Chilling words from John E. Lewis, the FBI’s Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism: “The Animal Liberation Front … is our highest domestic terrorism investigative priority.” Testifying this morning at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Animal Rights: Activism vs. Criminality,”, Lewis detailed animal rights activists’ use of “improvised explosive devices” and “threats of more, larger bombings and even potential assassinations of researchers, corporate officers and employees.” In the hearing’s closing moments, Committee Chairman Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) read aloud the full text of a letter from the Center for Consumer Freedom, drawing clear lines between underground violence and its above-ground activist support network. We’re betting People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is — justifiably — concerned.

In addition to the FBI’s Lewis and a United States Attorney from California, witnesses included leaders of a restaurant company, a biotechnology firm, and a university biomedical research center. All three have been recent targets of animal rights violence.

“A disturbing current of violence runs beneath the surface of ‘mainstream’ animal rights groups in the United States,” Senator Hatch read from our letter. “And some of these tax-exempt charities are providing ‘material support or resources’ to groups and individuals whose activities fit the U.S. Criminal Code’s definition of ‘domestic terrorism’.”

This morning, Senator Hatch called our letter “startling,” and insisted that if the claims we make are true, “action must be taken.” We’re confident in our research, and we couldn’t agree more. Here are a few highlights from our letter, which Hatch read to an astonished hearing-room gallery:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has donated over $150,000 to criminal activists — including the terrorist Earth Liberation Front (ELF), and individuals jailed for arson, burglary, and attempted murder. When asked by eight different media outlets to explain the purpose of a $1,500 gift to the ELF, PETA officers and spokespersons gave eight different and contradictory answers.

Until last year, when the Center for Consumer Freedom brought it to light, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was quietly funding the operation of an Internet service which distributed official “communiqués” from the terrorist Animal Liberation Front claiming responsibility for criminal activities.

Last year at the “Animal Rights 2003” national conference, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) spokesman Jerry Vlasak publicly advocated the murder of doctors who use animals in their research, saying: “I don’t think you’d have to kill — assassinate — too many … I think for 5 lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human lives.”

Incredibly, these groups enjoy federal tax exemptions — perks similar to the status extended to universities and churches. If you agree that PETA and other animal rights groups with ties to violent crime don’t deserve a free ride on the taxpayers’ dime, there is something you can do about it. Add your name to the list of 35,000 other Americans who have already petitioned the Internal Revenue Service. Help us encourage the IRS to end PETA’s gravy train. And thank Senator Orrin Hatch for paying attention.