i-c6846c4a885cf8ee56c99ef6487a05a3-john_flintnapping.jpgWhen I heard the news that day … Oh boy. I had received an email from a man whom I knew only as the father of a (now former) student. We had met once, a few years ago when his son graduated, and he gave me a very nice bottle of wine, which I shared with a select group of wine experts only last Christmas. The wine had aged well and was outstanding.

He gave me the wine as a gift for having “done so much for his son” while he, the son, was an undergraduate student. It was true. I had done a lot for the young man. I had many long conversations with him about lofty sciency concepts, and he took a couple of my classes, but mainly I had helped him out by setting him up with fieldwork opportunities in South Africa. This young man, whom I’ll call John, was one of a small number of undergraduates that I’ve either taken with me to the field or arranged to go to the field to work with my colleagues there. I am very very careful about which students I might bring or send to the field. I am so careful that sometimes I make the mistake of accidentally chasing away a student that I shouldn’t have chased away.1 John was carefully selected by me for this opportunity, as well as by a colleague of mine who also sent John off to the field (to a different continent).

So yes, I had done much for John but I had done nothing that was not my job and nothing that I did not want to do or that did not give me due returns in many ways. I was more than happy to help John out in these ways, and his father did not have to give me a bottle of wine. But considering that I usually get by way of appreciation a nice card with a note extolling my virtues, it was kind of nice to get something I could drink.2

I loved “John.” He was smart, funny, respectful of all humans, a model student, a model nascent citizen of academia, a model person. In the end, not only did I support him in his fieldwork, but I also, again with my colleague, got a bidding war going among three of the top graduate institutions for him. He ended up at a major East Coast University doing exactly what he should be doing, and doing it very well, with a kick-ass fellowship, a kick-ass adviser, and excellent research prospects. John was a very satisfying success story. And all of his successes were really the product of his own ability and hard work. We were all proud of John, and I often thought well of him during the years since his departure to the East.

Then I heard the news.

The phone message from John’s father simply implied that something really bad had happened. So I tried to contact him but was only able to leave a message. Eventually, I got an email back that gave me nothing more than a cypher. According to the cypher, if I followed a certain procedure, all would become clear, and once that happened, would I please write a letter of support.

I was to enter John’s full name and the name of a particular state into Google Search, and the bad news that I needed to learn would be obvious to me.

Clearly, I was communicating with someone who was beside himself with some strong emotion … grief, anger, something … to the extent that he (an educator himself) was unable to articulate the circumstances in a normal sentence. He could not form the words to say what had to be said of his son.

So I entered John’s name and the name of the specified state into a Google search, and instantly found out that my former student had been arrested and charged, and copped a plea, for a significant act of domestic terrorism. He was looking at a possible ten or fifteen year sentence if he was lucky. The Internet was abuzz. His name had been changed by some organizations to “John the snitch” because he was turning state’s evidence. The list of activities he had apparently been engaged in was impressive …. quite a bit of destruction of property and attempted destruction of property, involving firebombs and other means, all as part of his membership in the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the affiliated Animal Liberation Front (ALF). Indeed one of the properties he managed to destroy is only a few hundred meters from where I sit typing these words, while other sites are in two different states some distance away.

Oh boy.

I contacted John’s dad immediately and indicated that I certainly would provide a letter of support. And I thought about why John’s dad was being circumspect and indirect, and it was pretty obvious to me. Dad is a high school administrator. Some sort of principal. He is one of the members of society that needs to be both unforgiving and all forgiving of the foibles of youth. The fundamental goodness (or lack thereof) we possess (or not) as a society emerge among, or are educated into, or developed by (or not, not, not) the youngsters in his daily care. And here is one of them, a bit older, who happens to be his son, just out of high school (at the time of the crimes) blowing up shit.

There was not a moment then, nor since, when my feelings for John and my estimation of him as a person changed. This perplexed some people with whom I spoke after finding out this news. Some insisted that once someone commits a crime like this … blowing up or burning down research facilities, or at least, trying to (the ultimate outcome of most of John’s activities were not really all that impressive owing to a certain amount of incompetence and ‘bad’ luck) was seen by some as a reason to write him off, toss him in prison, and throw away the key. But guess what. You don’t do that with someone you care for, even if you might get really mad at them for being such as stupid idiot.

(In fact, you don’t do that in a civilized society. Those who feel especially victimized by the very thought of their potential victimization may be prone to histrionics, but histrionics does not convert into justice. We have a justice system for that.)

I spent the next few days, again together with my colleague who was also being asked to write a letter of support, researching the background on this news we had just learned. These letters would be incorporated into the sentencing process. So, this was just like any other letter of recommendation I’ve written, but where in most instances the subject of the letter would perhaps get into grad school, or get some kind of funding, this person was going to get less prison time. Maybe.

I already knew what my letter of support would include: A description of our relationship and my estimation of John as a person. That is what I knew, and that is what I could offer the court. But I did not know what weight that would have in this court room. I needed to know certain things. In particular, I needed to know what the timing was. If John had carried out all of these activities before starting undergraduate school and becoming my student, that was one thing. My estimate of him as a person who could never do what he in fact admitted to doing would have meaning. We would be seeing a person who had undergone a major transition, who had made a huge mistake and turned around. We would be seeing a person who perhaps should not be tossed in prison for a very long time.

