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FBI is probing vandalism at downtown restaurant

By Ben Winslow
Deseret Morning News

Jan. 19, 2008

The FBI is apparently investigating acts of vandalism and violence at one of Salt Lake City's poshest restaurants, which has been a target of animal rights activists.

A picture window at the Metropolitan restaurant was smashed. The restaurant's owner said red paint has been thrown at the building, a gas main was damaged and a server was also punched in the face during a confrontation on New Year's Eve.

Metropolitan owner Karen Olson told the Deseret Morning News she was questioned by FBI agents about the vandalism.

"They said they have some people of interest that they have been following that have been involved in these types of vandalism and criminal behavior," she said Friday.

FBI Special Agent Juan Becerra said he could neither confirm nor deny any investigation.

The Metropolitan no longer serves foie gras, the fatty liver of ducks or geese. Olson took it off the menu after protests. Other restaurants have done the same, some because of polite requests by animal rights activists who wrote letters; others because of protests outside their buildings.

Foie gras is made by force-feeding ducks and geese using a metal tube, pouring corn down their throats several times a day. Animal rights activists say it's barbaric

"It doesn't bother me that they were outside exhibiting their feelings on the subject," said Olson. "I have a problem when it crosses the line into criminal behavior."

A recent Deseret Morning News story on the foie gras flap got the attention of the FBI � particularly an announcement by some animal rights activists that they would protest Park City restaurants during the Sundance Film Festival.

Animal rights activists the Deseret Morning News talked to had no knowledge of any recent vandalism. One activist said she would turn the vandals in to the police if she ever found out who did it.

"The protesters, including me, were made aware of these acts because police told us about them when we would subsequently show up to protest," said Jeremy Beckham, who has protested outside the restaurant.

In an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News, Beckham said he had no knowledge of the vandalism at the Metropolitan. Such actions are often the work of individuals within the larger animal rights movement, he said.

"I have always recognized the integral role more radical groups play in any social justice movement and I think quite simply that the Animal Liberation Front and other such underground groups have saved literally tens of thousands of animal lives, put animal-abusing industries out of business, and all without harming anyone and risking their own freedom. I find that respectable," he wrote.

No one has claimed responsibility for the vandalism, but an Animal Liberation Front primer distributed on the Internet promotes window smashings as a basic way of getting a store's attention about animal abuse. Some groups such as the ALF have been classified by the FBI as "domestic terrorist organizations."

Beckham is with Utah Primate Freedom, which has sparked a legal debate as the Salt Lake County Council sought to ban their demonstrations outside the homes of University of Utah scientists who participate in animal research. A conditional ban has been approved.

In his e-mail to the Deseret Morning News, he said the oppression of animals is "no less serious or atrocious than the oppression of humans."

"Their suffering is indistinguishable from our own and heaps of suffering are being thrown on them for the most trivial of human desires and profit," he wrote. "Once you see it that way, it's almost not impossible to view the ALF as a sort of modern-day Underground Railroad."

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