Crimes in the name of the environment

Part 3 of a four-part series
by The Oregonian - September, 1999

The Oregonian, Tuesday, September 28, 1999



Saboteurs' influence extends to vivisection, herbicide use, even filmmaking
By James Long and Bryan Denson

Fur coats have become so controversial that Nordstrom no longer carries them in its East or West coast stores. Nearly half the nation's medical schools have stopped putting students through practice-surgery courses on live animals. Hollywood has come under such pressure to prevent animal cruelty that filmmakers literally cannot hurt a fly.

Things have changed, as well, for those who make a living from the land. Some log-truck drivers make their hauls at night to avoid confrontations. Home Depot stores are labeling some wood products with the pledge that old-growth forests were not the source. Threats have pushed the U.S. Forest Service into limiting the use of herbicide on public lands.

These are among the results of an eco-terrorist campaign in which the land and its creatures are celebrated by saboteurs as sacred. The mounting assault throughout the West has gained force since the late 1980s, as those fighting for wilderness joined with those fighting for animals, vandalizing or setting fire to research laboratories, logging sites and targeted businesses. These incidents have spurred changes in American attitudes and habits.

The changes have not occurred by vote of society or because of new technologies or efficiencies. Some are the direct result of violence mounted by terrorists who elude apprehension and conviction, leaving victims frightened. Over time, victims and potential victims adapt to the threats by changing their ways.

Yet other changes are spurred by large, mainstream groups that latch on to a cause, such as the 600,000-member People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. But the effectiveness of such groups can be linked to efforts by terrorists acting outside the group while enjoying the group's financial support.

It's a strange and historic process of change in America and, particularly, the West.

And the starkest of the changes -- those in which the link between sabotage and a new way of doing things is undisputed -- have been wrought by animal-rights activists.

The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, with some 600 members internationally, including lipstick giants Faberg and Revlon, banded together in the face of demonstrations in 1980 to endow a research institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health dedicated to finding methods to test products without using animals.

U.S. researchers in all fields were using about 40 million lab animals per year when the school's Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing opened its doors. Today, the number is around 15 million animals per year and declining, owing in large part to the center's work.

On June 30, Procter & Gamble, the soapsuds giant, promised to quit testing most of its products on animals, ending a 10-year fight with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA activists had picketed the company and twice smacked its chief executive, John Pepper, in the face with tofu pies. Gillette and Colgate-Palmolive-Peet had already promised to end most animal tests.

Animal-rights controversies have moved Hollywood filmmakers to routinely budget six-figure sums to construct "animatronic" horses and other such surrogates to use in stunts that might injure real animals. Although credit goes to popular animal-protection groups such as the American Humane Association, many officials involved in the changes say crimes by extremists made their job easier.

"It's like good cop, bad cop," said Betty Denny Smith, a Los Angeles activist who ran the association's Hollywood office when it persuaded the industry to protect even cockroaches. "If it wasn't for the extremists," Smith said, "everybody working for humane treatment would look like some kind of kook."

Industry rules that began with reformist attempts to prevent cruelty to horses have expanded until, today, a director who wants to film a cockroach falling off a table must use a pad to break the bug's fall.

"A lot of ideas that used to be considered far-out are becoming mainstream," said Bron Taylor, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and author of "Ecological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmentalism."

Like it or not, Taylor said, militants whose actions sometimes land them in jail are having an effect even on the moral teachings of mainstream religions. He points, for example, to a draft pastoral letter that the Pacific Northwest's seven Roman Catholic bishops issued May 12 in which they denounce "speciesism," a term coined by Australian philosopher Peter Singer in his 1975 book, "Animal Liberation."

That book launched the modern animal-rights movement and inspired direct-action tactics that have sometimes turned violent. Although the bishops didn't use the word "speciesism" in Singer's sense of equality between animals and humans, "the letter is an example of how Catholic thinking is in the process of evolving," said Russ Butkus, chairman of the theology department at the University of Portland.

According to Butkus, the letter's proposal that all living things have "intrinsic value" might, for instance, require a conscientious Catholic to avoid wearing a fur coat because it requires killing an animal for a garment that is not strictly necessary. A majority of Americans, Taylor points out, already believe that nature has intrinsic value as opposed to value measured in its usefulness to humans.

The bishops' stance on intrinsic value, he said, "is strikingly interesting because that is a moral premise that has been articulated and promoted by the so-called deep ecology movement and its radical vanguard, Earth First!" Earth Firsters have been associated with numerous acts of eco-terrorism since the group was formed in 1980, and some joined animal-rights activists in the late 1980s not only in committing crimes but also in espousing a philosophy of the interconnectedness of all beings and things.

