Brian Cass was getting out of his car at his home in England on a clear night in February 2001, when he was surrounded by three masked men wielding heavy, wooden objects. Some news reports describe them as baseball bats, others as pickaxe handles. Whatever their weapons, they started to beat the 53-year-old Cass on the head and body without any warning. In a few short moments, his hair and jacket were soaked through with blood.
A neighbor tried to intervene and help him, but was immobilized by a spray of CS gas, in the face, by one of Cass’s attackers. Months later, when the lead attacker was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison, Cass’ marketing director Andrew Gay was attacked on his doorstep with a chemical spray to his eyes, leaving him temporarily blinded and writhing in pain in front of his wife and young daughter.
British thirty-somethings Paul and Heather Saunders were entertaining friends one autumn night in 2000 when they heard two loud crashes from the direction of their front patio. They ran toward the noise to find that two large chunks of dried cement had been thrown through their plate-glass patio doors. The two vandals they saw running away paused for a moment, to pour paint stripper all over their guests’ car.
Nearly five months later, a strange package was delivered to the house, addressed to Heather. The bomb squad in their town found enough explosives inside to kill anyone who might have dared to open it.
Robert Harper was at home with his wife and their 2-year old son, in the “back bay” neighborhood of Boston, when a familiar noise arose from outside. A dozen protesters had gathered, shouting insults through a megaphone, telling his neighbors that he was a “murdering scum.” Harper had never killed anyone; he was, by all accounts, a mild-mannered insurance salesman. But this didn’t stop the assembled activists. They had been outside his apartment building day and night for the past two months, shouting incredible vulgarities at his family, and harassing them whenever they left to go somewhere.
They had put up “Wanted For Murder” posters of him all over his neighborhood. They told his neighbors that he “supports torture.” They poured gallons of red paint on his doorstep on Father’s Day. They re-routed his mail to a post office box without his knowledge. They posted his social security number, his and his wife’s license plate numbers, and details of their daily routine on the Internet.
The police had collectively thrown up their hands, citing the protesters’ free speech rights. But when they began to chant in unison — “What comes around goes around! Burn his house to the ground!” — the twelve were arrested and charged with stalking and making malicious threats. All but two were back on the streets in two days.
The animal rights group responsible for these savage attacks has not (yet) been accused of assaulting or killing any Americans. But its numbers are even greater here than in England, and many in law enforcement think it’s just a matter of time.
SHAC and HLS
Brian Cass, Heather Saunders, and Robert Harper were targeted because of their connections to Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a scientific research firm that, in its search for cures to diseases like cancer and AIDS, uses animals in its work. Cass is Huntingdon’s chief executive. The other two have never even set foot there; they were targeted because their employers dared to do business with HLS.
Before new medicines for diseases like AIDS, Parkinson’s, and various cancers can be given to human beings, common sense requires that the proverbial “guinea pigs” are given the medicines first (actually, rats make up about 90 percent of the test subjects). In addition, new surgical techniques and promising treatments for nerve disorders — Christopher Reeve’s paralysis, for instance — are routinely tested on animals, to make sure that the kinks are worked out before human trials begin.
Today’s animal rights zealots are not fond of this arrangement. Those who believe, as PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk once put it, that “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” loudly object to the sacrifice of a rat so that a boy might live longer. Newkirk, in fact, has put PETA on record saying: “Even if animal testing resulted in a cure for AIDS, we’d be against it.”
PETA, of course, is an animal-rights general practitioner, equally condemning meat producers, dairy products, animal testing, rodeos, fur, leather, circuses, hunting, fishing, pet ownership… and the list goes on. But one group of violent specialists has waged such a war against medical research that both the mass media and the FBI are paying close attention.
