In the last 48 hours, both major newspapers in Boston have run masthead editorials targeted at the violent animal rights group called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). Monday saw the arraignment of two SHAC activists for vandalizing an insurance broker’s apartment building and threatening to burn it down. They also threatened, by name, his two-year-old son. And what did he do to deserve this unwanted attention? His company, Marsh McLennan, dared to sell insurance to an animal-testing laboratory.

Noting the irony of widespread violence coming from a movement that trades on its supposed compassion, The Boston Globe rightly described SHAC and their ideological compatriots as possessing “a disturbing willingness to inflict suffering,” but declined to use the “T”-word that is on so many Americans’ minds as September 11 approaches.

The Globe’s cross-town rival, The Boston Herald, was not quite so dainty. “If it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck,” wrote the Herald’s editorial staff, “call it a duck. Members of SHAC are engaged in nothing more than terrorism…. It has no place in American life.” For the record, SHAC has its roots in, and shares some of its membership with, the ultra-violent Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a criminal organization that the FBI already labels a “domestic terrorist group.”

Like law enforcement agencies in other countries, the FBI certainly has its hands full with this lot. Just last week nine SHAC extremists were arrested near San Antonio for similarly harassing a Marsh insurance executive at his home. These activists are being charged with felony stalking; a conviction could result in some real jail time.

As the Financial Times noted in a recent feature, animal-rights violence is escalating in the United States because it has been exported here by activists in the UK. So far the most violent attacks have occurred in Europe (for example, the murder of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn and the baseball-bat attack on Huntingdon Life Sciences CEO Brian Cass). On Tuesday one British SHAC member was sentenced to 54 months in prison for threatening to kill several of Huntingdon’s investment and banking managers.

How are mainstream animal-rights groups in the United States reacting to the up-tick in violent acts? PETA president Ingrid Newkirk told the Financial Times, without a hint of displeasure, that “Things have really changed here over the past few years” and that “thousands of activists” are now openly showing their “displeasure.” A few months ago she acknowledged in U.S. News & World Report that “nonviolent [animal-rights] tactics are not as effective.”

“We ask nicely for years and get nothing,” Newkirk complained. “Someone makes a threat, and it works.”

And one activist-run Internet mailing list reports that instead of publicly denouncing the terrorist acts of one SHAC member facing felony riot charges, the PETA front group called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is repeatedly faxing the Rikers Island prison demanding that he be given vegan food.

It was barely a month ago that SHAC terrorists, detonated military smoke bombs inside a pair of Seattle office buildings, evoking horrifying parallels with last September’s attack on New York City. Only two weeks earlier, SHAC leader Kevin Jonas instructed Animal Rights 2002 convention attendees that “you don’t need a 4-year degree to call in a bomb hoax” and insisted that “it’s time to start flexing our muscles.” And now the group is openly planning a December event to mark the 50th birthday of Huntingdon Life Sciences “in a way they will never forget.”

Yes, it’s time to start using the “T”-word. Whatever our attackers’ “religion” – in this case, animal rights — we must have the courage to call a terrorist a terrorist, and to steel ourselves for whatever is to come.