By Devin Dunlevy
City on a Hill Press Reporter

Four animal rights activists suspected of attacking University of California researchers were arrested by federal authorities, the FBI reported Feb. 20.

The suspects were linked to a string of incidents beginning in October 2007. Three of the four are connected with the attempted forced entry into the private home of a UC Santa Cruz biomedical researcher on Feb. 24, 2008.

None of the activists have been charged with playing a hand in the August 2008 firebombing of UC Santa Cruz researchers’ residences.

Two of the accused — Adriana Stumpo, 23, of Long Beach, Calif. and Maryam Khajavi, 20, of Pinole, Calif. — are former UC Santa Cruz students. A third suspect, Nathan Pope, 26, of Oceanside, Calif. attended Cabrillo College. Joseph Buddenberg, 25, of Berkeley, Calif. was the only suspect not tied to the February 2008 home invasion.

According to the FBI press release, other events triggering the arrests involved the distribution of flyers at Caffé Pergolesi listing the names and addresses of animal researchers and demonstrations held outside the residences of UC Berkeley researchers.

“At each residence, extremists dressed generally in all-black clothing and wearing bandannas to hide their faces marched, chanted, and chalked defamatory comments on the public sidewalks in front of the residences,” said the press release, issued from the FBI’s San Francisco division.

Authorities used provisions of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) to make the sweeping arrests. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on Nov. 27, 2006.

The bill is directed at animal rights activists who use force, violence and threats to “damage or interfere with the operations of an animal enterprise.” It also states that anyone who targets specific people or their immediate family members can be charged under the act. Each violation could carry up to a five-year prison sentence.

Critics argue the bill manipulates people’s fear of terrorism to unfairly single out the animal rights movement.

Will Potter, an independent journalist, labels the AETA as an attempt by the government to liken animal rights activists to terrorists. Potter testified before Congress in 2006 about the implications of the AETA.

“The best response to ‘terrorist’ scare-mongering and witch hunts is to build strong communities, so that when activists are arrested and smeared as terrorists, they know they have people supporting them every step of the way,” he said. “These government tactics are about instilling fear, and the best way to handle that fear is to come out and confront it head-on.”

A year ago the Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies raided a Riverside Avenue home while investigating the attempted home invasion of a UC biomedical scientist on California Street. Khanjavi, Stumpo and Pope were linked to the Riverside residence.

Some city leaders are voicing concern over the tactics of certain animal rights protesters.

“I do believe that what the suspects are accused of doing is wrong, and just because someone uses violence or the threat of violence doesn’t make their cause any stronger,” city councilmember Tony Madrigal said. “The ends don’t always justify the means.”

Groups like the Animal Liberation Front see direct action as a key part of their struggle on behalf of animals. The leaderless activist network issued its own press release in response to the crack-down.

“These arrests have targeted above-ground, legal animal rights protesters and blatantly abrogate their First Amendment rights,” the press release stated.

Jerry Vlasak, the press officer for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, sees rough times ahead for animal rights activists. He is confident the four will win their case, but warns that the battle over research animals is far from over.

“Whatever they throw at us,” Vlasak said, “will never compare to what they are doing to our nonhuman brethren behind those prison walls.”

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