Aggressive, violent animal rights campaign targets NJ firm

spectr17

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Jul. 14, 2002  

A harsh animal-rights campaign targets N.J. firm, workers

By Chris Mondics, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer


DAN HULSHIZER / Associated Press

Kevin Kjonaas shed no tears when three masked animal-rights activists beat Brian Cass with ax handles outside Cass' home. Cass' company tests pharmaceuticals on laboratory animals.

Nor was he moved on another occasion when assailants sprayed a caustic liquid in the face of Cass' colleague as he stepped out of his car at home, then beat him as he writhed on the pavement in pain, his wife and daughter watching from inside their house.

Kjonaas, 25, is a leader of a New Jersey-based animal-rights group that the FBI says has an "extensive" history of violence in the United States and abroad. Its aim is to shut down a chemical and pharmaceutical testing company called Huntingdon Life Sciences, which uses rats, mice, beagles and other animals in research at its labs in England and in East Millstone, N.J., just outside Princeton.

Kjonaas says that his group, called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), uses only legal means to pursue its goal, and that the violence is carried out by unknown activists moved by their passion for animal rights, which he says have been brutally abused by the company. But the group's Web site reports new acts of violence, publishes the names of Huntingdon executives, and urges activists to "go get 'em."

Since the campaign against Huntingdon began three years ago, activists have firebombed 11 cars in England, swarmed into offices, broken windows in executives' homes, sunk a private yacht on Long Island, and committed other acts of violence, according to police and the company.

They say opponents of the company were responsible for the attacks in England on Brian Cass, managing director of Huntingdon, and his colleague, who was temporarily blinded and declines to be identified because he fears for the safety of his family.

They have jammed a Huntingdon creditor's cash machines with glue, and harangued executives of Huntingdon and employees of companies that do business with Huntingdon with loudspeakers outside their homes in the early morning. No physical attacks have occurred in the United States, where the violence has been limited to property damage.

More than a half-dozen financial-service companies have said they will no longer deal with the company. The company's stock price has plummeted more than 90 percent, from a high of $15 a share in early 2000 to less than $1 today.

Kjonaas (pronounced ka-jonas) makes no apologies.

"If a car being blown up in a driveway or animals being liberated from a lab scares them, then I would say that fear pales by comparison to the fear that the animals have every day," Kjonaas, of Somerset, N.J., said in an interview. "The kind of true violence that these animals endure at the hands of people at Huntingdon leaves me with little sympathy."

Kjonaas, who declined to answer a federal grand jury's questions about destruction of labs in 1999 and then moved to England for two years rather than face a second grand jury, says he sympathizes with activists who smash windows and firebomb cars. He spoke favorably of David Blenkinsop, a British animal-rights activist serving a three-year prison sentence for beating Brian Cass in February 2001. Cass was treated for multiple bruises and a 3-inch gash in his scalp. Blenkinsop, an acquaintance of Kjonaas' in London who participated in SHAC demonstrations there, also was charged in April with arson in several car attacks.

"David is a very passionate person, and what he did was done with the best intentions," Kjonaas said. "I don't feel any sympathy for people in England or America who have had their cars tipped or torched, because those cars were paid for out of blood money."

SHAC's Web site (www.shac.net) not only publishes the names and home addresses of workers at Huntingdon, but of executives of companies that do business with Huntingdon. It has suggested types of actions that sympathizers might take, while offering the disclaimer that it supports only legal activities.

One recent Web feature of SHAC, which moved its offices from Philadelphia to New Brunswick, N.J., this year to be closer to the Huntingdon lab, showed a picture of a car, windows smashed, that had been tipped over in the driveway of a Huntingdon executive's home in Princeton.

One so-called home visit, to the townhouse of an executive of Marsh USA, Huntingdon's insurance broker, was described in an anonymous communique that SHAC posted on its Web site: "Activists ... made a quick stop outside the townhouse in which Marsh employee Robert Harper lives with his wife and young son Robbie. At approximately 3 a.m. ... a deafening noise could be heard ... as we used a megaphone to wake up Rob and his neighbors and inform everyone of the sort of scum they are living near."

The FBI says SHAC is part of a larger animal-rights and environmental-protection movement employing pressure tactics to achieve its goals. While it has not labeled SHAC a terrorist group, the FBI has accused other groups, including the Animal Liberation Front, of using terroristic tactics.

The bureau says that violent animal-rights and environmental activists have accounted for hundreds of acts of violence since the early 1980s, resulting in $43 million in damage.

The FBI says that to date no SHAC members have been charged with federal crimes.

But the bureau says it is working to identify those who have committed acts of violence in the campaign against Huntingdon and that it will bring charges if those people can be identified.

"SHAC has quite an extensive history of violence," said William Voigt, supervisory special agent in the FBI's domestic terrorism unit.

