Home News Testimony Investigating and Preventing Animal Rights Extremism
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  • John E. Lewis
  • Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
  • Washington, DC
  • October 26, 2005

Good morning Chairman Inhofe, ranking member Jeffords, and members of the committee. I am pleased to be here again to discuss the threat posed by animal rights activists, and by the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, or the SHAC movement, in particular.

I am here today to speak to you about how members of the animal rights extremist movement advance their cause by using so-called direct action against individuals or companies. “Direct action” is criminal activity designed to cause economic loss or to destroy property or operations. I see disturbing signs of success in what they are doing, and legitimate business is suffering. I will also touch on the limitations of existing statutes.

It is critical to recognize the distinctions between constitutionally protected advocacy and violent, criminal activity. It is one thing to write concerned letters or hold peaceful demonstrations. It is another thing entirely to construct and use improvised explosive or incendiary devices, to harass and intimidate innocent victims by damaging or destroying property, or other threatening acts. Law enforcement should only be concerned with those individuals who pursue their animal rights agenda through force, violence, or criminal activity. Unfortunately, the FBI sees a significant amount of such criminal activity across our investigations.

Let me begin with a brief overview of the domestic terrorism threats that come from special interest extremist movements such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the SHAC campaign. Members of these movements aim to resolve their issues by using criminal “direct action” against individuals or companies believed to be exploiting or abusing animals, as well as other companies believed to be doing business with the target of their direct actions.

The extremists’ efforts have broadened to include a multi-national campaign of harassment, intimidation, and coercion against animal testing companies and any companies or individuals doing business with those targeted companies. This secondary or tertiary targeting of companies that have business or financial relationships with the principal target generally takes the form of fanatical harassment of employees and interference with normal business operations, using the threat of escalating tactics or violence.

The best example of this trend is the SHAC campaign. Since its inception in 1999, SHAC has conducted a relentless campaign of terror and intimidation specifically targeting Huntingdon Life Sciences, an animal research laboratory. SHAC’s overriding goal is to put HLS out of business, by whatever means necessary—even by violent means.

SHAC has targeted not just HLS, but companies that are affiliated with it. SHAC’s website publishes lists of these companies, ranging from pharmaceutical companies to builders to investors. SHAC has used a variety of tactics to harass and intimidate these affiliate companies, their employees, and family members, including bombings, death threats, vandalism, office invasions, phone blockades, and denial-of-service attacks on their computer systems.

Unfortunately, this strategy has been quite effective. Over 100 companies—many of them in the U.S.—have severed ties with HLS, including Aetna Insurance, Citibank, Deloitte & Touche, Johnson and Johnson, and Merck. SHAC’s current target list includes GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, Novartis, UPS, and multiple financial institutional investors. SHAC has targeted not only the facilities of these companies, but also their employees and family members.

However, when these companies or individuals are threatened or attacked, it is not necessarily the work of SHAC itself. There may be overlap in membership in extremist movements, which can make it difficult to identify the actual perpetrators. Also, in the past 18 months, a number of SHAC splinter groups have been created, which use SHAC tactics and focus on SHAC targets. This is most likely an attempt by animal rights extremists to continue the SHAC campaign while appearing to distance themselves from the SHAC organization. However, while the SHAC organization attempts to portray itself merely as an information service or media outlet, it is closely aligned with these groups, as well as with the Animal Liberation Front. Many of the ALF’s criminal activities are directed against companies and individuals selected as targets by SHAC and posted on SHAC’s website.

Let me give you several examples. In August 2003, two improvised explosive devices detonated at the Chiron Corp. A month later, an improvised explosive device wrapped in nails exploded at the headquarters of the Shaklee Corp. in California. The companies were targeted because they have ties to HLS. The previously unknown “Revolutionary Cells of the Animal Liberation Brigade” claimed responsibility via an anonymous communiqué, which stated: “We gave all of the customers the chance, the choice, to withdraw their business from HLS. Now you will reap what you have sown. All customers and their families are considered legitimate target ... no more will all the killing be done by the oppressors, now the oppressed will strike back.” Following this attack, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in San Francisco identified and charged known activist Daniel San Diego in connection with the bombings. He is currently a fugitive from justice.

In another example, last month an incendiary device was left on the front porch of a senior executive at GlaxoSmithKline in England. The executive was not home when the bomb detonated, but his wife and daughter were inside. Fortunately, no one was hurt. GlaxoSmithKline is one of SHAC’s main targets, yet it was the ALF that claimed responsibility for the attack. In a message posted on the Internet, activists wrote: “We realize that this may not be enough to make you stop using HLS but this is just the beginning. We have identified and tracked down many of your senior executives and also junior staff, as well as those from other HLS customers. Drop HLS or you will face the consequences.”

That same week, British newspapers reported that a chain of children’s nursery schools had become a target of SHAC. Leapfrog Day Nurseries, a major provider of childcare in Great Britain, had a program that offered childcare vouchers to HLS employees. A spokesman announced that Leapfrog Nurseries had received letters from animal rights activists threatening physical force. One news account quoted a letter as saying: “Not only you but your family is a target. Sever your links with HLS within two weeks or get ready for your life and the lives of those you love to become a living hell.” In order to ensure the safety of the children and their employees, Leapfrog Nurseries cut ties with HLS. Again, an extremist group other than SHAC is believed to be responsible for the victory—but by extension, it is also a victory for the SHAC campaign.

