Animal rights activists found guilty
Six convicted of inciting violence and terror against Huntington Life Sciences
A federal jury yesterday (March 2) convicted an animal rights group and six of its members of inciting violence and terror against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS)
, a contract research organization in the U.S. and U.K. that conducts animal testing for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.
"This is a solid first step," said Jacquie Calnan, president of Americans for Medical Progress (AMP)
, a nonprofit advocacy group that supports the humane use of animals in medicine. "It sends a signal that law enforcement and the federal government are taking these threats seriously," she told The Scientist
After deliberating for about 14 hours over three days, a federal jury in Trenton, NJ, found Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA Inc. (SHAC-USA) and six of its members guilty of various charges of animal enterprise terrorism, conspiracy, interstate stalking, and other crimes. Each of the charges carries penalties of three to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.
During the three-week trial, prosecutors presented evidence that SHAC-USA had recommended "direct actions" against Huntingdon Life Sciences, headquartered in East Millstone, NJ. As a result, numerous incidents of harassment and vandalism were carried out against HLS employees and other companies since 2001, prosecutors said. On its Web site, SHAC-USA also publicized "top 20 terror tactics"
against HLS and other companies, including invading offices, vandalizing property, firebombing cars, and threats and assaults against people.
Victims testified they endured vandalism of their homes at night including rocks thrown through windows, cars being overturned, messages in red paint plastered on their homes and property, unrelenting bullhorn protests in front of their homes, and harassment of neighbors. SHAC and its organizers routinely posted personal information about HLS employees on their Web sites, including names, addresses, phone numbers, license plate numbers, the names and ages of their children, and where they attended school.
The defendants argued that they were not responsible for inciting acts of violence but had merely exercised their freedom of speech through the Web site. "The conviction is just another example of our eroding civil liberties in this country and a battle to be fought in the higher courts," a statement posted on one of SHAC's Web sites
stated. Lawyers plan to appeal the decision. All but one of the defendants was remanded into custody yesterday awaiting a bail hearing, possibly today. Sentencing has been set for June 6.
The case was the first to be brought under the federal Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA)
, a 1992 law that was expanded in 2002 to equate acts of harassment and intimidation with terrorism.
"Justice prevailed," said Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research
. "The research community has reason to be optimistic that this sets a precedent in case law. I would assume it would have a chilling effect on those who would continue to carry out this kind of campaign," she told The Scientist
Not everyone agreed. For instance, John D. Young, director of comparative medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and AMP board chairman, said in a statement
that the verdict is unlikely to quell further violence. Extremists are also using more sophisticated tactics, including inflicting economic damage against biomedical and research companies through "tertiary targeting" - going after customers and companies that provide support services such as banking, accounting, insurance, and delivery.
Biomedical advocacy groups, as a result, are urging passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (S 1926 and HR 4239). The measure, pending before the Senate and House Judiciary committees, would provide criminal penalties for those causing economic damage to "animal enterprises," including academic and commercial research and testing organizations. It would also make it a crime to trespass, harass, vandalize, and otherwise threaten anyone associated with an animal enterprise, including scientists, researchers, and their families. Similar legislation was enacted in England
last year. "We are hopeful we will get passage during this session," Calnan said. "But if not, we will press for it next session."
The FBI has called animal rights and environmental extremists the most significant domestic terrorism threat in the U.S. A recent study
by the Foundation for Biomedical Research found that incidents of animal and eco-rights terrorism have increased dramatically over the past 25 years.
"Today's verdict is certainly good news for the industry," said John Gallagher, a spokesman for Chiron Corporation, which won a preliminary injunction against SHAC-USA in 2004 after activists allegedly trespassed at homes of Chiron employees and harassed them with bullhorns and blaring sirens, vandalized their cars and property, and threatened violence against company officials. "But we would be remiss if we thought that this was the final resting point for what is bound to be an ongoing battle that the biopharmaceutical industry is going to face," Gallagher told The Scientist
Links within this article
Huntingdon Life Sciences
Americans for Medical Progress
T. Agres, "Animal activists arrested," The Scientist
, May 27, 2004
Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA
Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992
Foundation for Biomedical Research
"SHAC Trial: Convictions in AR trial show anti-terror laws needed to protect scientists, says AMP," U.S. Newswire
, March 2, 2006.
T. Agres, "Fighting back against terror," The Scientist
, September 12, 2005
"Illegal incidents report," Foundation for Biomedical Research
, February 2006.