Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Senate asks UTEP professor to testify about ecoterrorism

Louie Gilot

A UTEP philosophy professor has been asked to testify this week by a U.S. Senate committee investigating an animal-rights group that authorities call a terrorist organization.

Steve Best, the chairman of the philosophy department at the University of Texas at El Paso, was called an "official spokesman" for the Animal Liberation Front, although the group's Web site only lists him as a sympathizer.

"He is the only public figure as far as we found out. It's a highly secretive organization," said Will Hart, the spokesman for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which will conduct a hearing on eco-terrorism Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The Animal Liberation Front, or ALF, is a group known for removing test animals from laboratories and setting buildings on fire, officials said. The FBI estimated that ALF and related groups have committed more than 1,100 criminal acts in the United States since 1976, resulting in about $110 million in damages, but apparently no deaths or serious injuries.

Best could not be reached for comment and won't attend the hearing because he is in Egypt with his class, his office said.

ALF's Web site has a link to an article edited by Best and Anthony J. Nocella denying allegations that the group is a terrorist organization.

"If one is looking for groups to which to compare the ALF, the proper choice is not Al Qaeda," the article reads, "but rather the Jewish anti-Nazi resistance movement and the Underground Railroad" that helped American slaves escape.

ALF's Web site also features links to several articles written by Best.

UTEP President Diana Natalicio was also traveling and could not be reached for comment.

The Senate hearing is meant to look at how ecoterrorist groups such as ALF and the Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, operate. The FBI has called the groups the most active criminal extremist elements in the United States, and officials said they are getting increasingly violent.

Best is known in El Paso for protests outside fast-food restaurants and for his ethics class, in which he shows a documentary film depicting the torture of animals by the food and research industries.

Bonnie Galvan, an El Paso paralegal, became a vegetarian four years ago after she took Best's class. She remembers watching video of live chickens thrown on meat hooks.

"We learned about the industry, the greed and what animals go through," Galvan said. She said Best is a popular teacher because he "is willing to put himself out there, because he challenges you to look at things differently."

And, she said, because "he's a nice guy, not a bully."

Louie Gilot may be reached at lgilot@elpasotimes.com, 546-6131.

For more information: www.animalliberationfront.com