And most recently, last month Carr Securities began marketing the Huntingdon Life Sciences stock. The next day, the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club, to which certain Carr executives reportedly belong, was vandalized by animal rights activists. The extremists sent a claim of responsibility to the SHAC website, and three days after the incident, Carr terminated its business relationship with HLS. These are just some of the examples of SHAC’s use of threats and violence to financially strangle HLS and permanently mar its public image.

These examples demonstrate some of the difficulties law enforcement faces in combating acts of extremism and domestic terrorism. Extremists are very knowledgeable about the letter of the law and the limits of law enforcement. The SHAC website has a page devoted to instructing activists on how to behave toward law enforcement officers, how to deal with interrogations, and what to say—and not say—if they are arrested.

Extremists also adhere to strict security measures in both their communications and their operations. The SHAC website advises activists to “NEVER discuss illegal activity indoors, over the phone, or email ... keep the discussion of illegal activity on a need to know basis only. This means working only with people you know and trust and discussing your action with the people you are carrying it out with and no one else.”

Despite the challenges posed by the cellular, autonomous nature of extremists and their high operational security, the FBI and its law enforcement partners have worked steadily to investigate and deter extremist activity. Our job is to protect all citizens from crime and terrorism, whether international or domestic in origin. We now have 103 Joint Terrorism Task Forces nationwide, which investigate and protect our communities from domestic and international terrorists. We have used a wide variety of techniques to investigate criminal activity conducted by SHAC, and have collected vital intelligence and evidence. And we are making progress.

In one example of a recent success, last May the FBI helped secure criminal indictments in New Jersey against the SHAC organization and seven of its national leaders, charging them with Animal Enterprise Terrorism, Conspiracy, and Interstate Stalking. They are known among animal rights activists as the “SHAC 7.” Last September, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment against the SHAC 7, charging them with Harassing Interstate Communications because of the posting of “target” information on the SHAC website, which continues to result in vandalism, harassment and intimidation of victim companies and their employees. Their trial is set for February 2006.

But despite successes such as this, the FBI’s efforts to target these movements in order to prevent and disrupt criminal activity have been hindered by a lack of applicable federal criminal statutes. This is particularly frustrating as we attempt to dismantle organized, multi-state campaigns of intimidation, vandalism, threats and coercion designed to interfere with legitimate interstate commerce, as exhibited by SHAC. While it is a relatively simple matter to prosecute extremists who have committed arson or detonated explosive devices, under existing federal statutes it is difficult, if not impossible, to address a campaign of low-level criminal activity like that of SHAC.

In order to address SHAC’s crusade to shut down legitimate business enterprises through direct action, the FBI initiated a coordinated investigative approach, beginning in 2001. FBI field offices that had experienced SHAC activity worked closely with U.S. attorneys’ offices, the Justice Department, and FBI Headquarters to explore strategies for investigation and prosecution.

First, we examined the idea of using the existing Animal Enterprise Terrorism statute, as set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 43, which provides a framework for prosecuting individuals involved in animal rights extremism. In practice, however, the statute does not cover many of the criminal activities SHAC routinely engages in on its mission to shut down HLS. The current version of section 43 only applies when there is “physical disruption” to the functioning of an animal enterprise that results in damage or loss of property. But, as you have heard me describe, HLS has been economically harmed by threats and coercion that did not ultimately cause property damage.

For example, in 2004, SHAC targeted Seaboard Securities, a company that provided financial services to HLS. SHAC posted the phone numbers and addresses for Seaboard Securities’ offices on its website and also provided detailed recommendations on how to harass the company. The SHAC campaign against Seaboard included phone blockades, office invasions and damage to property belonging to Seaboard Securities and its employees. In the wake of this pressure, Seaboard Securities severed its relationship with HLS in January 2005.

Much of this activity cannot be prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. § 43, nor are there other federal criminal statutes that provide effective prosecutorial remedies. Moreover, even when section 43 does apply, the current penalty of up to three years in prison has failed to deter a tremendous amount of criminal conduct. The activities of SHAC frequently fall outside the scope of the statute, and because members are well-versed in the limits of the statute, they have tended to engage in conduct that, while criminal, would not result in a significant federal prosecution.

As we continued to examine these legislative challenges, another option we considered was prosecution under the Hobbs Act (18 U.S.C. § 1951). Under this legal theory, prosecution was based on the premise that the subjects were engaged in an extortion scheme against companies engaged in, or doing business with, animal-based research. Victims were subjected to criminal acts such as vandalism, arson, property damage, physical attacks, or the fear of such attacks, until they discontinued their research or terminated their association with or investment in animal-based research companies such as HLS.

However, the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Scheidler v. National Organization for Women removed the Hobbs Act as an option. The decision states that such conduct by activists does not constitute extortion as defined under the Hobbs Act unless the activists seek to obtain or convert the victims’ property for their own use.

The FBI would support changes to the statutes that will address the issue of secondary and tertiary targeting by organizations like SHAC. We will continue to work with our Department of Justice colleagues and the Congress to refine and amend existing statutes so that we may have more effective tools to address this growing crime problem.

Investigating and preventing animal rights extremism is one of the FBI’s highest domestic terrorism priorities. We are committed to working with our partners to disrupt and dismantle these movements, to protect our fellow citizens, and to bring to justice those who commit crime and terrorism in the name of animal rights.

Chairman Inhofe and members of the committee, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the challenges we face in this area of our work. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.

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