When President Clinton offered
clemency to 16 Puerto Rican nationalists who waged a campaign of terror
bombing in the 1970s and 1980s, he dramatically increased the danger posed
to Michigan businesses and researchers by the most organized terrorist
groups in the United States today – animal rights terrorists.
Over the last two decades, animal
rights groups calling themselves the Animal Liberation Front and the Justice Department have waged a campaign of terror that includes hundreds of break-ins
and bombings. Michigan businesses and research facilities have often been
frequent targets of such criminals. In August, several Michigan businesses
involved in the fur trade received packages in the mail containing razor
blades and death threats sent by an animal rights organization calling
itself the Justice Department. The threats gave the businesses until the
end of the year to abandon the fur business or face violent reprisals.
The FBI is currently investigating the threats.
Those who firebomb research labs
and destroy meat packing facilities defend their actions by saying they
only target property and never people (although groups like the Justice
Department have no problem hurting people). Like the Puerto Rican nationalists,
they do not even consider their actions violence or terrorism but rather
as acts of liberation.
The Clinton administration and supporters
of clemency for the Puerto Rican nationalists just gave this position
a big boost. Time and again television and newspaper coverage of the controversy
featured people in positions of power and influence arguing it was okay
to free these prisoners because all they did was destroy buildings and
property rather than kill human beings.
These apologists for violence miss
the point; the ultimate goal of terrorism is not to kill but create an
atmosphere of fear. Terrorists kill people only because it is an extremely
effective way to create fear, but such fear can be manufactured just as
easily by destroying property as by outright murder. Racist extremists
often use the threat of arson or other damage to physical property to
intimidate minorities, and some antiabortion extremists have attempted
to use destruction of property at abortion clinics to scare women away
from such facilities. By seeking to create an atmosphere of fear in the
targeted population, such acts of property destruction constitute the
very heart and soul of terrorism.
In defense of the clemency offer,
defenders of the Puerto Rican nationalists claim those convicted have
since renounced violence. Such renunciations are next to worthless as
the case of Rodney Coronado illustrates. Coronado was the first animal
rights activists convicted in federal court for a terrorist bombing. In
1992 Coronado firebombed a research lab at Michigan State University,
causing more than $1 million in damages. Despite a long history of other
violent activities, Coronado received only a 5 year prison sentence.
One of the factors leading to the light sentence was Coronado’s vehement
denunciation of both violence and the animal rights movement at his pre-sentencing
hearing. Once he was sentenced, however, Coronado simply ignored his previous
renunciation of violence and regularly wrote articles from prison justifying
and encouraging acts of destruction against research labs and other facilities.
Renunciation is a poor substitute for incarceration.
Violence from the animal rights
community is likely to increase in the coming years. After some initial
success in gaining public acceptance in the 1980s, the movement experienced
something of a backlash in the 1990s. Today influential members of even
relatively mainstream groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals defend illegal actions as the only way the movement will be
able to change society.
With his clemency offer to convicted
terrorists, the president gave the violent side of the animal rights movement
notice that so long as they cannot be linked to murder their actions will not
be considered “real” terrorism. Michigan businesses and research
facilities may have to pay the price for Clinton’s soft spot for terrorists.