I've written several times about the ALF attack on the people at the University of Iowa in November, and a few times on the senate hearings on Animal Rights and Eco- terrorism (for example, link, link). Now, one of the victims of those attacks, Professor Mark S. Blumberg, steps forward with unsurpassed courage and has his say in the Washington Post:
"Are you lying down?" my wife asked me over the phone. It was Sunday, Nov. 14 of last year, and I was just waking up in my hotel room in Madison, Wis., where I'd gone to visit my sister and her son for the weekend. My wife's question -- especiallyher urgent tone-- triggered a cascade of sickening thoughts. Soon, I was racing home to Iowa.
Although the pieces only came together over the next several days, the bare facts were these: Early that morning, at least five individuals had illegally entered the research facility at the University of Iowa where my colleagues and I, all professors of psychology and neuroscience, work. The intruders broke into offices and laboratories, dumped acid and other chemicals and destroyed equipment. They also "liberated" the animals -- primarily rats and mice -- used in our studies of such basic behavioral and biological processes as learning, memory, temperature regulation and sleep. One of my graduate students arrived at work early that morning and discovered, in bold red spray paint, the slogans that are the hallmark of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF): "Science not sadism" and "Free the animals."
With this break-in, my department had become the latest poster child of the animal rights movement. After years of escalating attacks on research facilities in the United Kingdom, animal rights and environmental extremists have turned to North America, which is fast becoming a breeding ground for their type of violence. But because the number of individuals affected is still relatively small, most Americans remain unaware of the seriousness of the threats. As my experience shows, even among decision-makers, few are taking it seriously enough.
The care of laboratory animals isn't, as some seem to believe, an unregulated field. As scientists engaged in government-sponsored research, we must conform to an exhaustive array of local, state and federal rules. Nor are we unthinking about these animals' use. As scientists, we debate it among ourselves and with others, as all thoughtful individuals do when dealing with issues of life and death.
I served on my school's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) for the two years preceding my retirement, and at my university we took the care of our animals very seriously indeed. And we did so for three reasons — first, morally, it was just the right thing to do; second, when you use animals in a project, you must eliminate as far as possible any variables that might confound the results of your study, and mistreating animals introduces confounding variables that could preclude any meaningful interpretation of your results, and preclude repeatability by others; and three, it was a requirement to receive federal money that animals be properly treated, housed and cared for, and any violation of standards of care could result in embarrassing investigations, fines or even the withdrawal of funds altogether. We kept a close eye on how our animals were cared for, and dealt with small problems way before they became big ones.
Of course, using animals in research is an Animal Welfare position, not an an Animal Rights position: to an AR person, any use of animals in research is by definition abusive, cruel, torturous, and a violation of an animal's "rights." (AR people believe that a human life and an animal life are equally worthy, and if it is immoral or unethical to do something to a human, it is equally so to do it to an animal. To treat animals differently would be to practice "speciesism", which AR people believe to be as morally reprehensible as racism.)
What happened in Iowa, though, was not a debate; it was an assault.
Indeed it was . . . and it was just about as disingenuous is it's possible to get for the local Animal Rights agitator, Leana Stormont, to whine with dismay after the attack when she couldn't drum up support for a debate on the use of animals in research . . . Ms Stormont's machinations give whole new meaning to the words "exploitive," "manipulative" and "clueless."
For us, the break-in set off a chain of events that one might expect after an attack of such magnitude. Our unassuming buildings at the edge of campus were cordoned off as local, state and then federal law enforcement personnel descended. With the closing of these buildings, the daily lives of hundreds of faculty, staff and students were disrupted. Experts in the handling of hazardous materials spent weeks identifying and removing the corrosive chemicals that had been dumped inside.
The cost of the cleanup, replacement of valuable equipment and purchasing of new animals totaled in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Contrary to initial reports, relatively little data were lost (in part because the attackers seemed more concerned with smashing computers than erasing hard drives) although even small losses can have far-reaching consequences for research.
Instead, it was the human cost that was most devastating. Imagine the horror of walking into your office at work, as one of my young colleagues did, to find computers, books and personal effects (such as ultrasound images of your unborn child) soaked in acid. Then, imagine having to don a chemical protection suit for several days and sift through multiple 55-gallon drums filled with acid-soaked papers, photocopying those that are still readable as they crumble in your hand.
