When does animal rights activism become extremism?

Federal authorities recently announced a new criminal prosecution of animal rights “activists” whose alleged illegal activities include, but are not limited to, various forms of vandalism that targeted farmers who raised animals for food or for the fur industry. Californians Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane are consequently being prosecuted under the auspices of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a law passed in 2006 which was intended specifically to address the escalating criminal attacks against individuals and organizations involved in “animal enterprise” by radical animal rights groups. This law sought to protect humane, responsible and legal animal use in scientific research, biomedical development, zoological and exhibition parks, food and clothes production, etc., from increasingly damaging and violent attacks.

Joseph Buddenberg is a 31-year-old animal rights fanatic with a long history of alleged criminal activities

Joseph Buddenberg is a 31-year-old animal rights fanatic with a long history of alleged criminal activities

Buddenberg is not a name that is new to biomedical researchers, as he was previously indicted (but not convicted) of harassing and intimidating UC-Berkeley researchers during nasty and hateful demonstrations at the researchers homes in 2006 and 2007. Thus, Buddenberg’s activities run the gamut of contemporary forms of animal rights fanaticism and illegally target a broad range of animal enterprises.

In response to this case, as well as the on-going prosecution of Tyler Lang and Kevin Oliff for similar illegal activities, radical animal rights groups around the country, are crying “foul”. Their disjointed claims include: 1) animal rights groups are the target of unfair political prosecution by the government and 2) that their actions can not reasonably be construed as terrorism. Neither of these two claims withstand scrutiny.

The AETA does not make it illegal to hold an animal rights philosophy, nor to speak about it openly. If it did, prisons would be full of animal rights fanatics. It also does not make it illegal to harm others or their property (other laws already do that). What is does do is escalate the penalties and consequences for already illegal behaviors that target certain animal enterprises. This type of escalation is not unique – for example, we escalate violent crimes that target a person for their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc., under so-called hate crimes statutes. These laws recognize that there are certain types of behavior that are so insidious, so threatening and so hateful that an escalated penalty is called for. Under AETA, targeting researchers who study animals to cure disease and attacking farmers who raise animals to feed the hungry is deserving of said escalation.

Animal rights radicals have been fighting a battle to turn the American public’s attitude about human-animal relationships for decades, and these efforts have largely failed. The American public still believes that it’s humane and appropriate to consume animals and their products for food and clothing, to keep them as pets and work companions and to involve them in responsible and regulated scientific research. As a result, these same radical groups have decided to use intimidation and violence, in addition to speech, to achieve their goals. The fact that they remain a minority opinion and that the majority demands that their illegal acts are punished is not political persecution.

Worse still, these same radical animal rights activists also decry the use of the word “terrorism” to describe their behavior. In a recent article, Will Hazlitt, a purported press officer for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office (NAALPO), says:

“To free animals from enslavement you have to break minor laws. Calling this terrorism is ridiculous. Is cutting a fence terrorism?”


Hazlitt is quick to point out that the organizations he’s affiliated with forbid harming humans. “And you can’t commit violence against an inanimate object.”

This not a new argument. Criminal attacks against UCLA researchers, including the fire bombing of my car, the sending of razor blades and graphic death threats to me in the mail and the flooding of my colleagues’ home, have been defended in similar ways. A KCET (public television) report on animal rights activities in Los Angeles prompted this statement from Nicoal Sheen, a former NAALPO press officer (from about 3’55” in the piece):

Reporter: Let’s be clear about this, they are fire-bombing cars…

Sheen: Ummhmm… which have no sentience.

Reporter: They are sending razor blades to professors’ offices and homes.

Sheen: Ummhmm.

Reporter: Um, they are harassing them in the middle of the night, if you listen to what the researchers say.

Sheen: If you call it harassment, yes.

They commonly claim that they don’t harm people. They harm property and inanimate objects, and they believe that means their actions are not terrorism.

They want you to believe that blowing up a car at 4 AM, mere feet from your home, is not terrorism. Not even when they later describe how much they wished you had been in it when it burned.

Car arson at Professor Jentsch's house. The Animal Liberation Brigade would claim responsibility for the attack 2 days later.

Car arson at Professor Jentsch’s house. The Animal Liberation Brigade would claim responsibility for the attack 2 days later.

They want you to believe that getting razor blades and a letter that describes cutting your throat is not terrorism.

Nor is flooding your home or ransacking your office or pouring paint thinner on your cars.

It’s not terrorism if they march in front of your child’s school or your home, calling you a murderer.

One imagines that they don’t believe it’s terrorism if a burning effigy was placed in the front yard of a black family or if a kid is cyberbullied on Facebook for being gay.

But here’s a more important question: does it even matter?