It’s called SHAC, which stands for “Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty” (our pick for a more appropriate moniker: “Sadistic, Hysterical, Angry Criminals”). SHAC has decreed that Huntingdon Life Sciences “must be shut down for good.” And they’re not too particular about how that comes about. British Animal Liberation Front (ALF) leader Robin Webb told protesters at a December 2002 SHAC rally: “It doesn’t matter if it’s closed through economic pressure! It doesn’t matter if it’s closed because the employees are too scared to work there! And it doesn’t matter if it goes out with a bang either!” The rally was held within earshot of Huntingdon’s New Jersey employees.
SHAC has employed physical violence, large-scale vandalism, verbal and physical intimidation, financial extortion, burglary, grand theft, Internet piracy, mail fraud, and even identity theft — all in a bid to make HLS the first animal testing lab to throw in the towel and close its doors. That, says SHAC organizer Brenda Shoss, “is a door to shutting down all the rest of the labs.” At the Animal Rights 2002 convention, SHAC director Kevin Jonas vowed: “When we shut down HLS, we’ll move on to the next, the next, and the next.”
This siege mentality doesn’t sit well with law enforcement officers, who universally condemn SHAC’s goals and tactics. “There is no nice side to SHAC,” said Cambridgeshire (UK) Chief Inspector Michael Gipp in 2001. “This is a campaign based on fear and intimidation at every level.” FBI supervisory special agent William Voigt observed in a July 2002 AP story: “SHAC has quite an extensive history of violence.” And Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, responding to the indictment of 12 SHAC activists for threatening Robert Harper and his family, told WHDH TV: “Those are crimes. That is criminal behavior. Are they acts of terrorism? Yes, they are.”
The renowned Southern Poverty Law Center has also taken notice. The SPLC’s Intelligence Report, widely known for monitoring domestic terrorism and reporting on the activities of “hate groups,” included SHAC in a Fall 2002 exposé alongside reliable standbys like neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. In a remarkable article entitle “From Push to Shove,” the SPLC described SHAC’s modus operandi as “frankly terroristic tactics similar to those of anti-abortion extremists.”
And the Dominos Will Fall
SHAC leader Lauren James described her group’s philosophy in a February 11, 2001 Associated Press story. “Our policy,” she said, “is that anybody with any connection at all with Huntingdon Life Sciences is a target.”
Here’s how it works: SHAC activists pursue the management (or even rank-and-file employees) of, say, a janitorial firm or a foodservice company that provides HLS with its cafeteria services. The hope is that the targets will be scared out of their minds when SHAC shows up in their neighborhood, outside their children’s school, or at their grocery store, armed with flyers declaring that they are “puppy killers.” The employees are then expected, naturally, to communicate their fear to their company’s executives, putting pressure on them to give up the Huntingdon account, no matter the cost. SHAC’s five favorite words are: “It’s just not worth it.”
The theory is that, eventually, HLS will find that it can’t do business without cafeteria food, or someone to mop the floors, provide insurance coverage for employees, trade its stock, make business loans, tend to its landscaping, or even cash its checks. Providers of all of these kinds of services — and more — are considered fair game for SHAC. “Anybody,” as James has said, “with any connection at all.”
Consider this tortured connection: on June 11, 2001, vandals smashed display windows and spray painted animal rights slogans on a Bed Bath & Beyond store in Salt Lake City. While the thugs claimed “credit” for the crime through the Animal Liberation Front, police concluded that SHAC was responsible. It seems that the store’s corporate office had unspecified “financial dealings” with a New Jersey investment company suspected of holding shares of HLS stock. Often, discerning the connection between HLS and a given SHAC victim can involve a “degrees-of-separation” exercise worthy of Kevin Bacon’s Hollywood career.
The business community has largely rolled over in the face of this kind of threat. The history of the SHAC campaign is one of repeated capitulation by bankers, insurance companies, stock traders, Internet service providers, and yes, even foodservice and janitorial companies. “Here’s the kicker,” writes Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam. “These tactics work.”
In June 2002, Huntingdon executive Richard Michaelson described SHAC in The Philadelphia Inquirer as “a campaign that essentially says ‘I am going to grab hold of your air hose and squeeze it until you die’.”
