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UC- Santa Cruz Vivisector Gets Home Visit by Activists
Latest Attack on a California Scientist Who Uses Animals in Research Signals Shift in Tactics
By RICHARD MONASTERSKY
Wearing bandanas around their faces, several assailants believed to be students from the University of California at Santa Cruz on Sunday attacked the home of a researcher who uses mice to study breast cancer.
While the researcher and her children cowered in the back of their house just after noon, the assailants assaulted her husband and then fled in a car. The incident reflects an escalation of violence by animal-rights extremists in the United States, who until now have not physically attacked academics.
Because the assault took place during the day, the husband, who did not suffer major injuries, was able to take down the license plate of the car, and city police officers later raided a house where several Santa Cruz students live.
No arrests have yet been made. But Lt. Rudy Escalante, the detective in charge of the investigation, said several Santa Cruz students and people who are not students were involved in the crime.
Shift in Tactics
"I am flabbergasted that this happened," said the biology professor who was the victim of the attack. (She and university officials requested that her name not be disclosed to protect her from further violence.)
"Free discussion is fine -- "that's what universities are all about," she said. "I'm just upset that they came onto my property and attacked my house."
Like recent assaults on private residences in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, the events in Santa Cruz reflect a shift in tactics for animal-rights extremists, who formerly focused on facilities where animal research is conducted. And the incident provides a warning to other universities that have not yet attracted the attention of violent opponents to animal research.
"We're facing a national movement," said George Blumenthal, chancellor of the Santa Cruz campus. Other universities, he said, are going to have to face "individuals who are prepared to use potentially violent tactics that have a terrorizing effect on researchers."
"This is having a terribly chilling effect on the research community, which is exactly what the activists want," said Frankie L. Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, in Washington, which has tracked attacks by animal-rights extremists. "It seems like everything has been stepped up in terms of aggression," she said.
Earlier this month, the Animal Liberation Front set off an incendiary device near the front door of a house owned by Edythe D. London, a professor of psychiatry and of molecular and medical pharmacology at the University of California at Los Angeles (The Chronicle, February 6). It was the third firebombing aimed at a UCLA researcher in two years, and the second attack against Ms. London, whose home was flooded last fall. Researchers at several institutions have also received letters booby-trapped with razor blades.
While the level of violence has increased over the past few years, Sunday's attack potentially marks a turning point. In previous attacks in the United States, extremists have not physically assaulted researchers or their family members, said Ms. Trull.
The attack in Santa Cruz was the second time that protesters had converged at the home of the breast-cancer researcher. Several weeks earlier, activists had scrawled the words "murderer" and "torturer" in chalk on the sidewalk in front of her house and leading up to her front porch. They wrote graffiti at the home of one of the postdoctoral research fellows in her laboratory, and they appeared at the homes of two other university employees, smearing garbage and yelling at them.
The university reacted quickly, taking several steps to reassure and calm the faculty, said Martha C. Zuniga, a professor in the same department who was not the subject of an attack.
The university offered to hire security guards for the people whose homes had been attacked, and it stepped up patrols around the animal-research facility and offices. It worked with the local police and also established a point person that faculty members could contact at any time, said Ms. Zuniga. "The university has really tried to step up to the plate," she said. "They're taking this situation quite seriously."
Mr. Blumenthal and the chair of the Academic Senate at Santa Cruz issued a statement on February 12 condemning the harassment.
The victim of the recent attack said that a security guard had been stationed outside her house the night before the attack, but had left in the morning, when it was thought that the risk of an attack was low. Now she has full-time security.
She praised the university's response, saying "it's just been great."
Lieutenant Escalante, of the police department, said six people had participated in the attack on Sunday. Four investigators are at work on the case, and the FBI is also involved in the investigation. When the police raided the house where several students live, they carried away hundreds of pieces of evidence, including computers, handwriting samples, and bandanas, from which DNA might be extracted.
Questions for Universities
Mr. Blumenthal said that if students were involved, presumably there would be criminal charges filed, and "we will be looking at the appropriateness of any action that might be taken."
To prevent further violence, he said, "we need to be proactive in making sure that students understand what is the kind of research that is taking place." Having that discussion, he said, "will have some effect in decreasing the perceived needs of individuals to take direct action."
Ms. Trull of the Foundation for Biomedical Research said that the recent home attacks "pose a whole new series of problems for academic institutions: What kind of security does a university provide for a biomedical researcher or other faculty? What are the cost implications to an educational research facility? It can be daunting."
The violence is also driving people out of research, she said. One professor who conducts experimental surgery told her that he couldn't fill six postdoctoral research fellowships for which he had funds.
But Mark S. Blumberg, a psychology professor at the University of Iowa, has personally seen the opposite effect. In 2004 extremists broke into a research facility where he works and destroyed experiments and equipment. After that, he said, "I didn't have a single student who ever said, 'Oh my god, what am I doing in this business?' In fact, it was the opposite. It emboldened them."
For Immediate Release
UC- Santa Cruz Vivisector Gets Home Visit by Activists
SANTA CRUZ - A UC Santa Cruz faculty member whose biomedical research using animals sheds absolutely no light on the causes of breast cancer or neurological diseases was targeted by animal rights activists Sunday afternoon.UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal confirmed late Monday that an off-campus home was visited by six masked protesters; in a statement, Blumenthal called the incident "very disturbing."