If, on the other hand, John was busily blowing up University property in three states while at the same time going back and forth to field projects organized by my colleague and me, that would be different. If this was the case, not only would my estimation of him as a person who would never do such a thing be taken as an absurdity by any judge, but it might even be taken as an absurdity by me, and I might not even bother writing the letter. My feelings about him would not change … for reasons that are to me obvious … but they would become irrelevant. There would be almost nothing for me to offer to a judge deciding on John’s fate.

So I did three things. First, I pulled his records to determine exactly when he was in my classroom and when he was overseas. Then, I researched the court documents and found out when the things John was charged with had happened. This showed me that John’s last activities overlapped with his taking his first class from me by a few weeks. Interesting. I thought back to that class, and I remembered something quite relevant. That was not long after the ALF had hit our campus. Subsequent to that strike, in which several animals were “liberated” (but, later, rescued by Minneapolis police) and several graduate students’ research projects were also “liberated” (= destroyed), I started to incorporate a discussion about this sort of shenanigans in my lectures, at least for a couple of years. (Just to be clear: John was not involved in those earlier ALF activities.)

I could so easily imagine these young, smart, creative, and thoughtful kids … students that I sometimes got to know and truly appreciate, becoming politically motivated and active. I could encourage them to take up important issues, or at least, not stomp on their idealism. But it was also quite easy to imagine some of these students being utter morons. It was a fine line between wanting to do the right thing and ending up in a cycle of justification and nefarious planning, aggrandizing the cause and nefarious action, seeing oneself as the judge and the prosecutor and carrying out sentence on society and society’s infrastructure.

So I lectured, briefly but annually, in my Very Large Course about the validity of political action, about the validity of concern for animal ‘welfare,’ and about the utter stupidity and moral bankruptcy of ALF and similar misguided causes. I wonder now if John was planning his next hit in those days, but heard me speak about these issues in lecture, and suddenly saw the light: There is no valid rational argument supporting what ALF had been doing (and is still very much doing, only perhaps with accelerated pace and increased severity in recent years). There are many routes to change, and this is not one of them. There are many routes to change that involve pro-active political action, even civil disobedience, that are valid and that are supportable with a rational argument. But these tricksters are morons. Stay away.

Apparently, John did stay away. The court documents indicate no such activity after that date. As I write this, I do not really know, of course, if he ever heard me say these things or if he did, if it mattered.

The third thing I did was to consult close, trusted, friends who might have had suspicions, even if only in hindsight, of John’s activities following those documented. I also learned other details that were known but not in the public domain. In this consultation and research I verified my own estimation, and without going into any detail at this time, I was able to reconstruct the salient events of John’s entry into, and more importantly exit from, this underworld life3. And, verily, ever since that one weekend during his first semester in my classroom, there was nothing. John was out of business as a domestic terrorist. Or stupid idealist with gasoline. Or whatever.

There is nothing I’ve specified here that is not public record. Indeed, you can probably figure out who “John” is in fewer than ten minutes on Google. This is an interesting story (so far) and social voyeurs will especially enjoy looking in on this tragedy. John was sentenced yesterday (as I write this … you’ll be reading this some time later) and will spend several years in prison. He will be allowed to continue his graduate studies in prison. So, in a sense, … (Insert your favorite joke about graduate school here. I actually can’t bring myself to do it.)

But why write about this?

Because I have a problem with people that I love doing utterly stupid things.

And I assume that among the throngs of young men and women who are out there, engaged in political action, dedicated to important causes, ready to devote themselves to change, there are some that I would love if I knew them (and perhaps you would as well), and some of these individuals are going to do the stupid things.

Civil disobedience, often with violence, is fine. Escaped slaves and the operatives of the Underground Railway were disobedient. People who escaped from, or abetted escape from, the Nazi camps were disobedient, and the French Underground was violent. Our “Founding Fathers” were disobedient to The Crown big time, with guns and shooting and blowing shit up. They even shot the officers, which was the equivalent in those days of the modern practice of putting your “baby formula factory” inside the “day care center.”

And we tend to judge such things in hindsight. There were many different little rebellions going on in 18th and early 19th century North America, and only a handful of them happen to be connected, post hoc, to the Glorious American Revolution. The rest are hooligans and shenanigans and terrorists. In some cases, this really is a matter of bad timing more than bad behavior. Well, it was all bad behavior. The link between the bad behavior and the just and right argument is a matter of timing. If the Green Mountain Boys were active after rather than before the Revolution, Ethan Allen may have been hung rather than deified. Post hoc, we can say that the Founding Fathers and the French Resistance were cool, but other similar entities of history not so much.

But the validity and legitimacy of any violent movement is not just a matter of timing. The Nazi’s started out as domestic terrorists just as the American Rebels did. So did the Bolsheviks. No, we tend as well to judge these movements, post hoc, on other merits. Some can be seen as righteous and some as wrong for quasi independent reasons that are not just accidents of history.

But there is a third axis along which we can judge movements that engage in violence to enact change: The link to and articulation of the rational argument. ALF does not have one. ELF does not have one. Their arguments are based on misconceptions, misinformation, crappy logic, bad planning, and political ineptitude. Their arguments are shit. ALF and ELF have probably done more harm than good, in terms of the politics and public opinion, in the areas of animal care and environmental concern. The environmental movement and the animal ‘rights’ movement have progressed to the extent that they have despite, not because of, ELF/ALF.

So don’t do that. That is my message. That is why I’m writing about John.

Just don’t fucking do that, OK?

________________________________________

1. I choose to avoid having a lot of regrets, but that would be one of them. You know of whom I speak if you are the one. (Of whom I speak.)

