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Beastly intimidators

Animal-rights activists get a little scary

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Jean Barnes and four other members of the animal rights group In Defense of Animals used the shelter of pre-dawn darkness Oct. 22 when they crept around the neighborhood of one of their sworn enemies.
The activists plastered mailboxes with incendiary flyers that claim the former director of Emory University's Yerkes Primate Center performs torturous experiments on animals and was responsible for the December 1997 death of an Emory research assistant. The 400 or so flyers contained the former director's home address, because, Barnes says, "if one of their pets goes missing, [the neighbors] can look in [his] basement to see if he's experimenting on it."

Sound a little extreme? The tactic evokes those used by the anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue, which during the 1990s protested at the homes of physicians who performed abortions and listed their addresses on its website. In the case of abortion, the outfall was deadly: Since 1993, three doctors, two clinic employees, a clinic escort and a security guard have been murdered by extremist pro-lifers. There have been 16 attempted murders since 1991, and 2,400 acts of violence reported against abortion providers since 1977, according to the National Abortion Rights Action League.

Barnes and her crowd say they'll do nothing more than pass out flyers and continue their periodic protests near Emory's campus. The group plans to target more Emory researchers in the months to come. Asked to justify the action, Barnes says, "We feel like it's important to let their neighbors know who they are living next door to."

But researchers can't help entertaining grim thoughts. One of those whom Barnes identifies as a possible target says he's worried for years that the activists will turn violent.

"It's definitely been a concern of mine because they are so out there," he says, asking not to be identified.

"We endorse the right to speak freely," adds Yerkes spokeswoman Lillian Kim. "But we abhor it when those opinions cross over into harassment."

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