Animal Rights Groups Wage War on Banks

When daredevils break into research laboratories to "liberate" the animals used in experiments it may hamper the work of scientists, but animal rights activists in Europe have found it is much more effective to focus on research companies' wallets, and now they are bringing such campaigns to the United States.

Police say 14 beagles were taken from the Huntingdon Life Sciences lab in East Millstone, N.J., on Sunday, and demonstrators gathered outside the company's office on Monday, but that is a minor annoyance compared to what animal rights activists have done in their focus on the banks and brokerage houses that deal with the lab's finances.

Huntingdon drew animal rights activists' attention in 1997, when undercover films made at the lab by British television showed beagles being hit in the mouth and thrown against the wall by laughing workers, monkeys being operated on as they screamed in pain and other horrors. Investigations in both England and the United States as recently as 1996 found violations at the labs.

On this side of the Atlantic the campaign has been relatively quiet, but having been successful in getting a handful of British financial institutions to drop their involvement with Huntingdon, which contracts drug testing for pharmaceutical firms, animal rights organizations say they are now turning their attention to a pair of U.S. firms that have stood by the lab.

The Animal Defense League, the Animal Liberation Front and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty save their fiercest tactics in the battle against the lab for the banks that provide its backing, battering away with e-mails, threats, demonstrations and bad publicity to convince investors to pull out.

And it has been effective.

Finely Focused Campaigns

In 17 months of intensive action focused on Huntingdon, the activists have convinced Merrill Lynch, Citibank, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Dresdener Kleinwort Wasserstein and Trimark to discontinue their involvement with the lab. When the Arkansas-based Stephens Group Inc. stepped forward in January to provide backing, the lab's opponents sicced their troops on them, and they have also identified the Bank of New York as a target.

"The campaign isn't just a few people standing outside with placards," said a spokesman for Huntingdon, who asked that his name be withheld for fear of violence against himself and his family. "These people have been entirely focused on one company at a time. They use abuse, intimidation, threats, visits to people's homes. There have been cars blown up, two people beaten outside their homes. And as soon as people pull away, they move on to the next supporter and the next supporter."

A recent posting on one animal rights Web site called for animal rights activists to turn their focus on Stephens Inc., which according to a statement from Huntingdon helped the research company refinance and avoid bankruptcy after other banks had pulled out.

The posting calls for an all-out e-mail campaign against the investment firm, offering a lengthy list of addresses and a proposed letter to be sent.

"I am writing today to express my outrage at Stephens Inc.'s decision to support animal cruelty," the suggested letter says in part. "Stephens Inc. is the primary financer and largest share holder in Huntingdon Life Sciences, a controversial animal testing laboratory that kills roughly 180,000 animals every year in painful and unnecessary chemical tests. Huntingdon has been exposed 5 times since 1997 for animal abuse. Undercover video footage shows workers punching frightened beagle puppies in the face, taunting animals who were undergoing painful tests, and, on one occasion, conducting a supposedly post-mortem dissection on a live monkey. On the job drunkenness, drug use, lateness, and other staff ills have been exposed as recently as December 2000."

Another posting advised that Warren Stephens, the chairman of the firm, was going on vacation and gave phone numbers of the golf club where he would be staying.

"Ask the people at the club how they feel about their position on animal cruelty," the posting advised. "How do they feel about the fact that they have a puppy killer as one of their members."

Burning, Beating to Stop Cruelty

But writing letters and making phone calls expressing disapproval and "liberating" lab animals are not the only ways the activists have of achieving their ends.

Monday night, the car of one of the directors of the New Jersey lab was overturned, as American activists picked up on the techniques long employed in Europe. Last year in England, nine people connected with Huntingdon — either workers or investors — had their cars burned.

The violence has not been confined to machines, either.

On Feb. 22, three people wielding baseball bats attacked Brian Cass, the managing director of Huntingdon, outside his Cambridgeshire, England, home.

"I feel angry that there are people who pretend to be concerned about animals but then they go and attack someone in this sort of manner," he told the Press Association. "It is totally hypocritical and cowardly."

ALF and SHAC both denied involvement in the attack and issued statements saying they do not condone violence against humans any more than they do against animals.

But when demonstrations outside a London brokerage, Winterflood Securities, that dealt in the lab's shares failed to get the desired results, some activists turned to a campaign of domestic terror against the company's executives.

After the family members of many of the firm's officers received threatening phone calls, and one came home one Sunday to find a crowd of protesters "in balaclavas and death masks" waiting for him and his two young children, Winterflood capitulated and dropped the lab's stocks.

Resisting the ‘Bully Boys’

A similar campaign could soon be waged against the Bank of New York, which is the custodian for the lab's shareholders in the United States.

"The bank could now expect to find its corporate events crashed, protesters in its offices, and directors targeted," SHAC spokesman Greg Avery told the Daily Telegraph.

The Huntingdon spokesman said that the Bank of New York has been one of the lab's mainstays, and that generally U.S. firms have been more resistant to the pressures of the activists.

"The companies that have been most robust are in the U.S., and the one that has been most robust is the Bank of New York in saying we will not be pushed around by these bully boys," he said.

Roughly 100 demonstrators gathered outside the Huntingdon lab in New Jersey on Monday to protest the treatment of animals there. Police said the protest was generally peaceful, though three people were arrested and one had to receive treatment after officers used pepper spray to quell a few demonstrators who allegedly threw a barricade that had been set up to contain the marchers.

"We're just a group of passionate people who care about the plight of animals in HLS laboratories, and the police, it really goes to show that the police are the violent ones, and they are protecting the people that are murdering animals every year," said Lance Morosini, an animal rights activist.

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