The group's members believe that ends justify any means, said Richard Michaelson, chief financial officer of Huntingdon Life Sciences Group P.L.C., parent of the New Jersey company. "We had employees who ... had paint thrown on houses, tires slashed, windows broken. They [SHAC] boasted about it on their Web site."

The objective is to get Huntingdon to stop using animals in its tests of pharmaceuticals and other chemical compounds used largely in agriculture. SHAC says that pharmaceutical companies that wish to test their products can use computer models and cell cultures rather than animals. But the Food and Drug Administration rejects the views of SHAC and other animal-rights activists.

"There is an international movement where everyone is trying to look at more predictive models [that lessen the need for using animals], but we are just not there yet," said Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the FDA. "The idea that we can predict what is going to happen from computer modeling and test-tube experiments is just not true."

Huntingdon Life Sciences, a decades-old company founded in the United Kingdom, tests pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals on 80,000 animals a year at laboratories in East Millstone and in the Cambridgeshire region, north of London.

Michael Caulfield, general manager of operations at the East Millstone facility, said more than 80 percent of the tests, required by the FDA, were carried out on rodents.

The company uses beagles, primates and other animals for the remainder. Most of the animals are killed at the conclusion of the tests to permit studies of the chemicals' effects on their organs.

Animal-rights activists began targeting the company in England in the mid-1990s after an undercover investigation produced film footage of an employee punching a beagle. A further undercover film of the laboratory in East Millstone captured lab technicians slitting open a live monkey.

Lab officials say that the monkey was deeply anesthetized and that such vivisections are a commonly accepted practice and necessary to obtain accurate test results. Kjonaas says that the monkey was conscious during the procedure, and that in any event, such tests are unnecessary.

Like other groups on the radical fringe of the environmental-protection and animal-rights movement, SHAC has no formal hierarchy. But some members, such as Kjonaas, take the lead in dealing with the media, organizing protests and negotiating with targeted companies.

Kjonaas, one of SHAC's more prominent figures, got his start in the animal-rights movement as a student at the University of Minnesota.

There, he served briefly as a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front when the group ransacked two laboratories at the University of Minnesota in April 1999. No one has been charged in that attack, and the U.S. Attorney's Office there will not comment on the status of the investigation.

Kjonaas occasionally goes by the name Kevin Jonas. He says he uses the alias to spare family members outside Minneapolis from harassing phone calls from people who oppose the tactics and aims of his group.

When the U.S. attorney there hauled Kjonaas before a grand jury investigating the destruction of the labs, he declined to answer questions. He says he left the country in September 1999 for England when, he says, prosecutors threatened to throw him in jail if he did not testify a second time before the grand jury. He returned to the United States last year and says he has not heard from prosecutors since.

In England, Kjonaas joined forces with other animal-rights activists seeking to shut down Huntingdon's British laboratories, and quickly became part of their inner circle.

The group hit upon the idea of targeting not only Huntingdon and its employees, but every financial institution and service company that did business with the company. The group targeted companies that sold its stock and banks that lent it money, as well as its security firms.

Activists supporting SHAC's objectives destroyed scores of cash machines owned by one of Huntingdon's creditors, NatWest. By the time the campaign was over, all the lenders and investment houses in Britain had withdrawn their support of the company by refusing to lend it money or trade in its stock.

"This was the beginning of a campaign that essentially says I am going to grab hold of your air hose and squeeze it until you die," said Michaelson, the Huntingdon Group executive.

Once SHAC had succeeded in pressuring British financial institutions to drop their support of Huntingdon, it jumped the Atlantic last year, forming SHAC USA.

In this country, offices of financial institutions that do business with Huntingdon have been swarmed by activists, and windows of executives' homes have been broken and houses splashed with paint. Even its lawn-service company was targeted.

In January, supporters of the group broke windows and splashed red paint on the New York townhouse of Warren Stephens, head of Stephens Inc., which had lent Huntingdon $33 million.

Since SHAC began pressuring Huntingdon and its business partners in the United States a year ago, the firm says it has been unable to find any company to assist it in trading its stock on major indexes.

Yet, for the moment, Huntingdon says it will not back down. Earlier this year, it moved its legal headquarters to the United States, enabling it to take advantage of U.S. securities laws that offer stockholders greater anonymity.

It says its revenues are increasing, and it has sued SHAC in New Jersey, winning a court order restricting protests outside its East Millstone facility. And it is pressing the Justice Department to intensify its probe of violent animal-rights activists.

"We need legislation and law enforcement," Michaelson said. "Eighty years ago, when Al Capone went to a liquor store and said, 'Give me $80 and I will protect you from me,' we fixed it, I think. But then, maybe we never did."


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Contact Chris Mondics at 202-383-6024 or cmondics@krwashington.com.  
 

Marty

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These animal rightists rationalize their actions as " for the better good ".
Personally, I think their actions are justification for listing them as a terrorist organization.  And, as such, should be subject to acts of depredation.
 
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