Tag Archives: vlasak

The Freedom of Speech Paradox

The world is a complex mix of competing views. Politicians and pressure groups have fought long and hard to find a balance between the desire for free speech, and the need to limit the voices of extremism and irresponsibility within our communities. Few would condemn the arrest of someone who shouts “fire” in a crowded, confined space; however most respect our right to peaceful protest.

Incitement to violence, harassment or intimidation against those of different creeds, lifestyles or  beliefs should not be regarded as acceptable in a modern liberal democracy. The challenge comes in deciding what should be regarded as incitement, and what should not. I believe that a tiny minority of animal rights extremists have crossed the lines of acceptability and to this end I provide two examples – one recent, and one from some years back.

Case 1: Incitement to murder

Jerry Vlasak is an influential player within the extreme end of the animal liberation movement. As press officer of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office he has become one of the mouthpieces of the Animal Liberation Front and the Animal Rights Militia. His position as a role model has not appeared to bring upon any sense of responsibility for his words.

I think there is a use for violence in our movement. And I think it can be an effective strategy. Not only is it morally acceptable, I think that there are places where it could be used quite effectively from a pragmatic standpoint.

For instance, if vivisectors were routinely being killed, I think it would give other vivisectors pause in what they were doing in their work — and if these vivisectors were being targeted for assassination … — and I wouldn’t pick some guy way down the totem pole, but if there were prominent vivisectors being assassinated, I think that there would be a trickle-down effect [...]

And I don’t think you’d have to kill — assassinate — too many vivisectors before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on. (Source)

Now I have little doubt that Vlasak does not intend to murder anyone himself. However it would take only one young, idealistic activist trying to build his reputation and strike a blow for animal liberation to follow Vlasak’s twisted logic into the unthinkable.

Vlasak is not the only person to call for violence against animal researchers (and their families). If the unthinkable was to happen, there would be many animal rights extremists whose words will have played a part in its creation. Nonetheless, surely, there is a moral line in the sand which few if any would be willing to cross, after all the animal rights movement is fundamentally in the business of saving lives (albeit not human ones)? Surely….?

May 31st, 2009, a doctor is shot dead at a church service. It is not the first time he has been shot for his beliefs and line of work, individuals have already called for the death of doctor’s in the same line of work.

The above is not the actions of animal rights activists, but that of anti-abortion extremists. In 2009 Scott Roeder crossed the lines of acceptability and morality and murdered Doctor George Tiller. Such actions were roundly deplored, but little time is spent considering the impact of those that had called for Tiller’s death, and the death of other abortionists. Sadly, many similarities can be found between the tactics of the animal rights extremist movement, and those of the anti-abortion extremists.

Where do we draw the line between Freedom of Speech and Incitement to Violence? This fire at the house of a Pharmaceutical Executive was started by animal rights extremists

Case 2: Naming the targets

The second situation further strains the relationship between freedom of speech and freedom from harassment. What if a known extremist movement does not directly call for the death of its enemies, but instead provides the information necessary to target them. They may not have put the gun in anybody’s hand, but they are certainly showing them where to point it.

Negotiation is Over, a fringe animal rights extremist group has provided such information on a number of occasions. Providing names and contact information for a variety of researchers. NIO’s words are reminiscent of our earlier discussion.

Every time a vivisector’s car or home — and, eventually, the abuser him/herself — blows up, flames of liberation light up the sky [...]

The only effective approaches to veteran abusers appear to be through incendiaries, intimidation, and violence.

Bear such words in mind when you consider that on January 8th 2012 NIO decided to publish floor plans for research facilities at the University of Florida. No threats were published alongside it, but then with a website full of calls to harass and intimidate researchers, they hardly needed to put them in the same post.

Is free speech a sufficient barrier to hide behind when distributing such potentially risky materials. When does one person’s freedom of speech justify infringing on another’s right to live free from harassment?

Before I decided to write this post I received an email from a colleague of a researcher who was under threat. One paragraph particularly stuck with me:

I actually cannot believe a court of law would allow documents of this nature containing names of people who work at an institution to be given to a group of people sworn to kill, torture and terrify them. Their site is already filled with people licking their lips about harassing families and even people discussing murder. I have counted a fair number of people who made implications of going to schools where their kids studies. These clearly are a lot of idle threats but it takes just one person to turn an idle threat into a tragedy.

Just one person.