Animal-rights beliefs that have entered the mainstream are having an effect on public education in Oregon. Four years ago, Bob Doltar, a teacher at Grant High School in Portland, scheduled his biology class to dissect frogs -- and a student slipped away with all 100 of the critters and released them into Laurelhurst Park.

"He just didn't think it was right to kill the frogs," Doltar said. "And he was a kid with a strong science background."

Doltar then developed a computer program to simulate frog dissections for the small but growing number of students who object to cutting a real animal. "We haven't dissected a frog since," he said.

BioLab Frog, as Doltar's invention is now known, is one of dozens of animal-simulation programs used even in medical schools all over the country. According to a 1998 survey by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an anti-vivisection group, 62 of 126 U.S. medical schools no longer offer live-animal courses at the pre-graduate level. The Harvard, Yale, Stanford and University of Washington schools of medicine are on the list.

"I would guess that the last lab (at the University of Washington) using live animals would have been 10 years ago," confirmed Dr. Melvin Dennis, chairman of the university's Department of Comparative Anatomy. Animal-rights protests were a major factor, he said.

"There were a couple of situations with a couple of the labs where there were confrontations, and the people (researchers) decided to stop the labs," he said. In 1986-87, about a dozen UW medical students, backed by The Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), protested a second-year course in which they were required to cut open the chests of sedated, living dogs to observe drug effects on the beating heart. Afterward, the students were required to cut the dogs' hearts out.

A dozen or so students boycotted the class and complained to school officials that the instruction was cruel and would desensitize students to inflicting pain on future patients. PAWS and other animal-rights militants joined the protest, and the instructor canceled the class in September 1987.

"There wasn't really a time where the school said, 'OK, we're gonna change this policy,' " Dennis said. "What happened was, over a period of years there would be individual people who were teaching individual courses, who would decide either because animal-rights activists were putting pressure on them or because they saw a better method, or for whatever reason, to stop the courses. I would imagine that was the way it happened all across the country."

Like Dennis, most academics interviewed were hard-pressed to say exactly when things changed -- just that they had.

The refusal of two veterinary students to perform vivisection at Washington State University in 1990 prompted the school to pioneer alternative methods of training surgeons that include having them eat with chopsticks to develop manual dexterity.

Likewise, medical schools that encounter animal-rights pressures are relying more on computer simulators and dummies to allow pre-graduate students to develop skills in everything from pharmacology to suturing. The Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine still gives its students a limited amount of training with live animals but has moved away from emotionally appealing species such as dogs to less appealing ones, like rats.

The school switched its pre-graduate surgery course from dogs to pigs a decade ago -- then abolished the pig course, too, although it still has students cut into anesthetized pigs to practice procedures such as arterial catheterization. Although pigs have drawbacks -- their anatomy isn't as similar to a human's as a dog's is -- their less appealing public image makes it easier to for the school to use them for instruction.

"Sometimes," said Dr. Bryan Ogden, associate director of comparative medicine, "a pig isn't the very best model, but that is an impact of what some of the animal-rights people have done."

Researchers, he said, are advised to consider the public-relations aspects of different species of animals when designing a study. "We make sure that the (researchers) are aware of the fact that there are some political issues associated with using certain animals," he said. "And if they can possibly do so, they should stay away from that.

"We try to use animals lower on the phylogenetic tree. If you ask a question that can be answered in a dog or a pig, you might use a pig. Or if it can be answered in a mouse versus a pig, you use a mouse. And on down."

Although OHSU has never been attacked, Ogden said it had spent nearly $250,000 in recent years to provide extra security for its labs because of Animal Liberation Front arson and vandalism at other West Coast research facilities. The school, he said, began reinforcing its facilities following a 1986 ALF raid at the University of Oregon in which intruders inflicted $61,000 damage on two psychology labs and released more than 100 animals.

The raid was but one of several that had caused medical schools throughout the West to worry.

On Christmas Day in 1983, ALF militants broke into the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center's Research and Education Institute and stole 12 dogs that were being used to test heart pacemakers and study cancer and diabetes. And on Dec. 9, 1984, ALF raiders hit the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, Calif., stealing 36 dogs, 11 cats, 12 rabbits, 28 mice and 13 rats. The attack ruined years of research and caused at least $400,000 in damage.

Then, on April 20, 1985, ALF intruders broke into labs at the University of California at Riverside and freed 467 research animals, including a baby monkey whose eyelids were stitched shut to test a sonar device for blind human babies. Damage, not counting the lost research, came to $683,000. Then came the University of Oregon raid, followed on April 15, 1987, by an arson attack on the University of California at Davis' veterinary diagnostic laboratory, which was then under construction. The arsonists caused $3.5 million in damage, and ALF graffiti was found on university vehicles.

