Animal Protection >
Kevin Kjonaas set up a website with details about businesses that use
animals for research information, and now he and five other activists
have been convicted of inciting terrorism, reports Thomas Walkom
TRENTON, N.J.Kevin Kjonaas is an unlikely casualty of George W.
Bush's war against terror.
No one, including the U.S. government attorneys who just finished
prosecuting him for so-called animal enterprise terrorism, says that
the 28-year-old Minnesota native killed anyone or even hurt anyone.
He's never planted a bomb or sent anthrax through the mail.
The government doesn't claim Kjonaas damaged property or knowingly
provided material assistance to anyone who did.
"I've been an ass," Kjonaas acknowledged days before a Trenton jury
found him guilty of inciting terrorism. "Some of the things I've done
have been just rude, and I wouldn't do them again. But am I legally
responsible (for the crimes the government accused him of)? No."
However, earlier this month, Kjonaas and five others ranging in age
from 27 to 31 became the first people convicted under a 1992 U.S. law
significantly beefed up after 9/11 that defines as terrorists
those who damage firms involved in the animal business.
Along with another case in Oregon, this one involving radical
environmentalists, the New Jersey trial marks a significant step
forward in the Bush administration's decision to bring the war on
terror home for use against those it views as its new domestic
"This is just the starting gun," says David Martosko, research
director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, an organization funded by
the U.S. restaurant industry and a fierce opponent of animal rights.
He says the government should move against more mainstream
organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or the
Humane Society of the United States, which he calls "the farm teams
for the eco-terror problem."
They call themselves the SHAC Six, after the acronym of their animal
rights group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty.
They could be called the Internet Six.
Like much of the militant animal rights movement, SHAC started in
England. Founded in 1999, it was aimed at Britain's biggest animal
research firm, Huntingdon Life Sciences.
A video aired on television that showed some Huntingdon employees
deliberately abusing test animals gave the campaign particular
piquancy. By 2001, protestors had driven the firm almost to
Not all of the militants' tactics were peaceful. In one celebrated
instance, two men beat Huntingdon's managing director with baseball
While SHAC denounced the attack, this beating as well as instances
of threats, vandalism and firebombing added a disturbing aura of
thuggery to its protest.
In person, Kevin Kjonaas seems quite unlike the fire-breathing radical
described by prosecutors. Slight and soft-spoken, he remains
unfailingly polite as a reporter quizzes him, over dinner, on the
animal movement's tactics and his role in them.
"I still think residential picketing is a good idea," he says. "It's
been done for ages. Look at Cindy Sheehan (the U.S. peace activist who
held a vigil outside of Bush's ranch). But not all of it is
appropriate right now and not all of it is savoury."
Recalling Dillenback's testimony, he sighs.
"If I had to do it over again, I'd censor more of those Web postings
and be less aggressive and confrontational, so that no one could
perceive us as a threat, only as an embarrassment.
"We want to put pressure on those people (involved in animal testing)
but we don't want them to think their children are going to be
abducted. That's ridiculous... The tone and tenor need to change, not
just from a PR perspective but because we represent a noble cause...
"The American public supports violence at times," he goes on, picking
at his vegetarian curry. "But the animal rights movement is not at the
stage now where violence or the rhetoric of violence is appropriate...
It's not even close."
Another organization, Win Animal Rights has taken over the
anti-Huntingdon protests. "The train has left the station," says
Pamelyn Ferdin, a Los Angeles animal rights activist recruited to
formally run SHAC after Kjonaas was indicted.
"When activists see above ground people getting put in jail, they're
just going to get mad."