening to do the same to anyone who did business"
    That's not quite true. After a few very rough years HLS is doing pretty well at the moment, it trades on the NYSE under the name Life Science Research.
    From about 2004 on the British government did get serious with the ARA's, many of whom are currently detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, and this has resulted in a sharp decline in AR extremist activity in the UK http://www.rds-online.org.uk/pages/news.asp?i_ToolbarID=6&i_PageID=3029.
    Of course the government's efforts have been greatly assisted by the Pro-Test movement in Oxford which showed that it is possible for those targeted by extremists to take a public stand against extremism, and that if they do so there are a lot of people who will stand with them. With the chances of their terrorist campaigns being successful decreasing, and the chance of being caught and successfully prosecuted increasing, it's not hard to see why fewer ARA's were willing to engage in risky "night-time actions".
    It took time for the scientific community and government to find the will to deal with AR extremism in the UK, but when they did the results were striking.

  • Blaidd Drwg says:

    VProfane, yes, there is a war on terror, but only if the terrorists are swarthy-skinned, and have a religion other than the defacto state-sponsored one of the USofA.
    Otherwise - - anything goes!

  • wolfwalker says:

    Thanks for the update, Paul.
    Blaidd Drwg: John Walker Lindh might argue with you on that. So might Richard Reid.

  • Calli Arcale says:

    Rev Matt asks:
    "And yet all these same people who decline to condemn this activity are the first in line to decry the bombings of abortion clinics. How is bombing an abortion clinic substantively different from bombing the house of a research scientist? Both are despicable acts by cowards who should rot in jail for the rest of their lives."
    It's tempting to focus on why there is more outrage against people who murder doctors than people who murder research scientists -- as if people somehow care more about animals than fetuses. But this isn't really what's going on. By and large, society is much more willing to conduct research on animals than it is willing to stomach abortions. So why the disparity in the legislation?
    I think the reason is simple -- most people don't take animal rights terrorists seriously, I think in large part because they think most of them are just harmless hippies acting childishly, and why waste legislative effort on somebody's temper tantrum?
    I have serious reservations about this sort of legislation myself. I don't think we should be creating special penalties for terrorism if the terrorists' message happens to fall into certain narrowly defined categories. I have the same problem with hate crime legislation. This sort of thing should be unacceptable, period. It shouldn't matter what their "message" is.

  • Cleveland says:

    CA @19: I think one big (huge?) difference is that we don't yet have any actual killings. The time that an abortion doctor was shot in his kitchen was a pretty big deal in shifting the discussion from leaning towards "protected free speech, deal with it" to "clear and present danger of posting doctors' home addresses on the internet". We are seeing a little bit of this here. If you read the comments after blog posts on animal rights events in the past couple of years you will find a lot of ARA sympathizer types. Even in not in favor of the actual activism there is a lot of apology for how they have a point or some such. I see much, much less of that with this firebombing event. Perhaps the casual sympathizer is starting to realize just who they are aligned with and reconsidering. Perhaps the casual sympathizer is finally paying attention to the fact that the theological position with which they align themselves is ...fringe, shall we say.
    I think this is my response to wolfwalker's pessimistic outlook as well.
    neurolover @12:
    First they came for the nonhuman primate researchers and I didn't speak up, because I do not work with monkeys.
    Then they came for the electrophysiologists and medical school physiology labs, and I didn't speak up, because I do not work with "pet" species.
    Then they came for the rodent researchers and I didn't speak up, because I do not work with mammals.
    Then they came for the fruit-fly researchers, but by that time there was nobody left to speak up for me.
    (with apologies to Pastor Martin Niemoeller)

  • neurolover says:

    "Then they came for the fruit-fly researchers, but by that time there was nobody left to speak up for me."
    Indeed. This is what the administrations that think that they'll be able to slide under the radar need to figure out, exactly what part of their massive medical research enterprises they're going to give up, and what the goals of the AR folks is. Not sure how they feel about fruit flies, but certainly organizations like PETA want all mammalian research & probably all vertebrate research to disappear.
    There's some soul-searching to be done, too, because I think there are people who aren't really sure about what they're willing to defend (rather than what they're willing to not oppose).
    It's scary to imagine that someone needs to die before any of this taken seriously. But, I'd hope that for many the idea of young children jumping out of a window to escape a fire as in santa cruz raises some questions in their mind about "who they're aligning with." Vlasak's quote that the researcher's childen are "old enough to recognize the consequences" (they're under 8 years old) definitely floats into crazy-land for me.

  • Cleveland says:

    There's some soul-searching to be done, too, because I think there are people who aren't really sure about what they're willing to defend (rather than what they're willing to not oppose).
    Good point. I mean if the National Socialists had just limited themselves to gassing the Gypsies and the homosexuals that would have been okay, right?

  • mijnheer says:

    Surely the solution to the biomedical research controversy would be to use severely mentally disabled human orphans (preferably clones) as experimental subjects. These would make ideal models for human diseases, since they would be human. But as they would have the mental capacities of, say, rats, there could be no reasonable ethical objection to their use (at least, for those who believe it's fine to use rats). Of course, a few animal-rights fanatics might still protest that even individuals with the capacities of rats deserve to be allowed to live in dignity, but that sort of nonsensical claim cannot be allowed to stand in the way of scientific progress.

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