The comments made by Vlasak and others, the documents and finger pointing of groups like Negotiation is Over, are permitted under the guise of free speech. The effect is a generation of researchers who do not dare to speak up for what they do lest they become the next target. Even though many researchers are not aware of characters like Vlasak, or the particulars of the threats made to fellow colleagues in science, these extremists contribute to a general awareness of a dangerous animal rights movement whom many scientists would prefer not to cross. Furthermore, fear may cause some aspiring scientists to choose different career paths at a time when science plays such a crucial role in the economic prosperity and health of a nation.

The Freedom of Speech Paradox is thus – when people misuse this right, as provided by the First Amendment, in order to intimidate others away from being able to use their same right to defend and justify their work.

Tom Holder

Violence vs Non-Violence? The AR Debate!

A Fractured Movement?

It is easy to believe that the animal rights movement is one giant bloc, working together to abolish animal research using tactics which range from the legal, to the dubious, to the outright criminal. However it is these range of tactics which prove to be the most divisive point for activists, and is causing large fractures and infighting between groups. Recently the Thomas Paine’s Corner blog (TPC) (Warning: AR Extremist Website) has been attacking those parts of the animal rights movement who reject the use of “militant direct action”. The editors of this website include two Animal Liberation Front Press Officers (Jerry Vlasak and Jason Miller – see links for more details on them) and numerous other pro-violence extremists such as Camille Marino and Gary Yourofsky.

Emotion & passion drive action; not sterile debate. Attitudes change when people engage and feel. BE DISRUPTIVE. UNRAVEL COMPLACENCY. IT’S OUR JOB. We need to obliterate the status quo — not tolerate it; not become a part of it. Be loud! Be unafraid! Be Militant!
– Camille Marino – “Negotiation is Over” blog (Warning AR website)

“Do not be afraid to condone arsons at places of animal torture,” [Yourofsky] has written to supporters.
Matter of fact, if an “animal abuser” were to get killed in the process of burning down a research lab, “I would unequivocally support that, too.”
- The Toledo Blade, Sunday, June 24, 2001 (copy of article on AR website here)

TPC "approaches anti-capitalism and total liberation from an essentially anarcho-veganist position"

TPC "approaches anti-capitalism and total liberation from an essentially anarcho-veganist position"

TPC’s pro-violence rants have reached epic proportions, as this recent piece by Jason Miller (ALF Spokesman) on the TPC blog shows:

Call it [attacks on vivisectionists] extensional self defense. Call it justifiable homicide. Call it vigilante justice. A rose is a rose by any other name and it’s time for that flower to blossom in the AR movement. One of the master’s principal tools to maintain power, domination, and affluence is violence or the threat of violence—be it physical, psychological, social, political, or economic.

Consider this. Hideous as their agenda may be to some of us, anti-abortionist activists love embryos and fetuses enough to utilize violence as a form of extensional self-defense on their behalf. The question isn’t, “Do we agree with their agenda?” The question is, “Have they been effective?” Their record speaks for itself. Assassinations of doctors who performed abortions have nearly eliminated the practice of late-term abortions in the US. Food for thought.

Essentially Miller argues that any tactic that works – no matter how disgusting or morally reprehensible – should given consideration by his fellow activists. This kind of pro-violence rant, and the violence it encourages, has brought comment from non-violent AR activist Gary Francione. I’m no supporter of Francione, but I applaud his condemnation of the violent fringes of the AR movement:

Those who claim that there is such a thing as destroying a building or engaging in a break-in that does not result in harm or the risk of harm to sentient beings (humans and nonhumans alike) are simply deluding themselves.
– Francione’s blog “The Abolitionist Approach”

A Novartis executive has his house burned down by the Animal Liberation Front in August 2009

Did this arson attack risk harm to sentient brings? Almost certainly!

Sadly, other parts of Francione’s blog contain questionable pseudoscience (often thrown these in as “extras” to his arguments) and an even more questionable justification of anti-vivisection through arguments of sentience (see the AR belief section for a counter-argument).

