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Sheffield '11: Hello, soft-bellied targets

The public's conception of domestic terrorism has changed drastically over the past decade. As apparent from Rep. Peter King's (R-N.Y.) Congressional hearings, domestic terrorism is almost exclusively associated with Muslim extremists. While Muslim extremism is certainly one of the main types of threats from domestic terrorism, it is not the only one. All too often non-Muslim terrorists are forgotten or ignored. Do not forget that until Sept. 11, the biggest terrorist act inside the United States was carried out by Timothy McVeigh, an anti-government extremist acting out a white supremacist fantasy.

While attacks by Al Qaeda and related groups have had significant casualties, none of them has posed an existential threat to the country. Meanwhile, groups that have posed real threats continue to mill around in obscurity. The most successful group was the Ku Klux Klan, which denied many Americans basic rights, like the right to vote.

Luckily, the Klan's influence has faded, but there are other extremist groups in the country that just as fervently want to deny others their rights. Currently, the anti-abortion terrorists seem the most successful in undermining the law. In 2009, an extremist assassinated George Tiller, a Wichita, Kan. doctor who performed abortions, after years of harassment, bombings of his clinics and even assassination attempts. Anti-abortion extremists have begun to harass another doctor, who is training to provide the first abortions in Wichita since Tiller's murder.

While Islamist, anti-abortion, white-supremacist, anti-government and other groups present serious threats, they are usually not the ones most relevant at universities. At universities, animal rights terrorists pose the biggest threat. Just like Muslims, people who oppose abortion and those who favor smaller government, not everyone who supports various amounts of rights is willing to terrorize scientists. Most are quite happy with scientists doing their research so long as it is done humanely. In fact, the researchers themselves care about the wellbeing of the animals and are not, as the extremists claim, sadists.

The one good thing I can say about animal rights terrorists is that they do not seem to have graduated to outright murder. Sure, they vandalize research facilities. They release animals into the wild to be cruelly ripped apart by teeth and beaks — predators are notoriously anti-animal rights. They distribute the names and home addresses of scientists — a tactic that the anti-abortion extremists use to intimidate doctors. They even firebomb scientists' homes and cars with the scientists and their families inside. They have at least a little humanity and so far avoid outright murder, but the message to the target is clear: Next time, it could be you on fire.

These tactics have not stopped scientists so far. The tactics of animal rights terrorists have even caused protests to demonstrate support of animal research in the face of these attacks. One terrorist, writing on the website Negotiation is Over, put forward a new proposal to stop animal models being used in research. The title sums it up well: "Bringing the War to the Student Body — The Soft-Bellied Target of the Vivisection Complex." The goal of the proposal is to intimidate students to avoid studying anything that involves lab animals.

The author of the plan presents three steps to achieve the movement's goal of stopping animal research. The second step captures her malevolent desires well: "Students also need to understand that making the wrong choice will result in a lifetime of grief. Aspiring scientists envision curing cancer at the Mayo Clinic. We need to impart a new vision: car bombs, 24/7 security cameras, embarrassing home demonstrations, threats, injuries and fear. And, of course, these students need to realize that any personal risk they are willing to assume will also be visited upon their parents, children and nearest and dearest loved ones. The time to reconsider is now."

Is anyone reconsidering? No? Good.

I am not particularly relieved by her vision of the future of animal rights terrorism either: "Every time a vivisector's car or home — and, eventually, the abuser him/herself — blows up, flames of liberation light up the sky." While animal rights activists have been less willing to kill people than other domestic terrorist groups — humans are animals, too — there is always the possibility that they will become more desperate as society goes on with medical and scientific advances while they are ignored.

We should by no means live in fear of animal rights terrorists, anti-abortion terrorists or any of the others. But neither should they be ignored. The country not only needs good laws to stop terrorists from completing their attacks, but also effort by law enforcement to investigate these groups. Law enforcement has done well in many cases, but focus should not be fixed on one type of terrorism alone.

David Sheffield '11 is a mathematical physics concentrator whose research makes him an accomplice to the genocide of trillions of protons. Hadron rights extremists can intimidate him at david_sheffield@brown.edu.




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