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Animal Protection > Activist Index

February 27, 2006
Extremists pushed to violence? Mainstream activists disagree
By MARK FREEMAN
Mail Tribune

Sympathizers to eco-saboteurs blame mainstream animal-rights organizations for fueling frustrations that help turn protesters into arsonists, an accusation that the leader of America's largest animal-rights group denies.

Craig Rosebraugh, the Portland man who issued Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front press statements during a five-year period, said he believes activists were pushed to violence in part because of the failures of traditional protests and legislative actions to curb environmental destruction and animal abuse.

"I think the traditional, state-approved means of protest in this country is just as much the cause of (ELF violence) as the targets themselves," Rosebraugh said.

Steve Best, a University of Texas-El Paso philosophy professor who monitors the radical fringe of the animal-rights movement, singles out the Humane Society of the United States and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as two animal-rights groups in that camp.

Best says he believes those groups have become "conservative forces" whose size and dependence upon member contributions render them incapable of moving animal-rights causes forward.

Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the 9.5 million-member HSUS, says he sees the opposite.

Pacelle maintains that ELF-related arsons "don't accelerate the pace of change" and end up turning those who victimize animals into victims.

Pacelle points to banning the use of horsemeat as food here as an example. While some ELF/ALF arsons targeted wild horse facilities and meat packing plants, the HSUS lobbied Congress and filed litigation to halt the oversees transport of horses for human consumption. A congressionally authorized ban for this year, for which HSUS lobbied Congress, is set to go into effect March 10.

"You don't get there with arson," says Pacelle, whose group has a $110 million annual budget. "There's no shortcut to long-term reform. You have to work within the system to achieve change."

Best says groups like HSUS actually need ELF-like activity for what he calls a "good cop, bad cop strategy" for growth.

"For (HSUS) to be a good cop, there has to be a bad cop," Best says.

Pacelle says he believes mainstream groups are the only ones that can create "meaningful change" and he describes ELF activities as "actions based on desperation."

"We'd just as soon see the end of ELF and ALF tomorrow," he says.

PETA President Ingrid Newkirk declined several requests to discuss the issue.

Rosebraugh says he believes many of the issues triggering ELF attacks -- logging, animal abuses, urban sprawl, genetic engineering -- were "not in the public eye" until the firebombings occurred.

"All I can do is guess, but it seems like the intent was to educate the public why these acts were taking place," says Rosebraugh, who has been subpoenaed nine times in the ELF/ALF investigations.

"Most of what you heard (in the media) was negative," Rosebraugh says. "But inside that negative were a few lines of why that action took place."

But the firebombers' motives do not justify their actions, investigators say.

"Any time you blow things up and set things on fire and potentially put people's lives in danger, it will be considered a crime," said FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele in Portland.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470

 

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