In April 1989, vandals hit four science buildings at the University of Arizona, setting fires, trashing furniture and equipment, and stealing or freeing 1,231 mice, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs and frogs, to the tune of $250,000. Graffiti credited the ALF and proclaimed that "animal reasearch (sic) is scientific fraud!"

In August 1991, ALF vandals broke into professor John Gorham's office at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman, piled up 35 years of his research notes and drenched them with acid. Gorham had been working on what was then a little-known ailment, transmissible spongiform encephalopathy -- mad-cow disease -- which can show up in humans as Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease, a fatal brain condition. Gorham's work recently led to the first pre-clinical test for spongiform disease in sheep, a development with implications for humans. Gorham was able to reconstruct some of his work but lost irreplaceable data, setting portions of his research back two years.

ALF proudly took credit for its attack on Gorham and issued a press release threatening the semi-retired scientist and others by name.

"Davis Prieur, John Gorham, Fred Gilbert, David Shen, William Foreyt and Mark Robinson, beware," the release said. "ALF is watching and there is no place to hide. Until coyotes, and other animals live free from the torturous hand of humankind, no industry or individual is safe from the rising tide of fur animal liberation."

Rodney Coronado, who admitted complicity in the string of ALF attacks that included the raid on Gorham's offices, was released from federal prison in Arizona this year and moved briefly to Southern Oregon. About $29,000 of Coronado's legal bills was paid by the mainstream group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, according to PETA.

Yet PETA insists it is not a terrorist group. Ingrid Newkirk, its co-founder and director, characterizes assaults such as those upon Gorham as merely "direct action" and Coronado as a person of the highest ethical caliber.

OHSU's bills haven't stopped with outlays for boosted security. Until Jan. 6, 1997, the Yamhill County Animal Shelter had quietly sold 10 to 20 research dogs per month to the school for $75 each, putting the proceeds into the county-run shelter. About 150 other dogs had to be put to death each month at county expense, and officials figured that the dogs going to the medical school were no worse off.

In 1995, however, Portland People for Animal Rights raised objections. It was a quiet campaign that involved appearances at commission meetings and letters to editors. On Jan. 6, 1997, the sheriff decided to halt the sales. Now the shelter puts the dogs to death at county expense, and the medical school is forced to buy dogs elsewhere at prices as high as $650.

Terrorism has also had an effect on what the nation considers to be environmentally acceptable.

Andy Siino, a Northern California redwood logger, avoids main highways and tries to do his hauling at night ever since activists pipe-bombed three of his trucks in a storage yard in April 1995. "I could haul dead bodies and nobody would say a thing," Siino said. "But put a redwood between those stakes and, oh boy!"

Home Depot, the nation's largest home-supply chain, has started requiring redwood vendors to label boards with an independent laboratory sticker assuring customers they are not buying lumber from old-growth trees. And labels are beginning to appear on products such as doors and windows to verify that the wood was responsibly grown and harvested, Home Depot spokeswoman Amy Friend said.

Peter Nowack, marketing director of the Beaverton-based Certified Forest Products Council, which issues environmental labels, says Home Depot's decision to "go green" is putting tremendous pressure on manufacturers to furnish products that will pass environmental muster. The council's membership now stands at about 150 manufacturers and is growing exponentially, Nowack said.

Nowack has no doubt that "a certain amount of environmental pressure" led many companies to embrace green policies. But self-interest, he said, has become the chief motivator as American culture has become greener.

Sometimes, acts of eco-terrorism have produced on-the-spot results. On May 4, 1980, about 100 people confronted a 14-person Forest Service crew as it sprayed 2-4-D herbicide on brush near Takilma, in Southern Oregon's Josephine County.

Some carried knives or clubs. Spitting and throwing rocks and garbage, they surrounded the crew and a few sheriff's deputies and Forest Service law enforcement personnel until the local district ranger signed a paper promising not to spray herbicide in that area for one year.

Public opposition to the use of herbicides was so great that the Forest Service, soon after the incident, revised its spraying guidelines to severely restrict the use of 2-4-D herbicide in the Northwest.

That incident was joined by other dangerous efforts to produce instant protections for the environment.

On April 27, 1980, the Forest Service discovered a contractor's spray helicopter sabotaged on its pad at Cave Junction, not far from Takilma. Someone had cut electrical wires around the engine, sawed through fuel lines and tampered with the chopper's hydraulics.