Even if we conceded that it wasn’t terrorism, we’d still conclude that radical animal rights fanatics are systematically engaged in activities that are:




And – yes – extremist

The title of this post, referencing a recent SF Weekly article of the same name, asks “When does animal rights activism become extremism?”

I think the answer is clear enough. It became fanatical extremism a long time ago, and it’s long past time we all recognized that. Animal rights groups are happy to engage in semantic debates about the use of the words “terrorism” and “extremism” in the media so that no one is paying attention to the fact that they are engaged in a systematic pattern of extremist behaviors whose goal is to inflict fear and terror on others.

Huge court victory! Kevin Johnson pleads guilty to Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act charges

A significant victory in social and legal battles against criminal animal rights activists happened very quietly in a courtroom this past Friday (6/26/2015). Kevin Johnson (“Olliff”) pled guilty to federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) charges relating to the criminal sabotage of a mink farm that occurred in Illinois in 2013. Kevin and his fellow animal right fanatic, Tyler Lang, were arrested while traveling in Illinois, not long after the release occurred. I discussed the circumstances of their arrest here.

Radical animal rights fanatics Kevin Johson and Tyler Lang

Radical animal rights fanatics Kevin Johson and Tyler Lang

Police reports indicate that the two young men in the car were traveling with:

bolt cutters, wire cutters, muriatic acid, ski masks, and cammo (sic) clothing

Apparently, extensive amounts of physical evidence tied them directly to the break in, which included vandalism of cars and property and led to the death of many of the animals that were “liberated”. According to sources cited by the Chicago Sun-Times here:

Though some of the farm’s animals were recovered, many died, according to neighbor Darren Caley.

“A lot of them got hit by cars, and a lot we found in a cornfield dead,”‘ Caley said. ”They were hand-reared and didn’t know how to hunt, so many of them starved to death.”

According to Friday’s plea agreement: “Of the 2,000 released minks, approximately 600 died or were never recovered. The remaining minks lost their resale value because the breeding cards were removed and destroyed.”

After months of fighting a losing battle to challenge the Constitutionality of the AETA and years of claims that they would never stop challenging their arrests (*WARNING: Animal rights website: SupportKevinandTyler.com *), Kevin has now plead guilty, and Tyler appears poised to do the same in the forthcoming days or weeks.

For years, these two individuals were participating in neighborhood protests focused on UCLA researchers, including me (here, here and here). As I mentioned in an earlier post, this directly demonstrates the blurred lines between the people who propagate above-ground harassment and underground, criminal actions in the name of animal “rights”. Indeed, Kevin has already spent considerable amounts of time in jail for criminal harassment of UCLA researchers, including threats to burn down their homes and the intentional terrorism of their children.

Tyler Lang engaged in a focused picket within 100 ft of my home, in violation of Los Angeles Municipal Code 56.45 E

Tyler Lang engaged in a criminal, focused picket within 100 ft of my home, in violation of Los Angeles Municipal Code 56.45 E

Some people continue to believe that many animal rights activists are merely disillusioned young people who will grow out of their problem behaviors. But cases like this show that the animal “rights” movement is made up a non-trivial number of recidivistic criminals who are determined to harm others in order to achieve their ends.

So, while this first successful prosecution of animal “rights” terrorism under the enhanced penalties offered by the AETA is cause for victory (as will be Tyler’s presumably impending plea), it’s also a cautionary note. The fanatical animal “rights” movement undoubtedly contains many more people willing to commit heinous crimes to earn publicity and celebrity for themselves and their cause, and we must be ready, as a society, to take action against them whenever and wherever they do.

I am still here

On 7 March 2009, extremist elements in the animal rights movement bombed my car in an attempt to intimidate me and end the research that I conduct in my laboratory at UCLA. This was just one more event in a long line of horrific, violent and sometimes haphazard attacks propagated against UCLA neuroscientists by Los Angeles animal “rights” activists.

Car arson at Professor Jentsch's house. The Animal Liberation Brigade would claim responsibility for the attack 2 days later.

Car arson at my house on 7 March 2009. The Animal Liberation Brigade would claim responsibility for the attack 2 days later.

Sadly, it was far from the most blood-thirsty action radical political extremists were to undertake in the US that month. Just a few weeks after my car was incinerated, a Wichita, KS, physician – Dr. George TIller – was assassinated by an anti-abortion fanatic while serving as an usher at church on the morning of 31 May 2009. Dr. Tiller’s long career providing essential health services to women in need was cut short.

As has been noted before, there are extensive similarities in the tactics used by radical animal rights terrorists and anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue. Threats, direct targeting, hatred, vitriol, lies and deception, arson, bombing and criminal violence are the currency that both groups spend readily. They intend to win by force, rather than by reason, civility or virtue. Their hollow arguments having failed to persuade the American public, they resort to intimidation to win their gambit.