2. Students of the future (or their parents) who wish to thank me can consider wine an appropriate modality of appreciation. Red.

3. I don’t avoid mention of these details because they are unknown to the authorities. They are known to the authorities. Rather, I don’t mention them because they are not part of the public record. In other words, I don’t know anything you don’t know, if you are the FBI and you are reading this blog post.

Comments

  1. #1 Romeo Vitelli
    March 27, 2009

    Unfortunately, there are plenty of people around who heartily approve of the ELF/ALF and their activities. As far as they’re concerned, the eco-terrorists are totally justified in blowing up labs and mansions (no matter the consequences). The prospect of striking a blow against (perceived) injustice can be damned seductive to true believers who are impatient with the non-violent route. It was the same in the 1960s with violent student activism although we tend not to see it the same way now that we’re all older (and supposedly wiser). Some things just seem like a good idea at the time…

  2. #2 Silver Fox
    March 27, 2009

    A sad story, Greg. I wonder where he got on that road? And don’t worry, I’m not with any law-type agency.

    Did you read about similar stuff in Tucson: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/02/21/18572574.php There, they only went after 2 women, not the same organizations, though. Comments point out lack of planning or possibly even much education.

  3. #3 becca
    March 27, 2009

    “So, in a sense, … (Insert your favorite joke about graduate school here. I actually can’t bring my self to do it.)”
    Well, that’s where my mind went at the title of this post…

    Do you think ALF and ELF are irrational because their goals are irrational or because their means of achieving them are counterproductive?

  4. #4 Heather
    March 27, 2009

    Ugh. Blowing stuff up is usually the province of religious zealots. As an animal lover and a fan of planet Earth, groups like ALF and ELF give me sympathy for what mild-mannered religious adherents must feel whenever someone claiming to be one of them does something horrendous.

    What a sad thing for this young man to have done so early in life. I wish him nothing but the best for the future.

  5. #5 Paul Browne
    March 27, 2009

    Thanks for posting that Greg. Having grown up in Ireland I’m certainly no stranger to the fact that people can change their minds and reject terrorism, which as you say appears to be the case here, and I’d also agree that that change needs to be acknowledged.

    Of course it’s right that people are punished for the crimes they have committed, even if they later regret and apologize for those crimes, but hopefully his rejection of his past and achievements since then will be taken into account by the parole board when the time comes.

  6. #6 Rob W
    March 27, 2009

    The most important moral of this story, for me: REAL discussion of the actions of groups like ALF is essential to stopping it.

    Not harsher penalties, not media ranting about the evil people behind domestic terrorism. There are actual people doing these things; they certainly don’t believe they are doing something “wrong” in the grand scheme of things, and only addressing their actual goals and reasoning can sway them at all.

    Educators like yourself, Greg, who actively engage students with an actual reasonable discussion of ALF and the like can make a real difference.

    If your lectures had the effect you suggested on “John”, you might have directly saved him more jailtime, quite a lot of potential property damage and possibly lives that could have been lost if his efforts had continued. And who knows what other students in your lectures changed their minds about support or involvement in that variety of violent activism *before* doing anything illegal?

  7. #7 TJN
    March 27, 2009

    Thanks for writing this. John was a friend of mine at grad school, and I can say we are all taken aback by this entire thing. It seems so strange, and certainly shocking that he was involved in this. It is good to hear what we all feel very deeply appears true to you too, he had changed and did not involve himself with this any more.

  8. #8 David Lee
    March 27, 2009

    I’d say no jail time and argue a lot of community service, including building and repairing things, is the reasonable thing. If he’s given the government what he knows, then he isn’t much of a danger to society at all.

    It’s interesting what it takes to strike against your own society for injustice, real or imagined. So few people do and maybe more should. Imagine a bunch of American protesting by going down to Cuba and Gitmo during the Bush years. Breaking the unjust laws of all stripes to advocate for imprisoned men, many of whom are innocent. Nobody did. It was left to lawyers, mostly.

    Whether right or wrong, John’s got character. So, whether or not he goes to prison he will eventually help a world he gasoline-bombed as a youth.

    I’d say you write the letter. It was a mistake of youth.

    His next mode will be social activism of a less violent sort, I would think.

  9. #9 yogi-one
    March 27, 2009

    Do you think ALF and ELF are irrational because their goals are irrational or because their means of achieving them are counterproductive?

    It doesn’t matter. The means nullify the any good intentions. If a terrorist blows your house up, it doesn’t matter why he did it. It’s a crime.

    Therefore, the court is justified in punishing the crime.

    Engaging John in (hopefully) intelligent discussion about his motivations, whether they are right or wrong, or why, if he actually has good intentions, the modality of operations was wrong is rehab work, and is a separate issue from the crimes committed.

    It sounds like John has already done a lot of re-thinking of this motivations and actions. So I would be for shortening the hard time and requiring community service from John.

    Here’s what I would suggest for the community service: it sounds like John is a very intelligent guy, and he most likely writes well, and is possibly (those who know him would know this) a good public speaker. A series of papers and talks about his experience and his consequent realizations might be a very powerful way to communicate to people susceptible to ALF and ELF propaganda, plus help educate the public about the issue.

  10. #10 Brian X
    March 27, 2009

    The fact that he’s been branded a snitch tells me something that should be obvious — no matter how high-minded they say their aims are, and no matter how sincerely they believe in them, a criminal is still a criminal.

