Anti-Stephens Protester Continues Appeal of Sentence

Mike Durschmind, 42, was one of those arrested in 2001 at a Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty-sponsored protest at a Stephens Life Insurance building in Little Rock.

Durschmind spent three days in jail and was found guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct in January 2002. He appealed that sentence to Pulaski County Circuit Court which this week affirmed the conviction and fined Durschmind $100.

Not finished yet, however, Durschmind’s lawyer says he will appeal the County Circuit Court’s decision.


Stephens protester fined $100. Associated Press, December 12, 2002.

Stephens Inc.'s Role in New Anti-Terrorism Law

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published a long look at Stop Huntingdon Cruelty’s harassment of Stephens Inc. and the role that Stephens played in promoting legislation designed to crack down on animal rights and extremist environmentalist crimes.

In June 2002, President George W. Bush signed a bioterrorism bill which, among other things, increased the penalties for crimes against animal rights activists and others. Before, for example, to prosecute vandalism at an animal enterprise, prosecutors had to show that there was at least $10,000 in damages plus a “physical disruption” to the facility. Now, vandalism under $10,000 carries up to six month in jail, and for vandalism exceeding $10,000, the maximum penalty is now up to three years, with the “physical disruption” requirement thrown out.

The maximum penalty for causing serious bodily harm also jumped from a maximum of 10 years to a new maximum of 20 years.

According to the Democrat-Gazette, even after Stephens sold its share of Huntingdon Life Science to a private investor, it continued to push for the new penalties. Stephens’ corporate political action committee as well as individual Stephens officers gave thousands of dollars to the various elected officials who introduced the new penalties.

Of course SHAC maintains that the new penalties were not necessary, with SHAC spokesperson Angela Jackson telling the Democrat-Gazette,

We absolutely think it wasn’t needed. We don’t carry out any sort of illegal activity. The problem with fast-tracking eco-terrorism laws is that it criminalizes dissent. It takes things that are healthy dissent and healthy criticism of government practices and corporate practices and turns it into terrorism.

This from a group that applauded the activist who set of smoke grenades in two Seattle office buildings this summer. In SHAC’s book, that probably qualifies as “healthy dissent and healthy criticism.”

Stephens spokesman Frank Thomas also tells the Democrat-Gazette about his efforts to establish a dialogue with SHAC after Stephens agreed to loan HLS several million dollars back in 2000. According to the Democrat-Gazette,

Thomas offered to take members of SHAC on a tour of any Huntingdon research facility. He also offered to make them members of an ad hoc committee to review Huntingdon’s treatment of the animals it uses in research. SHAC declined.

“They told me all that mattered was shutting Huntingdon Life Sciences down,” Thomas said. “It was a good meeting, but, at the end, they said, ‘Get ready.’


Congress comes to Stephens’ aid. Kevin Freking, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 22, 2002.

California Activists Receive Jail Sentences; Anti-Stephens Protesters Receive Fines

In October, Peter Schnell, 21, and Matthew Whyte, 18, pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges. The two animal rights activists were caught in possession of 11 gallons of gasoline, matches and other paraphernalia which they planned to use to firebomb several dairy trucks in Capitola, California.

The two were sentenced in January with Schnell receiving a two-year sentence and Whyte a 14 month prison term. This was the minimum possible sentence U.S. Circuit Court Judge James Ware could have given the pair. Ware apparently thought the statements of regret that both defendants offered in court were sincere.

Meanwhile, an Arkansas court is beginning to dispose of the charges against anti-Huntingdon Life Sciences protesters who were involved in a riot-like protests against Stephens back in October organized by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. All of the arrested protesters were from outside of Arkansas.

Alicia Skeats, 20, of Coffeyville, Texas, and Michael Durschmind, 41, of Chicago, were convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct and were fined $100 and ordered to pay $100 in court costs. The fines will be deducted from a $300 cash bond each of them posted. Both Skeats and Durschmind plan to appeal their conviction.

Josh Harper plead guilty to violating a city public assembly ordinance and was fined $100 and $100 in court costs, though the fines were suspended on the recommendation of the prosecutor.


Animal rights activists get prison time. San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 2002.

Two activists fined $100 for disorderly conduct. The Associated Press, January 26, 2002.

SHAC Wants to Force Stephens Group to Continue Lawsuit

When Stephens Group originally filed its multimillion dollar lawsuit against Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, SHAC and other animal rights groups accused the company of trying to suppress free speech. Now Stephens is trying to drop its lawsuit while SHAC plans on asking a court to force Stephens to proceed with the lawsuit.

In a joint action in April 2001, Huntingdon Life Sciences sued SHAC seeking $2 million in damages and Stephens sued seeking $7 million. The lawsuit accused SHAC of violating the |Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations| statute and sought compensation for the poor performance of HLS.

Stephens recently announced that it had sold its investment in HLS to an as-yet undisclosed buyer. SHAC’s Kevin Jonas told The Financial Times (London) that it had been notified by Stephens that the company plans to drop its lawsuit. Jonas said that SHAC will seek to have the lawsuit proceed.