I am very familiar with Dr. Tiller’s murder for two reasons. First, I strongly support a woman’s right to choose, and on behalf of my mother, sisters and women everywhere, I was offended deeply by his murder. His assassination was intended to suppress other physicians and to stop women across America from being able to make decisions about their own bodies. Of course, animal rights extremists who targeted me had a similar goal in mind. They wanted to frighten researchers everywhere with a simple message: you could be next. Furthermore, they intended to deprive people across this country from the right to access the treatments that come from medical progress.

I was also familar with Dr. Tiller because animal rights fanatics began sometimes referring to me as David “Tiller” Jentsch, implying that I would come to share his fate. The perverse writings online revealed the deep psychopathology of animal rights individuals and exposed their hatred and death fetishes.

Since then, they have targeted me continuously. They have harassed my students; they have sent me “AIDS-tainted razor blades” in the mail; they have launched phone/mail/email campaigns against my department; and they have engaged in repeated, and often criminal, protests intended to intimidate me at my home.

Picketers demonstrating in the street in front of my home.

Picketers demonstrating in the street in front of my home.

But here’s a fundamental truth: more than five years after they began their hideous and violent campaign against me:

I am still here.

Contrary to the intentions of animal extremists, the scope and impact of my research has grown and proliferated. Yes, their hatred has caused me fear, resulted in endless loss of time and productivity and represented a real and significant impact on my work. But their hatred has only strengthened my resolve and determination to make the kinds of scientific contributions that I know that our society needs and wants.

In 2009, the misanthropic face of the pro-life movement was exposed by the murder of Dr. Tiller, and it was then rejected by many across this country. A corner was turned, and a door was closed on Operation Rescue.

It is time for a similar development in our struggle against fanatical animal rights elements. People’s lives are being ruined, and the scientific community remains mostly silent. We must throw light on the pathology of the animal rights movement and move strongly to swell social support for our responsible work.

Sadly, there is much left to do on the part of rational scientists and the public who benefits from our work. I continue to urge that we collectively do more than we do today.

And in the mean time, I am still here and no fanatic can change that.

Guest Post: Animal models in research are necessary and ethical

David Jentsch:

What an articulate, clear and truthful defense of the importance of humane, responsible and regulated animal research. I urge students involved in biomedical research across the world to do what Mr. Cordy has done and communicate the importance of our work to the broader public.

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

The following post was originally published in The Daily of the University of Washington on April 26, 2015. It has been reproduced with permission from the newspaper and the original author. Benjamin Cordy is a neurobiology student at UW, he is also the Editor-in-Chief of Grey Matters Journal – an undergraduate neuroscience journal whose mission is to educate the public and develop effective science communicators.

Guest editorial: Animal models in research are necessary and ethical

On Saturday hundreds gathered in Red Square to voice their opposition to scientific research. At its core, this is the true message of the animal rights movement, which believes that research should never rely on animal models. The march on UW was about stopping science altogether. Is this really the best move for society?

Debates about animal models in research are emotional, contentious, and unfortunately, often fraught with demonstrably false “facts.” This is a serious…

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Animal research successes spur growth in science…but PeTA can only complain

David Jentsch:

PeTA complains that the scope of animal research is growing. It’s the success of our research that spurs this growth, and society benefits enormously. Here, in a blog post featured on the Speaking of Research website, I argue why we should all be thankful for this expansion.

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

What do multiple myeloma, influenza, advanced breast cancer, atrial fibrillation, thyroid cancer, ear infection, advanced ovarian cancer and obesity all have in common? One commonality is obvious – they cause suffering, sickness and sometimes death in people around the world. Another commonality is less obvious – these are each conditions that are now being treated with new drugs just approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the past three months alone. That’s right… in the period from Thanksgiving 2014 until now, new drugs that treat each of these conditions have become available, and these agents will be used to treat the illnesses that may affect millions of Americans. Eventually, they will likely have enormous worldwide impacts on these diseases. That’s something to be thankful for.

While some are thankful that the scientific progress is successfully tackling human suffering and disease, others cast doubt on the way that…

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It’s long past time for you to take a stand against animal rights thugs…

It has been more than 5 years since my car was bombed by radical animal rights fanatics who knew nothing meaningful about my research but were opposed to it anyway. Sometimes, it feels like just yesterday. Sometimes, it feels like a story from another, distant life.