    I hope “John”‘s future career isn’t stained by his conviction and jail sentence. But he does deserve jail time — zealots are bad people, and worse when they make things go boom.

  11. #11 Aaron Luchko
    March 27, 2009

    @David

    I think jail time is warranted, he was after all blowing up stuff.

    I think we as a society put too much emphasis on the virtues of being passionate about a cause. It seems to me there’s more harm than good coming from passionate people going too far for a cause, good or bad. I’d rather people spend more time concentrating on being right and trying to understand why other people disagree with them than being passionate about their cause.

  12. #12 Stephanie Z
    March 27, 2009

    Do you think ALF and ELF are irrational because their goals are irrational or because their means of achieving them are counterproductive?

    Becca, this post has been months in the making. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Greg is done talking about this for a bit, even though it’s the first you’re seeing of it. I’ll try to answer though–for myself, not Greg. We’ve got a related post at QM that’s been sitting in the queue waiting for this to be done, so I’ve been thinking about this a while myself.

    I’ll start with the first part. For the ELF at least, their aims are irrational. I’m not talking about the loving the Earth part. That may be their motivation, but it isn’t their goal. Their goal is to decrease the cost to the environment by increasing the cost of development–because development costs are paid by the environment. To put it more succinctly, firebombing is bad for the Earth, both by itself and in the cost of replacing what was damaged.

    On to their means. My first reaction on hearing about this was to be pissed at the ELF for screwing up another life. Yes, I know they haven’t killed anyone, but all too often, they end up hurting the good people.

    When they decide to torch a condo construction project, it makes a big splash and a big statement. However, the people put at risk are firefighters and the neighbors who have chosen to live in high-density housing. The people who lost financially were, again, those living in high-density housing, plus those who were getting ready to move into high-density housing and those who saw their insurance rates go up to cover the costs of additional materials to rebuild.

    Then there’s what they do to their own people. Take a kid like John, someone who presumably was driven by a passion for the environment. He wants to help. Other environmental groups are telling him that we need to continue to do ecological research so we understand the decisions we’re making, that we need to press politically for the action we already know is needed, that we need to engineer more efficient production and transmission of alternative energy, that we need to figure out how to slow or stop population growth.

    Those are all good things to be doing. They also take time and perhaps some education that John hasn’t achieved yet. So what does he do? Does he buckle down and get that education and try to enlighten his fellow students as he goes, despite the fact that they’re more interested in Friday night’s party?

    He’s, what, eighteen? What do you think he does when he has the ELF over here telling him he can help in a big way, right now, by playing with fire?

    So now we’ve got another kid doing prison time instead of working on our problems, another extremist for political opponents to point to (only this one actually did extreme things). And Greg didn’t mention it, but it’s in the news. John will have to pay restitution, so he’ll be the one helping to pay for the environmental resources to replace those destroyed by the ELF.

    Irrational top to bottom.

  13. #13 Jerry Vlasak, MD
    March 27, 2009

    Academia evidently remains stuffed with the arrogant voices of privileged white (mostly) male humans who just cannot fathom the experiences of the oppressed. You lament “John’s” actions as if he suffered from some sort of mental illness, whilst in reality, all of you suffer from the brainwashing of a culture that readily accepts a nihilistic approach to its very existence.

    Oh, how you self-righteously proclaim that breaking the law is such a moral outrage, when your same legal system once advocated the enslavement of black humans the way it advocates the enslavement of non-human animals today. Historians will one day look back at your ilk in horror at the way you enslaved, exploited, tortured and murdered non-human animals for your personal preferences.

    “John” was not misguided or misled in his previous attempts to change an unjust world, no more than were John Brown, Nelson Mandela, the Black Panthers or anyone else who took a firm stand against injustice. If he did not snitch on fellow comrades, he is a hero; if he did, he succumbed to the heavy hand of a society that has little tolerance for those who threaten the status quo of personal enrichment at the expense of the disempowered and at the expense of the ecosystems that (so far) have supported not just our arrogant species, but millions of others for a very long time.

  14. #14 Hap
    March 27, 2009

    Slight difference. Mandela (and his movement) in particular had philosophies that accorded with their aims and were accepted by others. Mandela’s power came not from violence but from the ability of he and his organization to mobilize those they represented and those who were oppressed to change the society. (We would like to believe that he was right in what he stood for as well, but I don’t honestly know how much of that is due to the outcome of history rather than the inherent rightness of his cause.) The Black Panthers are closer to ALF/ELF, in that though they had a philosophy, they were not able to inspire much other than violence and so were unable to change society.

    ALF/ELF seem neither to have rational aims nor a rational method of achieving them – as such they can’t mobilize their target audience to change things, because they can’t convince anyone if they have no rational argument. Instead, they act violently to intimidate others in accepting their philosophy, which doesn’t make their members anything more than thugs with guns or bombs, looking to impose their will on others. Of course, since there are other methods to help the environment which work in various degrees and whose effectiveness the violence committed by ALF/ELF harms, they don’t even achieve their alleged aims, either, but their converses. If their acts harm those they claim to help, then obviously their stated ends can’t be their real ones. No other end is obvious other than simply to commit violent acts for their own sakes, which would make them nihilists and evil. Thanks for playing, doc.

    I wish that John didn’t have to go to jail, but part of what the system does is justice – we have to pay for the consequences of our acts, insofar as we able. Maybe I am deficient in mercy, which ought to temper judgment in any case, for believing that he should go to jail for some time, but I assume the acts are pretty serious. I’m glad he learned a lot, but I wish it had not cost so many so much for him to have done so.

