Animal rights thugs: Researchers’ children are not off limits

Remember Dario Ringach?

He’s the scientist who has endured a prolonged campaign of harassment because of his animal research. I first heard of him in 2006, when, after a campaign of threatening phone calls, people frightening his children, and demonstrations in front of his home, gave up doing primate research. Terrorism and intimidation worked, but who could blame Dr. Ringach? He was afraid for his family. That’s because it was more than just threatening e-mails and phone calls, but rather the campaign of intimidation included masked thugs banging on the windows of his house at night, frightening his children, as they have done more recently at UC Santa Cruz. The last straw was when a group of truly idiotic animal rights terrorists tried to attack a colleague of Ringach’s by leaving a Molotov cocktail on her doorstep; only the incompetents got the house wrong and left their firebomb on the doorstep of an elderly neighbor. This was one of the rare cases where extreme incompetence was a good thing, because the firebomb didn’t detonate, and no one was hurt. But the message had been sent. A year and a half later, in 2008, Ringach’s case and other attacks and threats directed against UCLA researchers, such as when animal rights terrorists flooded the home of another researcher named Edythe London, led UCLA to fight back by suing extremists to stop their campaign of terrorism against researchers.

Last week, fellow ScienceBlogger and ethicist Janet Stemwedel of Adventures in Ethics and Science helped to arrange a dialogue between more moderate animal rights activists and scientists (video here). I must admit that I was very skeptical of what value this might have when I heard of it. Indeed, I had planned on a more direct discussion, although my post about debating denialists was indirectly about this conference. Even though Janet saw her conference as “dialogue, not debate,” clearly that wasn’t how a lot of the animal rights cranks saw it. They saw it as a debate. Those issues aside, Janet’s reward for reaching out was that the looniest of the loony posted her picture, phone number, office number, and e-mail address, along with a rant against Dario Ringach:

The other PRO vivisection MONSTER on the panel is Dario Ringach. His claim to fame was putting primates in restrain devices and then gluing metal coils on to the eye balls in order to study their visual cortex and then killing them (he may STILL be doing these types of experiments and YOU, as a member of the public and one who pays taxes that go to directly to UCLA, have the right to ASK HIM that question at the forum!) Ringach has teamed up with the group ‘PRO-TEST’ in order to go around spreading his message of evil, torture and murder of primates to whoever will listen.

ALLCAPS. It’s always ALLCAPS with these people.

As I said, I had actually planned on blogging my concerns, but other things intruded, namely the whole Andrew Wakefield saga. In any case, I had to give Ringach props for daring to appear in such a forum, given the spittle-flecked level of vitriol animal rights continued to direct his way even after he had given up primate research. Props to Janet, too, for at least trying. Ringach presented a strong defense of the humane use of animals in biomedical research, too. And what was his reward for this?

The crazies have targeted his children again. In a post entitled UCLA February 2010 Wrap-Up: Demos Against Primate Abusers, an animal rights thug wrote:

As you can see from the pictures, Dario has a “rent-a-cop” in front of his home twenty-four seven! This must make his family feel like Dario is a mobster for some drug cartel, (although mobsters don’t commit nearly the gruesome, hideous things to innocent beings as Dario does to primates on a regular basis.) But Ringach is definitely a criminal who perpetrates horrific atrocities on primates, so we assume that his family must be getting used to living with a “rent a cop” outside.

More ominously, the thug continues:

As the pictures indicate, neighbors came out from many of the near-by houses, took leaflets and talked to activists about how much they hate their neighbor Dario for doing “hellish primate experimentation.” One, in fact, gave an activist the name of the school one of his offspring attends! Activists plan on legally leafleting the school in order to educate fellow students what their classmate’s father does for a living.

The pictures to which the anonymous “activist” refers can be found here.

If you want any doubt that these extremists are not about rational debate or changing minds. They are about power, intimidation, and bullying. In fact, more than anything else, they remind me of radical anti-abortion protesters, who also target the children of doctors, showing up at their schools to “yell to all the students that John’s daddy is a baby killer or a child killer.” What these animal rights extremists are doing is no different. It’s bullying and thuggery, plain and simple, followed by a disingenuous disclaimer. Much as quacks think that the Quack Miranda warning will shield them from legal consquences, those responsible for this extremist website conclude several of its post with:

The reposting above is not intended to encourage the violation of any laws. Specifically, it is not “intended to cause another person to imminently use the information to commit a crime involving violence or a threat of violence against the academic researcher or his or her immediate family member .” The above is simply a post forwarded to Negotiation is Over.

