Both Nature and the LA Times this week have articles cautioning against labeling animal-rights extremists “terrorists” in the US. The justification that they’re using is that the groups in question, ELF and ALF, are not terrorists because so far they’ve only destroyed property, and haven’t managed to kill anyone yet. Terrorism, in their view, should be limited to instances in which people are actually killed or in which the government is attacked.
I completely disagree.
Take, for instance, the case of Dario Ringach as described in this article from science:
In the United States, however, if you conduct experiments on primate nervous systems, you might have the following experience. Photographs, allegedly of your subjects wearing expressions of extreme pain, are circulated to media outlets. Crowds with bullhorns picket your residence, and leaflets declaring that you commit “atrocities” are distributed to your neighbors. Your colleague who works on monkey behavior is the target of a firebomb. It is mistakenly placed on a neighbor’s porch; the good news is that the fuse timer failed, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says the blast might well have killed those inside.
Am I making this up? Well, it happened to Dr. Dario Ringach, a member of the neurobiology faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The work he did on higher-order information processing in visual systems had been published in good journals, including this one. The d├ęnouement of the assault he weathered for 4 years is described in a triumphal press release from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF): “You Win” it said, quoting Ringach. The subhead read, “UCLA Vivisector Dario Ringach Quits Animal Experimentation.” The release boasts about the reason for this outcome: He “asked that his family be left alone,” it says. Well, in the absence of timely help from his institution, he made the best decision he could, as you or I probably would have. Meanwhile, the ALF has taken credit for both this victory and the firebombing.
The use of terror to frighten Dario Ringach out of research is what I consider a prime example of how ALF is a terrorist group. The fact that they simply haven’t managed to kill someone yet with firebombs and arson, doesn’t mean they haven’t tried, or haven’t put people at risk of being killed including the firefighters that are responsible for ensuring such buildings are clear and putting out the blaze.
I know how I would feel as a scientist that whose lab and work was targeted, as was the genetically-modified poplar tree experiment that they destroyed (really, what idiots, being afraid of a GM poplar). I would see it not just as destruction of my work but a threat to my life. And these attacks on science show just how ignorant animal rights and environmental extremists are, and why I include them as denialists on this site.
When you see them argue against studies of genetically-modified plants, or use of animals in research, it’s not enough for them to simply argue that it’s wrong to use animals or plants for this or that, but that they have to lie and distort the science to do so. When they say humans are biologically vegetarians, not omnivores, they’re full of it. When they say we can do biological research without animals, they’re full of it. When they say that animal models don’t help us understand disease, they’re full of it. When they say GM crops are dangerous because of things like bt toxin, they’re full of it. And I see these arguments again and again, from groups like PETA, the PCRM, the anti-vivisection societies, the various GM food paranoids and regular folks they have been duped into believing this unscientific nonsense.
If you believe we shouldn’t use animals for research, that’s fine. But you have to accept that that means no biology can be accomplished, and not lie to people and say that animals aren’t critical to biology and medicine (or worse yet we can just use a computer). It reflects extreme ignorance of how biology works, from how we use serum in our cell culture, to generation of immunological reagents, to animal models, to the basic study of physiology of tissues and the testing and discovery of medicines. Even ecology and conservation biology routinely requires the death of animals for experiments or to study population in the wild for their benefit.
If you don’t want biology, that’s an honest answer. But that’s the choice, and it is not a false-dichotomy. Animals and animal products are critical to the biological enterprise at all levels. If animal rights advocates want to advocate for that, let them. But it’s not ok for them to lie about, and firebomb those that that disagree with them.
Here’s the legal definition of terrorism.
(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that –
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended –
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
I say these guys are terrorists. They are using violent means to intimidate scientists and others they don’t agree with in the hopes they will abandon their research or other practices. Are we to honesty believe the writers of these two articles when they say that mere property damage – using tactics like arson – can’t be enough to justify terrorism? If Tim McVeigh blew up an empty federal building would that have made his act not an act of terrorism? If the Islamic radicals that attacked our country on 9/11 flew empty planes into empty buildings at night would that have changed it into a mere property crime?
That’s utter nonsense. Politically-motivated and massive destructions of property have to be considered acts of terrorism. These men are terrorists. Throw them under the jail.