  15. #15 Aaron Luchko
    March 27, 2009

    @Jerry

    If you are right you should be able to convince others with words.

    If you are wrong you’re probably going to need violence.

    When you find yourself considering violence as a tool think very very carefully about why words weren’t enough. Just because a cause is worth fighting for doesn’t mean that you should fight for it.

  16. #16 Nigel
    March 27, 2009

    Academia evidently remains stuffed with the arrogant voices of privileged white (mostly) male humans who just cannot fathom the experiences of the oppressed.

    What on earth do ALF or ELF have to do with the experiences of the oppressed?! Their members are from the privileged and (mostly) white, classes, and these “causes” channel the righteous moral fervor of the young people whose minds they poison away from even trying to do anything for the oppressed, and into channels that do not threaten the privileges of their class in any serious way. If they were fighting for the sorts of things the Bolsheviks, or the Weathermen, or indeed the Black Panthers were fighting for, or even the sorts of things the Taliban are fighting for, they would be at least trying to do something for the oppressed (however misguided their means and their proximate aims might be). Their hearts would be in the right place even though their heads would not. Causes like animal liberation, however, disgust me because they corrupt good people’s hearts into the wrong place too.

    Thank goodness Greg’s friend John eventually figured this out; and how sad it is that he did not do so in time to keep it from messing up his life.

  17. #17 Nigel
    March 27, 2009

    Mandela’s power came not from violence but from the ability of he and his organization to mobilize those they represented and those who were oppressed to change the society. (We would like to believe that he was right in what he stood for as well, but I don’t honestly know how much of that is due to the outcome of history rather than the inherent rightness of his cause.)

    You seriously think there is any doubt that Mandela was right in what he stood for?!!

  18. #18 Andrew
    March 27, 2009

    Jerry Vlasak, MD: Had you read the blog post you criticize you may have had a different batch of one liners than you have spewed forth here. Laden IS making the proper comparisons and spoke of slavery and the oppressed.

    Jerry Vlasak is the person who once intonned:

    “I don’t think you’d have to kill — assassinate — too many vivisectors before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on.”

    There is a reason you are not allowed in several countries.

  19. #19 Isabella
    March 27, 2009

    This post made me cry.

  20. #20 Mal Adapted
    March 27, 2009

    Apparently, Jerry Vlasak, MD, believes he is without sin. He also apparently believes he possesses Truth. That is the sin of pride.

  21. #21 Chris Clarke
    March 27, 2009

    I’m as radical an environmentalist as they come. And I have absolutely no use for ALF or ELF.

    I am reluctantly prepared to admit that there are times when violence may be an appropriate response to social ills. Even during those times, A/ELF is not ever going to be the answer.

    The groups comprise entitlement-driven, impatient, historically ignorant children of privilege who claim to represent the interests of beings with whom they are wholly unfamiliar. I have spent the last couple decades working with the most radical of radical environmentalists, including people who’ve done targeted minor acts of property damage that actually slowed down the pace of environmental destruction, and not once have I met such a person who thinks ELF is anything but a group of spoiled impatient schlemiels.

    It’s fairly common, in fact, to hear radical enviros speculate quietly whether ELF and ALF are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Law Enforcement, a la COINTELPRO.

    I’m certain that isn’t the case across the board: the majority of the rank and file are likely just young, deluded, and historically ignorant. People like Vlasak, though? I just have to wonder about the possibility of paid provocateurism.

  22. #22 Elizabeth
    March 27, 2009

    Laden, one of these days a medium size African American dyke-girl is going to sneak up on you and hug you silly. You won’t see her coming, and you won’t see her leaving.

  23. #23 Rowan
    March 27, 2009

    After a study at GoogleU I figured out the protagonist Greg has written about.

    Scary stuff is being written about John on some of the radical sites regarding his sentencing. I would be worried about what shall happen to him during his time in prison and upon his release due to the venom being spewed in his direction.

    While the sentence he received is not the max he could have gotten, I think he will be paying a very heavy price for what he did in his teen years.

  24. #24 Eugene
    March 27, 2009

    The idea that they (ALF and ELF) are government fronts is interesting. Is this to fish for would be terrorists, or merely to keep funding levels high for the involved law enforcement agencies? What is the motivation for this?

  25. #25 Stephanie Z
    March 27, 2009

    Nigel, Vlasak isn’t using privilege in any remotely meaningful way. He’s using it as the reductionist argument-ender it’s too often used as. “You can’t disagree with me, because if you do, it’s just your privilege talking. If you were me, you wouldn’t be blinded, but you’re you, so none of your thoughts on the matter are valid.”

  26. #26 Jerry Vlasak, MD
    March 27, 2009

    “There is a reason you are not allowed in several countries.”

    At least I am in good company; Mandela, Farakhan and others are banned from the UK as well. If you’re not making the oppressor mad, then you aren’t being effective; perhaps the threshhold for being useful is being banned from the UK?

    “What on earth do ALF or ELF have to do with the experiences of the oppressed?!”

    This comment underscores the speciesism that drives the attitudes that animals’ freedom from human oppression is not worth fighting for. Who could possible be more oppressed than non-human primates kidnapped from their families, imprisoned unjustly in steel cages their entire lives, taken out in places like UCLA only to be addicted to methamphetamines or nicotine, then ultimately killed so their tissue can be dissected? Or billions of chickens confined in cages so small they cannot stretch their wings, removed as adolescents and hung upside down so their throats can be slit, just so some human can satisfy her hunger for their flesh?