Nonetheless, the fury of TPC against Gary Francione has been disgusting. His position of non-violence pro-veganism has apparently (according to Francione) resulted in him and his supporters receiving death threats. The TPC and “Negotiation is Over” blogs attacks have brought many other groups, such as HSUS, into the crossfire, as the fractures in the AR movement become more and more public:

[Francione's] amoral and unconscionable actions became so regressive and dangerous, we have penned this response to denounce him unequivocally not only as a fraud, charlatan, opportunist, and megalomaniac, but also as a traitor and enemy to the animal liberation movement and as a major impediment to social transformation. Just as Wayne Pacelle of HSUS recently demonstrated that he is a collaborator with systems of oppression, so too Francione has now degenerated into an agent of state repression. He and Pacelle have now both attempted to defame and falsely accuse the radical wing of the animal liberation movement of terrorist actions and have sought to enlist and join forces with the state, the police and the FBI to break the back of militant forces in the movement.
- Camille Marino on TPC and Negotiation is Over blogs (Warning: AR wesbite)

Violence vs Non-Violence?

I will briefly end with my own assessment of the violence question. AR extremist groups frequently defend their actions by comparing themselves with other violent liberation movement in history e.g. The French Resistance who fought the Nazi’s in Vichy France.

The problem is that the entire argument fundamentally relies on the movement being morally justifiable. If you are willing to murder for your cause then you do so in the belief that you are in the right, that does not make it right. History is littered with examples of reistance/liberation movements who committed murder in the belief it would further their liberation cause – The Red Army Faction (Bader-Meinhof Group) killed many trying to liberate Germany from capitalist oppression, the Black September massacre at the 1972 Munich olympics was an action committed for liberation, recently Russia helped “liberate” South Ossetia from the Georgian Government and in 1945 the Soviet Russian forces liberating Germany raped and killed tens of thousands of unarmed German civillians.

The problem is that those animal rights extremists willing to commit arson, grave robbings and other attacks, do so in the belief that they are one of the “good” liberation/resistance movements – the fact that they are a tiny minority of people does not effect them if they believe they have billions of animals on their side (especially if they grant these animals moral equivalence) . There is little we can do to convince these extremists that their actions are wrong and immoral – many of these individuals have given years of their life to the liberation movement – for them to change their mind would be to say that the prime of their life has been wasted – something few people would be willing to accept.

Sadly there are a small number of people for whom jail will be the only deterrent – however our efforts in debating them can serve to stop them creating the next generation of animal rights extremists.

Cheers

Tom

Why UCLA Pro-Test must reject the requests of extremists

The violent animal rights extremist organization the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) recently released a communique challenging UCLA Pro-Test to a radio debate. Just two working days later and ALF spokesman Jerry Vlasak decided that UCLA Pro-Test had given in and released this statement:

I relish the opportunity to debate not only the lack of scientific merit to animal experimentation, but I am also looking forward to explaining and defending the tactics used to stop animal abusers at UCLA. After years of polite offers to debate and negotiate, UCLA’s obstinacy has forced activists to pursue more effective means of halting animal experimentation.

“Explaining and defending the tactics…” Let’s for a moment just make sure we’re on the same page about Jerry Vlasak. What exactly are these tactics that Vlasak tends to expoud? At the 2003 Animal Rights Conference he told attendees:

If vivisectors were routinely being killed, I think it would give other vivisectors pause in what they were doing in their work — and if these vivisectors were being targeted for assassination … — and I wouldn’t pick some guy way down the totem pole, but if there were prominent vivisectors being assassinated, I think that there would be a trickle-down effect and many, many people who are lower on that totem pole would say, “I’m not going to get into this business because it’s a very dangerous business …”

And I don’t think you’d have to kill — assassinate — too many vivisectors before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on.

And I — you know — people get all excited about, “Oh what’s going to happen when the ALF accidentally kills somebody in an arson?” Well, you know I mean, I think we need to get used to this idea. It’s going to happen, okay? It’s going to happen. [emphasis added]

So Jerry, if this is your line in 2003 where were all those “years of polite offers to debate and negotiate“? Forget not condemning violence, this guy is out and out condoning it. There are also some worrying parallels between certain statements made recently, and those from 2003:

2009: UCLA’s obstinacy has forced activists to pursue more effective means of halting animal experimentation
2003: I don’t think you’d have to kill — assassinate — too many vivisectors before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on

Anyone else worry about some of these “effective means” might someday entail unless we stand up against animal rights extremism. Honestly can you blame scientists for not wanting to be in the same room as Vlasak? If he wishes to be taken seriously by the research community, and have his say publicly, then he must first renounce violence. Then, and only then, will he find researchers ready to talk.

