Animal Activists vs. UCLA

University of California, Los Angeles, research ophthalmologist Arthur Rosenbaum stepped from his home one morning last June and discovered a firebomb had been planted under his white BMW. Cops evacuated the neighborhood, the bomb squad came, but the device's crude fuse had already fizzled. Rosenbaum's UCLA colleague, neuropharmacologist Edythe London, was less lucky. In October, a garden hose was shoved into a broken window of her Beverly Hills, Calif., home, flooding it, causing thousands of dollars in damage. And then on Feb. 5, a Molotov cocktail detonated on her doorstep, scorching her entryway but failing to burn down the house.

Who would want to target academics? Underground militant animal-rights activists took credit for the attacks, but despite an FBI investigation, no one has been arrested. UCLA officials complain that protesters--angry over the school's use of research primates--have continually harassed, threatened and vandalized the university, as well as its faculty and staff. Fed up, UCLA last week won a temporary restraining order in Los Angeles Superior Court against five individual protestors and three animal-rights groups: the Animal Liberation Front, the Animal Liberation Brigade and the UCLA Primate Freedom Project. "We're dealing with terrorist organizations and people who are knowingly involving themselves with these terrorist organization," says John Hueston, a lawyer for UCLA.

Modeled on court orders granted to testing laboratories and corporations who have faced similar protests and "underground actions," the restraining order signed by Judge Gerald Rosenberg orders the groups' members and five individual protesters to refrain from violence, harrassment or vandalism. They must also remain 50 feet from researchers homes (150 feet at night) and the groups must remove the names and home addresses of Rosenbaum, London and other researchers identified as "Targets" from their respective Web sites. The school is also seeking an injunction that would make these restrictions permanent.

UCLA's run-in with violent animal-rights activists began in 2006, when someone from the Animal Liberation Front put a Molotov cocktail outside what was evidently believed to be the home of UCLA psychiatrist and animal behavior researcher Lynn Fairbanks. (Actually, the ALF goofed and left the bomb at a neighbor's door.) Since then, Hueston says the groups and individuals acting in their name have acted with "a chilling coordination" to intimidate researchers. Two days after the botched firebomb attack on Rosenbaum's car by an anonymous member of the Animal Liberation Brigade, the group's Web site posted a note urging Rosenbaum to "watch your back." Three days later, protestors including Lindy Greene and Hillary Roney shouted "Hey, Arthur, how's your BMW doing?" Weeks later, a package sent by someone claiming to be with the ALF arrived addressed to Rosenbaum's wife containing animal fur and razor blades and promising "what he does to the animals we will do to you." "My wife and I were both terrified," Rosenbaum wrote in a court filing. Later protesters returned, shouting, "We know where you sleep at night!"

After the Fairbanks attack in 2006, UCLA officials increased security and improved communications between campus police and other law enforcement; other universities have followed suit. Earlier this year, the Society for Neuroscience released "Best Practices for Protecting Researchers and Research" that drew on security and communications improvements at UCLA. The incidents at London's home also prompted concern from National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni, who issued a recent statement supporting the UCLA scientist. "Terrorism against researchers using animals is real and intolerable," wrote Zerhouni. "This violence must stop."

UCLA isn't the only school being targeted by a variety of local protestors who share similar names and tactics. The Animal Liberation Front claimed credit for vandalizing the cars and homes of two researchers last year at Oregon Health Sciences University near Portland. At the University of Utah, several researchers have been the targets of home protests that including spray-painting and destroying a lawn with a saline solution, according to Dr. Jeffrey Botkin, the university's associate vice president for research integrity. The Utah Primate Freedom Project has led demonstrations against several researchers. The protests led the university to rewrite its security plan - and to get city and county officials to ban protests within 100 feet of residences. And on Sunday, an animal researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was the target of an alleged home invasion by six people wearing bandanas over their faces. Police say the intruders fled after attacking the researcher's husband when he answered the front door. Police searched one house but have made no arrests so far. "This incident appears to be part of a series of recent incidents targeting UC faculty, students, and staff who conduct biomedical research using animals," wrote UC Santa Cruz chancellor George Blumenthal in a statement issued Tuesday, adding that the alleged break-in "threatens, intimidates, and stifles academic freedom."

Defendants in the UCLA case and their friends reacted with a mixture of scorn and caution. But two of the individuals named in the suit said they would fight the restrictions in court, but abide by them as long as they remain in force. Complaining that she was just "an above-ground activist" whose free-speech rights were being abridged, longtime protester Lindy Greene said, "I would honor the restraining order but fight it legally." Ramin Saber, another named activist vowed to abide by the restraining order but fight the imposition of a permanent injunction. "We're not going to just lay down." Jean Barnes, director of Primate Freedom and operator of the UCLA Primate Freedom Web site told NEWSWEEK that she would comply with a court order to remove the names and home addresses of researchers her site listed as "Targets." [As of this article's posting, the banned home addresses remained online.] But Barnes hinted that if her Web site can't post the researchers' whereabouts, she may continue the fight through e-mail, which the restraining order doesn't ban "so the information will still get out there."

The Animal Liberation Front activists who claimed credit for firebombings aren't likely to be deterred by an injunction, says Jerry Vlasak, who runs the Animal Liberation Front Press Office Web site, which reports ALF "actions" but operates independently of the ALF and its Web site and wasn't named in the restraining order. "It's laughable that someone willing to face a 30-year sentence for arson will be put off by a restraining order," complains Vlasak. "It's not going to have any effect."

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wasn't named in the suit and hasn't been part of the UCLA protests, but when asked to comment, PETA president Ingrid Newkirk says she does not support firebombings, but she supports protests at researchers homes and worries that the new limits abridge free-speech rights. "I think it's a freedom-of-speech right to say [to researchers] 'You better watch what you are doing'," Newkirk tells NEWSWEEK.

UCLA chancellor Gene Block defends the university's legal tack and says the school avoided trying to abridge protected speech by seeking to ban protests broadly. "This was carefully done," Block says. "We chose people and organizations who are involved in a way that leads to harassment of our investigators. When people decide to do something illegal, we have to stop them." Or try to. "These things are difficult to stop. None of us would feel good if there was any legal activity left that we hadn't taken. We have to do everything we can. It's really our obligation."

The ALF Press Office's Vlasak say that the plan will be ineffective, in part because it circumscribes the actions of only five above-ground protesters. "There 150 more who remain" that can say and do what they want, Vlasak says. But Hueston, the university's lawyer, says UCLA will seek to add new names of protestors shown to be threatening. He also promises "additional" measures, but declines to name them. Meanwhile, hearings to discuss whether the temporary order should become permanent begin next month.