Their cross-country road trips had a singular purpose: To terrorize the fur industry, federal prosecutors said.
Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane set out in the summer of 2013 to leave their mark and record their exploits on websites associated with animal rights extremists.
The couple vandalized furriers from California to Pennsylvania — gluing locks, slashing tires, breaking windows and trying to flood the home of a fur industry worker.
They spray-painted words such as “murderer.”
They set loose a bobcat in rural Montana.
They freed thousands of mink, leaving dozens of them to become roadkill strewn across streets.
And they reportedly stole, then sold online, items to pay for their political storm, according to a 2015 indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Southern California.
On Tuesday, Kissane, 30, was sentenced in federal court to 21 months in prison for conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which prohibits people from engaging in conduct “for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise.” Buddenberg, 32, was sentenced in May to two years in prison, according to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department.
“Vandalizing homes and businesses with acid, glue and chemicals in the dark of night is a form of domestic terrorism,” acting U.S. attorney Alana Robinson said. “Whatever your feelings about the fur industry, these sentences are a pretty strong signal that this isn’t the right way to effect change.”
Animal activism had its heyday in the 1970s when groups such as the Animal Liberation Front cropped up to fight abuse and extortion through politically motivated acts, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“In recent years, the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front have become the most active criminal extremist elements in the United States,” the FBI said in 2004. “Despite the destructive aspects of ALF and ELF’s operations, their stated operational philosophy discourages acts that harm ‘any animal, human and nonhuman.’ In general, the animal rights and environmental extremist movements have adhered to this mandate.
“Beginning in 2002, however, this operational philosophy has been overshadowed by an escalation in violent rhetoric and tactics, particularly within the animal rights movement. Individuals within the movement have discussed actively targeting food producers, biomedical researchers, and even law enforcement with physical harm. But even more disturbing is the recent employment of improvised explosive devices against consumer product testing companies, accompanied by threats of more, larger bombings and even potential assassinations of researchers, corporate officers and employees.”
Starting in June 2013, prosecutors said, Southern Californians Buddenberg and Kissane targeted U.S. furriers.
They got in Kissane’s 2012 Honda Fit and drove from Portland, Ore., to San Diego, according to the indictment.
A couple of weeks later, the pair used “paint, paint stripper, a super glue-type substance, butyric acid, muriatic acid, and glass etchant” to trash Furs by Graf, one of the last retail furriers in San Diego.
Soon after, the family-owned business said it was closing its doors, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
In July, Buddenberg and Kissane targeted the Frazier Fur Farm in Plains, Mont., where they released a bobcat, according to the indictment. An anonymous blogger posted on AnimalLiberationFront.com, which says it “carries out direct action against animal abuse in the form of rescuing animals and causing financial loss to animal exploiters, usually through the damage and destruction of property.”
The blogger detailed an attack made on the same date at the same location. The post read in part:
The sight of a creature so majestic in a state so pathetic cannot be done justice with words. We have yet been unable to determine why Frazier kept him and him alone, but if it was a sense of sentimentality, it certainly was not evident from his treatment. Emaciated and filthy, his beauty was evident even through the matted fur and traumatized stare, with his bushy jowls and black ear tufts. To be in such proximity to this creature, staring into his haunting yellow eyes, changed every member of our cell. We could only speculate as to how he had suffered and what he had seen, but we could know with certainty that he deserved a shot at freedom. We opened his cage and left.
Prosecutors said the couple posted “communiqués” on such websites but did not say which sites they used.
Also in July, Buddenberg and Kissane destroyed breeding records and released about 1,800 mink from the Moyle Mink Ranch in Burley, Idaho. In August, they released 400 to 500 from the Donald B. Conrad Fur Farm in Keota, Iowa. In September and October, they released about 1,000 from the Rykola Mink Farm in Ebensburg, Pa.; 2,000 from the Bonlander Farms in New Holstein, Wis.; and 440 from the Myhre Mink Ranch in Grand Meadow, Minn., according to the indictment.
The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote about the incident in Iowa, saying the fur farmer found “dozens of mink turned into road kill, some with their backs broken but still alive. Hundreds more were running amok.”
Prosecutors said that to keep from getting caught, the couple withdrew cash before each trip and avoided using their cellphones and computers while on the road.
Buddenberg and Kissane were arrested by federal agents in July 2015 in Oakland, Calif., and charged with conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Southern California.
Ahead of Kissane’s sentencing this week, federal defender Reuben Cahn said it was Kissane’s co-conspirator who pushed her to take action.
“This offense wouldn’t have happened had she not met Mr. Buddenberg,” he said, according to the Union-Tribune.
Although U.S. District Judge Larry Burns acknowledged Buddenberg was likely the instigator, he said Kissane had to take responsibility for her part in the “calculated, premeditated reign of terror over those in the fur industry,” according to the statement from the Justice Department.
In addition to her prison sentence, Kissane was ordered to pay $423,477 in restitution; Buddenberg had been ordered to pay $398,272.
In retrospect, the district judge said, he thought he had been too lenient when he sentenced Buddenberg.
“I don’t think Buddenberg got an appropriate sentence now,” Burns said, according to the Union-Tribune, adding: “He got a screaming deal.”