Senate Committee Focuses on Extremist Groups

Published on
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old

On May 18, the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works held a hearing intended to address concerns regarding violent advocacy groups such as the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma chaired the hearing, and those testifying included high-ranking government officials from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, as well as those targeted by these groups.

From 1990 until June 2004, animal and environment extremists have claimed credit for more than 1,200 criminal incidents, said John Lewis, deputy assistant director of the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI. Recent targets include a University of Iowa research laboratory, a car dealership, and an apartment community being developed in San Diego that sustained $22 million in damage.

Most extremists refrain from harming people, according to Lewis, but he noted a recent increase in violent rhetoric. "One extremist recently said, 'If someone is killing, on a regular basis, thousands of animals, and that person can only be stopped in one way, by the use of violence, then it is certainly a morally justifiable solution,'" he said.

Carson Carroll, deputy assistant director of Field Operations of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, told the committee, "ELF and ALF are more accurately portrayed as ideological movements, or causes, not groups, (because) both ELF and ALF assert that any individuals who wish to carry out an action do so based upon their own personal conscience."

Members of the Senate committee, however, countered that actions by ELF and ALF could be considered terrorism, which they defined as the "unlawful use of force or violence against a person or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of the political or social objectives."

New Jersey's Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Environmental Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell warned against overtaxing federal efforts targeting the small groups and individuals involved in ELF and ALF's property destruction activities, in light of the greater risk of potential attacks on the country's chemical and nuclear plants.

They debated the difference between an activist, an extremist, and a terrorist, emphasizing that the latter term should not be used to lump together all animal and environmental advocates, as there are some who do admirable nonviolent work within the legal system.

While agreeing with Carroll and Senator Lautenberg that the ALF and ELF are "labels of convenience, applied to crimes after the fact by individuals or small groups in order to draw public attention to their actions," David Martosko insisted that his research indicates "the threat from domestic terrorism motivated by environmental and animal-rights ideologies is well documented, unambiguous, and growing."

Martosko is director of research for the Center for Consumer Freedom, an organization funded by restaurants and food companies that denounces animal activists.

His evidence included the self-described "militant, direct action magazine" No Compromise, published for ALF supporters. The magazine lists as its benefactors People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, The Fund for Animals, and In Defense of Animals, as well as PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, two of PETA's officers, and an activist on staff with the Humane Society of the United States.

These are "troubling examples of animal rights charities which have connections to their movements' militant underbelly," he said.

Martosko went on to recount how Daniel Andreas San Diego, an animal rights supporter, detonated bombs in two California biomedical research laboratories. "One of the bombs was accompanied by a secondary device, timed to detonate after first responders arrived on the scene," he said. San Diego was apparently receiving funds from a former HSUS employee, according to Martosko.

Martosko also alleged that PETA tax forms show donations to self-proclaimed ALF arsonist Rodney Coronado, presumably for his legal defense. Coronado was later convicted of an ALF-related arson at a Michigan State University research laboratory.

Additionally, Martosko described the activism of ALF spokesperson Steven Best, PhD, chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Texas-El Paso. "Dr. Best's academic position affords him a position of regrettable influence with the animal rights movement," he said.

In praise of ALF, Dr. Best was quoted as saying, "We are breaking down doors, breaking into buildings, rescuing animals, and smashing property ... These tactics are legitimate, they're necessary, they're powerful, they're effective."

Newkirk of PETA and Dr. Best were invited to testify before the Senate committee but neither attended or submitted remarks for the record. No veterinarians were included on the witness panels nor was their role in animal and human protection discussed.

Although debate about the nature of these violent groups continues, their actions are clear: arson, vandalism, burglary, and, in contradiction to their cause, animal death and environmental destruction.

In the November 2004 attack on Spence Laboratories at the University of Iowa, "over 300 rodents were removed from the facility," explained university president David J. Skorton, MD, a national leader in research ethics. "Many of these rodents, purpose-bred for research and being cared for by faculty members, veterinarians, and other animal care professionals, likely suffered and died as a result of this action."

ELF's modus operandi—arson—arguably harms the environment more than the organizations it targets. According to Monty McIntyre, attorney for the Garden Communities in San Diego, the development underwent the "most intensive environmental study (in the nation), which is called the Environmental Impact Report. When an EIR is being prepared, the public is notified and given the opportunity to provide input."

No one came forward to criticize the project, McIntyre said. Instead, ELF activists chose massive destruction via arson on the multimillion-dollar project.