I've been concerned about the evolution of AR tactics and their metastasis for some time now. As I wrote back in August:
Sometimes, it's better to be wrong than right, and this is one of those times. At issue is the effectiveness of the tactics of coerecion, intimidation and terrorism employed by AR (and Eco) extremists to get their way. I've said that they are fiendishly effective, and really warrant being taken seriously for two reasons: first, their success will encourage AR and Eco activists not previously inclined to use violence and coercion to adopt them to achieve their own ends, and second, the tactics are portable, meaning that any 2-bit extremist group (like MEChA) can easily adapt them to their own agenda.
This article seems to validate the first of my concerns: AR activism is increasingly inclining towards violence, coercion and intimidation, ARA's are aiming at 3rd parties to bring down their primary target, those tactics are very effective on a tactical level, and the entities (PeTA, SHAC, ALF and ELF, for example) employing such tactics are virtually immune from legal accountability.
I am not alone in my worry. There is now a nicely written and comprehensive article about SHAC, its leaders, its tactics and its successes that is deeply troubling.
The article doesn't lend itself well to being excerpted, as I learned after struggling to do so for a couple of hours last night . . .. But there are a few key points that stand out:
1) The tactics are as I've described them before: SHAC targets the "pillars" of what every company needs to survive: investors, clients and suppliers. They do so by creating a situation in which the tactics of coercion and intimidation will almost inevitably happen, in ways that may be legally protected as free speech: they demonize targeted individuals on their websites, post personal but publicly-accessible information about them (names and addresses of family members), post the techniques and methods by which such people could be attacked, and post glowing reports of vandalism, assault and other forms of harassment that were taken against targets.
SHAC's postings may be perfectly legal. They don't openly encourage violence towards anyone. They simply provide all the psychological and informational elements that some anonymous useful idiot could assemble — independent of SHAC — into an act of violence, should he choose to do so.
It's rather like someone giving away to all comers the chemicals necessary to make a bomb, plus a book on how to assemble one and a list of people who deserve to have bombs thrown at them . . .
The campaign has forced dozens of companies to cut ties to the lab, and other groups already are starting to mimic SHAC's tactics, giving once-loosely organized protesters a blueprint for campaigns that go beyond placards and demonstrations. . . .
SHAC's Web site has chronicled many of those anonymous attacks, and reprinted a list of "Top 20 Terror Tactics" that encouraged vandalism, threatening letters, rallies and phone calls, e-mail "bombs" designed to crash computers, home invasions and physical assaults.
The tactics were at the heart of the five-count indictment returned by a New Jersey grand jury in May. Prosecutors acknowledge that the seven SHAC members accused of animal enterprise terrorism didn't commit the actual crimes but rather posted rhetoric online or took other steps with the knowledge or expectation that others would.
This indictment looks like a legal trainwreck to me . . . it seems to collide with First Amendment protections, and the issue will be where does free speech end — can you stifle SHAC's free speech because someone unknown to SHAC may act out of sympathy for the cause SHAC champions, using the techniques SHAC posts against the people SHAC fingers?
2) SHAC's tactics are successful, and people and groups sympathetic to SHAC's goals and persuaded by their rhetoric seem to be operating according to the principle that if some is good, more is better. And in the case of these people, "more" means more violent:
In August 2003, two bombs detonated in the middle of the night at Chiron's sprawling headquarters in Emeryville, Calif. No one was injured, but authorities believe that may have been pure luck. The second bomb was timed to explode almost an hour after the first, when rescue personnel were on the scene. The second bomb was discovered and the area cleared before it exploded.
The next morning, a group calling itself the Revolutionary Cells of the Animal Liberation Brigade took responsibility in an online posting.
A month later, a nail-bomb exploded outside an entrance to the Shaklee Leadership Center in nearby Pleasanton, Calif. Shaklee's parent company, Yamanouchi Consumer Inc., had been an HLS client.
Again, the bombers posted a note online claiming responsibility and warning of more attacks.
"It is time for this war to truly have two sides," it stated. "No more will all of the killing be done by the oppressors, now the oppressed will strike back."
The violence is going to worsen.
3) SHAC, and other radical Animal Rights groups, were born in the UK, which is the worldwide incubator of the radical and violent AR movement. With the success such groups are enjoying in the UK, they are now spreading beyond the UK's borders, with SHAC setting up shop in New Jersey and prepared to take direct action against people and companies affiliated with HLS.
4) SHAC appeals to AR people because it gets results (HLS was forced to delist in the UK) and it gets results largely because it is very focussed. Rather than dispersing resources and energy trying to stop all activities it condemns, it has concentrated specifically on bringing down HLS. Some smart, committed people find that appealing, and that won't hurt SHAC's recruiting:
But the campaign has energized longtime animal rights advocates such Camille Hankins.
A two-decade veteran of the movement who lives in New York, Hankins said she often spread herself thinly on too many causes. One day she would protest circuses, the next demonstrating against furriers. Nine years ago, she was convicted of ill-treatment of animals in North Carolina after trying to run a sanctuary for more than 80 adopted dogs and cats in her home.
"I was very typical of a lot of animal rights activists," Hankins said. "I felt stagnant and ineffective."
She discovered the SHAC campaign during an animal rights conference about four years ago and said it was as if a light bulb went off in her head.
"Here I saw a group of people who had focused in on one target," she said. "It was the moment that I knew that this was the way to do it, this was the way to effectively accomplish our goals."
5) There is no common ground for compromise, and both sides — HLS and SHAC — see the struggle as a Waterloo, where winning is not the best thing, it's the only thing. As the struggle continues, biomedical and governmental agencies will line up with HLS, other radicals with moral certitude will ally themselves with SHAC.
The outcome is in the balance: whatever happens, it will indeed have a global impact.
I can't do justice to the article — read the whole thing.
Thanks to David G for the heads up.