It’s no secret that Leslie and Nanci Alexander, co-owners of the NBA’s Houston Rockets franchise, are among the global animal-rights movement’s biggest financial backers. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals even acknowledged the couple in 1998 for making “one of the most generous gifts we have ever received.”

Nanci Alexander personally donated over $225,000 toward the passage of a constitutional amendment that gave legal protection to pigs in Florida. But recently released tax records indicate that the Alexanders have also funded the operations of “Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty” (SHAC), one of the most violent groups of animal-rights zealots.

The couple’s Alexander Foundation is an animal liberationist’s dream. Between 1998 and 2001, it handed out large sums to groups like PETA ($155,000), its grossly misnamed affiliate, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine ($161,500), Farm Sanctuary ($110,700), and the Fund for Animals ($60,000). But it’s a smaller donation — $1000 given in 2001 to an obscure charity called Animal Rights America (ARA) — that tells a more troubling story.

The Alexander Foundation reported to the IRS that this donation was earmarked for Animal Rights America’s “Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign” [see page 14 of the Foundation’s tax return]. This disclosure represents the first time significant financial support of SHAC has been legally documented.

The first hint of the ARA-SHAC connection came in February 2001, when a reporter with the UK newspaper The Telegraph approached British SHAC leaders Greg Avery and Natasha Dellemagne and asked how he could contribute money:

The Telegraph infiltrated SHAC’s ranks to expose its secret funding network. We were told by Mr. Avery and Ms. Dellemagne to pay a donation of $1,300 (920 pounds) to the American charity Animal Rights America (ARA), which would be fed through its bank account and returned to Britain in cash for use by SHAC …

Our undercover reporter was told that donating to the ARA was the perfect cover as the transaction would appear on banking records only as a contribution to a registered charity and could even qualify as a tax-deductible expense …

Ms. Dellemagne, 33, later telephoned him with the account number, bank code and charity tax identification for ARA. The money was transferred to the ARA account in Reading, Pennsylvania, on July 4.

Six days later, Ms. Dellemagne confirmed that the funds had been received in America before being transferred to Britain in cash via personal aircraft baggage. A total of £780 had been relayed. Some money had been kept for SHAC’s US arm.

According to the group’s founders, Animal Rights America was started in order to re-radicalize the animal rights movement. Animal activism, they fretted in 1996, “was no longer a ‘rights’ movement at all, but, rather, had drifted away from its early radical stance back toward the safety of animal welfare.” Indeed, Satya magazine lists Animal Rights America as an “Animal Direct Action” group, alongside Earth First!, the Ruckus Society, and the terrorist Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

In addition to collecting money for SHAC, Animal Rights America has also acted as a repository for legal-defense donations that help activists arrested for violent eco-terror and animal-rights crimes. In 1999, the group was accepting donations for the fur-farm-raiding “Seattle 5”; and in 2001, it collected tax-deductible money for Long Island Earth Liberation Front arson conspirator Connor Cash and a group of 29 New Jersey SHAC-affiliated arrestees.

Even more telling: in July 1999, the anarchist news service A-INFOS reported that Animal Rights America was then publishing No Compromise, a self-described “militant, direct-action newspaper” that “supports the A.L.F.”

And now, apparently, the group is funneling money to SHAC, an organization whose members blow up cars, make death threats, beat people with baseball bats, and otherwise terrorize their “targets.” And at least a portion of that money trail begins with the owners of the Houston Rockets.

The “Houston Rockets Power Dancers” cheerleading squad frequently entertains NBA crowds wearing uniforms that read “Animals Have Rights.” We wonder if players like Steve Francis or Yao Ming — to say nothing of Rockets fans — realize just how far the team’s ownership is taking this extreme mantra.