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A Target of Violence

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By Mona Gable, Photos by Diana Koenigsberg

Published Oct 1, 2009 8:00 AM


Domestic Terror

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Jentsch snapped this picture of his car ablaze in the driveway after the March firebombing.

For years, though, UC researchers have endured a campaign of intimidation and violence. Although laboratory animals are protected by a number of strict federal laws and university regulations, although labs undergo rigorous inspections, although 95 percent of lab animals are rodents and mice, that has not deterred the attacks. Once content to target biomedical labs, extremists are going after scientists literally where they live.

"In recent months, there have been more than 20 reports of damage to UC Berkeley researchers' homes," wrote UC President Mark G. Yudof in a letter to State Sen. Gloria Romero in August 2008, urging her to support AB 2296, a bill later passed to protect researchers against militants.

But UCLA scientists have been hit the hardest. They have received death threats, seen their homes and cars firebombed, had their names, addresses and photos splashed across extremists' websites. Even their families have been threatened. In August 2006, Dario Ringach, a UCLA neurology professor, was working on a device to restore vision to the blind. But Ringach had two young children and, after several incidents where animal rights activists targeted him at home, he stopped using animals in his research.

"My colleagues couldn't believe this was happening to me, to my colony," recalls Fairbanks of her own experience with extremist violence. "We watched them grow up," she says of the monkeys, a multi-generational family of grandmothers, fathers, teens and children. "They have names. The people who work for me are animal lovers."

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Anti-animal research extremists claimed responsibility for destroying a UCLA commuter van parked overnight at a park-and-ride facility in Irvine, Calif., in June 2008.

For Fairbanks, the attacks began one awful night in 2004. Demonstrators in black masks stormed her Bel-Air home, pounding on her front door and screaming obscenities. When she learned they were coming, she asked her son to spend the night because she was so frightened.

In July 2006, Fairbanks was on a rafting trip in Oregon when she got a call: Someone had left an incendiary device on her elderly neighbor's doorstep, mistaking it for hers. The device never ignited, but the message was clear. Not long after, Fairbanks, who had already put her house on the market, moved.

Dr. Edythe London is a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at UCLA whose studies have led to critical insights into methamphetamine addiction and tobacco addiction. She doesn't do studies on monkeys or even rodents. But because she directs a research center in which animal studies are conducted primarily under the supervision of Jentsch, she has been deemed fair game.

Support and Science

Visit UCLA's info page on animal research on campus.

Learn more about animal rights and research from pro-research sites: Americans for Medical Progress, the California Biomedical Research Association and the Foundation for Biomedical Research.

Find out more about the benefits of animal research.

Get more of the Bruin perspective at UCLA Pro-Test, the grass-roots organization for students, faculty and staff.

Learn how animal research allowed UCLA scientists to create a way for paralyzed rats to walk again. See the video from the Today Show.

Read about Pro-Test founder, UCLA Professor David Jentsch, and his efforts to save lives in his guest column at Speaking of Research.

In October 2007, members of the Animal Liberation Front smashed a window in her Beverly Hills home, inserted a garden hose and flooded the interior. The damage was nearly $30,000. "One more thing, Edythe," the group said in a public statement to London, taking credit for the vandalism, "water was our second choice, fire was our first." Five months later, they firebombed her front door.

Researchers Respond

But after years of silence, the scientists are fighting back. A week after his car was blown up, Jentsch decided he'd had enough. Tired of harassment, assaults, myths and lies peddled by animal rights extremists, he launched UCLA Pro-Test, a support group for animal re-search. With the help of a young British activist, Tom Holder, who helped organize faculty and students at the University of Oxford after attacks on scientists there, Jentsch planned an event on April 22, the day animal rights groups would be demonstrating at UCLA.

That morning, when UCLA Pro-Test held its first rally on campus, 700 people turned out. There were nurses in scrubs, postdocs in lab coats, students wearing green and white T-shirts reading "Stand Up For Science." At noon, the crowd marched up Westwood Boulevard to the Court of Sciences, where several UC officials and scientists spoke. One was Fairbanks, who said she was there not as a scientist, but as the mother of a child who had juvenile diabetes. "Animal research saved my son's life."

"It felt so good to be standing up publicly," Fairbanks said later in her office at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Humanities. "We all need to do it. We're professional scientists."

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In the interest of ongoing dialogue, UCLA Magazine will post substantive comments about the use of animals in research but will exclude personal attacks.

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