I don't quite know how to get into this post, because I don't know if the author of this Mother Jones article, Chris Maag, was naive and ignorant, or deliberately trying to present the subject of his piece — SHAC's Kevin Kjonaas — in a distinctly positive light.
It strikes me that, in his article, Mr. Maag (or is it Ms Maag?) omits information about Mr. Kjonaas and SHAC that is far more revealing and compelling to the readership than the information he chooses to include.
One simply must wonder about the omissions . . .
Was the author lazy? Or was he sympathetic to Mr. Kjonaas' cause and SHAC's tactics? Or is Mr. Maag simply misguided, and trying to be objective, to give the benefit of the doubt to a "controversial" person without being "judgemental"?
Regardless of his intentions, what Mr. Maag has produced is an article that raises in its very first sentence the provocative question about whether or not Mr. Kjonaas should be considered a terrorist, and then doesn't discuss the evidence that suggests he might well be one.
Rather than following up on such an important question, Mr. Maag wastes much space on breathtakingly irrelevant personal details of Mr. Kjonaas — his love for his dog, how he dresses, what his contemptuous opinion is of the gumshoes who surveilled him, etc.!
Irrespective of what I think, read on and make your own call:
When you picture a dangerous terrorist, Kevin Kjonaas may not immediately spring to mind. The 28-year-old Catholic-school graduate stands 5 feet 10 inches, weighs 120 pounds, and speaks in a mezzo-soprano voice. He uses the word “cute” a lot. Kjonaas pays his rent by working at a doggy daycare; before that he went door to door for John Kerry’s presidential campaign but quit when he realized that his strained relationship with the law could be a liability for his employer. Kjonaas is both a vegan and a preppy. He owns almost 40 vegetarian cookbooks but is quick to point out that “I don’t cook sprouted wheat germ. It sounds so hippie-ish.” His closet is filled with J. Crew hand-me-downs, and for his birthday this year, he got a dress shirt with light pink and light blue stripes. “I really like it,” he says. “It goes really well with this sweater vest I have.”
So . . . from the first paragraph, we learn that Mr. Kjonaas is just a regular guy, one who cares about dogs and politics, and has appealing little quirks to his personality and his tastes.
The reader now has a positive first impression of someone who many believe to be a terrorist, but someone who, we can plainly see, Mr. Maag opted to present as a sympathetic human being, first and foremost.
If you think I'm reading too much into Mr. Maag's opening paragraph, try this on for size: substitute the name of Neal Horsley, a militant anti-abortionist who posted targeting information on the internet about abortion providers similar to that which can be found on the SHAC website (in fact, tactics of extreme anti-abortionists have been borrowed and modified by violent AR activists).
Would Mr. Maag have painted a similarly folksy picture of Mr. Horsley's appearance, his favorite shirt and his culinary interests?
I think not . . .
Until quite recently, Kjonaas was president of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC USA), an animal rights group dedicated to shutting down Huntingdon Life Sciences. The U.K.-based company owns labs in New Jersey, where it tests household chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other products on animals. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined Huntingdon $50,000 for animal abuses. A British television documentary showed clips of Huntingdon employees punching beagle puppies. Kjonaas grew up with a beagle named Barney. “He was my best friend,” he says. “We did everything together.”
And here again, the author presents Mr. Kjonaas as a sympathetic, sensitive figure, a champion . . . a figure alert to animal abuse and willing to oppose it, against great odds.
His best friend was a dog . . . how greater could Mr. Kjonaas' virtue be?
Huntingdon Life Sciences is the villain, the company that, in fact, SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) was formed to bring down. We know it's a villain because a few of its employees were caught abusing animals.
End of story — or more precisely — the beginning of a new one, a story having much in common with "original sin" — the crime having been committed, HLS, like the descendents of Adam and Eve, is permanently tainted.
Animal Rights extremists typically seize upon the occasional real instance of animal abuse, and use it over and over to demonize their target and recruit support for the AR cause: it is SOP for AR propagandists to use the exception as if it were the norm. That's dirty pool
But it's a good strategy for getting the AR message out, a strategy that Mr. Maag helped along by his lack of inquisitiveness.
Had Mr. Maag pursued the matter, he might have learned that to Mr. Kjonaas and his AR fellow travelers, any use of animals for human benefit is unwarranted "exploitation" and qualifies as a violation of the rights AR people believe animals possess; that to an Animal Rights extremist, the life of an animal and that of a human are of equal value — that if it is immoral or unethical to do something to a human it is no less so to do it to an animal, that to discriminate on the basis of species differences ("speciesism") is as great a sin as to discriminate on the basis of racial differences ("racism").
