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A Review of the FBI's Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups

Chapter Four: Investigative Activities Directed at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

I. Background

Founded in 1980 by Ingrid Newkirk, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) states that it is the largest animal rights organization in the world. PETA has been based in Norfolk, Virginia since 1996 and has affiliates in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, India, and Asia. According to its website, PETA operates on the principle that "animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment." PETA primarily focuses its efforts on four areas that it believes create the largest and most intense amount of suffering among animals: factory farms, laboratories, the clothing trade, and the entertainment industry. PETA focuses attention on these and other causes through public education, investigative work, congressional and celebrity involvement, and consumer boycotts. PETA is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.

In May 2001, the FBI's Domestic Terrorism Operations Unit drafted a report summarizing information that the FBI had collected about PETA through various authorized investigations involving animal and environmental rights extremists. The report stated that PETA disavows any connection to terrorism or criminal activity, but that it does provide "what can be considered at least tacit support for the [Animal Liberation Front]106 and its illegal activity," and that several leading PETA members have expressed support for ALF activities and refused to condemn them. The report stated that PETA had financed or contributed to the legal defense funds of some animal rights extremists charged with crimes.107

According to the FBI report, FBI investigations had revealed "a potential ongoing relationship between PETA and the ALF/ELF activities," and cited as an example PETA's sponsorship of "internships" for animal rights activists that would serve to launch the recipients into prominent positions within the animal rights movement. The report also stated that it was believed PETA had been involved in target selection for past ALF/ELF attacks and that PETA was alleged to have established a faction within PETA to secretly support ALF/ELF activities. In addition, the report said law enforcement officials "have long suspected that PETA provides financial assistance to ALF/ELF activities and/or cells" and that some recent investigative activity supported this suspicion.108 The report indicated that some of the information about the relationship between PETA and ALF/ELF was based on reporting from human sources and from the FBI's investigation of Coronado following the arson at Michigan State University.

The PETA website states that the animal rights movement is nonviolent and holds as a principal tenet that no animal - human or otherwise - should be harmed. On the specific issue of ALF and the millions of dollars in property damage caused by individuals claiming affiliation with ALF, the PETA website states:

Throughout history, some people have felt a need to break the law to fight injustice. The Underground Railroad and the French Resistance are examples of movements in which people broke the law in order to answer a higher morality. The ALF, which is simply the name adopted by people who act illegally on behalf of animal rights, breaks inanimate objects such as stereotaxic devices and decapitators in order to save lives. ALF members burn empty buildings in which animals are tortured and killed. ALF "raids" have given us proof of horrific cruelty that would not have otherwise been discovered or believed and have resulted in criminal charges being filed against laboratories for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Often, ALF raids have been followed by widespread scientific condemnation of the practices occurring in the targeted labs, and some abusive laboratories have been permanently shut down as a result.

We reviewed the FBI's activities related to PETA because it was one of the groups featured in news articles that, beginning in December 2005, reported that the FBI had monitored the activities of domestic advocacy groups.

106 According to FBI documents, the Animal Liberation Front, or ALF, is a loosely organized movement whose goal is to end animal abuse and exploitation. Described as the radical arm of the animal rights movement, ALF carries out "direct actions" against entities that ALF activists believe are exploiting animals for research or economic gain. The closely associated and similarly structured Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, has as its goal to stop the destruction of the natural environment and the exploitation of Earth's resources. The FBI considers each organization a domestic terrorism group and commonly refers to them in documents jointly as ALF/ELF.

107 The report provided two such examples. The first concerned the legal defense for Rodney Coronado, a member of ALF arrested and convicted for a 1992 arson of a research laboratory at Michigan State University. According to the report, PETA contributed more than $45,000 to Coronado's defense. The second example concerned PETA's contribution to the legal defense of Roger Troen, an animal rights activist arrested for an October 1986 arson at the University of Oregon.

108 The report cited as an example PETA's alleged $50,000 contribution to an ALF/Animal Defense League member for the production of a documentary that might have included footage of criminal activity. In addition, according to the report, a source told the FBI that an animal rights group in Utah was required to submit "direct action" proposals to PETA in order to receive funding for the activity.

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