Animal Liberationists Attack University of Utah Primate Researcher's Home
By Mike DeMarco
Animal Liberation Fronts targets controversial vivisector Audie Leventhal.
RIVERTON, Utah -- An Animal Liberation Front (ALF) group attacked the home of a vivisector, apparently in April, according to an anonymous communique received by the North American Animal Liberation Press Office (NAALPO) on April 26.
According to the communique, activists attacked Audie Leventhal's home while it was vacant. It "was simply a recipe for easy direct action," reads the communique. The communique's author(s) claims that the group glued "every single lock on the house," "smashed out" the front window, and spray-painted slogans "all over his (Leventhal's) deluxe jacuzzi." In addition, the group poured a "salt-saturated solution all over his front lawn. This will kill the lawn and force Audie to lay down fresh soil. Not cheap."
The communique continues: "Total damages are estimated to be in the thousands of dollars. Audie is a ruthlessly violent alcoholic. This is a man who has sewn kittens' eyelids shut. This is a man who has experimented on conscious primates. This is a man who has beaten within inches of her life. Only a society corrupted by money and so unbelievably tolerant to the suffering of others would allow a man like this to still be free on the streets. The ALF does not share this corruption or tolerance. Audie can rest assured that we will be back."
Audie Leventhal is a professor of neurobiology at the University of Utah. He faced a domestic violence hearing in January. However, the author of the communique does not offer documentation of its allegations against the scientist.
Leventhal is one of the so-called "filthy four" University of Utah faculty members that a small animal rights group, Utah Primate Freedom (UPF), led by Jeremy Beckham, has targeted in protest of their allegedly cruel animal experimentation practices. (One of the four professors, Robert Donahoe, confirmed in a December e-mail to the group that he had stopped vivisecting monkeys and has since left the university. The other two targeted researchers as Alessandra Angelucci and Jennifer Ichida.)
UPF's battle with the university dates back to 2003, when the group won a court case granting it access to some of the university's primate research records. The group has posted some of these records to its Website, utahprimatefreedom.com. According to a January 9 article in The Daily Utah Chronicle, the university's student newspaper, by Dustin Gardner, Utah Primate Freedom discovered that 51 primates, mainly marmosets, macaques, and baboons, were purchased by the university between 1998 and 2003.
According to the Gardner article, black-clad protesters carried signs outside the courthouse reading, "Audie Leventhal abuses alcohol, animals and his wife," on the day of the professor's domestic violence hearing.
UPF alleges that the "filthy four's" research has yielded no fruitful cures and has killed hundreds of primates.
"Along with a handful of other University (of Utah) students, I founded Utah Primate Freedom, a local chapter of an already-existing national animal rights organization, Primate Freedom Project (primatefreedom.com), in fall 2003," Beckham wrote in an e-mail interview on May 25.
Beckham continued, "I believe the notion that even the slightest human interest outweighs the enormous suffering heaped upon nonhuman animals boils down to simple bigotry; in the same sense that white interests always outweighing black interests equates to racism, male interests dominating female interests is sexism, and so on. This principle is the Golden Rule turned on its head. Nonhuman animals, at least on a fundamental level, generally experience life the same way we do. Many feel the exact same range of emotions such as love, compassion, envy, jealousy, and wonder. At a minimum, almost all animals experience pain and pleasure at the most basic level. However, on factory farms, fur farms, laboratories, and all the other industries utilizing animals, they are treated as though their experiences do not matter at all."
He added, "After campaigning for animal rights on so many causes, including activism involving vegan outreach, fur stores, rodeos, circuses, and other live animal exhibits, I came to the realization that our movement needs some sort of strategy. The same basic philosophy is allowing all these abusive practices to continue: speciesism. Speciesism is the reason people think human interests always come first, regardless (of) how insignificant the human interest (or) how severe the nonhuman interest. In other words, my interest to look fashionable in a fur coat outweighs the interests of forty minks to be spared anal electrocution and life imprisonment. We need a way to converse about the problems with this overarching philosophy, rather than going through each abusive practice and campaigning against them one at a time....Intentional killing of an animal, unless for reasons of self-defense, of course, would be considered murder, regardless (of) it's for fur, meat, etc."
Beckham wrote, "I think the easiest place for our movement to start in talking about animal RIGHTS is with primates...With regard to the minds of primates, the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates a stark similarity to our own minds. It's easier to make the case to the general population that electro-ejaculation of monkeys (whereby they [scientists] shock the penis of a monkey) is more cruel than honey production. This is not because the actual treatment of monkeys is any worse than bees on a honey farm -- after all, bees are routinely crushed to death on honey farms. This case is easier to make because one abuse involves a monkey, and the other case involves a bee. I think it is only natural to more readily empathize with a member of a species that more closely resembles you. The more alien a species gets from you, the more difficult it can be to 'put yourself in the shoes' of that animal. This is why I think we should start with primates. People must understand that putting humans on one side of the ethical equation and all other species on the other side is artificial and arbitrary. It flies in the face of both Darwinism and compassion."