    All liberation struggles, historic and concurrent, have required the use of force to throw off the bonds of the oppressor. The struggle for animal liberation is, unfortunately, no different. And before you all go off about the violence in the animal liberation struggle, consider what violence-loving country has murdered (at least) half a million innocent non-combatants in Iraq. Americans, in particular, love violence, violence in their video games, violence in their imperialism, violence on their plate.

  27. #27 h.s.
    March 27, 2009

    MMMMM…. chicken …

  28. #28 Chris Clarke
    March 27, 2009

    All liberation struggles, historic and concurrent, have required the use of force to throw off the bonds of the oppressor. The struggle for animal liberation is, unfortunately, no different

    All liberation struggles, historic and current, succeed only when it is actually the oppressed themselves who do the fighting.

    The struggle for animal liberation thus becomes a distillation of all top-down, condescending liberal “we know what’s good for the people we represent” movements, like the Jerry Lewis Telethon with molotov cocktails. African-American people kicked whites out of SNCC, women kicked men out of parts of the Feminist movement, disabled folks loathe Jerry for the most part, but chickens! Chickens will never tell you that you’re being presumptuous, that you have your own status and ego above their welfare in your priority of concerns, or that you’re really just in the movement to, well, meet chicks.

    But when bears and lynxes start blowing up ski resorts and SUV dealerships on their own, I will give them money and hide them from the game wardens.

    And before you all go off about the violence in the animal liberation struggle, consider what violence-loving country has murdered (at least) half a million innocent non-combatants in Iraq.

    Yes, Greg, if only you personally hadn’t invaded Iraq, I’d be able to take your objections to adolescent pyromania more seriously.

  29. #29 Mal Adapted
    March 27, 2009

    Quoth Jerry: “All liberation struggles, historic and concurrent, have required the use of force to throw off the bonds of the oppressor.”

    So Gandhi had no role in the British departure from India, then?

  30. #30 Jerry Vlasak, MD
    March 27, 2009

    Gandhi had a role, just as those who strive for legislation, and educate the public with speeches and pamphleteering have a role in the animal liberation struggle. But like them, Gandhi did not throw the British out of India alone, or without the use of violence.

    As for the ridiculous notion that animals fight off humans themselves, and somehow other groups collaborating with the oppressed are illegitimate, I can only hope that was in jest. It took a war with mostly white combatants to end human slavery here in the US, and combatants from all over the world and from many ethnic and religious groups to stop Hitler’s Aryan domination in Germany. Like so many “good Germans”, most humans just go about their daily lives ignoring the suffering of those non-human (non-white, non-male, non-substitute-favorite-prejudice here) “others” who suffer at the hand of tyranny.

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    March 27, 2009

    I appreciate all the comments above. I’d like to address many of them but I may have to do this in bits and pieces. I’ll start with Jerry.

    Jerry please consider the possibility that you are forgetting a basic reality: There is no way to apply your logic to animals (including humans) generally. We eat non-human animals. Animals eat each other, including humans. The only ones out there using your logic are you and a small subset of humans. Go to Eastern Canada and stop the humans up there from killing the seals. Then have a walk over to the nearest Polar Bear and sit down for a talk about your revolution. Then, the polar bear eats you and the game is over because you are the only one playing by your rules.

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    March 27, 2009

    Silver fox: I think the example you give is exemplary of how these things usually seem to look. Mr. Vlasak is a very articulate individual and makes a pretty good spokesperson, and I’m sure if he tried to explain to us how throwing etching juice on a person’s car is a good thing, he’d do a much better job than the kids who seem so giddy about their accomplishments in harassing the “vivisectionists.”

    When I read that shit I do not go away thinking that these people … these kids …. are smart enough, or at least schooled enough or mature enough to make their own real sense of what they are doing, let alone handle the relatively sophisticated arguments they would need to develop to come up with the valid rational argument.

    They are pawns in Mr. Vlasak’s game, and they’re having a blast and will continue to have a thrill until the FBI or the state police catches up with them. Which will happen because Mr. Vlasak talks the talk but does not walk the walk. The leadership of ALF/ELF is happy to let the grunts make a lot of trouble then get caught. This is what works for ALF/ELF. This is obvious, or there would be better training, more effective ‘hits,’ and fewer captures. Some time later, while they are sitting in their jail cells, these kids will figure out that they’ve been had but there won’t be much they can do about it.

    But if I was Mr. Vlasak, I’d be careful where he parks his car because all those kids he’s led to jail eventually get out. And they know how to fuck up a windshield.

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    March 27, 2009

    Becca,

    I essentially agree with the comments Stephanie made regarding your question. The motivations are often admirable, but the motivations themselves are often not at all logical or reasonable. We see, for instance, Mr. Vlasak constructing a logical sounding argument in an utterly unrealistic and absurd fictional context in which animals are the oppressed vassals of humans, etc. I mean, that works to an extent metaphorically, but not logically in any meaningful way, and certainly not pragmatically.

    TJN and others who have contacted me by email, I’m glad to know that “John” has been supported in his new home turf out east.

  34. #34 Chris Clarke
    March 27, 2009

    It took a war with mostly white combatants to end human slavery here in the US,

    After the enslaved themselves, along with freed blacks, had agitated persistently, militantly, and occasionally violently for some generations, with effective role models and material support from successful, African-led abolition movements in the UK, and the example of the violent uprising in Haiti. The myth that whites were the saviors of the enslaved in the US is a noxious fiction that mainly serves to comfort the racially privileged.