Yeah. Yeah, that’s the ticket. We aren’t threatening anything…you know…illegal (although we wouldn’t be in the least bit disappointed if something bad happened to Dr. Ringach). No, no, not at all. And even if the post were threatening anything illegal, it wasn’t us who posted it anyway. Yeah, that’s the ticket. It was a post “forwarded” to us, yeah. Pay no attention to our saying about another researcher David Jentsch, that “what goes around comes around and we’re hopeful that in time his hideous ‘Karma’ will catch up to him and he’ll be forced to receive the final payment he deserves.” Perish the thought that we’re encouraging anyone to do anything bad (although we’d very much like to see Ringach or Jenstsch dead or at least make his life miserable). We’re just telling people where someone we hate lives, where he works, and where his children go to school, all the while telling people what an evil, evil man we think he is and how he deserves horrible things to happen to him. It’d be a real shame if Ringach were to slip and fall and break his skull, wouldn’t it? Or if a “mechanical fault” caused his car to blow up with him in it. (Oh wait. That’d be Dr. Jentsch.) At the very least we want to scare the crap out of Ringach’s wife and children and make Ringach fear for their safety, just as some anti-vaccine activists have targeted Paul Offit in similar ways.

That reminds me: Where were these animal rights “activists” when Andrew Wakefield was torturing baby Macacque monkeys in the name of horrendously bad science designed to be used as a “made for court” study against vaccine manufacturers?

But I digress.

The animal rights activists making the threats may make fun of the “rent-a-cop” guarding Ringach’s house, but if I were Ringach, I’d want a 24 hour armed guard at my house, too. These people are scary and unbalanced. In fact, if I were Ringach, I’d also seriously consider buying a couple of handguns and learning how to use them. I’ve never owned a gun in my life, but if I were in the sites of these thugs, I’d seriously consider changing that situation. They think nothing of invading property and intentionally intimidating people. Some of them have tried to firebomb researchers houses and cars. You have to take that sort of threat seriously.

None of my rant is to be interpreted as meaning that I do not support the humane treatment of animals and oppose inhumanity and cruelty. I do. Very strongly. However, as I’ve discussed before, animal rights activists are not about promoting the humane treatment of animals as much as they are about an ideology that proclaims animal rights to be the equal of human rights. (Which, come to think of it, makes the images of animal rights extremists marching past Ringach’s house with pet dogs on leashes seem rather incongruous–isn’t keeping pets slavery in the view of animal rights activists?)

Animal rights extremists confuse animal welfare, which encompasses the humane use of animals designed to minimize suffering and enhance quality of life, with animal rights, an ideology that states that animals have an intrinsic right not to be controlled by humans. That means no killing, ever, no zoos, no cages, no eating them, no using them in research, no riding–not even keeping them as pets or putting them on leashes, which is why I found the pictures of these animal rights extremists walking dogs on leashes by Ringach’s house so startling. (It didn’t help that the dog reminded me of my poor, late, lamented Echo.) A consequence of this belief is that doing experiments on animals is viewed as no different from a moral perspective from doing experiments on humans, and to them all animal experimentation is “vivisection.” From this flow the allusions to Nazis and the Holocaust and considering their opponents to be murderers and torturers, as they state so baldly in this post about Ringach:

At least intellectually, I think I understand how you are able to commit such despicable atrocities. Like all torture-murderers, you devalue and objectify the victim in order to enjoy the fetishized obscenity. I think the closest comparison I can draw is to David Parker Ray. He imprisoned, restrained, terrorized, and, with masterful precision, sadistically tortured and mutilated his victims — exactly like you. Ray referred to his victims as “packages.” You refer to your victims as “research.” The two of you may have been twins separated at birth. But Ray is dead.

See what I mean? In the twisted world of animal rights extremists, any scientist who does animal research must be a cackling sadist getting his rocks off on the suffering and killing of animals. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, most of us don’t even like doing animal research that much; we do it because it is the best or only way to obtain the scientific answers we seek. We do it because it leads to treatments that save lives. Moreover, few are the animal researchers who don’t realize that there are difficult ethical issues involved in the use of animals in research, particularly non-human primates. We acknowledge it. Although few people have much trouble with using mice or rats for research, when it comes to dogs, cats, or primates, the ethical issues get thornier. To animal rights extremists, though, it’s all black and white, whether a researcher is using a mouse or a monkey. Moreover, a huge effort has gone into tighter regulation of animal facilities and efforts to minimize the use of animals, particularly primates, in research. Indeed, any time I write an NIH grant, I have to spend several pages justifying the proposed use of animals, detailing how they will be used, justifying statistically the numbers, species, and ages proposed, and explaining how we will minimize pain and suffering. And I only work with mice. The requirements are much

