Breaking the Cages: Radical Animal Activists Turn to Violence

By Bai, Matt | Newsweek, September 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

Breaking the Cages: Radical Animal Activists Turn to Violence


Bai, Matt, Newsweek


Radical animal activists turn to violence

DICK SCHUENING, A VETERAN ARSON investigator for the State of Oregon, got the call one morning in July. Someone had firebombed a Redmond slaughterhouse that processed and exported horse meat. This was no amateur job: it had been carried out efficiently by moonlight, using power tools, kitchen timers and a flammable jelly similar to napalm. The horses were spared. Schuening sifted through the ashes of his mind, back to an investigation that had obsessed him and a team of federal agents in the early '90s. It didn't take long for his fears to be confirmed. Days later the Animal Liberation Front--a radical group that opposes using animals for fur, meat or research--issued a communique taking responsibility for the fire. For Schuening and the Feds, the hunt was on again.

The battle for animal rights is getting uglier. The ALF, which fancies itself a kind of IRA for the animal kingdom, is now on the FBI's list of domestic terrorist groups. So far this year, its members have claimed responsibility for violent acts at a rate of almost one a day. Its crimes range from small-time vandalism (smashing windows at a butcher's shop in suburban Connecticut and spray-painting "McMurder" inside a Michigan McDonald's) to large-scale "rescue" operations (releasing 10,000 minks from a farm in Oregon). State and federal investigators thought they had shut the group down after a spree of bombings and break-ins ended with the arrest of an ALF leader in 1994. But now the violence is escalating again. Supporters brag that no one's ever been hurt in an ALF action, but investigators who've tracked the group say that's just sheer luck. "It's just a matter of time," Schuening says, "until someone gets killed."

Investigators admit their knowledge of the ALF is shadowy. Most members are thought to be collegeage activists with ties to more legitimate animsl-rights and environmental groups. What stymies law enforcement is that the ALF has no traditional structure. Its members work in tiny, secretive cells and get guidance from the Internet and underground pamphlets, investigators say. The group's Web site proclaims that anyone who takes up the cause is welcome to call himself part of the ALF. "It's not like the Mafia," a frustrated federal investigator says. "I can't find an individual and say, 'Here's the don of the ALF'."

If the ALF does have a godfather of sorts, it's Rod Coronado. The 31-year-old Native American is the only animal-rights terrorist the Feds have ever nailed; he's serving five years in prison for his role in the destruction of a research lab at Michigan State University in 1992. Borrowing the ALF name from a British group in the late 1980s, Coronado began by posing as a fur trader to gain access to potential targets. He used that knowledge, he says, to launch Operation Bite Back: a series of raids and bombings. Coronado insists that ALF members plot their acts carefully so that no one will get caught or hurt. "The government may call us terrorists, but the one thing that separates us from that is that we don't have anybody's blood on our hands," he says. …

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Breaking the Cages: Radical Animal Activists Turn to Violence
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