Fighting non-stop against the lying thugs who have targeted me has, at times, taken every bit of strength I had. The fight has threatened to compromise my scientific research by draining my time, my motivation and my passion. Fortunately, I stayed as strong as I could and pushed through. I look back on the most recent 5 years and feel that I have accomplished more scientific progress than I ever expected of myself and know that animal rights bullies have not had the effect that they wanted. In short, they have failed.

But my battle is not unique, and today, the animal rights scourge is not backing down. Indeed, they are determined to have an irreversible impact: one investigator at a time.

PeTA, the Humane Society of the United States and garden variety animal rights thugs across this nation are working hard to ensure that their influence is strong and effective. At this very time, neuroscientists in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Maryland are the targets of sustained and withering campaigns, ranging from false allegations in the media, to illegal home demonstrations, to despicable online campaigns of hate and vitriol.

Picketers demonstrating in the street in front of a researcher's home.

Picketers demonstrating in the street in front of a researcher’s home.

Each of the investigators is a world-renowned scientist whose work has fundamentally transformed the way we think about the relationships between brain and behavior, in both health and disease. In each case, their research necessarily involves non-human primates and addresses addictions, alcoholism, anxiety disorders and depression. In essence, their collective effort – which involves a relatively small number of animals – addresses the life-changing disabilities faced by more than 2 billion people alive today. This is not niche research – it is work that touches the lives of virtually everyone. Mental illness is a matter of personal concern for everyone: whether it affects us directly or afflicts someone we love.


A vervet monkey living in a social enclosure at my laboratory at UCLA.


These scientists have given their professional lives over to addressing some of the most disabling illnesses that face humanity. Their work requires animal models and is conducted in a responsible and humane way.

When animal rights thugs have demanded that their research be investigated, the results have been the same – these costly and time-wasting “investigations” have revealed nothing but that the researchers have followed all the ethical standards that society expects of scientists.

And in return for taking on the most critical problems imaginable in a responsible way – they are being treated in an ugly and reprehensible fashion by animal rights fanatics who label the work useless and evil.

Surprisingly, there has been a limited response from the scientific community. The American Psychological Association, whose membership is made up of many of the nation’s top psychologists who study and treat mental illness, came out in strong support of one affected investigator. The leadership at the NIH, including some of the most influential scientists alive today, have as well (here and here). But other scientific societies and individual scientists have been largely silent.

It is long past time for scientists to stand up in public and open defense of their colleagues. It is long past time to act in the interest of a community that has made scientific progress possible. It is long past time to do more than privately support our colleagues and then move on with our lives.

I therefore charge everyone reading this post to do at least one of the following right now:

Use social media to let the University of Minnesota’s President Kaler (@PrezKaler), University of Wisconsin’s Chancellor Blank (@BeckyBlank) and NIH’s director (@NIHDirector) know that you support the life-saving research that is going on in their animal research labs.
Click here to tweet your support to President Kaler
Click here to tweet your support to Chancellor Blank
Click here to tweet your support to NIH Director Collins

Let Congresspersons Lucille Roybal-Allard (@RepRoybalAllard), Dina Titus (@repdinatitus), Sam Farr (@RepSamFarr) and Eliot Engel (@RepEliotEngel) know that they should retract their calls for an investigation of non-human primate researchers and instead support this vital research.

Click here to tweet your support to Representative Royabal-Allard
Click here to tweet your support to Representative Titus
Click here to tweet your support to Representative Farr
Click here to tweet your support to Representative Engel

Ask the scientific societies to which you subscribe to make public, forceful statements in support of non-human primate research and those that conduct it. Of particular importance are the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for Neuroscience and the Federation for American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Respond to comments from animal rights extremists on websites and news stories by noting that the research is humane and responsible and of the highest scientific caliber.

And express your support directly and earnestly to the affected scientists and find out what they think you can do to aid the cause of ending the harassment they are receiving from animal rights groups.


Beagle Freedom Project Uses Former Research Dogs to Spotlight its Anti-Research Campaign

David Jentsch:

Important words from Cindy Buckmaster on the retirement of dogs from medical research…

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

Today’s guest post  is by Dr. Cindy Buckmaster, chair of Americans for Medical Progress.

Activists at the Beagle Freedom Project (BFP) continue to gather support for their agenda to end animal-based research – and some in the research community are unknowingly helping them.

Many of you have seen recent TV news items or read news articles that feature beagles said to have been saved from laboratories where they never had a toy, played with other dogs, or experienced kindness and love from people in research settings. The Beagle Freedom Project uses the limitations of the news media to create this one-sided and false impression of the lives of research dogs.

Individuals at research institutions interested in rehoming post-study animals are approached by adopters representing themselves as private citizens, eager to adopt dogs retired from research. These applicants don’t indicate that they are working with the Beagle Freedom Project. We know of several…

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