Animal rights protests cause security boost

by Sarah McKenzie

In preparation for weeklong protests targeting animal researchers, University officials honed added security measures to ward off potential vandalism in the laboratories despite no reported incidents of suspicious activity.
As part of World Week for Animals in Laboratories, the Student Organization for Animal Rights heralded July 28 through Aug. 4 as a “national week of action targeting the University.” The group organized street theater demonstrations, hosted a vegan potluck and held presentations on animal research.
Richard Bianco, assistant vice president of the Academic Health Center, sent out a cautionary e-mail in July urging employees and students to take extra care this week when locking rooms, cabinets or drawers with valuable research materials.
“We anticipate activity at any time,” Bianco warned in the message.
Although officials will continue maintaining heightened security arrangements, SOAR’s weeklong activities did not cause much of a stir.
“It has been very quiet and continues to be,” Bianco said. “Frankly, it was one of those things where you couldn’t be too prepared.”
Lt. Steve Johnson, acting University Police chief, said “awareness is definitely up” among officers patrolling the research facilities.
Even though the week’s activity peaked at tame demonstrations, University scientists studying Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease were asked to take extra care in their daily affairs.
Bianco said officials estimate that vandals inflicted more than $1 million in damages when they ransacked six laboratories in April, destroying research equipment and scientific data on the diseases.
More than 100 lab rats, mice and pigeons were also released during the raids. Several animals froze to death in a Woodbury field. Only a handful were recovered by University researchers.
Members of the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the vandalism through an anonymous e-mail message sent to their press office in Minneapolis. No one has been charged in connection with the raids.
The University Police Department is conducting an ongoing investigation with additional help from the FBI.
Former ALF spokesman Kevin Kjonaas, who participated in SOAR’s protests over the weekend, said the group tried to avoid confrontations with the police because of the added security.
“We thought civil disobedience wouldn’t be an effective strategy,” Kjonaas said. “We figured that they would be well prepared.”
University Police arrested several students and local activists in February in two separate instances. One man suspended himself from Moos Tower with a cable, and others locked their necks together at the entrance of an office the day before.
Instead of opting for more daring displays like those in February, protesters waved giant puppets depicting University researcher Marilyn Carroll and a primate in front of Moos Tower on Monday.
Over the weekend, SOAR members also played a videotape for on-lookers showing ALF members vandalizing University laboratories with crowbars and spray paint.
Activists under scrutiny
Kjonaas said he believes officials are overly concerned about the student protestors and confuse SOAR with organizations like ALF, who commit economic sabotage in an effort to curtail animal research.
“SOAR is completely autonomous,” said Kjonaas, who graduated with a political science degree in June. “They support the ALF, but SOAR will always stick with civil disobedience.”
After the raids in April, animal rights activity has come under the microscope in the state Legislature and among other law enforcement agencies.
A state senator authored legislation this spring targeting animal right’s terrorist groups and their representatives, leveling triple damages and other civil penalties.
Although the bill did not pass, Kjonaas and other local activists have not remained unscathed.
The former ALF spokesman was subpoenaed before a federal grand jury in June and had his apartment inspected by the FBI before the hearing. His computer was confiscated during the search.
Kjonaas has not been indicted, but authorities have up to 18 months to subpoena him again.
On July 27, a Washington County jury convicted Aaron Arel, a southeast Minneapolis resident, of criminal trespassing for picketing the home of two University researchers.
Police arrested five activists, including one University student, in connection with the demonstration on March 22, 1998.
Arel is scheduled to be sentenced in September. He did not return phone calls Tuesday.
The University researchers picketed by Arel were on vacation this week and unavailable for comment.