Legislation signed by President Bush in June includes a provision imposing fines and prison sentences on persons committing terrorist attacks or conspiring to attack animal enterprises, including facilities that use animals as part of research.
Included in the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 is a section aimed at penalizing extremists who vandalize laboratories, furriers, farms, and other animal-related businesses.
Sponsored by Washington Rep. George R. Nethercutt Jr., the section of the bioterrorism bill increases penalties for damage to property, including animals and records. Violators are subject to restitution for all economic damage resulting from their actions and will be subject to life imprisonment for crimes that lead to the death of a person.
The new law also authorizes grants to support reviews of security standards and practices at research universities, and makes funds available to associations representing food producers for educational programs to teach farmers how to protect against an attack.
"This law is a significant step forward, but I still believe we must go farther to root out ecoterrorists," Nethercutt wrote in his June 14 newsletter.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that since 1996, the Animal Liberation Front and Environmental Liberation Front have committed more than 600 criminal acts in the United States, resulting in damages of more than $43 million.
Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health earlier this year, James F. Jarboe, chief of the FBI's domestic terrorism section, explained that special-interest terrorism has emerged as a serious national threat in recent years.
"Some special interest extremists, most notably within the animal rights and environmental movements, have turned increasingly toward vandalism and terrorist activity in attempts to further their causes," Jarboe said. The ALF, he continued, has become one of the most active extremist groups in the United States.
Founded in Great Britain in the 1970s, the animal rights group came to America in the later half of the decade, according to the FBI.
On its Web site, the ALF describes itself as a decentralized organization of small, autonomous cells comprising vegetarians who engage in "direct actions" against companies that use animals for research or economic gain. Rescuing animals and destroying property are the group's immediate goals, with the long-term objective of putting targeted companies out of business.
ALF alleges on its site that its activists caused property damage at several businesses, usually without claiming responsibility. Activists purportedly vandalized banks, animal breeding facilities, and fast food restaurants, and released more than 4,000 captive animals in 2001. Vandalism committed by ELF members against animal-related businesses is included in the summary, the site notes.
Despite its destructive operations, the ALF has as its philosophy to wage a nonviolent campaign, with activists being careful not to harm people or animals. Jarboe told the House subcommittee that animal rights groups, including the ALF, have generally complied with this directive.