This isn’t charming either. Today’s Guardian reports:
Militant animal rights activists are threatening violent attacks on scores of companies which fund Oxford University unless they announce today they are to end their financial support.
The Animal Liberation Front, through its mouthpiece Bite Back magazine, based in West Palm Beach, Florida, gave 100 firms, ranging from large companies such as IBM to charitable trusts such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and small groups such as the British Deer Society, a week to pull their funding as part of the campaign to stop the building of a medical research laboratory at the university.
Although the ALF has not named the firms it is understood they have taken the names from the website run by Speak, the British based campaign to stop the building of the laboratory. Speak denies connections with the ALF and members say they do not use violence. Their website, however, lists 100 companies known to fund the university, and includes addresses and telephone numbers. It calls on sympathisers to contact the companies, and in some cases named staff.
The ALF is clearly an organization on the fringe of the animal rights movement, and I can sympathize with the predominately peaceful protesters who are tainted by this violent trace element. When I covered an animal rights protest in January 2006, I talked to several protesters about why they were there and how they felt about the movement and its tactics. None of the protesters I spoke to advocated for the destructive tactics of the ALF, and most even disagreed with the intimidation tactics used by the more lawful organization SPEAK, which had organized the demonstration.
SPEAK has enjoyed the best of both worlds, consistently denying any connections to the ALF but refusing to denounce its actions as well. As the Guardian points out, SPEAK could be construed as indirectly supporting the ALF’s activities by providing a list of companies for the organization to target with its renewed promises of violence. These actions by the ALF, though, and the ambivalent response from SPEAK are nothing new, as I reported in describing the police presence at the protest:
The presence of such security, although excessive, was understandable, since animal rights groups in Oxford have resorted to destructive tactics in the past. Last year, on July 4, the Animal Liberation Front burned down an Oxford boathouse causing damage estimated at ₤500,000, later warning in its statement claiming responsibility for the attack that nothing the University of Oxford owns is off limits. Although the SPEAK leadership denied involvement, it also refused to condemn the action. SPEAK could be construed as showing additional support for violent acts by publishing photos online of the construction workers (who mask their faces to protect their identities) and writing threatening letters to contractors and others associated with the building project.
Later, when I was preparing an article for Oxford’s ISIS magazine on this topic, I spoke to SPEAK spokesperson Mel Broughton about the ALF. Although he heavily stressed that SPEAK only engages in legal activities, he still gave a cryptic answer. “Whether the actions of those organizations help us or hurt us, I don’t know. Being involved in a legal process is becoming increasingly difficult. Normal activities are being illegalized.”
This lack of a firm stance on the issue calls SPEAK’s credibility into question, and will probably hurt its mission, as people become increasingly disenchanted with the tactics of animal rights extremists.
In the meantime, what is an Oxford scientist to do about all of this?
Apparently, some are turning to the new pro-research organization Pro-Test (if nothing else, they get points in my book for a damn clever name), which is holding a counter protest this coming Saturday:
Build the Oxford Animal Lab
March: 11.30am, Saturday 25 February (6th Week)
Rally in Broad Street, to march via South Parks Road to Radcliffe Square
Support science. Support progress. March in favour of the Oxford Biomedical Research Laboratory and medical advancement through animal experimentation. Demonstrate on Saturday to ensure scientific and medical research continues (and improves) in Oxford University!
Speakers include (from 11.30am):
- Professor Tipu Aziz, Neurosurgeon at the Radcliffe Infirmary
- Professor John Stein, Professor of Physiology at Oxford University
- Dr Simon Festing, the Executive Director of the Research Defence Society
- Dr Evan Harris, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon
- Pro-Test representatives
Join the email list by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
I don’t know how effective these efforts will be, and I’m not a fan of people on either extreme hijacking the debate and preempting the dialogue on animal experimentation that we probably should be having. With that said, SPEAK has been able to put out too much misinformation for too long, and it’s about time that someone stole its spotlight.
In fact, I think I’m going to play one of SPEAK’s favorite cards here: I am in no way affiliated with Pro-Test, but I hope the rally is successful, and I’d encourage anyone in the Oxford area this weekend to check it out.
Besides, isn’t it about time we saw some more scientific activism anyway?
Note: Thanks go to Jen Dulin for pointing me toward the Guardian article.