    Of course, that’s hardly the first time a “spokesperson for the animals” has implicitly compared black people to livestock, it it?

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    March 27, 2009

    Chris, thanks for pointing that out, I was skipping over that ….

  36. #36 José
    March 27, 2009

    @Jerry

    And before you all go off about the violence in the animal liberation struggle, consider what violence-loving country has murdered (at least) half a million innocent non-combatants in Iraq.

    Let take a look at how this war came about. A group of people who don’t like the presence of the United State in the Middle East decide their best course of action is to commit an act of terrorism on US soil. This act of terrorism ruins any sympathy the average US citizen would have had to their cause and gives warmongers an excuse to increase the US presence in the Middle East. The plan worked out perfectly!

    When you go out at night and play Batman, all you do is make the animal rights movement in general look like the domain of idiots and whackjobs.

  37. #37 Brian X
    March 28, 2009

    Jerry:

    Your arguments only make sense in a postmodernist sort of way — black-and-white thinking, a primal struggle between extremes. For someone whose followers fancy themselves defenders of the oppressed, you’re little better than many of the true oppressors in the world, playing upon people’s good-faith desire to make the world better while sucking up to their prejudices. What you do is no different from any hate-driven movement in the history of humanity — you start from a kernel of truth and spin it into a movement of zealous.

    I’m going to stop short of calling you out as a criminal, because legally I have no grounds to do that (though one might be reminded of the “yelling fire in a crowded theatre” exception to the First Amendment). But what you are is an enabler of criminals and extremists, and a promoter of ignorance and hate. Whatever points of agreement I may have with you are irrelevant; I’m a strong supporter of truly ethical treatment of animals in research, but the actions of those you and others have misled mean you have no credibility or place in the discussion, and if you’ve got so much as a speck of ash or drop of blood on your hands, I hope you’re nailed on a conspiracy charge some day.

  38. #38 Tully
    March 28, 2009

    “At least I am in good company; Mandela, Farakhan and others are banned from the UK as well.”

    I’m not sure about Farrakhan, but you do realise that there is a STATUE of Nelson Mandela near the Parliament buildings in London? There was a massive concert in Hyde Park last year for his 90th birthday, which he attended. He is most certainly not banned from the UK.

  39. #39 Comrade PhysioProf
    March 28, 2009

    Sentencing judges are not interested in people’s conclusions about what kind of person they think a convicted perp is. All they care about is facts: How did you know the person? What were your interactions? How did the person behave?

    Judges are smart, and they know that people’s opinions of other people’s “goodness” or “badness” are worthless, especially when the person being opined on is a criminal, many of whom are very charming and expert at creating false impressions.

  40. #40 Greg Laden
    March 28, 2009

    CPP: Yes, that is how I understood the situation. In my letter, I provided the basic facts, what I knew, what I observed, what could be considered material evidence. There is a slight difference here between somebody who happens to know someone vs. me in relation to “John”: My job at that time (as it is now) was to evaluate a student for suitability in certain situations, with respect to work ethic, trustworthiness, etc., and then to keep an eye on the student over a period of a year or two as the student carries out research.

    Obviously, these factors may or may not be relevant to a Judge, but these are things that I could evaluate, describe, demonstrate, and that may constitute material evidence that could be used by a Judge in evaluating a person. That part is up to the judge, and I assume that the judge had quite a bit of other information as well. Most likely, what I had to say simply failed to contradict what the Judge already had before him.
    observation occur.

  41. #41 DuWayne
    March 28, 2009

    David Lee –

    I’d say no jail time and argue a lot of community service, including building and repairing things, is the reasonable thing.

    As much as I can respect and admire John’s ability to change and change big, he committed very serious crimes. I can hope and assume that if he manages to keep it together inside, he will probably get out of prison before he serves a full sentence. He really sounds like very good people.

    But again, he committed very serious crimes. And I really don’t care what the motivation was, what the level of the crime was – when people commit crimes, they need to accept the consequences of those crimes.

    To be very clear, I have been involved in a great many protests in my days. I have engaged in acts of civil disobedience and been punished for those acts – several times. I have been sprayed with mace, pepper spray and was once about four feet from a tear-gas canister when it went off. I have been roughed a bit by the police, on a few occasions. I felt then and still feel that what I did was the right thing to do (though I admit that there were probably better things to protest, on the occasions my protesting was for legal cannabis), but I also felt then and now, that by breaking the law, I had rightfully incurred legal consequences.

    I have absolutely no respect whatever, for the use of terrorist tactics. None. I can and do respect those who fall into it and realize that it was wrong. But those fucking terrorists make others who support the same goals look bad – really bad. It’s one thing to chain yourself to a tree – it’s a whole different story when you spike the tree in the hope that it will fuck up the chain-saw (and usually the person running the saw). The fact that someone is sorry for it after the fact, does not change what they have done or the requirement they pay for it…

  42. #42 khan
    March 28, 2009

    Sometimes I wonder if some people just want to damage people and property (and build a personality cult) and construct a ’cause’ to that end.

  43. #43 george.w
    March 28, 2009

    Somebody John knows now will probably be a popular reform candidate for President someday, and conservatives will try to tar him with that relationship. And though John will by then be a respected educator and civic activist in his own right, he will have to keep his distance from the candidate.

