A little schadenfreude over animal rights activist Steven Best’s latest little problem

It’s no secret that I have little but contempt for radical animal rights activists. I make no apologies for this and, quite frankly, consider my contempt for them well-justified based on their behavior and words. Be it their fetishization of violence against researchers who use animals, their threatening of students in order to frighten them away from careers in scientific research that might involve the use of animals (for example, Alena Rodriguez), intimidating researchers by declaring their children as “not off limits,” trying to burn investigators’ houses down, harassing researchers, and in general behaving like criminals in their quest to stop all animal research. Indeed, most recently, I couldn’t help but feel a most satisfying sense of schadenfreude when Camille Marino, head loon at the animal rights blog Negotiation Is Over (negotiationisover.net) was finally jailed for her activities. Overall, NIO is a group that cleverly doesn’t explicitly advocate violence but makes threats and tries its best to intimidate.

Other “luminaries” in the animal rights movement include Jerry Vlasak, who, embarrassingly to me, is a surgeon who’s known for his justifications for murdering researchers. Basically, from my perspective, he eggs on the younger, more easily malleable members of the movement with flaming screeds of hate-filled rhetoric, while he maintains plausible deniability for his involvement in any crimes they might commit. Then there’s Steven Best, whose recent activities have revealed what a despicable piece of work hie is, in particular his hypocrisy.

Best is a tenured professor of philosophy at the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) known for his incendiary rhetoric, for example about how he wants to make his enemies “feel the fear” (warning: language not safe for work):

Best was also co-founder of the North American Animal Liberation Press office and is widely known for his endorsement of violence as a legitimate, even preferred, means of achieving “total animal liberation.” The concept behind his views is “extensional self-defense,” whereby Best and his fellow travelers have decided that they are completely justified in using violence to achieve their aims or (preferably) in inducing various dupes to commit whatever crime it takes to stop animal research.

Consistent with the concept of “extensional self-defense” and speeches like the one above, Best used to be affiliated NIO in a big way, being a frequent contributor to its blog as recently as last year and having apparently actively assisted Marino and her wandering band of animal rights thugs in a a more material way, as described at Death And Taxes last year. Basically, Best appears to have allowed NIO to use one of his PayPal accounts to collect donations to use as a “bounty” for snitches willing to provide addresses, phone numbers, and personal information of students and professors whose research used animals, whom NIO would target for harassment. Marino and Best seemed to be the best of buddies, comrades in arms in the eternal struggle to harass and frighten “vivisectors” until they give up animal research, fellow travelers in the radical animal rights movement.

Not anymore, it would appear.

Late last month, in a delicious twist of fate, Steven Best and Camille Marino had a bit of a falling out. The entertainingly ironic thing about this whole kerfuffle between the two is that, when his own preferred methods of intimidation and threats were turned against him, suddenly Best’s bravado and rhetoric were no longer quite so bold. Suddenly, his proclamations of no fear weren’t quite so full-throated. In fact, they were nonexistent. Whereas Best is known for encouraging violent action on his website, publishing on his website the names, photos, and addresses of the scientists he targets, and speaking internationally about his justification for extremism up to and including violence in the service of animal rights activism, when such tactics were turned against him, he didn’t like it, not one little bit:

Steven Best, an outspoken advocate of animal rights and philosophy professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, obtained a restraining order on 15 October against fellow activist Camille Marino after she allegedly stalked Best and threatened violence against him. Marino was arrested at her home in Wildwood, Florida, on 19 October for violating the injunction. According to Marino’s website, she had e-mailed Best against the terms of that order.


In his request for protection filed in Dona Ana County, New Mexico, Best described Marino as “an old friend”, saying that they had worked together in the past “for the animals”. But he said that Marino had developed a “fatal attraction, love/hate” relationship towards him. Best alleged that in the past several months Marino had harassed him by phone and e-mail, threatened his life and slandered his reputation online.

Best would not speak about the case to Nature, but wrote in his petition that he feared Marino could pose a physical threat to others. “I now fear that person will not be a medical researcher/vivisector she loathes so intensely, but rather me,” he said.

Speaking of Research has the complete restraining order posted on its website. It’s worth reading (or else I wouldn’t have posted the link). In it Best complains that Marino has harassed and stalked him, sending him threatening e-mails in which she says she is going to destroy him and that she can taste his blood. According to Best, she also started a special blog in which she slanders him and posts his e-mails. While I don’t approve of such activity, it’s very hard not to feel a lot of schadenfreude at this development. Here is Steven Best, who once wrote, “Fuck the law! When the law is wrong the right thing to do is break it!” and “Let every motherfucker who shoots animals be shot; Let every motherfucker who poisons animals be injected with a barrel of battery acid; Let every motherfucking vivisector be vivisected and thrown away like the shit they are,” now running to the law for protection from a woman who is only giving him a taste of the medicine that he recommends for “vivisectionists.” I must admit, I feel guilty in the amount of glee that I feel in witnessing such a spectacle. Maybe I shouldn’t, but it’s hard not to feel a bit guilty at the discomfiture of even a man as vile and hypocritical as Steve Best when what he starts to reap what he has sown. It’s not unlike seeing Frankenstein’s monster turn against him, except that Victor Frankenstein and his monster were both much more sympathetic characters than Steven Best or Camille Marino.

