By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
LOS ANGELES MAYOR Antonio Villaraigosa may need to watch his back. On December 4, the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, a leading mouthpiece for animal-rights extremists in the United States, posted on its Web site a “communiqué” from a newly minted outfit called the Cat and Dog Liberation Army. It read: “Villaraigosa deserves to be bumped off like the dogs and cats we witnessed with their eyes wide, terrified before they were bumped off. He got off way to [sic] easy.”
The threat and attack once again establish Los Angeles as the “epicenter” of animal-rights extremism in the nation, according to Oren Segal, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism in New York City, an international watchdog monitoring hate groups. “The Los Angeles area is clearly experiencing a spike in this activity,” the expert says. Segal, who describes the extremists as “professional” and “hardcore,” believes law enforcement has a nearly impossible job in front of it.
“Historically, a lot of this type of activity remains unsolved,” Segal says. “It’s almost luck if someone is arrested, and these groups are very hard to infiltrate. You have to be able to talk the language, but people tend to smell a rat in this movement.”
In August, L.A.Weekly reported on the attempted firebombing of Dr. Arthur Rosenbaum’s car in front of his home — Rosenbaum performed animal testing for medical research at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. The Animal Liberation Front, an internationally known group of underground extremists, followed up that attack in October with another stealth mission at the Beverly Hills home of UCLA professor Edythe London, who also conducts research using animals. Extremists pumped water from a pool and flooded her residence, causing between $20,000 and $30,000 in damage.
The FBI deemed both attacks to be acts of “domestic terrorism,” according to spokeswoman Laura Eimiller, and they were just two of many attempts by above- and underground activists to intimidate UCLA medical-research staff in the past several years.
With no arrests made in the UCLA cases, extremists appear to be “empowered,” according to Segal, and they are now expanding their violent ways outside of Westwood. The expert says there’s “almost certainly a link” between the attacks on the UCLA professors and the mayor’s sister. “I don’t think there are competing underground cells, by any means,” Segal says.
The FBI, which is probing the UCLA incidents, and the Los Angeles Police Department, which, along with the Sheriff’s Department, is probing the vandalism against the mayor’s sister, have refused to comment about such linkage, citing the need to keep details under wraps as they pursue what they describe as active investigations.
A driving force behind the underground movement is Dr. Jerry Vlasak, a Los Angeles–based surgeon who co-founded the North American Animal Liberation Press Office in 2004. “By providing these communiqués to the public,” says Segal, “they’re trying to legitimize [the underground’s] actions.”
Vlasak has told the Weekly that his doctor title lends credibility to the larger animal-rights movement — and, as a result, he has become a very visible spokesman, appearing on television and testifying before the U.S. Senate. But Vlasak is not one of your good-humored, neighborhood doctors. In 2004, Vlasak told the London Observer, “I don’t think you’d have to kill too many [researchers]. I think for five lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million nonhuman lives.”
A year later, Vlasak engaged in a heated exchange with U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg — Vlasak was providing the activists’ point of view at a Senate hearing looking into ways to combat eco-terrorism. A visibly perturbed Lautenberg asked Vlasak where he practiced medicine. Vlasak vaguely said the “Los Angeles area.” The senator asked him to narrow it down. Vlasak, switching the locale, replied, “I practice at several hospitals in the Riverside and San Bernardino area.”
Lautenberg asked him to name one. Vlasak said, “Loma Linda University.” But that 2005 testimony to Congress, which lent Vlasak credibility with the media and others, is utterly untrue, according to Joy Jameson, a spokeswoman at Loma Linda University Medical Center. Jameson says Vlasak resigned from “general surgery” in 1998 — and hasn’t worked at that hospital since then.
Vlasak also claims he performs surgery at Riverside Community Hospital. “He’s always telling people he works here,” explains Norene Bowers, senior vice president of Patient Care Services. She says that while Vlasak retains medical-staff “privileges” at Riverside Community Hospital, he hasn’t performed surgery there in nearly two years.
In an e-mail, Vlasak addressed these discrepancies: “I have practiced at both Loma Linda University and Riverside Community Hospital in the past, and still have privileges at the latter location. Your focus on my employment record instead of the suffering of nonhuman animals is deplorable.”
THE RECENT PUSH TO RATTLE the mayor of Los Angeles and his sister comes after nearly three years of protests by aboveground activists against the treatment of animals at the city’s six shelters, according to North American Animal Liberation Press Office spokeswoman Lindy Greene. Greene, who has led demonstrations at UCLA, says the mayor’s sister Deborah Villar is now a “tertiary target,” meaning someone who does not have direct influence on city policy but may be pressured to talk to the mayor.