Animal Protection > ALF Foes
The Accidental Terrorist

[Chicago Reader]

Lise Olsen hung gasoline-filled containers from a sign to make a statement. What was she thinking? ... "Save the Environment, Wear Furs."

The advertisement over the railroad viaduct at Ravenswood and Foster taunted Lise Olsen. An obstetrics nurse and cat lover, Olsen chose July 4, 1992, as the day to make her feelings public. Pouring gasoline into 21 plastic containers equipped with candle wicks, she hung her homemade lanterns over the side of the bridge, hoping they would make the next day's news as a striking Independence Day declaration for animal rights. After several rounds with wooden matches, though, only one lantern carried a flame, and Olsen knew she hadn't produced anything newsworthy. Concluding her protest was a bust, she took down the banner she'd brought and went home.

But four months later Olsen got more attention than she wanted. She was arrested for her July 4 demonstration and characterized as a "terrorist." Two years after her arrest, she was sentenced to four years in prison on five felony counts, ranging from attempted arson to unlawful use of weapons. ... ... Now out on bond and awaiting her second trial, Olsen is voluntarily under house arrest. She wears a home monitoring device, convinced there's a secret agenda to implicate her in other crimes committed by animal-rights activists. She's invited authorities to give her a polygraph test, search her home, and tap her phone. Believing that her stiff sentence was intended to serve as a warning to other activists, Olsen's afraid that she's become a scapegoat in a government campaign against the animal-rights movement.

Olsen was raised by her grandmother, who kept boxes filled with pamphlets and magazines like Nonviolent Activist and Quaker's Bulletin. When Olsen was a teenager she saw a TV program about the first Peace Corps volunteers, and her grandmother told her, "You'll be doing that someday." ... Echeles says the government is "fearful that animal-rights activists are as dangerous as Timothy McVeigh or the Freemen in Montana." ... ... The day before she'd had the electronic-monitoring device put on. She says that while she was waiting for the device to be fitted, she was given a card to fill out alongside the other parolees, and under her name in the "arrested offense" category where the others had a number, she had the word "bomb."

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