Verbally aggressive tactics raise issue of freedom of speech vs. uttering threats

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2006:

YORK– FBI agents on February 22, 2006 arrested
Rod Coronado, 39, of Tucson, Arizona, for
statements made in a 2003 speech at the
Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Community Center
in Hillcrest, California.
“Coronado was indicted in San Diego on
charges of demonstrating how to make a
destructive device with intent that the
information be used to commit arson,” reported
San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Onell R.
“You’re damn right when you say I’ve
shown people how to make a firebomb,” Coronado
told the Union-Tribune in July 2005. “I’ve done
my time for my crimes, and I should be able to
talk about them.”

The Coronado speech came 15 hours after
an arson at a housing complex under construction
in nearby University City, California, that did
$50 million worth of damage. The arson was
claimed by the “Earth Liberation Front.” As yet,
no one has been charged with actually setting the
multiple semi-simultaneous fires.
“Destroying property to protect life is
the most sacred thing we can do,” Coronado said
in the Hillcrest speech, according to a detailed
account by Mark Gabrish of Zenger’s
News-magazine, published the next day.
Coronado heavily damaged two Icelandic
whaling ships in a 1988 harbor raid undertaken
with David Howitt, sponsored by the Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society. Coronado and Howitt
escaped Iceland before the damage was found.
Coronado later left the Sea Shepherds due to a
split with founder Paul Watson over the limits of
nonviolent direct action. But Watson denounced
the San Diego arrest and indictment as “a full
frontal assault on the bastion of free speech.”
FBI chief special agent for the San Diego
office David Dzwilewski agreed with Watson that
Coronado has a protected right to free speech,
but added, to Soto of the Union-Tribune, “What
he does not have the right to do is teach others
how to destroy property.”
Charged with arson, theft, possession
of explosives, extortion, destruction of
government property, and illegal interstate
flight, in connection with attacks on four
universities during 1991-1992, Coronado pleaded
guilty in 1995 to one count of aiding and
abetting arson of a research facility, plus
lesser offenses. He was sentenced to serve 57
months in prison and make more than $2.5 million
in restitution to Michigan State Univ-ersity,
Oregon State University, Washington State
University, and Utah State University.
Ironically, one of the laboratories
destroyed by the Michigan arsons was engaged in
developing the use of sperm cells as an
alternative to using whole animals in toxicology
research. It was located next door to a lab that
conducted studies to improve the efficiency of
ranching mink.
Coronado and Matthew Crozier, 33, of
Prescott, Arizona, await sentencing on a
December 13, 2005 federal jury conviction for
“conspiring to impede or injure a U.S. Forest
Service officer, a felony, and interfering with
a Forest Service officer and damaging government
property, both misdemeanors,” wrote A.J. Flick
of the Tucson Citizen.
In that case, Coronado and Crozier were
accused of removing traps set in the Sabino
Canyon National Recreation Area to catch a puma
who was allegedly menacing park visitors. The
puma was originally to have been killed, but
public opposition caused the park to live-trap
the puma instead.
The February 2006 Coronado arrest and the
March 2, 2006 convictions of six U.S. supporters
of the organization Stop Hunting-don Animal
Cruelty were among the most prominent
developments in a burst of court cases involving
animal advocates who have allegedly tested the
boundary between exercising free speech and
making threats.
In most of the cases, activists have
been criminally prosecuted, but in one case yet
to be filed, the accused activist has pledged to
bring a civil suit against her accusers.
Attorney Marianne Bessey, who heads
Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants, on February 23,
2006 told Larry Eichel of the Philadelphia
Inquirer that she hopes to sue the Philadelphia
Zoo for banning her from the zoo grounds, based
on several of her postings to an Internet
chatroom called “The Elephant Connection.”
Writing and campaigning under the assumed
name Rowan Morrison, taken from the name of a
character in the pagan cult film classic The
Wicker Man, Bessey on February 16, 2006
allegedly wrote in a posting addressed to
Philadephia Zoo director Pete Hoskins that “You
have outlived your life expectancy by some 10
years,” that she wished him “nightmares every
night until you die, which should be very soon,”
and that “Maybe you should be kept in a concrete
closet for six months to hasten your demise.”
In a later posting the same day, Bessey
allegedly added, “Pete Hoskins thinks he is
going to have a peaceful, uneventful
retirement… he has another think coming.”
Hoskins is to retire this spring.
Before barring Bessey, the zoo asked the
Philadelphia police to investigate the postings
as possible threats.
“I think this is definitely illegal,”
Bessey told Eichel. “I have the freedom of speech
to express my opinion, and they’re just trying
to prevent me from getting information out to the
The Philadelphia Zoo has acknowledged
that the quarter-acre habitat occupied presently
by four elephants is too small, and has said it
may give up the elephants, since it lacks the
funding to expand their habitat. Friends of
Philly Zoo Elephants has asked that the elephants
be sent to the 2,700-acre Elephant Sanctuary at
Hohenwald, Tennessee.

Declaring war

As the SHAC prosecution showed, animal
use industries and the U.S. government are
increasingly concerned about militant and often
violent tactics long used in Britain becoming
accepted by American activists.
While Bessey and the Philadelphia Zoo
dispute the meaning and implications of her
remarks, longtime British Animal Liberation
Front spokesperson Robin Webb in a parallel
confrontation over elephant-keeping all but
declared war on the Royal Zoological Society of
Scotland and the economic development agency
Scottish Enterprise. Webb even indicated in
early March 2006 statements to Marc Horne of the
London Sunday Times that he personally would have
no objection if activists attacked the Scottish
The zoological society is undertaking £58
million worth of renovations to the Edinburgh
Zoo. Scottish Enterprise, the major Scottish
economic development agency, pledged a
contribution of £1.8 million.
Explained Horne, “Animal welfare groups
have accused zoo bosses of reneging on a promise
not to house elephants or replace Mercedes, the
only polar bear at the zoo, when she dies. For
many years the zoo has featured a life-size
elephant model with a plaque stating that it is
unacceptable to keep them in restricted captive
“Activists with the ALF will use their
own tactics to encourage the zoo and its partners
to abandon this deeply misguided and inhumane
project,” Webb said. “There would be no reason
to doubt that employees and property owned by
Scottish Enterprise would be considered
legitimate targets.
“We would condone any type of action that
does not endanger life. It would include all
types of damage and destruction of property,
including arson. It will be up to our activists
to decide,” Webb continued, “whether or not
they would wish to go further and target the
Scottish executive, which allocates funding to
Scottish Enterprise.”