The dehumanization of researchers as sadistic mini-Mengeles, however, is why the animal rights extremists in question consider themselves morally superior to–well, pretty much everyone else–and free to harass and attack Ringach and his family. It’s why idiots like disgraced surgeon Jerry Vlasak, of whom NIO appears to be a big fan, defending him because he is a surgeon even though Vlasak doesn’t appear to have practiced trauma surgery in quite a while, thinks it’s hunky-dory to assassinate researchers to save animals–although, one notes, he apparently doesn’t have the courage of his convictions to do it himself. Instead, he tries to “inspire” young, idealistic, and gullible “activists” to do the dirty work of intimidation and threats. Of course, animal rights extremists often intentionally blur the distinction between animal welfare and their true believes, because most people would consider animal welfare to be a respectable goal. In fact, the NIO website has an article on this very issue, and it is rather amusing how confused its view on animal rights versus animal welfare is:

In direct response to the wretched reformism and opportunism of bureaucratic “welfarism,” a new movement emerged to reconstruct nonhuman animal advocacy unequivocally as a struggle for animal rights, not “welfare”; for the total abolition of nonhuman animal slavery rather than its regulation; and for veganism, not “humane” animal-derived products of any kind. To a significant degree, the new vegan abolitionist movement has been shaped and defined by the work of Gary Francione, professor of law at Rutgers University. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Francione exposed the duplicity of “new welfarists” who use the term “animal rights” but pursue “welfarist” policies. These policies, Francione argues, are incoherent and dilute the meaning of rights; “welfarism” in any form, he insists, works to the benefit of industries and thus increases, rather than decreases, the demand for animal-derived products; it only aggravates, rather than alleviates, speciesism and the plight of nonhuman animals in horrific systems of exploitation.

The animal rights loons who run the NIO website don’t like Francione, actually, but they basically agree with his premise that animals should never be used by human beings. They want to tie animal liberation to a potpourri of radical political causes that sounds as though it is the sort of thing that Monty Python so aptly skewered in The Life of Brian, linking animal rights to removing the “crushing loadstones of anthropocentrism, speciesism, patriarchy, racism, classism, statism, heterosexism, ableism, and every other pernicious form of hierarchical domination.” Help, help, I’m being repressed! Oh, wait. I’m mixing movies. Still, it seems appropriate, given the word salad of “isms” against which our intrepid NIOmeisters rail.

I suppose it’s some consolation that the moderate animal rights advocates who don’t espouse intimidation and violence and agreed to participate in the UCLA panel discussion are apparently catching quite a bit of flak for their decision. For example, Dr. Ray Greek (whose truly awful arguments against animal research I have discussed before) wrote a lengthy defense of his decision to participate in the discussion. Here’s a key quote:

If activists wish to engage in direct action, promote direct action, condone violence in the pursuit of certain outcomes and so forth, so be it. (Now is not the time and this is not the forum for a debate about the ethics of such actions and positions.) But it is disingenuous to simultaneously act in the ways described above and then feign surprise and offense when society does not take seriously their request to participate in an event that functions in the confines of the norms of society. You cannot have it both ways.

I may have trashed Dr. Greek before, but he’s spot on in his assessment above. Animal rights extremists do want it both ways. In any case, their attacks on Dr. Greek for agreeing to dialogue instead of “direct action” support Janet’s assertion that the extremists like those at NIO endanger civil society. They can’t tolerate even squishy moderation. You’re either with them completely, or you’re a heinous, evil beast worthy of whatever they deem you to deserve. Even so, one notes that NIO and the Animal Liberation Front use just words to criticize Greek for not sticking to the party orthodoxy with respect to their demands for “total animal liberation.” Greek doesn’t have to worry about masked thugs coming to his house in the middle of the night to frighten and intimidate his family, as Ringach does, or about mobs of protesters trying to force their way into his house on a Sunday afternoon, as a researcher at UC Santa Cruz did.

Contrary to the stereotype of animal rights extremists, researchers are not “little Mengeles,” only with animals. I have no doubt that there probably was a time in the past when the concern for alleviating the suffering of experimental animals was inadequate, but that was before I entered the biomedical research field as an investigator. Since I’ve been in the field, I’ve seen only increasingly strict regulation. I encounter this every year when I have to renew my mouse protocols and every time I write a grant. Each year, it seems, the amount of detail demanded grows and the objections increase, even for what would have been approved without question a mere five years ago. Animal research is highly regulated, far above what it was before, and that IACUCs have become almost as strict in regulating animal research as Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) have become in regulating human research. The stereotype of the cruel “vivisectionist” that ALF and its fellow radicals like to promote just isn’t true. Animal research is one of the most highly regulated activities that scientists do. It’s not as highly regulated as human subjects research, but it’s getting there.

