Animal Protection > ALF Foes 

 Forwarded message: KarenDawn@dawnwatch.com

  Akron Beacon Journal June 27, 2002 Thursday 4X EDITION

PETA rejects claim it funds terror groups; Allegations animal-rights organization supports domestic extremists  could cost it tax-exempt status

 Bill Burke Knight Ridder Newspapers

  DNORFOLK , VA.

 PETA doesn't let political correctness get in the way of a good ad  campaign, be it a menacing Ronald McDonald wielding a bloody butcher knife or  "Got Beer?" billboards mocking the milk industry.

 But now the attack dogs are PETA's critics, and they're portraying the world's largest animal-rights group as an agent of domestic terrorism.

 The mention of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the same sentence as al-Qaeda by critics and on Capitol Hill has the fur flying  at the organization's waterfront headquarters here. There is even a push  to revoke PETA's tax-exempt status because of a contribution it made to an organization accused of committing terrorist acts. "The whole notion  that PETA supports terrorism is false and defamatory," said Jeffrey S. Kerr, PETA's general counsel and director of corporate affairs. "When you use  the word 'terror,' look at the terror inflicted on billions of animals in  this country every year. That's real terror."

 Kerr calls the attacks "desperation tactics" by adversaries who know  they are losing a years-long public relations war. "They're trying to smear  us any way they can," he said.

 Kerr is doing the talking for PETA these days rather than the  organization's president and founder, Ingrid Newkirk, who rarely is at a loss for  words or shrinks from controversy.

 Kerr is fielding queries because PETA is "seriously considering  litigation" against its attackers, although he declined to name the organizations  or individuals PETA might sue.

 In recent months, PETA has come under attack for the following:

 * Making a $1,500 contribution to the extremist Earth Liberation Front, which has been blamed for or taken credit for millions of dollars in  damage from vandalism and other destructive acts. PETA's critics have asked  the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the organization's tax-exempt status because of the donation.

 * Assisting in the legal defense of several animal-rights activists  charged with or convicted of crimes.

 * Making statements critics say indicate the organization supports  illegal and subversive acts.

 * Hiring a national lecturer who served two months in prison for  breaking into a Canadian mink farm and freeing 1,500 animals and reportedly  saying he condones arson at "places of animal torture" and would "unequivocally support" the death of a researcher at a tar geted lab.

 PETA's critics include groups that profess support for the  free-enterprise system and consumers' rights -- organizations that PETA claims actually front for restaurants, logging interests, animal-research labs, factory farms, food processors and the fur industry.

 But PETA also has critics on Capitol Hill.

 In February, a congressional subcommittee on domestic terrorism heard testimony in which Richard Berman, executive vice president of an organization called the Center for Consumer Freedom, suggested that  PETA had provided "philosophical and financial support" to domestic terrorists  and asked when the animal-rights group would be held accountable.

 During the hearing, an FBI official testified that "special-interest extremism," including actions by animal-rights activists, has now  become "the most dangerous domestic terrorist threat to the country." James  Jarboe, head of the FBI's Domestic Terrorism Section, testified that the Earth Liberation Front and its sister organization, the Animal Liberation  Front, had committed more than 600 criminal acts, causing more than $43  million in damage, since 1996. No deaths have been attributed to the actions, the  FBI said.

 Berman's group has compared PETA's funding of the ELF to support for al-Qaeda.

 On March 4, Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., who chaired the subcommittee,  wrote a letter to Newkirk, demanding that she elaborate on and explain PETA's  ties to the radical animal-rights and environmental groups.

 McInnis sent copies of the letter to the FBI and the IRS.

 Joshua Penry, staff director of the subcommittee, said from Washington   last week that PETA's contributions to groups such as the Earth Liberation  Front and the Animal Liberation Front and their purported members should be closely scrutinized. He likened initiatives to halt funding of domestic terror groups to "the president's efforts to end financial support for al-Qaida. First, you choke off the money. Then, hopefully, other groups  will look long and hard before giving to groups like ELF and ALF."

 "Remarkably, (PETA is) proud of the fact that they've given to ELF,"  Penry said. "They're either terribly naive or out-and-out arrogant."

 McInnis' letter to Newkirk wound up on Kerr's desk.

 In a 12-page response to McInnis, Kerr assailed his critics as groups  bent on destroying animal and environmental activism and chided McInnis for failing to disclose that he has received campaign contributions from PETA-hostile factions.

 During a recent interview, Kerr said the committee hearing was  "stacked" against PETA, which was not allowed to testify. But Kerr was granted permission to submit written testimony on PETA's behalf.