UCLA Profs and Scientists Sued Animal-Rights Radicals. Now They're Breathing Slightly Easier
FOR UCLA, BAD NEWS COMES in lowercase, typo-plagued vulgarity and anonymous “communiqués,” like this one recently sent out to dozens of local and national media:
“on the nights of july 23 and 27, we stole two more UCLA vans from Riverside and Chino Hills and have expropriated the funds for the vans to help animals,” reads one communiqué. “So far we’ve cost UCLA over 150 thousand dollars in vans which is just a start to penalize them for the use of our tax money for gruesome primate experiments.”
Its animal-rights extremist authors — who implied that they were UCLA students — suggested that fellow classmates or “anyone else who care about monkeys being tormented and killed by callous fucks ... confront them covertly or overtly where ever and whenever you can. hey, how about following them to their cars in their parking structures? There are a lot of ways to cost the bastards money and make torturing nonhuman animals less rewarding.”
The announcement’s claim that two of the university’s vans were stolen last month was false, school officials tell the L.A. Weekly. But other claims have been true. In June, extremists destroyed an empty UCLA van in Irvine with a homemade bomb. In February, the front door of the home of biomedical researcher Edythe London — whose addiction research involves experimenting on vervet monkeys — was firebombed. Last October, the extremists flooded her house with a garden hose snaked inside, causing $30,000 in damages.
Masked, bullhorn-wielding animal-rights activists have made protesting outside these researchers’ houses a ritual. Bizarre threats — too many to list — are common. Dr. Arthur Rosenbaum has received two anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night claiming that a bomb was in his backyard, and giving him 30 minutes to flee.
Both were hoaxes, but a bomb placed under his car in June 2007 was not. His entire street was evacuated before a police bomb squad defused it.
One targeted UCLA ophthalmology professor, who oversees an experiment that holds clues for ending forms of blindness, doesn’t actually touch animals. Yet even he and Roberto Peccei, UCLA’s vice chancellor for research, have been targeted many times.
Last summer at 3 a.m., a lone extremist stood near the vice chancellor’s window and chanted, “Roberto Peccei, you will never be safe,” before pulling a security company sign out of the ground and throwing it against Peccei’s house, which he smeared with mud.
Throughout all this, law enforcement has come up short. Not one suspect has been apprehended, much less charged, prompting a basic question: Why are UCLA’s animal-rights radicals and chronic tormentors attacking the scientists and researchers with impunity?
Domestic terrorism experts at RAND say that their unique organizational structure makes identifying its members difficult. “They’re so decentralized,” says RAND terrorism analyst Brian Jackson. “The individual pieces are so loosely coupled together. ... The argument is that if you structure a movement in this way [it] can’t be taken down. The pieces aren’t even together.”
Increased government surveillance powers have made communication difficult, but the Internet helps them get around those problems.
“It’s one way that individuals who don’t know each other can get access to the strategic thinking [of others],” says Jackson. The Internet “provides a general link.”
That’s the approach used by Jean Barnes, a 55-year-old former Delta airlines flight attendant who says she hasn’t been to California in “at least 10 or 11 years.” But on her creepy, extremist Web site, in a section titled, “Targets,” Barnes’ UCLAprimatefreedom.com provided animal-rights radicals in Los Angeles with detailed information about UCLA researchers and staff, including head-shots, e-mails and home addresses. Under court order, Barnes was forced to remove that information from her site early this year.*
Blatantly inviting violence, she told the Weekly this year, “I am comfortable with that, or I wouldn’t have put it up there. Have you got a picture of the judge? Maybe I’ll put a picture of him and his home address up there, too.”
The amorphous, leaderless, violent, fringe nature of the animal-rights movement keeps such groups from planning large-scale, coordinated attacks, say researchers into the phenomenon. But, at the same time, “There’s no constraint on what an individual can do in the name of animal rights or liberation,” says RAND’s Peter Chalk, who has taught about domestic terror groups at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
Consider animal-rights extremist Jerry Vlasak’s response last April to a Utah reporter’s question about whether murder was an acceptable tool for promoting animal rights. “Whatever it takes to stop someone from abusing animals is certainly morally acceptable,” said Vlasak, who likes to drop the names of major hospitals while purporting to be an emergency room surgeon and has duped much of the media into believing it. (The Weekly has been unable to find any hospital where Vlasak performs surgery.)
Vlasak, who styles himself the chief of the “North American Animal Liberation Press Office,” says things like, “If a researcher won’t stop abusing animals and is stopped physically, whether with the use of force or is killed, I certainly won’t lose sleep over that idea.”
The FBI, which hopes to prosecute animal-rights extremists as domestic terrorists, won’t let its agents discuss UCLA with the media. But what the bureau’s representatives do say seems to affirm terrorism analysts’ concerns.
“They’re challenging, in that you have individuals taking credit anonymously,” says Laura Eimiller of the FBI’s L.A. office. “There are parallel investigations going on several attacks. We’re concerned that violence has escalated.” Joe Schadler of the FBI’s San Francisco office, which is investigating recent attacks on UC Santa Cruz researchers, agrees: “There’s a lot of secrecy.”
So UCLA has taken matters into its own hands. In the fiscal year 2007, UCLA paid $300,000 for enhanced security — home security systems and, in some cases, private security guards — on targeted researchers, says UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton. Last April in Santa Monica Superior Court, the university won a preliminary injunction against the three most visible groups — UCLA Primate Freedom, the Animal Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Brigade — and the five most obnoxious, above-ground activists.
Those five are Kevin Olliff, Ramin Saber, Linda Greene, Hillary Roney and Tim Rusmisel. They have often appeared at the homes of UCLA researchers, where they’ve been videotaped by UCLA police leading chants like “Burn the fuckers to the ground!” and “We know where you sleep at night!”
The injunction, which UCLA hopes to make permanent next February, was a minor victory. It stipulated that all animal-rights protesters had to stay 50 feet away from researchers’ homes during the day and could come no closer than 150 feet at night. The three groups were also barred from posting the home addresses, telephone numbers and other personal information of UCLA researchers on their Web sites, including Barnes’ UCLAprimatefreedom.com.
The legal action has had an impact. “Since the injunction went into effect, there has been a reduction in demonstrations outside the homes of faculty members,” spokesman Hampton tells the Weekly. “I can’t say that’s specifically because of the injunction, but we have noticed a decrease.”
Ramin Saber’s recent activity would seem to suggest he’s right. The 36 year old, once a regular face at protests, has been absent for “a while,” says Saber, who explains he has “been busy doing other things. I had to take a short break from protesting.”
He says the drop in protesting at UCLA has nothing to do with the restraining order, but admits there’s been a drop in “the actual number of activists available and the availability of organizers and legal observers.” He insists UCLA has not shut them up. “I have not been protesting in a while. That will change.”
* As originally published in print, this article incorrectly stated that www.UCLAprimatefreedom.com currently provides personal information on UCLA researchers.
Reach the writer at email@example.com.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.