A year later, an arsonist spread gasoline on another herbicide helicopter -- this one leased to Publishers Paper Co. -- and burned it to a pile of junk near Newport. Two masked women claimed responsibility in a videotape delivered anonymously to a Portland television station.

In yet other instances, eco-terrorist attacks seem barely to merit the label yet do enough damage to change a tradition and a way of life.

In March 1995 and September 1997, Bruce Kent, a cattle rancher in Fallon, Nev., lost two cow camps to arsonists. In the first incident, an old bunkhouse and a cookhouse went up in flames. Somebody threw the appliances from the cookhouse into a stream and shot up the place with a shotgun. More than two years later, Kent discovered his other cow camp burned: a 10-foot-by-50-foot trailer, two cabins, two power poles, a pump house, a horse barn and a generator house.

The damage for both incidents hit only $40,000. But the scars left behind were costlier. For years, Kent said, the camps had been left open in case anybody happened along and needed a place to stay for a day or two.

"Whoever stayed just replaced any groceries they used, and whatnot," he said, "and made sure the door was shut. That's the way it always was out here."

But no longer, he said. Calls to his answering machine were angry, anonymous attacks on cattle ranching. For him, the trust is gone.

The faceless terrorism in the American West is a modern phenomenon. But its roots go back more than a century to an uproar over an English dog.

A medical professor at the University of Norwich took the dog to class one day and showed how he could induce an epileptic fit by feeding it absinthe. The students raised a melee and forced the professor to free the dog. Queen Victoria appointed a royal commission inquiry, and Parliament in 1876 passed Britain's groundbreaking Cruelty to Animals Act.

Congress refused to pass anything similar in the United States until a Dalmatian named Pepper came along in 1966 and ran politicians up a tree. Pepper, a family pet, disappeared from her back yard near Philadelphia in July 1965, and her owners spotted her in a newspaper photo being unloaded, with two goats and several other dogs, from an animal dealer's truck in New York. Before the family could rescue Pepper, they learned she'd been euthanized following an experiment in Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx.

Rep. Joseph Y. Resnick, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to outlaw petnapping. But the bill went nowhere until Christine Stevens, president of the Animal Welfare Institute, got involved.

Stevens was a shrewd Washington insider and the wife of Roger L. Stevens, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. She handed a photograph of an emaciated lab dog to a friend, Henry Luce, publisher of Life magazine. Luce ordered a photo article, "Concentration Camps for Dogs," which ran in Life on Feb. 4, 1966. The piece generated more mail, Luce later told her, than anything the magazine had ever published.

Some 80,000 letters also flooded Congress, and soon House members were scrambling to sign Resnick's bill. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act into law on Aug. 24, 1966. Besides discouraging pet theft, the law mandated better living conditions for certain lab animals and put the U.S. Department of Agriculture in charge of enforcement.

For the next three decades, more laws and regulations followed, covering everything from endangered species to the welfare of Tennessee walking horses and the quality of road-kill that could be fed to carnivores. The government threw a protective arm around whales, polar bears, marine mammals and endangered plants, and outlawed dogfights.

The 1970s also saw the beginning of reforms in laboratory experimentation and research, due to a retired longshoreman and labor organizer named Henry Spira. The Belgian-born Spira launched what became known as the Great Mascara War after reading Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation" and taking a course from the Australian animal-rights philosopher at the New York Museum of Natural History.

Using the rough tactics of the New York docks, Spira led hundreds of demonstrators into the museum to protest its experiments on the sexuality of kittens. After that, he took on the cosmetics industry, forcing it to give up lab tests on rabbits for the certification of eye beautifiers.

The Draize Eye Test was the gold standard for checking the irritancy of beauty products such as eyeliner, which made billions for the cosmetics industry. Technicians would put the cosmetic in the rabbits' eyes to see whether it caused injury -- satisfying government safety requirements.

"Henry (Spira) knew that rabbits were cute and would get a lot of sympathy, so he began campaigning to replace the Draize test with other things," said Alan M. Goldberg, director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins University.

Spira ran an ad in The New York Times in 1980 showing a rabbit with its eyes taped over, and a caption saying, "How many bunnies does Revlon blind for beauty's sake?"

As New Yorkers contemplated the shocking ad, Spira dressed in a rabbit costume and led 300 picketers in front of Revlon headquarters. Revlon and similar companies that made up the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association then made a $1 million grant to the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health to start what is now the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing.

In two decades, the center has overcome what Goldberg calls "huge resistance" in the biomedical community and replaced animal tests with cell-sample tests, computer simulations and data banks. Not all animal tests have stopped, he acknowledges, but he says the center can take credit for helping to drastically reduce the number of animals used in experiments. Now, he said, companies can use chemical data banks to check chemical irritancy "instead of a new rabbit every time."