In the UK, Home Secretary Jack Straw vented his outrage in an April 2001 interview with the Associated Press. “We are simply not prepared,” Straw said, “to let a small minority of criminal extremists intimidate members of the scientific community and their families, and try to prevent essential medical research.” The FBI has gone one step further; in August 2002, a Boston FBI spokeswoman told the Globe that the Bureau officially considered SHAC a “domestic terrorist group.”
Until late 2000, hardly anyone in the United States had heard of SHAC, and with good reason: while Huntingdon Life Sciences did operate a laboratory in New Jersey, it had always been based in the UK. But then HLS’s loans came due, and Barclay’s Bank of London refused to renew the notes, saying that it “could not guarantee the safety” of its employees. Fewer and fewer stock brokers would agree to trade HLS shares for their customers — SHAC had gotten to them, too. As Charles Schwab’s traders dumped their existing HLS holdings, the share price plummeted. And 3,000 miles away, an American businessman stepped into the fray.
When Little Rock, Arkansas financier Warren Stephens bought a considerable stake in HLS, effectively bailing out the beleaguered company, SHAC regrouped in the United States. It made Philadelphia its new base of operations, and put a foursome of angry young Americans in charge. One, Kevin Jonas, had an undeniable history with the terrorist Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a group that the FBI already considered America’s most serious domestic terror threat. At the national “Animal Rights 2001” convention, SHAC underscored this relationship by sharing a table with the criminal ALF and its sister group, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF).
In the wake of 9-11, neither ALF nor SHAC did anything to put their crime sprees on the back burner. Almost immediately, attacks began on American companies — including Warren Stephens’ investment firm. Within months, SHAC’s website was replete with boastful announcements that various distant stars in the Huntingdon Life Sciences universe had been cowed into submission. And attacks on Huntingdon’s own staffers continued: one American HLS vice president, SHAC claimed, “was visited several times, had several car windows broken, tires slashed, house spray painted with slogans. His wife is reportedly on the brink of a nervous breakdown.”
In the first two years since SHAC first started grabbing headlines in the USA, its gangsters have allegedly been responsible for at least 140 acts of vandalism or physical sabotage; malicious threats against at least 85 persons; harassment (by telephone, e-mail, or otherwise) of the employees of more than 30 American companies; and the illegal dissemination of personal information (including credit card and social security numbers) of at least 120 people.
New Day, New Crime, New Hat
There is, generally, great confusion about the relationship between SHAC and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The latter is an underground, loose-knit criminal group that the FBI considers a “domestic terrorist” group. ALF and its sister group, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), have anonymously claimed responsibility for over $40 million in damage resulting from over 500 crimes during their 15-year U.S. crime spree.
SHAC officially rejects the notion that it is related (or identical) to ALF, but such denials make less sense with each passing year. Considering that three out of SHAC’s four main directors in the U.S. have ties to crimes claimed by ALF, and that the two keynote speakers at SHAC’s December 2002 protest event (Rodney Coronado and Robin Webb) are both convicted ALF criminals, it’s hard to imagine that there’s no real connection there.
Moreover, members of the ALF have issued claims of “responsibility” (however meaningless, considering their anonymity) for crimes committed against SHAC’s publicly named targets. This allows SHAC to claim, with a straight face, that it’s a “nonviolent” organization. At the same time, ALF and ELF spokespeople continue to cling to the myth that no human has been hurt or killed as a result of those groups’ “actions.”
Taking public credit for secret crimes is a voluntary exercise. If an Animal Liberation Front “action” results in serious injury or otherwise does not go as planned, the criminals involved tend to remain silent — or to issue their claim of “responsibility” in the name of another group. Group names like the “Animal Rights Militia” and the “Justice Department” have been conjured up out of thin air to avoid having to associate the ALF with actual bloodshed.
