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New Terrorists On The Block
Animal-rights activists turn to violence.


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Wesley J. Smith

If you want to see the future of animal-rights/liberation (ARL) advocacy in America, you need only look across the pond to the United Kingdom. It isn’t a pretty picture. Increasingly, radical animal liberationists are resorting to violence, threats, and intimidation to prevent people and businesses from engaging in the proper and humane use of animals.

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Here is just a sampling of the violent seeds these extremists have recently sown:

Jerry Vlasak, an American trauma surgeon who advises British animal liberationists, reportedly said that assassinating scientists could save the lives of laboratory animals. “I don’t think you’d have to kill too many [medical researchers],” Vlasak told the Observer. “I think for five lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human lives.” (In a subsequent statement, Vlasak denied advocating murder in the cause of animal liberation, adding the caveat, “If by chance violence is used …even if there are casualties, it must be looked at in perspective and in a historical context.”)

The Independent reported that ARL “activists from around the world” are headed to the U.K. to prepare for what they call “an animal liberation war.” They don’t mean the term figuratively. And the “war,” if it comes, will not long be contained by Britain’s shores.

Intimidation against legitimate animal-related activities is working. Building contractors of a new medical laboratory at Oxford University, for example, walked off the job after ARLists terrified employees with threats of physical harm.

Cambridge University, under pressure from animal liberationists, dropped a proposed multimillion-pound research project that would have, in part, conducted experiments on monkeys in the urgent search for the causes of and cures for devastating neurological diseases. The university cited “financial risks” in justifying its decision. But, of course, the real reason was fear–fear of the potentially violent reaction of animal liberationists who hold the lives of monkeys far more dearly than the alleviation of suffering in people.

England has long been a spawning ground for international ARL radicalism. Indeed, one of the world’s most extreme ARList terrorist groups, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC)–which is dedicated to shutting down Huntingdon Life Sciences because they use animals in research–originated in the U.K. There, SHAC activists engaged in harsh violence. For example, one executive was beaten with a baseball bat and another had a caustic substance thrown in his face.

But SHAC was not content to merely go after Huntingdon employees. In a disturbing innovation, it began a campaign of intimidation against banks, insurance companies, accounting firms, and other companies that merely did business with Huntingdon. As a consequence, many businesses cut off all ties. This ancillary intimidation became so extreme that the Bank of England agreed to allow the company to open the bank’s only commercial account so it could remain in business.

Seeking respite, Huntingdon moved much of its activities to the United States. But the ARL terrorist network is international and a mere move across the Atlantic Ocean offered no protection. Soon, Huntingdon and American businesses doing business with the company were being targeted in the same manner as occurs in England.

SHAC’s campaign against Huntingdon is a test case for radical ARLists–and for society. If these fanatics succeed in driving Huntingdon out of business, no company that makes legitimate uses of animals as part of its operations will be safe–not restaurant chains, university research labs, fishing fleets, circuses, cattle ranchers, or leather-clothing outlets. In this sense, ARList radicals pose a substantial threat to human welfare and economic vitality.

What to do?

We have to understand that ARLists do not share a common frame of moral reference with the rest of society. Whereas most of us believe that humans have the highest moral value, it is an article of faith among ARLists that no moral distinction exists between humans and animals; “a rat, is a dog, is a boy,” in one animal liberationist’s infamous assertion. Thus, while most of us believe that we have a positive moral duty to treat animals humanely and support punishing people that abuse them, ARL movement devotees believe–not metaphorically, but literally–that we have no right to use animals for any purpose, not even as seeing-eye dogs.

In this surreal moral prism, real evil is reduced to banality as advocates equate cattle ranching with human slavery, Mengele’s notorious twin experiments with testing the safety of stem cells in rats, and the sending of Jews to the gas showers at Auschwitz with eating a steak. Lest you think I exaggerate, in its pro-vegetarian “Holocaust on Your Plate Campaign,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asserted, “The leather sofa and handbag are the moral equivalent of the lampshades made from the skins of people killed in the death camps.” What’s worse: They meant every word.

The ideological struggle must be joined. ARList ideology is a frontal attack on human exceptionalism (and not the only one we face). In this sense, it is profoundly anti-human, both in its first principles and in consequential effects. This is undeniably subversive to the moral order. Believing that humans are unique and special is essential to promoting the ideal of universal human rights. After all, if we are just another species of animal in the forest, that is precisely how we will act.

Call upon prominent animal-rights/liberation leaders to condemn violence and intimidation unequivocally. Too often, prominent leaders of the ARL movement who do not engage personally in lawlessness, praise animal-rights terrorism with faint damnation, or none at all. With the threat that someone may be killed as a result of animal-rights terrorism growing, such shrugs of the shoulder are unacceptable. If animal-rights/liberation leaders expect to be deemed legitimate participants in the public square, they have a duty to use their influence to dissuade their more extremist colleagues from engaging in violence and threats. Failing to do so will reveal where their true sympathies lie.

Government must do more to protect companies that use animals and their business associates. Government is beginning to respond to the threat posed by groups such as SHAC and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). We must move faster and with a greater sense of urgency. Federal and state laws need to protect businesses of those threatened by ARL extremism, and the homes of their employees. This should include using anti-stalking laws to protect identified categories of victims as well as individuals. Any non-profit organization that is proved to be a front for, or funder of, animal-rights terrorist activities, should lose its tax-exempt status, and have their assets frozen–just as the government does Islamist terrorist front groups.

Businesses must take the threat seriously. Too often, corporations threatened by ARL intimidation campaigns adopt a hide-under-the-desk-and-hope-they-go-away strategy. Such appeasement won’t work. ARLists are bullies and ideological true believers, and perceived weakness in their victims only encourages them. Understanding this is the first step toward building an overarching corporate strategy to meet the threat. Among other agenda items, companies need to ensure that their use of animals and that of their sub contractors meets or exceeds legal standards; budgets must set aside funds to pay for security to protect threatened employees; and resources must be committed to the ideological struggle that lies ahead. It is also essential to quantify the tremendous good people receive from the proper and humane use of animals, an issue so seemingly self-evident that too many of us take it for granted.

Protecting animal welfare is a noble cause. But animal-rights/liberation is not merely animal welfarism with a high metabolism. The former seeks to make the human use of animals increasingly more humane, while the latter seeks to end it altogether. This advocacy is perfectly legal, of course. But we dare not tolerate violence, threats, or intimidation–overt or implied–against those who make proper use of animals. Nor should we grant any legitimacy to movement leaders who do.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His next book, to be published in the fall, is Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World.



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