Commentary: Clemency for Terrorists Endangers Nation’s Businesses, Researchers

Published December 1, 1999

When President Clinton offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican nationalists who waged a campaign of terror-bombing in the 1970s and 1980s, he dramatically increased the danger posed to American businesses and researchers by the most organized terrorist groups in the United States today: animal rights terrorists.

Over the last two decades, the Animal Liberation Front has waged a campaign of terror that includes hundreds of break-ins and bombings throughout the United States. In August, dozens of businesses involved in the fur trade received packages in the mail containing razor blades and death threats sent by an animal rights organization calling itself the Justice Department. The threats gave the businesses until the end of the year to abandon the fur business or face violent reprisals. The FBI is investigating.

Those who firebomb research labs and destroy meat packing facilities defend their actions by saying they target only property and never people (although groups like the Justice Department apparently have no qualms about hurting people). Like the Puerto Rican nationalists, they don’t even consider their actions violence or terrorism, but rather acts of liberation.

The Clinton-Gore administration and supporters of clemency for the Puerto Rican nationalists just gave this position a big boost. Time and again television and newspaper coverage of the controversy featured people in positions of power and influence arguing it was okay to free these prisoners because all they did was destroy buildings and property rather than kill human beings.

These apologists for violence miss the point: The ultimate goal of terrorism is not to kill, but to create an atmosphere of fear. Terrorists kill people only because it is an extremely effective way to create fear, but such fear can be manufactured by destroying property as well as by outright murder.

Racist extremists often use the threat of arson or other damage to physical property to intimidate minorities, and some anti-abortion extremists have attempted to use destruction of property at abortion clinics to scare women away from such facilities. By seeking to create an atmosphere of fear in the targeted population, such acts of property destruction constitute the very heart and soul of terrorism.

In defense of the clemency offer, defenders of the Puerto Rican nationalists claim those convicted have since renounced violence. Such renunciations are next to worthless, as the case of Rodney Coronado illustrates.

Coronado was the first animal rights activists convicted in federal court for a terrorist bombing. In 1992, he firebombed a research lab at Michigan State University, causing more than $1 million in damages. Despite a long history of other violent activities, Coronado received only a five-year prison sentence. One of the factors leading to the light sentence was Coronado’s passionate denunciation of both violence and the animal rights movement at his pre-sentencing hearing.

Once he was sentenced, however, Coronado simply ignored his previous renunciation of violence and regularly wrote articles from prison justifying and encouraging acts of destruction against research labs and other facilities. Renunciation is a poor substitute for incarceration.

Violence from the animal rights community is likely to increase in the coming years. After some initial success in gaining public acceptance in the 1980s, the movement experienced something of a backlash in the 1990s. Today, influential members of even relatively mainstream groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals defend illegal actions as the only way the movement will be able to change society.

With his clemency offer to convicted terrorists, the President gave the violent side of the animal rights movement notice that so long as they can’t be linked to murder, their actions won’t be considered “real” terrorism. American businesses and research facilities may have to pay the price for Clinton’s soft spot for terrorists.

Brian Carnell is publisher of AnimalRights.Net, which tracks the animal rights movement. He can be reached at [email protected].