Animal Rights Activists Step Up Attacks in N.Y.
Monday, May 9, 2005
LAUREL HOLLOW, N.Y. -- Early one recent morning, the wife of a pharmaceutical executive was followed to her workplace, her car was broken into and her credit cards were stolen; later $20,000 in unauthorized charitable donations were billed on the cards.
It was the latest in a series of attacks by the Animal Liberation Front on the Long Island family. The activists, who have asserted responsibility, once scrawled "Puppy Killer" in red paint on the executive's house and have posted the couple's phone, license plate and bank account numbers on the Internet, along with this threat: "If we find a dime of that money granted to those charities was taken back, we will strip you bare."
The Animal Liberation Front has targeted the executive's employer, Forest Laboratories Inc., as part of a six-year campaign against one of the company's contractors, Huntingdon Life Sciences. Huntingdon, a British-based firm, uses animals to test household products and medications.
"Anybody who does business with this company, they become a legitimate target for the campaign," Jerry Vlasak, an ALF spokesman and a physician in Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview.
The campaign is not just against the Long Island family, authorities said. The FBI and at least two New York police departments have launched an investigation into attacks on about 30 Forest Laboratories employees in the New York metropolitan area. Investigators said that in the past six months the animal rights activists have escalated their attacks, moving from protests at the homes of their targets to vandalism to theft and threats.
"You feel powerless against what's going on around you," said the executive's wife, who asked that her name not be printed while the investigation continues. "We are victims; we are innocent. These people have no clue what they do."
In New Jersey, seven animal rights activists face trial on federal terrorism charges for allegedly inciting others to harass and threaten employees of other companies connected with Huntingdon Life Sciences. The trial is scheduled to start in June.
"We've been seeing it steadily increase over a couple of years -- the number of incidents, the costs and the change in the rhetoric," said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino. "They see themselves in an asymmetrical war, that's what we're seeing on the hard left."
FBI officials estimate that in the past decade, ALF supporters have committed 700 criminal acts and caused $112 million in damage. In the United States, the number of incidents attributed to ALF decreased slightly last year, but their attacks have grown in size and cost.
Federal and New York officials acknowledge that they have made only a few arrests. The challenge, they say, is cracking an amorphous movement. The ALF has no leader or organizational chart, and the activists are methodical and careful, attacking only after conducting extensive surveillance.
"They aren't street criminals," said Detective Lt. James T. Rooney with the Suffolk County police on Long Island. "A lot of them are college educated, and they are aware of the limits of what they can do. You're dealing with intelligent people."
Vlasak, who is a former animal researcher, asserts that he does not know the identity of the animal rights activists, saying he receives information from anonymous communiques sent to the press office and Internet postings. He said the movement does not condone violence against people.