As for any successes of Utah Primate Freedom, which the University of Utah's administration has criticized in the press for invading researchers' private lives, Beckham wrote, "I guess the main significant development is (Robert) Donahoe's resignation, quite possibly as a result of our campaign. It only took one home demo -- but he had an active NIH protocol through February of this year, and confirmed to us via e-mail back in December or so that he was done vivisecting monkeys."
Beckham added, "The other significant development is that the corruption of the state legislature was made evident when Senate Bill 179 -- allowing universities to restrict public access to some information regarding their research -- was passed in the 11th hour of the Congressional session in early 2005. This law was passed as a result of our efforts to gain access to information that would highlight treatment of animals inside their labs."
According to Beckham, Leventhal, Angelucci, and Ichida "all do vision research. Vision research with primates is highly invasive, but also incredibly common." Beckham said that it is "hard to say" how many primates or other animals have been maimed or killed at the University of Utah, since getting information on the laboratories is "extremely difficult." "The last census we received from the U was in early 2004, and it showed about 40 monkeys, and we know the lab is growing. Compared to many other primate labs in the counter, however, the U of U is a minor player. Many primate labs have thousands of monkeys."
Asked why Leventhal has became the central target for anti-vivisectionists in the area, Beckham wrote, "I think Leventhal's career is without question the most shocking. Especially in one-liners: 'sewed newborn kittens' eyelids shut for months' -- 'reared kittens in total darkness for their (entire?) life [sic]' -- 'cut into the brains of living monkeys,' etc. People have lots of sympathy for monkeys and kittens. Is he the worst? It's hard to say, but probably. It appears to me the main way primates suffer in labs is simply from the immense loneliness and boredom resulting from living inside a steel box for decades. All three of the researchers are responsible for that misery."
"However," the UPF leader added, "I definitely think he's the weakest link in the chain for the U. I think if the U was smart, they'd can him...his experiments are absolutely brutal. He really is a liability for them, and he gives us more talking points."
Leventhal himself discusses his research involve suturing kittens' eyelids shut in an article he co-authored with Helmut V.B. Hirsch entitled "Effects of Visual Deprivation Upon the Morphology of Retinal Ganglion Cells Projecting to the Dorsal Lateral Geniculate Nucleus of the Cat," published in The Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 3 (February 1983), pp. 332-344 (http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/reprint/3/2/332).
As for evidence for the domestic violence allegations against Leventhal, Beckham wrote, "We have pages and pages of criminal background check reports, police reports, court records, etc. We're going to be putting all this together online soon at audieleventhal.com." He is uncertain about the outcome of the January hearing, claiming that the courts "kept moving the trial around at the last second to avoid animal activists -- and then it disappeared from the docket altogether. It appears he may have reached an out-of-court settlement with the DA."
It is unknown whether this is, in fact, the case. Asked why he and other activists feel that these allegations are relevant to the case against his animal experiments, Beckham wrote, "I think any time anyone is put in a position of taking care of someone else -- a living, breathing individual -- it is perfectly acceptable for a background check to be run to ensure they [sic] don't have a criminal history. I also would support drug testing and alcoholism screening. I wouldn't want drunks or violent wife abusers taking care of children in a day care (center), for example."
Beckham concluded, "I'm optimistic about this campaign. We've already seen Donahoe quit, and the numbers of students concerned about the issue and the number of people showing up at the demos is increasing dramatically."
Beckham added that his aim with regard to Leventhal is simply to persuade him to stop vivisecting; if he stops the experiments but retains his position and tenure, the UPF leader indicated that he can live with that situation. He wrote, "If Leventhal quits vivisecting, my next focus will be on the already existing victims inside Angelucci and Ichida's labs, not the potential victims inside Leventhal's classroom. However, if I was a parent of a student inside Leventhal's class, I'd be outraged."
As for the ALF's recent action against Leventhal's property, Beckham commented, "I have a basic sympathy for the ALF and their actions, although I personally take a different approach with activism....I'm not sure how I feel about the chemicals being poured on the lawn -- the lawn obviously didn't do anything wrong -- but I still overall have sympathy for these types of actions. It's hard to argue with these tactics' effectiveness -- no matter what side of the issue you're on. For example, many people have quit supporting Huntingdon Life Sciences.
When asked to comment, Leventhal disagreed vehemently, characterizing the ALF's action as terrorism.
"My family and I have been attacked by domestic terrorists," he wrote in an e-mail on May 28. The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) "are investigating the attacks and threats against our lives."
Otherwise, Leventhal did not respond to the allegations against him.
I will attempt to get in touch with the appropriate federal officials for information on these investigations and report on any further information in a follow-up story.