No one who follows today’s animal-rights movement can deny that its violent tactics are escalating. Ten years ago, picketing a restaurant or tossing red paint on a fur coat was front page news. But times are changing. Following the advice of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals campaign director Bruce Friedrich, leading-edge animal cultists have been busy “blowing stuff up and smashing windows.” They’ve cheerfully endorsed murder, issued a detailed “hit list,” delivered life-threatening pipe bombs, set multi-million-dollar arsons, and harassed Americans in their homes and places of worship. And just when we thought they couldn’t push the envelope any further, along come a few British grave robbers to prove the inhumanity of animal-rights activists.

Police and politicians are condemning last month’s desecration of a human grave in England. Unnamed animal-rightists dug up and stole the remains of a woman whose family has long been targeted because they breed guinea pigs for medical research. While the perpetrators have already issued a letter threatening to steal a second body, UK Animal Liberation Front (ALF) leader Robin Webb has acknowledged that his group “could be” responsible.

It’s equally likely that the grave-robbers come from the violent, PETA-linked SHAC organization, a single-issue animal rights campaign which began in Great Britain and now has several offshoots in the United States (click here, here, here, here, and our favorite, here). Seven of SHAC’s U.S. leaders will soon be tried on terrorism-related charges in New Jersey, and another was the subject of a Joint Terrorism Task Force raid in Philadelphia last week.

British authorities have arrested and questioned at least two suspects in the October cemetery raid. One is John Curtin, a self-proclaimed “softie within the Animal Liberation Front,” who has actually been involved with this sort of crime before. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reports that Curtin “was once jailed for trying to dig up the remains of the 10th Duke of Beaufort” in connection with an animal rights protest. (He intended to send the Duke’s severed head to Princess Ann as a threat to would-be hunters.) Curtin later told the animal-rights magazine Bite Back that while he was in jail he received “an enormous amount of support … sometimes an embarrassing amount of support” from “above-ground” animal rights organizations. Curtin’s connection to SHAC is undeniable, as both are subjects of a legal restraining order related to a planned medical research lab in Oxford.

But the smart money may be on John Ablewhite, a SHAC activist described by the Sunday Mercury as “a vicar’s son” and the “prime suspect.” Ablewhite’s claim to fame is a 9-month prison term for a “paint-and-stones” attack on the home of an animal-rights target. His victim was the brother of Brian Cass, a beleaguered Huntingdon Life Sciences executive whom SHAC activists had beaten with baseball bats the year before.

American militants with connections to SHAC — including long-time Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine spokes-doctor Jerry Vlasak — have been mum about the heinous tactic of disturbing a target’s final resting place. Given Vlasak’s disregard for the value of human life, we wouldn’t presume he regards human death with much reverence either.

The same can be said of PETA’s Bruce Friedrich, who acknowledged last weekend at an animal-rights conference in Berkeley, California, that he wants PETA to “obtain a human corpse [and] go and barbecue one … I actually think it’ll be spectacular once we do it.” [click here for audio]. And last year PETA president Ingrid Newkirk told The New Yorker that her Last Will and Testament provides that “the ‘meat’ of my body, or a portion thereof, be used for a human barbecue.