Over the New Year’s weekend, the people of Los Angeles were gripped by a rash of arsons that targeted vehicles and homes. The fires sent people scurrying from bed in the middle of the night, with children in arms, in a desperate attempt to avoid harm. An understandable fear gripped the community, with people parking their cars down the street so that, if the arsonist came, the resulting fire would not spread to their house, risking the safety of their sleeping families.
The string of arsons was, apparently, the action of a single hate-filled man who was determined to inflict his anger on helpless targets. He went out into the night, applied accelerant to cars and set them on fire.
I, like other biomedical researchers in Los Angeles, had a powerful, personal response to viewing these events unfold. It was only 30 months ago that an animal rights extremist, morally blinded by hate and rage, walked through the gates of my yard at 4 am and set my car on fire, risking my life and that of those who lived around me. I can still see the flames when I close my eyes, and I can sometimes still feel the heat of the fire on my face, so I knew very well what these new victims that I watched on television were feeling: fear, panic, sadness and total confusion.
The extremist elements that claim responsibility for these actions often indicate that they cause no harm to people; they say that they limit their actions to economic damage (WARNING: link takes you to an animal extremist website). They claim to break windows, steal documents, free animals and – yes – set cars and homes on fire, but they often insist that they do not hurt or injure people.
The claims that they cause no harm are proved hollow by the looks on the faces of people fleeing their burning homes on New Year’s eve. Extremist animal rights elements, like the man who set the New Year’s Eve fires, have one goal – not to cause financial losses to their targets – but to inflict psychological damage in the form of terror. In that sense, their targets are as much the people who have yet to be attacked as they are the individual whose car is on fire.
The events of last weekend underscore the fact that hatred is not unique to animal rights extremists. But it does demonstrate how powerful and insidious these forms of attack can be and how essential it is for our broader civil society to reject the actions of those who use thuggish tactics to achieve their ends of their movement.
On Friday, January 6, KCET, a Southern California PBS station, will re-air the story (‘Testing the Limits’) that addresses the harassment of Los Angeles researchers by local animal rights activists. You can watch it as it broadcasts (2/6 at 830 PM PST; 2/7 at 6 PM PST; 2/8 at 630 PM PST or 2/9 at 1030 PM PST); the program is also archived on their website (click here).