Feb. 21, 2006
Animal rights activist disputes newspaper's description
BY DAVID HAWLEY
Knight Ridder Newspapers
ST. PAUL, Minn. - A Florida man who was an animal rights activist at Macalester College in Minnesota has been described by the Times of London newspaper as the "mastermind" behind a campaign to incite violent attacks on officials at England's Oxford University.
Nicolas Atwood, who now lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., said the story about him published in the Sunday Times is "pretty ridiculous."
But Atwood acknowledged that the Web site he helps maintain has been posting "communiques" from the radical Animal Liberation Front, which opposes Oxford's plan to build an animal research laboratory.
The Times reported that the site's postings last week included the names and home addresses of 40 Oxford faculty and staff members. The site described them as "legitimate targets."
The university obtained a court order barring ALF from spreading home addresses and other details by e-mail, but the Times reported that British authorities have no control over Atwood's Web site, which is officially administered in Malaysia.
Atwood said it's true that the site, www.directaction.info, is essentially an international message forum filled with postings that make threats against specific targets and brag about successful arsons, burglaries and vandalisms. The postings date to 2002.
"We're sort of a news outlet for the radical animal-rights movement," said Atwood, who also helps publish a magazine called Bite Back.
"We always let the activists speak for themselves," he said. "There's a lot of heated language and rhetoric that I look past. The animal rights movement, on the whole, has been nonviolent and I hope it stays that way. Most of this stuff is hot air."
Atwood, 33, who graduated from Macalester in 1995 with a degree in English, has a long history of animal rights activism. But a search of criminal records in Minnesota did not turn up any past jailing or convictions for serious offenses.
In college, he was a member of a group called the Student Organization for Animal Rights. In 1994, he helped organize a protest by that group against bow hunting at a park in Savage, Minn., where about a dozen protesters were arrested for trespassing.
In 1996, he also served as vice president of the Minneapolis-based Animal Rights Coalition, which has been active since 1980.
After moving to Florida, he got involved with the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida and was arrested in 1998 after he allegedly sprayed red paint on a 24-foot stainless steel sculpture of a swordfish at the World Fishing Center Museum in Fort Lauderdale.
Atwood said he later got a graduate degree in public administration from New York University and worked for a number of nonprofit organizations before operating Web sites from his home office.
Atwood said the information on his Web site is available to anyone, including government investigators.
"Most of it could be found by a Google search," he said, adding, "I'm not a criminal mastermind by any stretch of the imagination."