  44. #44 Greg Laden
    March 28, 2009

    George, that is probably true, but I think politicians already have a rule of thumb: Stay away from anthropologists. So the future president is probably OK.

  45. #46 dean
    March 30, 2009

    it’s a whole different story when you spike the tree in the hope that it will fuck up the chain-saw (and usually the person running the saw)

    except technically the trees are ‘spiked’ in areas that are then indicated to the lumber company. the idea is not to harm a cutter, but to make cutting the trees expensive because each tree has to be checked with a metal detector.

  46. #48 the real me
    April 2, 2009

    hehehe…all of those lil’ white mice down by the river: I bet that gave the hobo’s a laugh;-)

    But you are right, the rationale of most animal activists, including A/ELF is absolutely nuts.

  47. #49 the real me
    April 2, 2009

    Vlasak: “Academia evidently remains stuffed with the arrogant voices of privileged white (mostly) male humans”

    Vlasak, you obviously haven’t been in academia for awhile. It’s chock full of arrogant whitewominz and multi-culturalist-capitalists, most of whom make the greater part of their salary from yakking about disparities in academia, while perpetrating the next round of classist, arrogant philosophical garbage that will one day equally ruin the “whole planet” with race conundrums, inequity, and discriminatory policies.

    And, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry: Gandhi kicked the British out of India with the huge philosophical support of the meat eaters all over the world, much less the meat eaters in India.

    and notice how you issue a communication of sentence order so quickly for a snitch? Snitches cause human life to be lost everywhere snitches snitch, but to you and other fanatics, human life means little, except your own carrot counting salad munching petty life and its middle class pet-society causes for animals.

  48. #50 badger
    April 9, 2009

    Amazing story.

  49. #51 Cosmo T
    April 19, 2009

    Fair is not always easy or the most obvious

  50. #52 The FBI
    April 24, 2009

    In other words, I don’t know anything you don’t know, if you are the FBI and you are reading this blog post.

    Do you think this is going to keep us from bugging you?

  51. #53 Blue Fielder
    April 26, 2009

    Jerry, let me start by saying that I don’t like you, and I don’t believe you worthy of my time. But I feel this needs to be said, and if it nets me a prime spot in this site’s banlist, so be it.

    I believe that people like you are the lowest form of humanity: traitors to the human race. You babble on about oppression and whatnot, not realizing that you are an oppressor, you are a violent force. I can only hope that you will be found by authorities with all speed, tried, convicted, and sent away.

    You don’t know oppression, you pathetic, selfish, privileged little boy. And until you are given what you deserve, you never will.

  52. #54 drew c.
    May 1, 2009

    Mr. Greg Laden-

    This is a very nice piece you’ve written. John is my best friend of over 20 years. I remember him mentioning you many times over the years. He had a lot of respect for you and felt like you were a big influence on his life. I want to thank you for your kind words about him and his family.

    This has been a difficult thing for many of us to understand. It may be a surprise, but virtually none of his close friends knew about the activities John was taking part in. Its hard to say whether I would have been supportive or not. I like to think I would have stopped him, but since John was, and still is a huge inspiration for me as an individual, I have to admit that he most likely would have won over my support. After all, I was an anarchist at heart.

    I feel like mentioning that a few of the others involved in these actions (at least those I know personally), are in a similar situation if not identical. These are absolutely reformed people who are only doing wonderful things for their communities. No one is talking about them, but thats okay. I just feeling like stating my love and support for their futures as well. I will always be there for John. While he’s in prison and for the rest of his life.

  53. #55 silenceIsGolden
    June 22, 2009

    He did it not for himself, but for the hundreds-thousands of innocent animals you perverts mutilate and torture all the time.

    Thats why.

    Until these unjust acts against the voiceless are stopped, brace yourselves.

    Address the cause, not the effect.

  54. #56 Greg Laden
    June 22, 2009

    Silence: “Brace yourselves” is not acceptable language here, in the context in which you use it. Apologize for the threat, please.

    Since you are in Aukland New Zealand, I’m not that worried, but still.

  55. #57 Jason Thibeault
    June 22, 2009

    Address the cause, not the effect.

    We are. The cause is ignorance. Ignorance of what actually happens in animal testing, ignorance of the morals, of the motivations, and of the overall good that can be done. Ignorance of the fact that “morals” imply doing what’s best for the world in general, including humane testing on animals.

    The effect, however, is people becoming grossly misguided, having their empathy circuits short-circuited, overwhelming them with images of animals being hurt to the point where they end up hurting people in retribution for crimes that aren’t actually happening.

    What’s happening here is that you’re being lied to. Just like anti-abortionists that frequently show pictures of dead nearly-full-term fetuses, you are shown the very very worst, most deplorable, and most regrettable actions of yesteryear as though they are the norm and are happening every single time a test is performed. The science-class are combatting this effect by providing the information, hoping to address the cause — ignorance — rather than the effect — murders and bombings.

    So, again — we are addressing the cause. You just can’t see it because you’re part of the effect.

  56. #58 Robert Estrada
    July 28, 2009

    I have not seen it asked here and so will ask. Why are plants not granted rights? Ethical treatment? Fine, but I need to eat something.
    Robert

  57. #59 Greg Laden
    July 28, 2009

    Robert: I think we do grant plants rights. Have you ever seen somone rescue a plant from someone else who was not taking good care of it?

    Mmm… yeah, it is lunch time, isn’t it…..

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