Video reveals destruction

Sarah McKenzie

During a heated press conference at the Carlson School of Management on Saturday, a spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front released a ten-minute videotape showing footage of four masked men vandalizing and taking animals from Elliott Hall.
Throughout the news conference, local TV crews chided ALF spokesmen and University senior Kevin Kjonaas. A University Police officer also piped in during the emotional meeting, calling ALF’s actions inexcusable.
“These are just smash and run tactics,” said University Police Sgt. Brad Herberg, who directed his smarting words at Kjonaas. “You’re terrorism — this is nothing more than a terroristic act.”
Herberg challenged Monday’s vandals to turn themselves in to police and face prosecution.
The silent videotape, one of the key pieces of evidence in the investigation, follows the actions of the men dressed in black as they release white rats and pigeons from cages in Elliott Hall. The video timer indicates the men began the raid shortly after 2 a.m.
Kjonaas said the ALF press office in Minneapolis received the tape anonymously without any knowledge of the vandals’ identities.
The men, equipped with head lanterns and crow bars, also spray-painted messages on the walls, such as: “You can’t stop the A.L.F” and “Stop Animal Torture.”
The timer on the videotape suggests the vandalism at Elliott Hall took more than 20 minutes.
The same videotape was inadvertently sent to an Osseo man on Wednesday, where ALF used to have a post office box, Kjonaas said. University Police investigators have since confiscated the tape.
University Police Sgt. Jo Anne Benson, the coordinator of the investigation, attended Saturday’s press conference and seemed pleased by the negative reaction to the video.
Benson did not appear worried that the release of the tape would harm the investigation. “I think it speaks for itself,” she said.
The vandals took more than 100 animals — including rats, mice, pigeons and salamanders — during the raid. Members of ALF also destroyed medical equipment and computers in a dozen research labs in Elliott Hall and Lions Research Building.
University officials expect the damages to top $2 million. Large amounts of research data were also lost after the vandals smashed computers.
Some of the items nearly destroyed in the break-in include brain cancer tissue samples used for vaccines. On Friday, University officials announced the tissue samples can still be used for the cancer treatment.
Private donors have set up a $10,000 reward fund to compensate anyone with information leading to the arrest of the vandals.
Conflicting views on animal treatment
In the ALF tape, the video camera zoomed in on “No Food” signs hanging on the front of the cages. University researchers have said all week that the animals have been used for humane, behavioral experiments by psychology graduate students.
Richard Bianco, assistant vice president for the Academic Health Center, said in a published report Saturday that the “No Food” signs meant the animals were on special diets, not that they were being starved.
A number of pigeons and rats have been recovered by the researchers. Ed Craig, a supervisor for the University’s Research Animal Resources, announced Friday his search for the other lab animals has ended.
Kjonaas contends the pigeons and rats recovered near Woodbury, Minn., may have been planted by University officials. He said the local media has disseminated misleading information about the researchers’ work.
“(University officials) have put out fraudulent statements in the press,” he said.
No arrests have been made. If caught, the vandals face federal charges. The FBI and the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are aiding the University Police in the investigation.
Few members of the animal rights group have ever faced prosecution. ALF has claimed responsibility for firebombing buildings and raiding universities throughout the nation since 1979.
ALF spokesperson faces onslaught of criticism
Kjonaas has served as the main spokesperson for the ALF for the past week. Although he does not belong to the organization that claimed responsibility for the vandalism, he has spoken openly in support of their actions.
After the press conference, Kjonaas appeared tired and agitated from the week’s events, but has continued to voice passionate support of the “courageous acts” carried out by the ALF members.
“I’ve received death threats,” Kjonaas said. “One radio station even announced my address on the air.”
Kjonaas, also a member of the Student Organization for Animal Rights, said he plans to notify police of the ongoing harassment. He has changed his phone number since last Monday’s vandalism but has no plans to move out of his Uptown apartment.
Additionally, Kjonaas said he has changed his e-mail address after receiving a number of menacing messages.
He said callers have also threatened to harm his family and destroy his home. Kjonaas said his parents have supported his cause and are proud he has the stamina to endure the criticism.
Local columnists have written several scathing commentaries on Kjonaas and his beliefs about the use of animals in research.
Two other representatives from SOAR were on hand Saturday to show their support for ALF’s cause. Ami Voeltz, a 1998 University graduate, and Institute of Technology junior Joseph Janzen quietly sat beside Kjonaas during the meeting.
Janzen said SOAR has tried to organize a debate between University researchers and other scientists who oppose using animals for research on diseases like Alzheimer’s. So far, Janzen said no one from the University has agreed to such a debate.