In an October 26 hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, former Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) spokes-doctor Jerry Vlasak waxed not-so-eloquent about the role that animal researchers should play in the search for AIDS and cancer cures. Speaking of scientists whose work requires the use of lab rats, Vlasak insisted that if they “won’t stop when told to stop, one option would be to stop them using any means necessary.” Asked by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) if he endorsed the use of deadly force, Vlasak insisted that murder “would be a morally justifiable solution.” [click here to watch]

Jerry Vlasak was defending his 2003 statement (made as a PCRM spokesperson) that political assassination “could be used quite effectively from a pragmatic standpoint … for 5 lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human lives.” Great Britain has banned Vlasak and his wife (former child actress Pamelyn Ferdin) because of this and other threats.

Senator Lautenberg — the same lawmaker who played the skeptic in May 2005 when the Committee heard about connections between the terrorist Animal Liberation Front and the “mainstream” animal rights movement — emerged as an unlikely hero. He relentlessly grilled Vlasak, calling him “outrageous,” “anti-social,” and “smug” before exclaiming:

“You’re willing to take lives … You’re willing to say somebody that you don’t know, somebody’s kid, somebody’s parent, somebody’s brother, somebody’s sister — take that life, that’s okay. Teach those S.O.B.’s a lesson.”

To which Vlasak replied: “These are not innocent lives.”

Lautenberg, unfazed, insisted: “You have no right to intimidate people who are engaged in a proper practice under our laws.” He put his finger on the animal rights movement’s problem: Shadowy groups like Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC — the focus of yesterday’s hearing) are only part of a larger animal rights movement whose entire strategy involves intimidating and terrorizing ordinary Americans.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which many people think of as tame (at least in comparison to Vlasak’s kill-the-scientists rant), aims to get its way by bullying and threatening its enemies in the scientific community. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk told the 1997 Animal Rights Convention: “I wish we all would get up and go into the labs and take the animals out or burn them down. ” And in 1999 she told The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “I find it small wonder that the laboratories aren’t all burning to the ground. If I had more guts, I’d light a match.

More recently, PETA has begun to engage in the same kinds of tactics that appear to have given SHAC’s masked thugs the upper hand over institutions like the New York Stock Exchange. PETA’s anti-chicken protesters have begun venting their spleens at fast-food executives at their homes and churches. And this year PETA is using its teen-oriented bulletin boards to arm a large animal-rights mob with home addresses and phone numbers of executives and their extended family members. Given yesterday’s gripping Senate testimony from a stock trader who has been similarly targeted by a relative handful of SHAC activists, it’s not hard to imagine what PETA has in mind for people who dare to serve up two-piece dinners.

Also in yesterday’s hearing, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) announced plans to introduce legislation that would give federal authorities new tools to counter the lawlessness that has become the animal rights movement’s currency. For ordinary Americans who don’t subscribe to PETA’s “total animal liberation” philosophy, this help will come not a moment too soon.