In much the same way, ALF conveniently “claims” crimes against Huntingdon Life Sciences (and against its customers and clients) that would be hard for an above-ground, more “respectable” group like SHAC to explain to an eager press. Also, the very existence of openly violent (if secretive) fringes within the animal rights movement serves to make above-ground groups like SHAC look relatively harmless by comparison. And that’s just the way they like it.
Still, it would be perfectly reasonable to conclude that SHAC is made up of the same anti-establishment hoodlums who send razor-blade booby-trapped letters to scientists (as the “Justice Department”); burn down research labs, blow up meat trucks, and steal thousands of fur-bearing animals (as the “ALF”); torch SUVs and destroy logging trucks (as the “ELF”); and make life-and-death threats against researchers (as “SHAC”).
The charade breaks down when these thugs are caught, as with Dave Blenkinsop, who eventually pleaded guilty to the savage beating of Huntingdon CEO Brian Cass. Blenkinsop was jailed shortly thereafter for bombing four poultry trucks in Great Britain. SHAC took “credit” for his baseball bat, and ALF for his gasoline can.
In that respect, it’s helpful to think of SHAC as a special-interest subset of the Animal Liberation Front — but one with the audacity to remove its ski mask and claim to be no danger to anyone at all. And, like the ALF, SHAC seems perfectly content to inflict pain and wreak havoc. “If SHAC activists seek to illuminate the condition of laboratory animals,” wrote the Boston Globe in an August 2002 editorial, “they have failed. Their own tactics reveal a disturbing willingness to inflict suffering.”
Frankly, this entire organization is a big black eye. Baseball-bat assaults, arsons, car bombs, death threats – the level of criminality that these activists engage in astonishes some law-enforcement veterans who thought they’d “seen it all.”
One tactic that tends to anger people the most is SHAC’s habit of investigating their targets, and then widely distributing personal and financial information about them. License plate numbers have routinely been posted on SHAC’s various websites. Social security numbers turn up weekly on SHAC’s e-mail network and on SHAC-run Internet discussion groups. And sometimes, SHAC members even pass around the kind of personal information that could only be known by a true stalker.
SHAC is unapologetic about these methods. The Fall 2002 SHAC newsletter — a professionally printed, glossy piece for which someone must have paid handsomely — included the following warning:
SHAC campaigners have routinely taken Sun Tzu’s instruction to heart, learning every minute detail about their targets — where they work, where they live, who their friends are, where they pump their gas, and what their plans are on Friday night — identifying their weaknesses, and then preying upon those weakness [sic] until they inevitably crumble.
In September 2002, the Edmond (OK) Sun published an excerpt from a SHAC “communiqué,” warning of plans to go after one target’s entire neighborhood.
Below is a small sample of information currently available on his neighbors. We have other information for some of them — e-mail accounts (Like [e-mail address] Sorry about that virus, R——-. We needed it to steal your credit card information), credit card information [sic], birth dates, etc. This information will be periodically leaked to the public and to animal liberation groups to do with as they will.
Here are a few examples of the kinds of information that SHAC distributes. All of this information was posted on the Internet. (Personal information has been edited out.)
- S—–’s direct work number is ###-###-####
Her work e-mail address is [EMAIL]
R—— is about 50 and can run an 8K in 46:16
They have a kid named B—-, possibly one named R– and possibly another named J—–. J—– plays soccer. They may have a maid named B———-.
B—-’s teacher’s name is probably Ms. B——-. One of them attends R——- Middle School.
Their previous address (until at least July 01) was:
#### B— Drive
[city], TX #####
Their car insurance agent is (until July 01 at least)
Allstate, D—— X. J——–
They have a green 95 Ford Windstar
Vehicle ID: #XXXX####XXX#####.
The insurance policy number is # ## ###### ##/##.
The license for the Windstar is [license plate].
They have another car, license [license plate]. It’s gray.
Their American Airlines AAdvantage number is Xxxxxxxxx.
