Animal activists still a top threat
Games security focus broadened after Sept. 11
After hijacked jetliners smashed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, Utahns began openly wondering if the 2002 Winter Games might become a target of Islamic terrorists.
But Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney, in a meeting with the Deseret News shortly after the attacks, downplayed any threat posed by Osama bin Laden, explaining instead that the real threat of terrorism against the Winter Olympics lay with home-grown terrorists acting under the flag of animal rights.
"Until Sept. 11," Romney told the paper, potential actions by animal rights activists "was our primary terrorism concern."
When questioned about the statement recently, however, Romney backtracked somewhat, saying security officials were concerned only that animal rights activists and others might disrupt the Games through violent protests similar to those in Seattle and more recently in Geneva and other cities during global conferences of the World Trade Organization.
His source for that concern? Web sites that encourage protesters to come to Salt Lake City and use the Games as a political forum.
Olympic security officials, Romney said, are "considering all possible sources of violent disruption of the Olympics."
The Utah Olympic Public Safety Command would not discuss the issue either, saying only it had no plans to hinder legal protests. "Protests are not an issue as long as they stay within the boundary of the law," said UOPSC spokeswoman Tammy Palmer.Officers involved in investigating past crimes by animal rights activists would not return calls to the newspaper. The FBI, which has labeled the Animal Liberation Front a loose-knit national organization that has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on businesses, research labs and government offices across the nation, including Utah a "terrorist" organization, is also mum, refusing to talk about Utah ALF cases past or present.
Where's the beef?
If law enforcement is mum on the topic, animal activists are not. They're talking to whoever will listen.
According to the Web site www.burntheolympics.org, activists claim to have been harassed by officers assigned to the Olympic Joint Terrorism Task Force. At least two activists say they have been singled out for questioning by authorities.
Jeremy Parkin, a member of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition (UARC), was charged last year with four felonies for freeing mink and destroying property at a Magna farm in 1999. A judge later dismissed the charges for lack of evidence.
Eric Ward, UARC administrative director, was also charged with a felony in a case involving a fur store protest, but the count was reduced to Class B misdemeanor trespassing; he was placed on probation until April, after the Olympics conclude.
"The timing (of the probation) is sure convenient," Ward said, calling the charges "harassment."
Activists maintain that law enforcement used the two arrests on "trumped up" charges to justify harassment of UARC, despite the group's public disavowal of violence and property destruction.
"They choose to publicly scapegoat groups like UARC instead of deal with the truth," said Sabrina, a spokesperson for Build Underground Resistance, Not the Olympics, or "Burntheolympics," a group that supports property destruction."No law enforcement official wants to admit it can't nab a bunch of people running around in ski masks setting fire to things," said Sabrina, who uses only her first name.
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