In 1985, as animal-rights militants repeatedly struck at medical labs in the West, Congress amended the Animal Welfare Act to require researchers to pay attention to the psychological, as well as physical, needs of animals. Dogs had to be exercised. Primates had to have fresh toys.

In Hollywood, every gnat, flea or whale that appears in front of a camera is protected by something more than federal rules: The creatures have a union contract.

"I wrote a film once," recalled veteran Hollywood screenwriter Tim Metcalfe, "and one of the lead characters was supposed to have an emotional phone call, and a spider would crawl across his desk, and he was supposed to smash the spider. But they (the American Humane Association) said we couldn't kill the spider."

The director had to bring in a stunt spider, film it crawling on the desk, stop the camera, let the trainer remove the spider, substitute a prop, then roll the camera again and let the actor smack the prop.

In another film, "Kalifornia," the villain was supposed to flick a cockroach onto a sizzling grill in a restaurant. "They would not allow this, believe me," Metcalfe said. So a stunt roach was filmed crawling on the counter, then replaced by a fake roach that was duly flicked.

Hollywood's animal-welfare rules have evolved over nearly 60 years from a humane code into animal-rights regulations shaped by the new kind of activism that has turned medical labs into mini-fortresses and spawned civic votes on fur coats, as happened recently in Beverly Hills.

The original Hollywood animal code grew out of a 1939 ruckus in which the makers of "Jesse James" pushed a horse off a cliff and killed it, infuriating moviegoers. Studio moguls panicked and turned to the Hayes Office, Hollywood's self-censorship authority, which appointed the American Humane Association to oversee animal stunts. That arrangement lasted until the Hayes Office disbanded in 1966.

For 13 years, Hollywood animals were on their own until another blunder incurred the public's wrath. While shooting "Heaven's Gate," filmmakers blew up a horse with explosives. Actors joined the protest, and in 1980 the Hollywood Producers' Guild and the Screen Actors Guild inserted an animal-protection clause in their collective bargaining agreement, bringing back the American Humane Association to police movie-making.

Then came an incident that brought animal-rights activists down on the American Humane Association and resulted in new rules that have changed radically what the world sees on movie screens.

During the filming of "Project X" in 1985 and '86, trainers used snakes to scare chimpanzees and get desired facial expressions. Bob Barker, a Hollywood game-show host and animal-rights activist, went on the air with complaints, and soon the town was filled with militants, including Gary Francione, then director of Rutgers University's Animal Rights Law Center.

The Rutgers professor accused the trainers of beating the chimps with blackjacks, as well, a charge that was never proved but which helped propel the mainstream Humane Association into writing rules that eventually outlawed even flyswatting.

Nothing, today, can be hurt onscreen. "Not even a maggot," said Ginny Barrett, who took over the Hollywood office in 1997. The reason for the inclusiveness, she said, is that "we didn't want to be mired in a continual debate as to which creatures should be protected and which shouldn't."

The rules have affected what it costs to shoot a movie. When Mel Gibson made "Braveheart," the budget included at least three $140,000 animatronic horses that could be ridden into stakes and "killed" in a battle scene. Previously, Barrett said, a producer would "take three or four old nags that are headed for the glue factory, and it would cost you a couple grand."

Barrett's office sent representatives to the sets of 820 movies last year to make sure animal rules were followed. Under the contract, she can close down a production "if we feel there is intended mistreatment." Mistreatment can include failure to provide dogs with sufficient air conditioning.

Jules Sylvester of Los Angeles has become a millionaire in the expanding business of stunt creatures. When filmmakers were shooting "Men in Black" with Tommy Lee Jones, they hired him to help stage the biggest roach-stomping scene in the history of Hollywood -- without provoking protest.

Sylvester showed up with 2,500 real roaches in an air-conditioned box, plus a few dozen dead roaches for close-ups, along with dozens of mustard packs to slip under the dead roaches for memorably revolting stomping. After the filming, Barrett's office verified that all 2,500 live roaches were rounded up, counted one at a time, then returned to their air-conditioned quarters unhurt.

"It sounds nuts," Sylvester said, "because everybody knows if you've got a real bug in your house, it's dead meat. But in Hollywood you have to draw the line because the next time it might not be just a fly. It might be a mouse. Or a rat. Or a cat. It goes up from there. So it's all or nothing."

Next: What law enforcement and Congress can -- and cannot -- do about eco-terrorism.

Return to Part 2
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Return to ALRA EcoTerrorism Source page

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