This human/animal moral equivalency is the core premise of the AR movement, and the premise that animates Mr. Kjonaas.
Mr. Maag seems ignorant of this premise, or to not care about it enough to follow its logic.
Were he to have wondered more about what motivates Mr. Kjonaas in particular and other AR luminaries in general, and less about Mr. Kjonaas' taste in cloths or who his best friend might be, Mr. Maag would have tripped over a gold mine of information.
For example, he'd not only understand Mr. Kjonaas and his SHAC, but also why Dr. Jerry Vlasak (ALF Press Officer, former spokesman for the PCRM, a group which is closely tied to PeTA) feels it's morally acceptable to assassinate a few scientists to save many animals, and has openly advocated the practice (all lives are equal, and if you kill "n" scientists to save "n + 1" animals, you will have acted virtuously). And Mr. Maag would have understood why Professor Steven Best would save his dog from a burning house before he'd save a human stranger: each life is of equal value, and his dog is more important to him than the human stranger's life is to him.
Alas, Mr. Maag fumbled . . . we know more about Mr. Kjonaas cookbooks than we know of what underlies his most passionate beliefs, beliefs he shares with others of his ilk.
As president of SHAC USA, Kjonaas posted the home addresses and telephone numbers of Huntingdon employees on the group’s website. Sometimes Kjonaas helped organize protests in front of workers’ homes. When he couldn’t make it to a demonstration, he posted other people’s accounts of the event, even when they included acts of vandalism. He saw himself as a conduit for information. “Since it wasn’t my words going on the site, I felt I had no place to censor,” Kjonaas says. “Of course, now that it’s my ass being indicted, those words are being censored.”
Where to start with this? For openers, the author completely ignores the tactic of tertiary targeting, which focusses on employees and their families of companies that are suppliers and clients of HLS. By terrorizing these people, SHAC hopes to separate HLS from the companies HLS needs to survive, one company at a time.
SHAC (and link and link) and its tertiary targeting has been remarkably successful not only in the UK but apparently in the US as well — witness Catherine Kinney's regrettable decision to not list HLS on the NYSE.
For Mr. Maag's information: Ms Kinney is President of the NYSE. After the NYSE investigated the financial bona fides of HLS and agreed to list the company on the NYSE, Kinney, to the surprise of everyone, and at the very last moment, reversed course and "postponed" listing of HLS indefinitely, an action that from all appearances stemmed from her fear of Animal Rights "direct action." Ms. Kinney declined an invitation to testify before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, a hearing with which the reader can shock himself by reading this and following the links in the first paragraph of it.
The author, Mr. Maag, fails to mention the fact that SHAC has posted a list of the "Top 20 Terror Tactics" on its website, along with a list of individuals who they demonize together with their home addresses, personal information about their family and friends, and, additionally, listed there and ways in which any anonymous soul who conducts a direct action might hope to avoid capture.
Nor does the author mention that an integral part of tertiary targeting is the separation between those who post the information on the website, and the anonymous people who identify themselves as avenging angels and act on the information provided by SHAC, selecting a time, place and method of their choosing.
(The self-identification and anonymity of these people is integral to the successful operation of the tactic: Mr. Kjonaas may well not know who will act in behalf of SHAC, or any of the specifics of an attack beforehand, but that's the beauty of SHAC's system: they can honestly claim that they didn't encourage or otherwise sponsor a specific act, and believe this provides them with immunity from the legal consequences of the act. To my way of thinking, it's a little like dropping large rocks from a plane over a city: you may not know who will be struck, but if you do it often enough, you can be reasonably sure that someone will be.)
How can one possibly understand what Mr. Kjonaas is all about without explaining what his organization, SHAC, is up to, and what sort of tactics (tertiary targeting) they are willing to employ?
Mr. Maag leaves his readership far better informed about Mr. Kjonaas' appearance and love of his doggie than about what his organization does, the premise under which Mr. Kjonaas operates, and who he rubs elbows with.
I ask: are Mr. Maag's omissions intentional, or the result of incompetence?
On May 20, 2004, Kjonaas and six other SHAC members were indicted by a New Jersey grand jury on federal charges that they had orchestrated an interstate campaign of terrorism and intimidation in violation of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. The law, originally passed in 1992, was strengthened after 9/11 in response to heavy lobbying from animal-testing firms and pharmaceutical companies. The changes made it easier to convict people for attacks on animal-testing facilities and in some cases tripled mandatory jail sentences.
And thank goodness the law was strengthened . . .