Of course, animal rights extremists don’t care, because they are not about animal welfare; they are about animal liberation. To them all animal research is torture and “vivisection.” They are also profoundly anti-scientific–Luddite, even. Animal rights activists deny that animal research has ever produced any advances in medicine, a claim that is not just demonstrably false, but risibly, contemptibly false. They claim more than that, namely that animal research is misleading, that it actually slows down medical progress. They argue that computer models and cell culture can substitute for animal research. Would that were true! But that, too, is false.

I have a proposal for the animal rights extremists. Can we make a deal here, animal rights “activists” cum terrorists? Can we just agree to leave the children out of it? Is any cause worth traumatizing children over? Is any cause worth intimidating children, trying to mess up their lives and turn them against their parents? Whatever you think of their parents, children can’t choose their parents, and they don’t deserve having the likes of you drag them into your disagreement with their parents. A six year old does not understand the moral or political arguments you make; he only understands that scary people are telling his friends that his daddy is a murderer. Let me just put it this way. You appear to value animal rights far more than human rights. In fact, I’ll say that you don’t give the proverbial rodent’s posterior about any human rights other than your own, given how you think nothing of violating the rights of children if they happen to be the children of your enemies.

Not that I expect animal rights extremists to see reason in this.

That’s why I join Janet in calling out these thugs. They need to be exposed, their actions. They need to be called out with comments on their blog. Scientists and citizens who support science need to oppose them when they infest various discussion forums and newspaper letters sections. When they protest in demonstrations, scientists need to organize counterdemonstrations, the way Pro-Test and UCLA Pro-Test do. When animal rights extremists launch campaigns to influence legislators, scientists and citizens supporting science need to oppose them. The public needs to be educated about the benefits and fruits of animal research, and the fallacious arguments of animal rights extremists exposed.

In their own way, animal rights extremists are every bit as dire a threat to public health as anti-vaccine activists and their ideology every bit as immune to reason and science as that of any creationist. True, their activities won’t lead to epidemics now, but if unchecked over time their activities will degrade medical research and slow the advance of medical science to a crawl. You and I may not pay the price, but our children and our children’s children certainly will. That is why the time for silent acquiescence, for hunkering down, is past.

ADDENDUM: PZ Myers has weighed in, and I note that a few commenters have tried to engage the animal rights extremist on the NIO blog. They have failed, but in the attempt they have shown just how irrational and hate-filled the animal rights extremists are. For instance, a commenter named Rob wrote:

You people are inconsistent. Animal research has helped millions of human beings live better lives. Your moral compass is so out of whack it leads you to believe that animal research is out of line, and yet, blowing up researchers is justice.

He too has a “rent-a-cop” in front of his house twenty-four hours a day, ever since his car was blown up last year. Most everyone agrees that it would have been great if he had been in it!

I don’t know anyone who would agree with that besides some seriously sick-minded individuals. If you have issues with animal testing, this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. Pass legislation, talk to your congresspeople. Blowing up researchers makes you terrorists, and nobody is going to value your cause when it has this kind of sick-minded logic behind it.

NIO’s Camille Marino responded:

no rob,

you are inconsistent!

would you mutilate your dog or cat?

should we have panel discussions with pedophiles?

should we compromise with rapists so that we can come to some happy medium?

if there was no money involved, these sadistic freaks would be plying their trade on neighborhood children in backyard bunkers.

if daddy makes a living bathing in blood, you have to expect some of it to drip off onto junior.

camille

Actually, that’s the reason why I think that it’s pointless to try to engage people like Camille. Should we have a panel discussion of someone who thinks her position so morally superior that she has the right to target innocent children, someone who views us as on the same moral plane as pedophiles and rapists, who places the “rights” of animals above the rights of human beings to the point where she thinks violence against humans is justified in the name of her cause?

I would say: Absolutely not. She has a right to free speech, even speech as hateful as the above. However, jail her when she breaks the law, and throw away the key to the cell door. Also note that Camille says:

And my answer is that I unequivocally support violence if it will stop the violent.

That’s about as clear a statement as you can find, just as clear as Jerry Vlasak’s advocating assassinating researchers to stop animal research.

Does anyone want to make a bet about how long it takes Camille to start deleting comments criticizing her advocacy of targeting children–or any critical comments at all? No doubt NIO won’t like having the light of day shined on its cesspit of irrational hate.