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Analysis: Animal-rights groups up the ante

By STEVE MITCHELL, UPI Senior Medical Correspondent   |   Sept. 5, 2006 at 5:59 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 (UPI) -- Animal-rights activists have upped their reward for arrest of a researcher for animal abuse in response to the FBI's offer for information leading to the arrest of extremists who left an incendiary device at the home of a UCLA scientist.

The North American Animal Liberation Press Office said an un-named but well-known male celebrity contributed $50,000 to UCLA Primate Freedom's long-standing award of $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a UCLA researcher who conducts experiments involving animals.

The move comes after the UCLA and the FBI together offered $60,000 for information leading to the arrest of individuals who left a "Molotov cocktail" at the home of UCLA researcher Lynn Fairbanks.

Anonymous activists from the Animal Liberation Front have claimed responsibility for leaving the incendiary device at Fairbanks' home. Fairbanks, who works with primates, has long been a target of UCLA Primate Freedom and other animal-rights groups.

Another UCLA researcher, Dario Ringach, recently bowed to the pressure from activists and said that he would stop conducting experiments that involve primates.

Jerry Vlasak, a spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, told United Press International the reward money came from a male celebrity who is a major star of action films.

"Nobody really expects to see the reward paid out," Vlasak said, contending that "there's almost no enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act."

Bill Carter, spokesman for the FBI, told UPI animal-rights extremists together with eco-terrorists are responsible for the greatest number of domestic terrorist activities. The FBI lumps the animal-rights groups in with the eco-terrorists because "we consider it more of a movement," Carter said.

Jacquie Calnan, president of Americans for Medical Progress, a group in Alexandria, Va., that is supported by the pharmaceutical industry, told UPI she thought the announcement of the reward offer from the animal groups was just a publicity stunt.

"It's all public relations hype," Calnan said. "To claim an unnamed celebrity contributed money is a PR tactic to gain attention."

She said the groups have had an inconsequential effect on research, but they could end up injuring or killing a researcher.

"We're on borrowed time before there is a serious incident that results in serious injury or harm," Calnan said. "Our concern is ensuring that scientists, employees and their families are safe. As far as an impact on research, they've been negligible."

The FBI has contended that the device intended for Fairbanks home was actually left at the house of a neighbor, but Vlasak disputed that assertion, saying he was near Fairbanks' home a few days afterwards and he observed police tape around the house as if it was a crime scene.

Vlasak said the FBI may be using the tactic to provoke the activists responsible to speak out and possibly reveal identifying information about themselves.

"They're (the FBI) trying to get someone to step forward and say, 'Hey, we didn't do what you said we did,'" Vlasak said. "The fact that (the neighbor where the device was left) is a 70-year-old lady, they're creating this sympathetic victim ... the whole thing smells funny to me."

The FBI's Los Angeles office, which is handling the UCLA investigation, did not respond to UPI's request for comment by press time.

Pam Ferdin, Vlasak's wife and an animal-rights activist in her own right, told UPI she thought the additional reward might induce researchers working in the UCLA labs to provide information about animal abuse being carried out by their colleagues.

"I just think maybe the reward will help these inside sources provide information," Ferdin said, noting that becoming a whistleblower makes them vulnerable to repercussions from UCLA or law enforcement officials.

Ferdin said she's noticed student protestors on campus have become more muted and inhibited due to a perception law enforcement and university officials are intensifying their efforts to crack down on animal-rights activists.

"It really shows where our culture is and what's become of our freedoms because now people are afraid to even set up protest tables at UCLA," she said.

UCLA Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams said last week the university is strengthening security measures and considering legal remedies against animal-rights activists as well as helping craft legislation allowing for more severe criminal penalties.

"We will not be deterred by the actions of a few fanatic and misguided extremists," Abrams said in a statement. "The kinds of activities engaged in by some animal research opponents have crossed the line of legitimate demonstrations and, in a number of instances, have involved patently criminal behavior."

© 2006 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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