Kjonaas was tipped off about 30 minutes before federal agents arrived to arrest him. He prepared by brushing his teeth and pulling on a dress shirt and his best pair of khakis. He tied his beagle, Willy, to a fence in the back yard.
And here we have an almost heroic Mr. Kjonaas preparing himself for the onslaught: he brushes his teeth; he dresses himself in his best; he ties his dog up. What a totally wonderful person this must be — if only I could comport myself with such dignity, courage and compassion when facing The Man and all the power of the state!
But there is nothing about tertiary targeting or SHAC's ties to violence, coercion and intimidation.
Don't forget: Mr. Kjonaas was the president of SHAC until he relinquished that position to Pamelyn Ferdin, wife of Dr. Jerry Vlasak.
At precisely 6 a.m., a column of black-clad agents ran in a full sprint toward Kjonaas’ rented house in the Bay Area suburb of Pinole. One wore a balaclava. Another carried a battering ram. They entered with their pistols aimed at Kjonaas’ head as a helicopter hovered low overhead. It was a remarkable show of force, especially since, after six months of recording Kjonaas’ phone and email conversations, picking through his trash, reading his mail, and following him everywhere he went, the FBI knew that the most dangerous thing in the house was a coffeepot. “What did they think I was gonna do?” Kjonaas says. “Attack them with a floppy disk?”
The evil Storm Troopers arrive! They're dressed in black, they entered in force and they were armed!
Well, yeah . . . when you're raiding a place, you want the show of force to be so overwhelming that the people in the building are so shocked and confused that they don't react. The rationale is simple: it's a question of protection — not only of the cops, but also of the suspects, who could be hurt or killed accidently if they acted unpredictably or appeared to resist.
In such raids, the cops can't assume that the suspects are unarmed, willing to cooperate, disinclined to destroy evidence or inclined to take hostages. It's dangerous enough when you have overwhelming force and surprise on your side, but you can't count on events perfectly following the script you've written up (after all, Mr. Kjonaas was tipped off, which I doubt was part of the plan . . .).
Frankly, Mr. Maag's assertion that the FBI knew that the most dangerous thing in the house was a coffee pot, and that their show of force was unwarranted, is ludicrous. It would have been reckless in the extreme for the feds to have behaved the way Mr. Maag seems to feel was appropriate.
Officials admit there might be somewhat of a disconnect between Kevin Kjonaas and the public’s idea of a terrorist. “I don’t want the parallel drawn to actual Middle Eastern terrorists,” says Michael Drewniak, spokesman for the U.S. attorney in New Jersey. In its 27-page indictment, the government doesn’t allege that Kjonaas plotted to kill anyone; most of the charges focus on using the Internet to instill fear in people associated with Huntingdon. If the prosecution succeeds, Kjonaas and two other defendants each face up to $1,250,000 in fines and 23 years in prison.
Heh — ". . . a disconnect between Kevin Kjonaas and the public’s idea of a terrorist . . .".
A disconnect that Mr. Maag carefully nurtures by focussing far more on Mr. Kjonaas' appearance and his loving relationship with his doggie than on what SHAC has been up to . . .
And notice the subtle way Mr. Maag guides the reader when he notes that the government doesn't allege that Mr. Kjonaas plotted to kill anyone.
In doing so, Mr. Maag has subtly diminished what SHAC does by comparing it to what they haven't been charged with doing!
Well, gee . . . the attacks of 9/11 aren't so bad because they could have been far worse . . .
All things are relative . . .
There’s no denying that SHAC’s protest tactics were designed to frighten. SHAC activists have poured paint thinner on a Huntingdon executive’s car, broken windows, and spray-painted “puppy killer” on an employee’s property. Using tactics akin to those of extreme antiabortion groups, the SHAC USA website published the names, ages, and school addresses of Huntingdon employees’ children. “When you’re on the receiving end of [SHAC’s] campaign, it’s violent and severe intimidation,” Drewniak says. “It’s a campaign of terror, yes.” John Lewis, the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, told Congress last May that SHAC and other animal rights groups represent America’s No. 1 domestic terror threat.
When you are on the receiving end of SHAC's campaign, it is indeed terrifying.
Which brings up this question: How much different a tone would this piece have had if the subject of the interview weren't Mr. Kjonaas, but was instead some antiabortion zealot from the political far right who used the same techniques SHAC uses against abortion providers?
I think we know . . .
