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Animal activists still a top threat

Games security focus broadened after Sept. 11

By Jerry Spangler
Deseret News staff writer

Published: Monday, Nov. 19 2001 1:40 p.m. MST

Some animal rights activists have over the past decade engaged in a destructive campaign to rid Utah of mink farms, stop the use of animals in scientific experiments and free wild animals from government holding pens and research centers.

Their tactics have ranged from Molotov cocktails and shrapnel bombs on one extreme, to freeing caged animals and smashing windows on the other.

No one has been hurt in the attacks — a fact heavily played up by the animal activist community. As a result, the public either hasn't noticed or seemed to care much. With few exceptions, the attacks have generated little media attention.

Lawmen grumble that Utahns have been living with a form of terrorism for a decade and likely won't demand action until someone is injured or killed. And frustrated prosecutors label the animal-rights actions — most attributed to ALF — nothing short of terrorism, and they have grumbled over the years that Utah judges don't share their perspective, as in cases like these:

  • Cameron Kraus and Bret Walton pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated arson in the 1997 firebombing of the Montgomery Fur Store in West Haven, Weber County. Both could have received up to five years in prison on the third-degree felony but instead received sentences of 30 days in jail and 30 days of home confinement for pouring gasoline around the business. A night watchman in the building came outside just as the men were preparing to light the fuse, averting potential disaster.

  • Other activists have received jail terms of one or two years for crimes that caused, in many cases, in excess of $100,000 damage. One was sentenced to 13 days in jail for his role in two attacks on Utah mink farms that, according to court documents, caused about $400,000 damage.

Disobedience vs. terror

Utah's most visible animal rights activists — those protesting fur shops and carrying placards denouncing rodeos and zoos — distance themselves from those who burn buildings, destroy businesses and attack research facilities.

Sean Diener, director of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition (UARC), says there is no evidence linking any member of his group to terrorist acts. And he maintains there is no connection whatsoever between UARC and the ALF.

"We have no activists in our organization that have been or are ALF activists," Diener said. "It is very easy to look at a high-profile group like ours and say we are responsible. But there is no evidence of that."

Utah activists believe they are being unfairly targeted for legally speaking out on a social issue, and they say concerns such as those voiced by Romney go far beyond paranoia and are a slap in the face to a nonviolent movement.

Are they guilty of civil disobedience for protesting perceived cruelty to animals? Absolutely, Diener says.

But civil disobedience engaged in by groups like UARC and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a far cry from terrorism.

"To say that simple actions of free expression and speech can be related to tragedies such as these is a mockery and a deliberate distortion of the facts," according to Crystal Hammer, a fellow animal rights activist and Weber State University student.

Diener insisted UARC's official policy is one of nonviolence toward animals, people and property. It is a mantra Diener preaches to all who will listen. But he also admits some UARC members may have different beliefs and attitudes.

Hammer, for one, insists that animals are not the private property of any human, and therefore liberating them can-not be viewed as damaging someone's private property.

That concept is a fundamental premise of the ALF, which over 25 years of actions against property claims it has never injured anyone. That, says Sabrina, is not "random chance or good luck but comprehensive preparation, research and surveillance on the part of ALF cells."

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