A stunning development in the domestic war on terror unfolded this week, as seven hard-core militants from the violent animal rights group SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) were taken into federal custody on terrorism-related charges. In addition, SHAC itself (which, it turns out, is an honest-to-goodness corporation organized in Delaware), was named in a five-count federal indictment — which outlined violations of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act as well as a conspiracy to stalk innocent victims across state lines. The indictment charges that SHAC’s tactics include “assault including spraying cleaning fluid into one’s eyes,” “smashing the windows of one’s house,” firebombing cars, threatening to “kill or injure one’s partner or children,” and “arranging for an undertaker to call to collect one’s body.” The federal government also alleges that SHAC “listed the names and addresses” of various targeted Americans on its website. “In some instances, SHAC also listed home phone numbers; names of employees’ spouses; the names, ages and birth dates of their children and where the children attended school; license plate numbers and churches attended by employees and their families.” The seven accused animal-rights radicals each face between three and five years in prison. “This is not activism,” said Christopher Christie, the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey. “This is a group of lawless thugs attacking innocent men, women and children.”
In the New York Times, Christie added: “Their business, quite frankly, is thuggery and intimidation. Our goal is to remove uncivilized people from civilized society.” Considering the increasingly blurry line between “underground” activist violence and those animal rights groups considered “mainstream,” we’re hopeful that the U.S. Justice Department’s definition of “uncivilized” includes not just shadowy bomb-throwers, but their high-profile support system as well.
Indeed, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) communications director Lisa Lange defended SHAC’s thugs in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, calling them “longtime activists and well respected.” And responding to last week’s U.S. Senate hearing on animal-rights violence, PETA’s official statement ominously warned: “Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” On Wednesday, we pointed out in a national news release that PETA and its quasi-medical front group (the misnamed Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, or PCRM) have clear connections to at least three of the seven SHAC arrestees. Not surprisingly, PCRM’s press conference announcing a lawsuit against the estate of the late diet doctor Robert Atkins yesterday was closed to the public — likely so PCRM could avoid answering questions about its ties to the SHAC gang.
FBI agents raided SHAC’s New Jersey office and the home of Seattle anarchist Josh Harper a year ago in connection with an investigation into two skyscraper-clearing smoke bombs planted by SHAC activists in 2002. Harper, among those arrested Wednesday, wrote in 2001: “I see a spark of hope in every broken window [and] every torched police car … Let us increase the momentum.” That same year he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that his ultimate goal is “the complete collapse of industrial civilization.” Also in 2001, Harper was awarded a $5,000 grant from PETA. It’s an odd coincidence, but not out of character for PETA, which regards the terrorist Animal Liberation Front as “an army of the kind.”
In addition to Harper, two other SHAC arrestees with ties to PETA and PCRM are Andy Stepanian and Kevin Kjonaas , both long-time radicals with deep roots in SHAC. Kjonaas co-signed a series of intimidating letters with PCRM president Neal Barnard in 2001, aimed at getting biomedical and pharmaceutical companies to stop contracting with a New Jersey laboratory whose work includes animal testing. Talking to the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2002, Kjonaas openly defended violent tactics against AIDS and cancer researchers, including “a car being blown up in a driveway or animals being liberated from a lab.”
The San Jose Mercury News speculates that Wednesday’s arrests may also be connected to the investigation into Daniel Andreas San Diego, a federal fugitive wanted for setting 10-pound ammonium nitrate bombs outside two SHAC-targeted biomedical firms last year. Based on unsealed FBI testimony, the Mercury News reported yesterday that on the morning of one of those bombings, Kevin Kjonaas made telephone calls to Oakland activists who had shared apartments with San Diego.
Stepanian is another solid PETA connection. He served 3 months in jail for throwing a brick through the window of a Long Island fur store in 2000. In a September 10, 2003 message to a “Yahoo News” listserv operated by the Long Island-based Animal Defense League (ADL), he
identified himself as “Andy Stepanian, PETA/ADL.” [login required to view]. And at the January 2004 “Total Liberation Fest” event held in Erie, Pennsylvania, Stepanian spelled out the protest strategy that may have put him on the FBI’s radar screen: “If you have a group of friends that want to go do a protest, go do a protest. Go write them some letters. Go send them some e-mails. Go throw a brick through their window. I don’t care — whatever it is that you need to do to get them out of their business, go do it.” In an April 12, 2004 message to a Long Island animal-rights Internet mailing list, Stepanian encouraged activists to join an April 26 PETA protest against KFC, noting that “PETA has been very supportive of our efforts thru providing us with liturature [sic], phone lists, and other resources.”
Charging seven violent malcontents with felonies isn’t likely to stop the current wave of animal-rights terrorism. Some activists are already publicly commenting that “arrests will not deter us, but just anger us even more … This is the time for sacrafice [sic] – we must prove a point to the opposition. Everyone, in addition to showing jail support, turn up the heat.” And then, of course, there’s PETA. With a history of funding violent criminals, we don’t expect that group to change its ways unless it’s forced to do so. Here’s hoping that happens soon.