Bloggers fighting back against AR misinformation

It’s not ordinarily that I report on the actions of bloggers but it was so refreshing to see their immediate responses to a newspaper article by Simon Chaitowitz. Simon Chaitowitz is the former communications director of PCRM – a psuedo-science organisation whose former spokesman was none other than Jerry violence-against-researchers-is-justified Vlasak. Chaitowitz, who is sadly suffering from cancer, appears to infer that her deteriorating health is due to animal researched medications and not from the unfortunate fact that she developed breast cancer. Chemotherapy has some nasty side effects, including a small risk (0.3 – 0.7%) of Myelodisplastic Syndrome, however statistically her chances of overall improved health were much better with chemotherapy than without it. Anyone who has been through surgery will know there is a small chance that you might not wake up again, but the risks are generally worth it.

Her news posting goes on to claim much typical AR misinformation, such as the 90% of drugs fail statistic and claiming that there are no regulations involved for much research. However several bloggers were on hand to dismantle her argument piece by piece. “DrugMonkey“, a biomedical research scientist and blogger, meticulously explains the animal research regulation process, including all the oversight mechanisms he has to obide by while he carries out his research.

The claim that mice are “excluded from any protection” is presumably based on the Helms Amendment. It is indeed true that rats, mice and birds that are bred for research are excluded from the obligatory parts of federal law…but this does not mean that there are not other protections and oversight mechanisms in place that apply to these species. There are in fact many, some of the more important of which are detailed below [see link for what's "below"]

“Orac” of the widely read Respectful Insolence blog also criticizes Chaitowitz’s claims, furthering some of DrugMonkey’s points, and goes further into looking at the predictive role of animals in research as well as the false claims that we can (apparently) replace such methods with non-animal ones.

If animal models don’t do as well as we would like, the alternatives that they propose either do much worse or are completely unvalidated. For example, cell culture models are in general even less predictive of drug activity than animal models … As for computer models, someday they may indeed decrease the need to use animal models, which, contrary to the animal rights portrayal of scientists as close-minded and cruel animal torturers, virtually all scientists would love to move away from. After all, most of us don’t like doing things that may hurt animals, even mice, and using animals is very expensive and onerous from a regulatory standpoint. Here’s the problem. Computer models are only as good as the assumptions underlying their algorithms and the data used to construct them, and we simply do not understand human physiology at a detailed enough level to obviate the use of animal models. [read the rest here]

You can read more about the animal model, animal welfare in research, and the advantages and disadvantages of current “alternative” methods on this website.

Cheers

Tom

Addenum

The Adventures in Ethics and Science blog written by Prof. Janet Stemwedel also covered the hypocrisy of Chaitowitz. Some good points regarding the choices that Chaitowitz pursued by Janet.

She needs to accept her share of responsibility for the outcomes. Our healthcare system did not hold her down and force her to accept chemo or a stem cell transplant. They were offered and she accepted them. Not only did she have the option not to pursue these treatments, she also had the option to forego medical care altogether.

Arson, Santa Cruz, and crimes against medicine

It began with an animal rights pamphlet in a Santa Cruz coffee shop that listed the names and addresses of 13 researchers who used animals. It ended with two firebombs – one destroying a researcher’s car, the other, at 5:40am, aimed at a second researcher, Dr. David Feldheim’s house, forcing him and his family (including his two children) to escape from a second story fire ladder.

UCSC researcher’s car is firebombed

Read more on this event in the LA Times, Santa Cruz Sentinel and Associated Press.

What becomes apparent from the press reports is that animal rights extremism may be receiving universal condemnation from the press, but that the actual benefits of animal research do not come into the mix. The overriding message needs to change from “AR extremism should be condemned” to “AR extremism should be condemned AND animal research saves lives”.
I was fortunate enough to talk to Debra Saunders from the San Francisco Chronicle who allowed me to try and present both sides of this important message in her article:

“We must not allow a violent minority to dictate the future of medicine,” Holder noted, when cures and knowledge can save so many lives. Too often American universities have tried to downplay animal rights terrorism. Researchers clam up, lest they be next. The harassment campaigns “tend to isolate individuals,” Holder noted. But the terrorists cannot prevail when scientists stand together for their work.

And stand together they have. On Monday over 200 scientists and members of the public held a rally in solidarity to Dr. David Feldheim. Could this event be the turning point in the campaign that sees scientists stand up and speak openly about the importance of research? Perhaps this event will wake people, as the Oxford boat house bombings woke up the Oxford University campus.

