As students come back to school, violence from the summer continues to shock the community. New attacks against scientists using animal research have left academic and law enforcement communities scrambling to respond.
The most recent attacks included the firebombing of two UC Santa Cruz researchers’ homes in early August, in one case leaving a car destroyed and in another starting a house fire. In the latter case, the family was forced to escape from a second story window.
Last February, City on a Hill Press reported on attacks against a faculty member who used animals in her research, in which six masked protesters trespassed onto her property and assaulted her husband when he confronted them at the door.
Guy Lasnier, spokesperson for UCSC, said that the August attacks came just a few days after a stack of leaflets appeared at local Caffé Pergolesi listing addresses, photographs, and other personal information of 13 faculty members at UCSC. The leaflets had threats including “We know where you live, we know where you work, we will never back down until you end your abuse,” Lasnier said.
These attacks come after protesters caused thousands of dollars in property damage to UCLA researchers’ homes through flooding and fire, and widespread threats of violence over the past three years.
The Animal Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Brigade took credit for several of the UCLA attacks, but the Santa Cruz incidents remain a mystery, according to a statement from the University of California.
The Santa Cruz attacks were labeled as “domestic terrorism,” and are now under the jurisdiction of the FBI, according to Santa Cruz Police Department spokesperson Zach Friend.
Special Agent Joseph Schadler of the San Francisco FBI declined to comment on the progress of the investigation, but said that they had been called in because of the FBI’s expertise with certain areas, such as explosives.
A new bill in the California Legislature, written with input from the UC, would make it easier to cite protesters for trespassing on private property, and would make it a crime to publish the personal information of a researcher with the intent to incite violence.
“It’s not just the researcher being targeted,” Friend said. “A whole family was nearly killed. These are not targeted situations … they don’t care if the family is collateral.”
In terms of the bill, “any movement forward on the bill would be better than what we currently have,” Friend said.
The sum of scientists working with animals at UCSC totals under two dozen, Lasnier said, and the work they do could be characterized as treatments for diseases such as “cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, malaria, HIV, cholera, and treatments for poisoning from toxic effects for metals.” The animals involved in the testing are Nematode worms, fruit flies, and mice, he said.
Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty said that a discussion about animal research is important, but strongly condemned the attacks and pushed students to do the same.
“I think it’s important that students, like the community, condemn violence and threats of violence,” Coonerty said. “The actions taken against the research were not protest, they were terrorism. That has to be unacceptable at UCSC.”
Dr. M.R.C. Greenwood, former UC provost and a professor of nutrition at UC Davis, insisted that the bill is intended to protect academic freedom, not animal research.
“Those who oppose animal research even when it is conducted under strict federal and state law are free to express those beliefs,” she said. “They are not free, however, to engage in a terror campaign.”
Greenwood, who is also chancellor emeritus of UCSC, said that the bill is important to track down the attackers and prosecute them “to the full extent of the law.”
“You cross the line when you throw a firebomb on the porch of somebody who has two young children at 5:30 in the morning, fill the house with smoke, and cause them to escape from a second-story window,” she said. “None of us should be sympathetic to the views that these people have if they’re going to be prepared to kill folks for it.”