Unfortunately, the attack on the building is where our story begins, not ends. For what followed was a series of well-orchestrated harassments. First came the e-mailing of a communique to the media, detailing the crime and the rationale for targeting our facility and the individuals who work there. Each of us was singled out for derision; I was colorfully described as having a "famously deranged mind" because of my research on the similarities between the high-pitched squeals of infant rats and the life-sustaining grunts of human preemies in respiratory distress.
Some of ALF's statements produced the desired chilling effect: "Let this message be clear to all who victimize the innocent," the e-mail read. "We're watching. And by axe, drill, or crowbar -- we're coming though your door. Stop or be stopped." Later in that document, the brazen and indiscriminate nature of their threat was revealed when, after noting "the established link between violence towards animals and that towards humans," they listed "as a public safety measure" our names, our spouse's names, home addresses and phone numbers, as well as information about our students.
Yes — the creation of fear is carefully orchestrated to achieve maximum impact. The message is very clear: if you don't stop what you're doing, nobody in your family, none of your friends, none of your students, is safe. You are all at risk, and you don't know when, where, to whom or in what form the next attack might come.
Next came the video. Several days after the communique, local journalists informed a group of us that a surreptitious delivery had brought a 50-minute videotape of the crime. Would we be interested in seeing it? Within an hour, two colleagues and I found ourselves huddled together in front of a small television set in a local newsroom, watching in dismay as these individuals -- clearly youthful despite being hidden behind hoods, masks and gloves -- paraded through our facility, smashing delicate instruments with oversize hammers and transferring rats and mice to plastic cages. It was particularly difficult for me to watch as my infant rats, along with their mothers, were thrown together with several other adults, knowing (as these animal "liberators" apparently did not) that cannibalism of the young was the likely outcome. There was no video of that.
In the weeks thereafter, our attackers and their allies kept up their campaign. There were press conferences by local agitators, freedom of information requests, midnight phone calls, a well-publicized visit by a nationally known pro-ALF speaker whose message was that more attacks were needed. [My emphasis . . . ed]
Thanks to University of Iowa president David Skorton, who "As proof of Iowa’s commitment to engaging in that discussion, Skorton told the committee that in January, he had approved a student group’s request to have Steven Best, a self-described “national press officer” for the animal liberation movement, deliver a speech on the campus two months after the attack on Iowa’s labs.."
Can you imagine the good President Skorton inviting a luminary representing the Ku Klux Klan on campus to engage in a productive discussion of race and hate crimes mere weeks after an incident of cross-burning in front of an African American Studies Department?
I don't think so . . . (Note to University of Iowa researchers: check the corn — there's gotta be something in it that facilitates the production of bozoamine [search the page for bozo]. And sorry, I can't find my copy of the entire paper.)
In short, President Skorton abandoned his faculty when they needed him most, taking advantage of their misfortune to preen ignorantly while trying to appear wise and above-the-fray in his testimony before a Senate Committee. It doesn't get any more shameful than this, folks.
And then came the magazines. They started as a trickle, but soon my mailbox was deluged with dozens catering to every taste: Canoe & Kayak, Guns & Ammo, Fit Pregnancy, Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords. It's simple but ingenious: tear out those little subscription cards, apply a label, and send it in. No hassle, no mess. In total, nearly 450 subscriptions were directed at us, 160 to me alone. Funny? Perhaps, unless you consider how you would respond to such an onslaught, including the invoices and, ultimately, the credit agencies that followed.
When we learned that a Senate panel would be addressing the issue of animal rights extremism in May, we thought that some relief was imminent. Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League have been keeping an eye on the growing violence. Critics have pointed out financial donations, overlapping personnel and supportive public statements that raise questions about a possible relationship between above-ground groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and fringe groups like ALF. We hoped that such evidence had accumulated to the point that a concerted and bipartisan effort might finally affect their formidable fundraising apparatus. We were sadly disappointed.