In other words, Best should be able to do anything he wants when it comes to threats and intimidation, but the law should protect him from the same tactics. The police, who are his enemies when protecting scientists, suddenly become his best friends when he needs them to protect him from Marino. In actuality, the law should protect everyone, even slime like Best and Marino, but one marvels at the utter hypocrisy on display here. It’s a hypocrisy that is even more blatant than that.

what do I mean? Well, one of the most consistent characteristics of an utter crank that ‘ve come to appreciate is the double standard. For instance, Best thinks he’s perfectly justified in threatening violence against scientists, harassing and intimidating them by posting their contact information in places where animal rights activists will see it, and in general thinking he’s above the law when it comes to his cause, but let someone else turn his tactics on him and he goes running, tail between his legs, looking for a cop to protect him.

And when someone says something he thinks to be too mean about him, like many cranks he thuggishly resorts to legal threats in response to what Speaking of Research wrote, largely based on the article I cited above describing Best’s letting Marino use one of his PayPal accounts. He disputes its accuracy (which is his right, although in my reading he does it quite unconvincingly), and then he pulls out the legal threat, using a rather curious rationale:

you are violating my academic free speech rights with these false unproven claims, and I will take the most aggressive legal action against all of you, just as I have against Marino, who is soon to go down on federal charges for further violations of my PPO.

What a silly man. Even if everything Speaking of Research wrote were false (and it is my opinion that it is all well documented and therefore appears to be likely to be true), it would not be “violating his academic free speech rights” to criticize him, even falsely. Best has not been shut up. Unfortunately, he remains free to spew his venom under the cloak of “academic freedom.” (The hateful rhetoric of despicable, self-important twits like Best, who thinks that the law should apply to you and me but not to him, is, after all, the price of freedom, so to speak.) As Janet Stemwedel has explained in detail, academic free speech is not without limit. In fact, she makes a convincing argument that what Best does is far more an assault on academic freedom of speech than anything Speaking of Research has written:

Calling for violence towards other academics who do work of which you do not approve, then, seems like a failure of academic responsibility. And, such calls for violence are arguably more of an impediment to academic freedom than is a blog post critiquing a philosopher’s rhetoric or the use to which it has been put by activist groups.

Exactly. Steven Best thinks nothing of trying his very best to limit or extinguish the academic freedom of medical researchers through intimidation and threats of violence, but views criticism of his words activities, no matter how legitimate, as somehow infringing on his academic freedom. In this, he shares much in common with various quacks and antivaccinationists that I’ve seen in that he he seems to think that free speech means “freedom from criticism” for his speech and that such criticism, when he suffers it, is akin to infringing on his academic freedom. He seems also to think that freedom of speech means freedom from suffering consequences from his speech.

As I said before, what a silly man! That anyone, even animal rights activists, can take him seriously continues to amaze me.

One would hope that Best’s conversion to seeing the value of the law, his having seen for himself the effect that the sorts of tactics he’s been advocating for years can have on their targets, his sudden realization that he is not safe from the sorts of methods he advocates would lead him to a genuine change of heart. One might think that a reasonable person, having had his ally turn against him and subject him to the tactics of which he once implicitly approved and that he more than implicitly encouraged might teach him a lesson about the limits of behavior that is acceptable to use to forward one’s goals in civil society. One might think that Best might figure out that in a world where people like Camille Marino aren’t reined in no one is safe, not even him. Perhaps having been forced to slink off to the police for protection, his tail between his legs, might have taught him that and that the rule of law has a purpose.

You might think that, but you would almost certainly be wrong. The only thing that matters to Steve Best is the glory that is Steven Best and whatever Steven Best believes. Steven Best might advocate violence against his political and ideological opponents, but how dare anyone threaten him? Don’t believe me? Then take a look at a particularly revealing bit of Best’s complaint against Marino used to obtain a restraining order:

She has always talked about killing herself, and that she would “take someone out with her”; I now fear that person will not be a medical researcher/vivesector she loathes so intensely, but rather me.

In other words, it’s perfectly fine by Best if Marino were to kill herself and take out one of his enemies, but how dare she threaten the great Steven Best?

As Ken over at Popehat points out, Professor Best has any number of slimy ways he can try to argue that he is not a sniveling hypocrite. He believes that his ideas and his belief in the moral rightness of using threats of violence to serve his cause should (and will) only be used in the service of causes he supports. As Ken correctly further points out, the rule of law doesn’t just protect scientists. It should protect anyone who might be subject to threats, intimidation, and attacks, even a someone as thoroughly odious and hypocritical as Steven Best.