Earlier this month, the car of a UCSC researcher was firebombed in Santa Cruz. A few minutes later, an explosive device was used to burn down the home of another researcher. The family inside -- including two small children -- narrowly escaped through an upstairs window. One injury was reported. Later that day, yet another researcher in Santa Cruz received a phone call, threatening a third attack.
Just a few days earlier, an animal rights group left threatening pamphlets in a local cafe, calling the scientists who were attacked "murderers and torturers".
In June, a van belonging to a UCLA lab was burned. Animal Liberation Front (ALF) members claimed credit. They also claimed credit for an April attack on two Staples delivery trucks, in retaliation for the trucks delivering supplies to an animal research lab. Pictures of the attacks appeared on their website, with threats of more violence.
In February, again in Santa Cruz, six masked ALF members tried to break into the home of a cancer researcher who uses lab animals. The scientist was injured after being struck by an "unidentified object". This occurred just days after an LA judge issued restraining orders against three animal rights groups for a string of attacks on local scientists. An ALF spokesman said he "laughed" at the order. "Our [members] are risking 30-year sentences for arson, and they're going to be threatened by a restraining order?"
These are just the attacks this year. In the US. Throughout Europe, Canada, and Mexico, the total is much higher. Medical researchers around the world regularly receive threatening emails and phone calls, are stalked at their homes and offices, and have their family's safety threatened. While other forms of domestic terrorism have been sharply curtailed, animal rights and eco-terrorism are on the rise.
The damages aren't always small. In 2003, a single eco-terrorist arson attack in San Diego destroyed a $50 million apartment complex. In 1998, a similar attack in Vail caused $12 million in damages.
Medical researchers bear an ever-increasing risk. I applaud those scientists who are willing to work under such conditions. But I wonder how long they'll continue to do so. Most are motivated by their love of science, expanding human knowledge, and helping the human race. But how many will risk the lives of their children for that goal?
The stakes are high. Researchers are, quite rightly, barred from experimenting on humans. Without animal experimentation, progress in many fields of medicine and biological science is essentially impossible. While protecting the safety of U.S. citizens is always important, safeguarding scientists from terrorism is doubly so.
A PETA spokesman once said that, "Even if a cure for AIDS came from animal experimentation, we'd be against it". PETA publicly claims to be against violence, but the group has long been accused of channeling funds and information to groups like the ALF.
Last week, a bail bondsman jokingly told colleagues he'd like to shoot Barack Obama and George Bush. Within days, he was arrested, charged, and held without bond. Yet the FBI and local authorities seem powerless to halt the organized terrorism being waged by animal rights fanatics. Why? Are these activists truly so well-organized and secretive as to withstand the full attention of professional law enforcement? These terrorists aren't hiding in the hills of Pakistan, after all; they're walking the streets of U.S. cities. Their attacks are planned in U.S. homes. How do these groups continue to operate?
Is it because their attacks -- popular in states such as California -- aren't given the full attention they deserve? Three years ago, when the FBI testified to Congress about the growing danger of animal rights and eco-terrorist groups, several members expressed outrage. Senator Frank Lautenberg, who describes himself as a "tree hugger", scoffed at attempts to label the ALF and other such groups as terrorists. Senator James Jeffords called the incidents minor as they only threaten "dozens of people", whereas an attack on a chemical or nuclear site might threaten thousands.
I don't agree. Such attacks are nothing less than an attack on science itself. And it's time they were stopped.