Santa Cruz police reported that six people wearing bandanas demonstrated at a Westside home just before 1 p.m.; none of the four people in the house were injured. The name of the faculty member whose home was protested was not released, but UCSC said assurances have been made to protect the faculty member and the family - in addition to other staff and students who have been targeted by animal rights activists in recent weeks, campus spokesman Jim Burns said. There was no mention of protection for the non-human animals being tortured to death in UCSC laboratories.
In a clear case of retribution, Santa Cruz police, campus cops and federal agents then proceeded to raid a house in the 700 block of Riverside Avenue late Sunday night, breaking down doors and windows instead of politely asking to enter after obtaining a search warrant. No arrests were made. Dozens of witnesses to the Riverside Avenue attack recorded license plates of the vehicles the fascist attackers fled in. Spokesperson Santa Cruz police Lt. Rudy Escalante could not be reached to comment late Monday.
Earlier in the day, Escalante said: We obtained a search warrant. We served the search warrant last night. We've got evidence we're processing." Seized in the 9:50 p.m. raid were clothes, cell phones and boxes of paperwork, which Escalante said showed evidence of possible other attacks.
The owner of the house on Riverside Avenue, Frank Male, said he gave officers keys to the house, but Escalante said officers broke down the side door anyway. Joe Marcus of Santa Cruz said he heard shattering glass and a woman inside the house scream when police barged through the door. Male said his tenants have kept his house clean and in the month he's rented to them have posed no problems.
Several UCSC students gathered around the house early Sunday afternoon while police were waiting for the search warrant. Some wore bandanas to cover their faces. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office helped police secure the area as the crowd grew to more than 70, Escalante said. While the search was taking place, protesters taunted officers, asking them to reveal their badge numbers and shining flashlights in their eyes. When officers emerged from the house carrying evidence, some of the students were following the police, taking pictures of the undercover squad car and its license plates with their cell phones.
A friend of the students who was inside the Riverside home told the Sentinel the incident was related to animal rights and SHAC. A group, called SHAC7, includes six activists and a corporation, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA Inc. They were found guilty of multiple federal felonies for their role in shutting down an animal testing lab, Huntingdon Life Sciences. SHAC7 has an office in San Francisco. Attempts to reach them Monday were unsuccessful.
Saturday night, animal rights activist Peter Young appeared at the Louden Nelson Community Center to talk about his experiences with the animal liberation movement and SHAC7. The film "Behind the Mask," about the lives and motivations of animal liberationists, also was screened.
This isn't the first attack against UC researchers. Thursday, a Los Angeles County Judge issued a temporary restraining order against animal rights groups and activists accused of threatening UCLA employees and graduate students because they conduct research using animals. Three times since June 2006, Molotov cocktail-type devices have been left near the homes of faculty members who oversee or participate in research that involves animals, according to the university. Researchers' homes have been vandalized and they have received threatening phone calls and e-mails. On at least one occasion a faculty member received a package rigged with razor blades, UCLA said in a statement.
The University of California's Board of Regents also sought permanent injunctions against the Animal Liberation Front, the Animal Liberation Brigade, the UCLA Primate Freedom Project and five protesters believed to be affiliated with those groups. Jerry Vlasak, a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Press Office, had earlier said underground activists would not be moved by the lawsuit.
Contact: Press Officer Jerry Vlasak, MD
Animal Liberation Press Office
6320 Canoga Avenue #1500
Woodland Hills, CA 91367
[Santa Cruz Sentinel - opinion]
A front-page story in Tuesday's Sentinel about animal rights activists targeting a UC Santa Cruz medical researcher is drawing worldwide attention.
As of this writing, the Sentinel is still looking into the sometimes confusing, often underground connections that make up the animal rights network, and how these may have come together Sunday in Santa Cruz.
Sunday's incident is chilling on several levels and cannot be viewed as yet another "protest" by activists.
What happened Sunday, according to UCSC, appears to be another in "a series of recent incidents targeting UC faculty, students and staff who conduct biomedical research using animals." These incidents, according to the university, include "intimidation, trespassing, vandalism and property damage." Sunday's attack crossed even those lines, as six activists wearing bandanas attempted to break into the Westside home of a female UCSC biomedical researcher at home with her children and husband, who was slightly injured in the attack.
We strongly disagree. Targeting a family at home is criminal behavior.
Finding the perpetrators needs to a top priority. We are disturbed to hear that a group called SHAC [Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty] may be linked to the incident. Members of SHAC have been convicted of multiple federal felonies for their activities aimed at shutting down an animal testing lab, Huntingdon Life Sciences, and targeting researchers, businesses and institutions that do business with the lab.
SHAC and another radical organization, ALF [Animal Liberation Front], have achieved enough "success" using intimidation, harassment and even violence to scare and discourage anyone connected to testing animals for medical research that their tactics have "cross-pollinated" into other activist movements, especially radical environmentalist groups, according to law enforcement.
While we applaud UCSC for condemning Sunday's attack, the university, which already has its hands full with a tree-sitting protest on campus, could do a better job of standing up against criminal behavior by activists, even if they are students, and communicating clearly with law enforcement agencies and the media about terrorist-style tactics directed at faculty, other students and staff.
For more on animal rights protests and this story, visit Editor Don Miller's blog.