Hoping to persuade research students to abandon careers involving animal testing, activists are mounting harassment campaigns at universities.
An animal rights group calling itself Negotiation is Over (NIO) is targeting undergraduate students who perform biomedical research on animals.
The Florida-based militant animal liberation organization, founded around 2009 by Camille Marino, finds its targets by promising $100 cash rewards to anyone who gives it a “vivisection student’s” name, picture, contact information, and evidence of animal experimentation. NIO activists have leafleted the campuses of Columbia University, Florida Atlantic University, New York University, the University of Florida-Gainesville, and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, making students aware of its campaign.
Once they have names, NIO activists contact the students and try to intimidate them into discontinuing their research. In a March 2011 blog post, Marino celebrated NIO’s first success of its “applied persuasion tactics,” which were carried out over a “long night of educational outreach.”
The case involved an undergrad researcher at Florida Atlantic University, who used fruit flies in her research. After constant electronic communication by NIO activists, the student issued a public statement “denouncing animal testing and my involvement in it.”
Marino is unapologetic about targeting biomedical students: “The weakest link in the chain is the student body,” she writes in a blog post titled “Bringing the War to the Student Body: The Soft-Bellied Target of the Vivisection Complex.”
In an e-mail exchange with Security Management, Marino defended her tactics. “The only thing I’m guilty [of] is leafleting and exercising my first amendment [sic] rights,” she wrote. “If I exposed bakers, you would consider it advertising. If I exposed politicians, you would call me a biographer. But I expose animal abusers. They don’t fear me. They fear exposure.”
If NIO’s actions were confined to free speech, Marino would be correct to defend her rights, but the courts have perceived her actions as potentially more serious. In September 2010, the Los Angeles Superior Court granted UCLA researcher Dr. David Jentsch a restraining order against Marino after she referred to Jentsch as Dr. David “Tiller” Jentsch, a reference to a murdered abortion provider, and published his contact information on the NIO Web site. Until September 2013, Marino cannot go near Jentsch, contact him, or obtain information about his whereabouts. She also cannot own or handle a gun. The order was issued because Marino posed “a credible threat of violence” to Jentsch.
Jentsch, who experiments on vervet monkeys to understand drug addiction and schizophrenia, has long been a target of militant activists. In 2009, his car was blown up outside his home. The next year, the Animal Liberation Front mailed him razor blades they claimed were infected with AIDS, along with a note. “We follow you on campus,” it read. “One day, when you’re walking by, we’ll come up behind you, and cut your throat.”
Animal rights activists constantly picket Jentsch’s gated home, which is protected by cameras and an armed guard.
Marino does not shy away from the idea of violence as a tactic. “Aspiring scientists envision curing cancer at the Mayo Clinic,” writes Marino on her Web site. “We need to impart a new vision: car bombs, 24/7 security cameras, embarrassing home demonstrations, threats, injuries, and fear. And, of course, these students need to realize that any personal risk they are willing to assume will also be visited upon their parents, children, and nearest & dearest loved ones. The time to reconsider is now.”
Marino is quoted by blogger Rhys Southan as calling on distressed activists to essentially become suicide bombers for the cause. It’s this kind of rhetoric that could persuade a lone wolf to act.
Jacquie Calnan, president and CEO of Americans for Medical Progress, which defends the humane use of animals in research, considers Marino a new and worrisome player in the world of militant animal rights activism. “To threaten students and say we’re going to give you a taste of what scientists receive so you won’t go into this career is evil genius,” she says.
John Beckman, vice president for public affairs at New York University (NYU), calls NIO’s tactics reprehensible. “Intimidation, harassment, and fear as methods for ‘persuasion’ [are] entirely unacceptable and intolerable,” he says.
Jentsch says universities need to take immediate action against militant activists and put them on the defensive. They need to use whatever legal mechanisms—civil or criminal—the system provides, including restraining orders.
The University of Florida (UF) has already done so. Last December the university took out trespass orders against Marino and her associate, Lisa Ann Grossman, after the two disrupted an event on the campus. In July, Grossman violated that order when she walked onto the campus to distribute the NIO flyers that promise reward money. The Florida State Attorney’s Office pressed trespass charges against Grossman, which could carry up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Janine Sikes, UF’s director of public relations, says the university is preparing a communications package for students to inform them of NIO’s activities and what they should do if NIO contacts them. Already the university has notified UF personnel to be aware of their surroundings, report suspicious activity, and contact their supervisor if they receive any communications from animal rights activists.
Beckman tells Security Management that NYU will do everything in its power to protect its students, but it will not discuss specific measures.
Jentsch says universities have a moral responsibility to warn their students about NIO and other militant activists.