Animal-rights campaign targets N.J. firm, workers

Activist group has extensive record of violence, FBI says

August 11, 2002|By Chris Mondics | Chris Mondics,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PHILADELPHIA - Kevin Kjonaas shed no tears when three masked animal-rights activists beat Brian Cass with ax handles outside Cass' home. Cass' company tests pharmaceuticals on laboratory animals.

Nor was he moved on another occasion when assailants sprayed a caustic liquid in the face of Cass' colleague as he stepped out of his car at home, then beat him as he writhed on the pavement in pain, his wife and daughter watching from inside their house.

Kjonaas, 25, is a leader of a New Jersey-based animal-rights group that the FBI says has an "extensive" history of violence in the United States and abroad. Its aim is to shut down a chemical and pharmaceutical testing company called Huntingdon Life Sciences, which uses rats, mice, beagles and other animals in research at its labs in England and in East Millstone, N.J., just outside Princeton.

`Go get 'em'

Kjonaas says that his group, called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), uses only legal means to pursue its goal, and that the violence is carried out by unknown activists moved by their passion for animal rights, which he says have been brutally abused by the company. But the group's Web site reports new acts of violence, publishes the names of Huntingdon executives, and urges activists to "go get 'em."

Since the campaign against Huntingdon began three years ago, activists have firebombed 11 cars in England, swarmed into offices, broken windows in executives' homes, sunk a private yacht on Long Island, and committed other acts of violence, according to police and the company.

They say opponents of the company were responsible for the attacks in England on Brian Cass, managing director of Huntingdon, and his colleague, who was temporarily blinded and declines to be identified because he fears for the safety of his family.

They have jammed a Huntingdon creditor's cash machines with glue, and harangued executives of Huntingdon and employees of companies that do business with Huntingdon with loudspeakers outside their homes in the early morning.

No physical attacks have occurred in the United States, where the violence has been limited to property damage.

Company's stock falls

More than a half-dozen financial-service companies have said they will no longer deal with the company.

The company's stock price has plummeted more than 90 percent, from a high of $15 a share in early 2000 to less than $1 today.

Kjonaas makes no apologies.

"If a car being blown up in a driveway or animals being liberated from a lab scares them, then I would say that fear pales by comparison to the fear that the animals have every day," Kjonaas, of Somerset, N.J., said in an interview. "The kind of true violence that these animals endure at the hands of people at Huntingdon leaves me with little sympathy."

Kjonaas, who declined to answer a federal grand jury's questions about destruction of labs in 1999 and then moved to England for two years rather than face a second grand jury, says he sympathizes with activists who smash windows and firebomb cars.

Kjonaas spoke favorably of David Blenkinsop, a British animal-rights activist serving a three-year prison sentence for beating Brian Cass in February last year.

Cass was treated for multiple bruises and a 3-inch gash in his scalp. Blenkinsop, an acquaintance of Kjonaas' in London who participated in SHAC demonstrations there, also was charged in April with arson in several car attacks.

"David is a very passionate person, and what he did was done with the best intentions," Kjonaas said. "I don't feel any sympathy for people in England or America who have had their cars tipped or torched, because those cars were paid for out of blood money."

SHAC's Web site (www. shac.net) not only publishes the names and home addresses of workers at Huntingdon, but of executives of companies that do business with Huntingdon. It has suggested types of actions that sympathizers might take, while offering the disclaimer that it supports only legal activities.

One recent Web feature of SHAC, which moved its offices from Philadelphia to New Brunswick, N.J., this year to be closer to the Huntingdon lab, showed a picture of a car, windows smashed, that had been tipped over in the driveway of a Huntingdon executive's home in Princeton.

A home visit

One so-called home visit, to the townhouse of an executive of Marsh USA, Huntingdon's insurance broker, was described in an anonymous communique that SHAC posted on its Web site: "Activists ... made a quick stop outside the townhouse in which Marsh employee Robert Harper lives with his wife and young son Robbie. At approximately 3 a.m. ... a deafening noise could be heard ... as we used a megaphone to wake up Rob and his neighbors and inform everyone of the sort of scum they are living near."

The FBI says SHAC is part of a larger animal-rights and environmental-protection movement employing pressure tactics to achieve its goals.

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