“We want this suit against us to proceed,” Jonas told The Financial Times. “The whole basis for it conflicts with Stephens’ argument for selling out last week. . . . We want Stephens to go against us in court, because we belive they will be forced to disclose the exact nature of their relationships with HLS.”

Jonas and SHAC seem to think that Stephens Group is maintaining some sort of business relationship with HLS. If so, SHAC seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth, on the one hand claiming credit for driving Stephens to sever ties with HLS, and on the other hand seemingly claiming that Stephens really hasn’t cut ties with the company at all.

HLS will, of course, become Life Sciences Research sometime this week, and under Maryland law (where Life Sciences Research is incorporated), investors with less than a 5 percent stake can remain anonymous.


Protest group in court move. Patrick Jenkins, The Financial Times (London), January 15, 2002.

Stephens Group Sells Its Interest in Huntingdon Life Sciences

Stephens Group announced this week that it is selling its stock and debt investments in Huntingdon Life Sciences to an undisclosed foreign investor. Stephens has been hit by animal rights protests, but the company insists that the decision is motivated by business interests rather than animal rights protests.

Stephens spokesman Frank Thomas told Arkansas Business,

If anything, this is a good deal for HLS, a good deal for the new owners and a good deal for Stephens. This company has for seven decades bought and sold businesses. This is nothing new. This company is always looking to invest and make a good deal. The new investors obviously like what they see.

In a press release issued by Stephens Group, Warren Stephens reiterated that, “We are plead to have accomplished our goal of supporting Huntingdon financially until it returned to profitable operations. … We are pleased with the return on our investment and convinced that the new investors acquiring our position are equally committed to Huntingdon’s long-term stability and success.”

The deal should be finalized by the end of the month, and the new investor will be identified in required filings with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission.


Stephens sells interest in animal testing lab. Gwen Moritz, Arkansas Business, January 8, 2002.

Animal Rights Protesters in Arkansas Show True Heart of the Movement

Surprise, surprise, surprise. Animal rights activists associated with Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty have long been extolling and promising violence, and in their big protest (if you consider 180 or so activists a major protest) against Stephens Incorporated, they tried to follow through on those promises.

Police had set up a 3 foot barrier to separate the protesters from the Stephens, Inc. building. Late in the afternoon, while one activist shouted “The Battle of Little Rock has begun” over a bullhorn, several demonstrators — pushed at the barrier and attempted to climb it, at which point police apparently used force, reportedly including stun grenades, rubber bullets, and pepper spray, to control the crowd.

Estimates of the number arrested ranged from 10 reported by an Arkansas television station two a couple dozen reported by the Associated Press.

Earlier in the day the activist, many of whom refused to give the press their last names, showed up at the homes of at least two executives of Stephens Inc. to protest. Police were well-prepared, however, with plenty of police at several points along the march and a police helicopter circling overhead (hint — maybe police in Great Britain should take a look at how police can prevent violent hooliganism while still allowing people to peacefully protest).

Animal rights activist Ryan Courtade (who still can’t make up his mind which side he’s on), quickly sent out an e-mail describing the events and, in my opinion, accurately assessing the state of the animal rights movement,

Our movement needs to take a step back and reanalyze itself. What happened today is not acceptable. If we have to force Stephen’s to drop it’s financial back [sic] of HLS from Terrorism, and Fear, then we are no better than the lowest form of life. We need Stephen’s to drop financial back because of what they are doing to animals. We need to speak in a unified voice, and not with terror.

Sure, but lets be honest — there is no animal rights movement today that is separate from this sort of violence. The handful of animal rights organizations willing to condemn these sorts of actions can be counted on one hand, while even a group like the Humane Society of the United States stoops to hiring advocates of terrorism and violence.

The problem that folks like Courtade face is that the animal rights movement already waged its nonviolent campaign and it lost big time. People do care about animal welfare, and they are certainly more aware of animal issues than they were 20 years ago, but the animal rights movement has been heard and soundly rejected by the overwhelming majority of Americans. People may disagree about the most humane way to kill a cow, but few Americans consider killing a cow for food to be inherently immoral. People may be concerned about the fate of animals used in medical research, but nobody except Ingrid Newkirk is going to go along with letting a premature infant die just to preserve the life of a calf whose lung tissue is used to make the infant’s lungs work more efficiently.

The rhetoric is stale and played out — all the animal rights movement has left are its arsonists and agitators. It’s ironic that even as SHAC should be riding high with its claimed successes at driving HLS out of business, its leaders (as well as the rest of the animal rights movement) seems to have an air of increasing desperation. Even PETA’s nutty campaigns are becoming less and less imaginative and, more importantly, the shock value is simply no longer news.

Look at the protest against Stephens. After hyping this protested practically every week on animal rights mailing lists, and garnering extensive publicity for itself, the best SHAC can do is convince a little under 200 activists to travel to Arkansas? No wonder they have to resort to intimidation and fear — without it, they’d be irrelevant.


In response to the Stephen’s demonstrations. Ryan Courtade, E-mail communication, October, 29, 2001.

Animal rights activists picket. Tim Taylor, Times Record (Fort Smith, Arkansas), October 29, 2001.

Demonstrations turn violent. KARK News 4, October 29, 2001.

Activists clash with police in Ark. Melissa Nelson, The Associated Press, October 29, 2001.