“That is patently absurd,” says Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks violent political groups on the left and right. “The reality is that these people have killed no one.” Which is not to say that groups like SHAC should be mistaken for Sunday bridge clubs. Potok says there is a trend of increasing violence and intimidation at the fringes of the environmental and animal rights movements, including a rise in bombings and inflammatory threats. “What is just screaming hypocrisy among these groups is the idea that you should blow things up, but the minute you hurt an animal or a human it is automatically not one of their actions,” Potok says. “It’s inevitable that someone will die at the hands of an animal rights firebomber.”
It is not patently absurd to consider SHAC and other violent AR sorts as the number-one domestic terrorist threat, and I fear that Mr. Potok has mistaken acts and tactics for a state of mind.
Terror is the state of mind, a state of mind that organizations like SHAC hope to create in the people they select as targets. Once people are sufficiently terrorized, they will comply with SHAC's demands — or so the terrorists hope. And it often works — just ask the NYSE's President, Ms Kinney.
Murder is an act, an act which can be used as a tactic to create a state of mind: after all, the murdered person isn't terrorized — s/he's dead. Only the living living are able to be terrorized.
As an aside, who can be sure that some useful idiot acting in behalf of SHAC's cause won't kill someone, given Dr. Jerry Vlasak now openly advocating murder (op cit). It's just a matter of time before that act will be added to the armamentarium of your local AR terrorist.
The defense of the “SHAC 7” will rest largely on the landmark 1969 case Brandenburg v. Ohio, in which the Supreme Court ruled that political speech is legal unless it can be shown that a defendant has told specific individuals to commit specific, imminent acts of violence. “These kids were posting things on the Internet, for crying out loud,” says Louis Sirkin, a Cincinnati-based First Amendment attorney who is representing one of the activists charged along with Kjonaas. “They were communicating with the entire world.”
At one time, I thought that defense might fly. But now that I've become familiar with the concept of True Threat as it may apply in the SHAC 7 trial, I'm much less sure that Brandenberg v. Ohio will carry the day.
Certainly, federal authorities spared no effort in trying to gather more evidence on Kjonaas. Back in May 2003, his roommates began noticing two men wearing suits who sat in a parked car three doors down from their house. (“I can’t believe they actually thought they were undercover,” Kjonaas says.) The gar- bageman told them FBI agents paid him cash to set Kjonaas’ trash aside; the mailman said the FBI ordered him to photocopy Kjonaas’ mail. Later, Kjonaas’ attorneys would discover that the FBI had also obtained warrants to tap his phone and monitor his email use.
After 9/11, the feds were severely criticized for not connecting the dots. Now they're trying to do it, and they still get criticized!
The overriding question here is this: given Mr. Kjonaas attitudes, connections (SHAC and ALF, Vlasak via Ferdin) and sympathies, should the Feds be trying to connect the dots in his case?
I'd be pretty unhappy if they weren't!
But this is an issue that Mr. Maag seems disinclined to wrestle with.
Kjonaas and his roommates tried to have fun with their pursuers. They began to pour used kitty litter into their trash bags and douse it with pepper spray. They’d drive toward a freeway on-ramp, then pull a sudden U-turn, snickering as the agents swerved behind them. Lauren Gazzola, one of Kjonaas’ roommates and a codefendant in the case, went outside on a cold fall evening and tried to offer the men in the car some hot tea. They ignored her.
These days, when he’s not at work playing with dogs, Kjonaas is busy preparing for his trial, which is scheduled to begin February 6 in Trenton, New Jersey. He has 890 hours of videotape to watch, 600 taped phone calls to listen to, and thousands of pages of documents to review—all of it gathered during the FBI’s two-year investigation of SHAC. Both sides expect the trial to last at least three months, to be followed by years of appeals. “It’s going to be a giant pain in the ass,” Kjonaas says. “If this case wasn’t so serious, it’d be comical.”
Well, what can I say? Mr. Maag's article ends with a paragraph describing how the playful Mr. Kjonaas toying with the inept feds, and a final one in which we return to dog lover, confident in his ability to prevail at trial, concerned only about the pain in the ass it will be for him.
So now, if you've made it this far, it's your call: why did Mr. Maag write the article the way he did, excluding the key information that would have explained why many consider Mr. Kjonaas to be a terrorist, why he was under surveillance and why he is now indicted, after having used the "t" word as a hook in the first sentence of his article?
UPDATE 1/1/2006, 7:45PM PST. Sharp-eyed reader Lisa P. notes that PeTA opposes tethering animals, so Mr. Kjonaas may be in hot water with them, should they learn of his abuse of his dog.
On the other hand, Mr. Kjonaas is opposed to killing animals for frivilous reasons — so he may have a bone or 12,473 to pick with PeTA.
My mind is staggered by the possibilities here . . .