Academic freedom

Webb, SHAC cofounders Greg Avery and
Natasha Dallemagne Avery (see page 19), five
other activists, and the anti-vivisection
organization SPEAK were all named in a March 9
injunction obtained by Oxford University against
using any “instrument or appliance to generate
noise” during weekly four-hour protests against
building a £20 million animal research lab. The
injunction also forbids use of any type of camera.
The injunction “comes after [British
Prime Minister] Tony Blair held a private meeting
with senior university figures, industry
leaders, and police to discuss strategy on
animal rights extremists,” reported Nicola
Woolcock of the London Times.
“The legal action tightens an existing
injunction, which allowed a weekly
demonstration, but placed no restriction on
noise. Protesters regularly use horns,
whistles, and play tapes of dogs howling,”
Woolcock wrote. “They also photograph and
videotape staff, students and construction
Explained Oxford registrar David Holmes,
“The working lives of many people in this
university are being disrupted by loud, abusive,
and threatening behavior.”
Some protest leaders have acknowledged in
the past that the Oxford demonstrations are
intended to put animal experimenters under stress
comparable to the protesters’ concept of what lab
animals suffer.
Recalled Alexandra Smith of The Guardian,
“In July 2004, the construction firm Montpelier
pulled out after threatening letters were sent to
shareholders and the value of its shares dropped.
Work on the lab was suspended due to ongoing
threats of violence.
“In the same month, the ALF admitted to
an arson attack on the Hertford College
boathouse. In January a posting on the ALF
website threatened violence against all staff and
students at Oxford University,” if work on the
lab continued.
“Cambridge University was forced to
abandon plans to build a primate lab in 2004,”
Smith added, “because of spiralling security
costs as a result of animal rights protests.
“The High Court order was granted at a
hearing behind closed doors,” wrote Woolcock,
“but was kept secret from activists until they
arrived at the university to protest. They
reacted with outrage, ripping up copies of the
order but complying with its demands.
“The university’s attitude towards
freedom to demonstrate is called into question by
its decision to apply for an even more stringent
injunction on April 3,” Woolcock suggested. “It
wants the weekly protest cut from four hours to
one and the maximum number of demonstrators
reduced from 50 to 12.”
The March 9 injunction came three days
after Speak announced an alliance with Win Animal
Rights, of New York City, to protest at
fundraisers hosted by the Oxford Alumni
Association of New York.
Noted for a web site using para-military
language and imagery, Win Animal Rights was
founded in 2004 by Camilla Hankins, who
previously ran a North Carolina organization
called AnimalSave. Receiving an eviction notice
in June 1994, Hankins called PETA, then called
other groups seeking help in fighting PETA,
after PETA representative Teresa Gibbs
recommended euthanasia for most of the 80 cats
and dogs found in her home. In May 2005 a local
jury convicted Hankins of neglect. She was fined
“The mastermind behind” the Oxford
campaign “is a 33-year-old former arts promoter
based in Florida,” Gareth Walsh and Jonathan
Calvert of the London Times asserted on February
19, 2006.
“From his home in West Palm Beach,”
wrote Walsh and Calvert, “Nicholas Atwood runs a
website which last month urged violence against
all staff and students at Oxford. Last week the
site circulated a list of 40 named academics and
their home addresses, saying that they were
‘legitimate targets.’ Describing some as ‘scum,’
it told animal rights activists they had
‘everything to gain by hitting these targets
According to Walsh and Calvert, “Atwood
has been behind the Bite Back group and allied
website for at least three years. British police
say they are powerless to act because he is an
American citizen living in the U.S. and his
website is in Malaysia.”
Originally from Chaska, Minnesota,
Atwood “is believed to have travelled to Britain
and met Greg Avery,” Walsh and Calvert wrote.
“He has animal rights-related convictions dating
back to 1997 for offences including criminal
Responding to Walsh and Calvert, Atwood
told David Hawley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press
that his web site and magazine Bite Back are
“sort of a news outlet for the radical animal
rights movement. We always let the activists
speak for themselves,” Atwood said. “There’s a
lot of heated language and rhetoric…Most of
this stuff is hot air.”
Said Hawley, “In college, Atwood was a
member of a group called the Student Organization
for Animal Rights. In 1994, he helped organize
a protest by that group against bow hunting at a
park in Savage, where about a dozen protesters
were arrested for trespassing. In 1996, he
served as vice president of the Minneapolis-based
Animal Rights Coalition, which has been active
since 1980.
“After moving to Florida,” Hawley added,
“Atwood got involved with the Animal Rights
Foundation of Florida and was arrested in 1998
after he allegedly sprayed red paint on a
sculpture of a swordfish at the World Fishing
Center Museum in Ft. Lauderdale.”
“Atwood is acting like a media entity,
and it’s a matter of free speech, First
Amendment rights,” FBI spokesperson Judy
Orihuela told Palm Beach Post staff writer Robert
P. King. “There’s no criminal activity reaching
back to him,” Orihuela said.

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