They attend Christ Church in Xxxxxx, TX. They are members of the Xxxxx Xxxxxx Country Club, [address].
S—– has a relative who is a CPA, her name is K——- X. [Last Name] and she works for the [company] in Portland, Maine. Her office number is ###-###-####.
- Don’t forget P—— …he needs pressure NOW to let him know this is only the beginning of the headache!
P—— [Last Name] (President and Director) lives at:
[city], NY #####
Home phone: ###-###-####
other number: ###-###-####
Management of the Building:
M——— [Last Name] ###-###-#### (contact C——–).
Lobby phone number: ###-###-####
[city], MA #####
P—— has a blonde wife, son, and black and white dog named B—–.
He is about 6 feet, 180 pounds, in his 40s.
Wears glasses and a baseball cap.
Drives a bright blue Audi Coupe; license plate number [license plate] Mass. plates.
His brother – W—— [Last Name] – works as an attorney and is in [company] often. He lives at:
[city], NY #####
Home Phone: ###-###-####
Call and urge him to put pressure on his brother.
SHAC’s website warns employees of targeted companies: “We know where you work, we know where you eat, we know where you sleep.”
SHAC’s obvious purpose is the extermination of Huntingdon Life Sciences, but there’s more to this group than just forcing a single company out of business. The group’s leaders have made it clear that once HLS is closed (“and it will close,” they insist), every other lab in the Western world that engages in animal testing will be on their radar screen.
The bigger picture, though, extends beyond the world of medical research to the larger world of animal rights. Whether or not SHAC’s outward confidence is largely bluster, its real purpose is to incubate new and ever more frightful tactics for the rest of the animal rights movement to adopt.
“Animal liberation,” the Animal Liberation Front’s Robin Webb told SHAC activists in November 2002, “is not a campaign. It is not a struggle. It is a war! It is an all-out bloody war!” These are SHAC’s maces and battle axes, carefully sharpened and waiting for the next disaffected mob to tire of peaceful protest.
- SHAC uses “incendiary devices” — the movement’s preferred term for car bombs and Molotov cocktails — to destroy cars belonging to Huntingdon Life Sciences executives, employees, or anyone else on their hit list. In the year 2000 alone, eleven cars belonging to HLS staff members were bombed. According to the British Press Association, two of the resulting fires spread to homes where children were sleeping. And at a December 2002 SHAC rally outside the HLS facility in New Jersey, British Animal Liberation Front ringleader Robin Webb threatened what could come next. “We’ll sweep the police aside,” Webb screamed. “We’ll sweep the government aside. We’ll sweep Huntingdon Life Sciences aside, and we’ll raze this evil place right to the ground!”
- SHAC vandalizes homes and places of business. This has included breaking windows by the dozen; spray painting (often red, symbolizing blood); pulling fire alarms; abandoning rotting food inside office closets; disabling ATMs with glue-smeared (stolen) credit cards; and cutting electrical & telephone service. In February 2001, over 100 SHAC criminals in black jumpsuits and ski masks descended on nine Bayer and SmithKline locations (both companies had contracted with HLS for lab work). The Associated Press said they “smashed ground-floor windows, upturned cabinets, and destroyed machinery.”
- SHAC engages in physical violence, including spraying several Huntingdon executives’ faces with acid and assaulting another with baseball bats. This tactic is less about filling hospital beds than about instilling fear. “I think probably the nastiest thing,” said one American HLS employee on the public radio show Marketplace (January 23, 2001) “is when they sent a letter saying they know where I am, they’re going to come and… smash your skull in.”
- SHAC makes routine deaths threats in e-mail messages, and engages in ‘round-the-clock telephone calling of the homes of Huntingdon employees (and the employees of Huntingdon’s contractors and clients). One SHAC activist, Sharon Hazelden, was convicted of sending threatening text messages to the mobile phones of ten HLS employees. “We know where you live,” the messages read, “and what car you drive. Be very vigilant when you go to work in the morning. You never know when your car is going to go boom.”
