Probing the Animal Rights Underground

Federal officials are targeting local animal-rights activists in an investigation connected to Bay Area terror attacks.

On the morning of May 23, David Hayden left his Santa Cruz apartment and was about to head to work when two FBI agents climbed out of an SUV and approached him. As a volunteer for No Compromise, the newsletter of the radical wing of the animal-rights movement, Hayden had heard his share of such stories. Now it was happening to him. “They were formal, they gave the subpoena to me, asked if I had any questions,” he says. “Then there was a pause, and I turned to walk away, and they said, ‘Oh, you’re going to be arrested later today. ‘”

Hayden isn’t the only organizer to come into the feds’ crosshairs. Activists allege that over the last few weeks, the FBI and the US attorney’s office have launched an aggressive new investigation into militant animal-rights activism in the Bay Area. So far, the US attorney’s office has issued subpoenas to ten people, ordering them to appear before a grand jury in June and answer questions about the 2003 bombing of two East Bay companies. According to one source, the FBI raided two houses on April 10, kicking down the door and racing in with guns drawn, looking for evidence in the case of Peter Young, an activist accused of breaking into several Wisconsin mink farms in 1998 and releasing thousands of animals into the wild. US attorney spokesperson Luke McCauley refused to confirm or deny any such investigation, but several sources claim that the subpoenas have sent activists scrambling for lawyers. Militant animal-rights organizers have long tolerated the view that violence may be the only way to liberate their fellow mammals; now, their ecumenism may land them in prison.

The subpoenas coincide with tough new Justice Department rhetoric targeting animal-rights extremists. On May 18, FBI deputy assistant director for counterterrorism John Lewis told a Senate committee that groups like the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front constitute “one of today’s most serious domestic terrorism threats.” He continued, “While most animal-rights- and eco-extremists have refrained from violence targeting human life, the FBI has observed troubling signs that this is changing. We have seen an escalation in violent rhetoric and tactics. … Harassing phone calls and vandalism now coexist with improvised explosive devices.”

One of the groups singled out by Lewis was the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign, a movement to shut down the firm Huntingdon Life Sciences, which tests cosmetics and drugs on 70,000 animals a year in laboratories in the United States and Britain. The campaign was born in Britain in 1999 and settled on a novel strategy, targeting the company’s financiers, clients, and suppliers in an effort to dry up Huntingdon’s business. Organizers have been remarkably successful — the Newark Star-Ledger has reported that the company can no longer get a checking account from a British bank, and taxicabs will no longer take customers to its British headquarters — but activists have occasionally resorted to less civil tactics. In February 2001, for example, three masked men brutally beat Huntingdon executive Brian Cass with clubs, and organizers have smashed the windows of a Huntingdon employee and overturned his car.

The campaign came to America in 2001, and activists began harassing executives with Stephens Inc., an Arkansas-based banking firm that had investments in Huntingdon, as well as Chiron, which had done business with Huntingdon in the past. On August 28, 2003, someone planted two pipe bombs outside Chiron’s Emeryville compound, one of which detonated. One month later, another bomb went off outside the Pleasanton-based Shaklee Corporation, whose parent company, now Astellas Pharma, also had been a Huntingdon client. Although none of the bombs injured anyone, a communiqué posted on the Web site for animal-rights magazine Bite Back left no doubt that whoever carried out the attacks was prepared to kill.

“We left an approximately 10lb. Ammonium nitrate bomb strapped with nails outside of Shaklee Inc.,” read the communiqué, which was later reprinted in a federal affidavit. “We gave all of the customers the chance, the choice, to withdraw their business from [Huntingdon]. Now you all will have to reap what you have sown. All customers and their families are considered legitimate targets. … Hey [CEO] Sean Lance, and the rest of the Chiron team, how are you sleeping? You never know when your house, your car even, might go boom. Who knows, that new car in the parking lot may be packed with explosives. Or maybe it will be a shot in the dark. … We have given all of the collaborators a chance to withdraw from their relations with [Huntingdon]. We will now be doubling the size of every device we make. Today it is 10lbs., tomorrow 20 … until your buildings are nothing more than rubble. It is time for this war to truly have two sides. No more will all of the killing be done by the oppressors.”

FBI officials have identified local animal-rights activist Daniel Andreas San Diego as the prime suspect in both bombings, but he went underground in 2003. Now, it appears the US attorney’s office has embarked upon a new effort to ramp up the pressure on activists such as David Hayden, who told the San Jose Mercury News that he saw San Diego about a week before he disappeared. But according to Ben Rosenfeld, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild who is working on the case, the federal government is abusing the grand jury process to intimidate legitimate animal-rights organizers and crush legal dissent. “This is a political shakedown by the feds of above-board, public activists,” Rosenfeld wrote in an e-mail. “It is consistent with the federal government’s historic misuse of the grand jury as a star chamber to interrogate activists about their political beliefs and affiliations in order to intimidate and silence them.”

So far, most activists who have received subpoenas have refused to release their names to the public. The feds’ latest move appears to have sent them into disarray, and they are busy trying to find legal counsel before they must decide whether to testify or be jailed for contempt of court. If they feel unfairly judged by the company they keep, it’s a common dilemma for animal-rights activists. So horrified are they by institutionalized violence against animals that they often can’t bring themselves to denounce violence in response to this suffering. As a result, they find themselves in a shadowy ethical zone, tolerating colleagues who make the fatal resolution to build bombs or take up the club.

David Hayden spends most of his time working on ordinary, good-hearted progressive causes, placing door-hangers for city council candidates and volunteering for Amnesty International. He’s a calm, soft-spoken man who lives alone with his cat, and the subpoena has jangled his nerves. “It certainly is unsettling,” he says. “It makes it hard to sleep at night; it makes you a bit jumpy.”

But when asked if attacks like the Chiron bombing go too far, Hayden demurs. “I don’t like to come down negative on anything in a public way,” he says. “We all have different perspectives on the best way to achieve our goals. I just believe it’s more appropriate to advocate what you believe in than criticize others for what they choose to do. I think it just creates more divisiveness to do that.”

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