The University of California (UC) system, to which Santa Cruz is a member, has been under concerted attack from animal rights activists and extremists for the past few years. Some researchers have quit their jobs, others have been attacked in their homes, or recieved incendiary devices. Medical research is under threat, and every time a researcher quits, it is us, the consumer of medical benefits, who suffer.

UC Santa Cruz carries out basic research, this is the research which brings about the knowledge and understanding of diseases which underpins the applied research which tries to create treatments. Santa Cruz’s big research areas include Cancer, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and if researchers continue to be harrassed by animal rights activists, then it is the possible medical treatments to these diseases which is affected. Dr. David Feldheim, who’s house was subject to the recent arson, was working to understand the mouse brain – research that could eventually be used to understand the workings of the human brain, bringing benefit to the future of treatments for neurological pathologies.

In short, we all have a part to play in standing up for use of animals in medical research, and condemn the violence surrounding it.

Jerry Vlasak has also taken the opportunity to preach hate in the name of animals, as he vied for attention:
“If their father is willing to continue risking his livelihood in order to continue chopping up animals in a laboratory then his children are old enough to recognize the consequences”
http://www.mercurynews.com/breakingnews/ci_10088528?nclick_check=1
Anyone impressed by Vlasak’s claim to being a credible trauma surgeon should check out our own expose on the Press Officer for the Animal Liberation Front (an organization deemed “terrorist” by the US and UK governments).

On another note, it was also amusing to hear that HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) have contributed a pitiful $2,500 towards the $30,000 offered by the Santa Cruz authorities to information leading to the arrest of the culprits. I say pitiful but considering it’s more than they give to many humane shelters they support (read: “give token gifts to”), all of which amount to less than 8% of their yearly expenditure) perhaps we should let them off.

Cheers

Tom

p.s. check the Calendar for talks by Speaking of Research in California this week.

Vlasak: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

Jerry Vlasak is a high profile animal rights activist, and one of the three spokesmen for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office (ALPO), an organization which reports acts of violence and vandalism carried out by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Animal Rights Militia (ARM). He was formerly a spokesman for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). He is married to Pamelyn Ferdin, former-president of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC).

Vlasak has also made news repeatedly for claiming it would be morally acceptable to kill researchers:
Jerry VlasakI think there is a use for violence in our movement. And I think it can be an effective strategy. Not only is it morally acceptable, I think that there are places where it could be used quite effectively from a pragmatic standpoint.
For instance, if vivisectors were routinely being killed, I think it would give other vivisectors pause in what they were doing in their work [...] And I don’t think you’d have to kill — assassinate — too many vivisectors before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on.

.

On the other side of the coin, Vlasak claims to be a practicing trauma surgeon, lending credibility to the animal rights movement of which he is a part of. He alleges not to be misanthropist, hiding behind his position as a practicing trauma surgeon – “I save lives everyday at the hospital. Everyday, I go to the hospital, I save lives,” (KUTV). So where exactly does he go everyday to practice medicine?

Senate Committee Hearing 2005:
Dr. Vlasak. I attended medical school at the University of Texas, in Houston.
Senator Lautenberg. And where do you practice now?
Dr. Vlasak. I practice in the Los Angeles area.
Senator Lautenberg. At a hospital?
Dr. Vlasak. I do. A number of hospitals.
Senator Lautenberg. What is your favorite, what is your dominant hospital activity?
Dr. Vlasak. I practice at several hospitals in the Riverside and San Bernadino area.
Senator Lautenberg. Name one.
Dr. Vlasak. Loma Linda University.

Some claim considering that LA Weekly discovered he had in fact resigned from general surgery at Linda Loma University in 1998. I decided to do a little digging myself, scouring the internet for references to hospitals in which Vlasak stated to practice surgery (and some others which fit descriptions for hospitals he claims to have worked in e.g. Loma Linda University Medical Center).
Loma Linda University
Loma Linda University Medical Center
Riverside Community Hospital
Parkview Community Hospital
San Bernardino Community Hospital
San Antonio Community Hospital
Arrowhead Regional Medical Center

Of those seven medical establishments, two stated Vlasak had formerly worked there, the rest simply did not know who he was and could not find him on their medical registers.

One must wonder what Vlasak does when “Everyday, [he] go[es] to the hospital”?

Cheers

Tom