And here’s an e-mail sent in May 2001 by SHAC criminal Robert Moaby to a mutual fund CEO whose company traded HLS stock: “Pull out of Huntingdon Life Sciences now. This week we are going to kill you. We have friends that are following you and we know everything you do. We know that you have a wife and kids. This is for real. Maybe we will shoot you or stun you with a stun gun or run over you, maybe a bomb. Be warned this is for real, not a joke or a threat. We will carry out our action.” Moaby was sentenced in August 2002 to 54 months in prison for this and other attacks.
Long Island SHAC activist Darius Fullmer has used a Yahoo e-mail alias that reads: “If eating meat doesn’t kill you, I will.”
- SHAC uses U.S. Mail to harass Huntingdon executives, employees, and service providers, by sending them pornographic subscriptions, threatening letters, photographs of human body parts, human feces, razor blades, and suggestions that their children might be kidnapped.
- SHAC visits the offices of targeted companies in a bid to disrupt as much daily business as possible. In July 2002, activists detonated military-type smoke grenades inside two Seattle office buildings, evoking horrifying 9-11 parallels. They are also fond of leaving portable 120-decibel security alarms behind, usually in a closet or bathroom, set to go off a half hour after they’ve left.
- SHAC extorts U.S. companies into severing their business relationships with firms that it doesn’t like. Talking about the early days of SHAC’s campaign, Kevin Jonas told the Minnesota Daily at his alma mate, the University of Minnesota: “We went after the banks and after the shareholders, the stock holders, the market makers. Anybody and everybody that had anything to do with Huntingdon Life Sciences financially, we went after them.” And a 2002 SHAC press release warned that no company would be safe from its onslaught: “If we demand proof that your company has severed ties with HLS, provide us with this proof or we will go after your company until we get the proof. This campaign is based on leaked information. No secrets are safe.”
- SHAC has disrupted scientific conferences, including the annual convention of the Society of Toxicology (SOT). Activists trashed Huntingdon Life Sciences’ table at the 2002 convention hall, leaving everything (according to the SHAC website) “in shambles. Literature racks were thrown on the ground, leaflets thrown, displays knocked over.”
- SHAC claims to have programmed discarded telephone equipment (found, literally, in corporate dumpsters) to repeatedly dial phone numbers at Huntingdon Life Sciences, purely for the purpose of tying up the company’s phone lines. “One of the machines,” they bragged, “was not discovered for 4 days, the other [sic] each lasted two days. Our logs show that in that time span 34,640 calls were made.”
- SHAC encourages activists to send so-called “black faxes” to targeted companies. A black fax is a sheet of paper covered mostly with black ink, except for a small, threatening message. The aim is to frighten rank-and-file employees (and to waste as much toner as possible).
- SHAC maintains “protest” sites outside the homes of targeted executives, in an attempt to turn entire neighborhoods against one or two people. In some cases, SHAC activists have been indicted for stalking, for creating 24-hour, 7-day disturbances, and for loudly threatening to burn entire apartment complexes to the ground.
- SHAC sends computer viruses and uses Internet “hacking” methods to read the e-mails of their targets, and to “harvest” personal information from their computers. This information, including social security numbers, credit card numbers, and other highly personal details, often shows up on Internet websites and is passed around at animal-rights gatherings. In a February 2001 interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, SHAC director Lauren James described her plans for one targeted investment company. “We have plans to target its e-mail and computer systems,” she said. “These will be lightning strikes. The possibilities are endless.”
Convicted Animal Liberation Front arsonist Rodney Coronado delivered a November 2002 speech to SHAC supporters in New Jersey. “If you don’t have the stomach for direct action,” he urged, “the stomach for that kind of resistance, then you should join the Humane Society, I guess. But SHAC is not about that. SHAC is about getting your hands dirty.”