We were encouraged that the president of our university had been called as a witness and that our experiences of the past several months would receive some high-level attention. Unfortunately, the hearing quickly devolved into a partisan disagreement. Incredibly, the senators seemed more interested in protecting their favored activist groups from scrutiny than in determining which groups actually posed significant threats to the lives and livelihoods of law-abiding citizens. Most galling were the comments of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, who seemed miffed that his time was being wasted on such fluff. Incredulous of the testimony provided by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), in which violent animal rights and environmental extremists were identified as among our most serious domestic terrorism threats, Lautenberg asked facetiously who the next target would be: "Right to Life? Sierra Club?" Then, he inexplicably proclaimed himself "a tree hugger."
The partisanship was bad, but I found President Skorton's carefully parsed, self-serving and ignorant testimony to be far worse, as I've outlined here.
Lautenberg's self-description as a "tree hugger" was awful (. . . dots, senator, dots . . . connect them . . .), but what can you say about a University President who tells the world that he's "active in animal rights issues," parades his vegetarianism before the world as if he's trying to establish his AR credentials with and appease just those people who sacked one of the departments of his school and terrorized his faculty, and who endorses Professor Steven Best's appearance to engage in a discussion of the use of animals in research?
In Skorton, we see a posturing, ego-centric person, a caricature of the clueless, grasping administrator who is so perfectly described by the bozoamine parady, who isn't even dimly aware of the issues he testified on — including the fundamental difference between Animal Rights and Animal Welfare.
My heart breaks for the people at Iowa . . . they deserve better.
I later made several attempts to contact Lautenberg about his comments, via fax, phone and e-mail, but never received a response.
I was a victim of a violent crime once before. While on break from college in the early 1980s, I was sitting in my parents' home in Chevy Chase reading a book when, suddenly, I looked up and found myself staring into the barrels of two snub-nosed revolvers. The intruders tied me up and robbed the house, then left silently. As traumatic as that event was, its effect on me was fleeting. I was angry, yes, but I did not feel terrorized. These home invaders clearly did not hate me for who I was or what I did. They did not issue a communique declaring that others should attack me. They did not release a video to force me to relive the indignity of the event. And they did not encourage their minions to engage in further harassments. Terrorists, no matter what their cause, seek political change through violence and intimidation. Is it essential that we label animal rights extremists as terrorists? Perhaps not, unless such a label helps us -- and especially politicians -- to better appreciate the seriousness of the threat and to marshal the necessary law enforcement resources.
In my opinion, the term terrorism certainly does fit. When you have the likes of Dr. Jerry Vlasak finding that killing scientists is "morally acceptable" and later openly advocating the practice itself, you have Professor Steven Best (yes, the same person President Skorton approved speaking on campus) defending "direct actions" and the utility of Dr. Vlasak's "approach", and you look at how far things have gone in the UK (and link, link and link), terorism is the appropriate term. But I do concede that it is a term that people who want to avoid dealing with AR violence can use to derail the debate, focussing on the definition of terrorism rather than dealing usefully with the fact of extremist violence.
Because the threat is serious. Today, scientists, clinicians and educators find themselves engaged in a seemingly endless string of pitched battles: over the teaching of intelligent design in our public school classrooms, over the availability of stem cells to treat degenerative diseases, over the rights of severely brain-damaged individuals to die. If we focus on the conventional politics that drive these conflicts -- right vs. left -- we miss the bigger picture.
In fact, what ties all of them together is a common distrust of and disdain for science, for empirically based medicine, for the value of evidence and critical analysis, and for progress in a free and open society.
I think this is key — in a society where everything seems to becoming relative, science is just another way to look at the world, no better, no worse, than any other.
Moreover, and perhaps most alarming, is the adoption by certain groups of increasingly violent action to achieve their political aims. Indeed, the mounting acceptance of intimidation and violence within the anti-abortion movement eerily parallels the escalating tactics of animal rights extremists.
I would say that the AR movement is eerily paralleling the anti-abortion movement. I believe Dr. Vlasak would agree (op cit).
Thus, the ideology and goals of these groups may align at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but their tactics have converged. As we know, a number of abortion doctors have already been killed, and some animal rights extremists seem to approve of physical violence as a tactic . It's only a matter of time before someone takes the next step. Whom will Lautenberg hug then?
Exactly. Thank you, Professor Blumberg. What a courageous and articulate spokesman you are.
And thanks to reader AP for first calling this to my attention.