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Aug 5, 2008 | 21:24 GMT

U.S.: Incendiary Activism in Santa Cruz

Sandy Huffaker/Getty images
Summary
Twin arson attacks Aug. 2 against animal researchers in Santa Cruz, Calif., represent the continuation of a trend toward attacking individuals rather than institutions. They were very similar to earlier attacks against researchers at University of California-Los Angeles and were possibly carried out by the same person or cell. If that is the case, the type of improvised incendiary devices used will likely become more effective and perhaps even prove deadly in future attacks.
In the early hours of Aug. 2, an improvised incendiary device was ignited on the porch of molecular biologist David Feldheim's home in Santa Cruz, Calif. Feldheim is employed at the University of California-Santa Cruz and reportedly conducts experiments involving animals. According to a Santa Cruz police department spokesman, the fire forced Feldheim, his wife and two small children to flee down an escape ladder from a second story window as the house filled with smoke. At approximately the same time, a second incendiary device destroyed a car belonging to a second animal researcher that was parked outside of an on-campus faculty housing area at UC-Santa Cruz. Feldheim’s name was in an animal rights pamphlet that appeared last week at a coffee house in Santa Cruz. The pamphlet contained a list of researchers whom activists called “animal abusers" along with their home addresses. The pamphlet also warned, “We know where you live.” The shift by animal rights groups from targeting companies or universities that conduct animal research to targeting individual executives or researchers at their homes is something that we have tracked for several years now. There are good reasons for this trend. First, it is easier to secure one research facility from an attack than it is to secure the homes of every employee who works there. So, as research facilities have become harder targets, militant activists have shifted to softer targets. Second, the tactic works. A researcher may be willing to endure pressure or even threats at work, but once those threats are extended to include his family, they often become too much to bear. For example, in August 2006, UCLA neurology professor Dario Ringach quit conducting research and sent an email to animal-rights groups that said, "You win. Please don't bother my family anymore." The two recent attacks at UC-Santa Cruz bear remarkable similarities to several attacks carried out against animal researchers at UCLA since 2006.
  • June 30, 2006, an incendiary device was left on the front porch of the home activists believed was that of UCLA primate researcher Lynn Fairbanks. They targeted the wrong house, as it turned out, and fortunately for Fairbanks’ elderly neighbor, the device did not ignite.
  • June 24, 2007, an incendiary device was left under the car of UCLA researcher Arthur Rosenbaum. The device did not ignite.
  • Feb. 6, 2008, an incendiary device was left on the front porch of UCLA researcher Edythe London. It ignited and caused damage to the front of her home. Activists had flooded London’s home with a garden hose on Oct. 20, 2007.
We have not had access to the technical details of the devices and we cannot say with certainty that they were constructed by the same individual. However, from the descriptions we have seen, they appear to be consistent with some of the smaller timed incendiary devices outlined in manuals published by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Due to similarities in targeting, device placement and timing of the attacks — and the fact that those responsible for the UCLA attacks have yet to be arrested — it is also quite possible that the UCLA and UC-Santa Cruz attacks were conducted by the same person or small cell. From past attacks, it is also evident that militant ALF/ELF cells are somewhat nomadic and often conduct attacks in different locations. Unlike the UCLA attacks in 2006 and 2007, in which the devices did not properly function, the devices in the 2008 attacks have functioned. This is likely an indication that the person making these devices is learning from past mistakes and is progressing along the learning curve toward becoming an accomplished arsonist. From our timeline, it also appears that the persons behind these attacks are stepping up their operational tempo. They are becoming more comfortable with their terrorist tradecraft. Even though the police recovered two intact devices in the UCLA attacks, they probably did not recover much usable forensic evidence. This is because ALF/ELF activists are very careful to avoid leaving forensic evidence. Indeed, the ALF and ELF manuals go to great lengths to teach activists how to avoid leaving forensic evidence. As in past cases, law enforcement will likely need a lucky break or to recruit an informant to catch the person or cell responsible for these attacks. Over the past several years there has been a severe polarization in the animal rights movement. Activists who promote violence have become separated from more moderate activists who do not advocate violence. Lacking the moderating influence of the latter, the former have thus become more dangerous. This radical turn was demonstrated by the ALF spokesman Jerry Vlasak when he said, in responding to the latest attacks, "It's regrettable that certain scientists are willing to put their families at risk by choosing to do wasteful animal experiments." The radical activists responsible for the UCLA and UC-Santa Cruz attacks will continue to refine their tools and techniques and can be expected to continue their attacks. Timed incendiary devices are serious weapons that can create a great deal of damage if properly employed. As these attacks continue, they will instill terror in the victims and other animal researchers and could very well turn deadly.
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