There are many organisations around the world campaigning for animal rights. Their participation in the wide-ranging debate on the use of animals in research is legitimate and welcomed in civil society. The majority of animal rights activists act within the law, however there is a small minority of radical animal rights extremists who attempt to force their views on others with illegal actions including intimidation, criminal damage and, in rare cases, violence.
About Animal Rights Extremism (ARE)
There is a wide spectrum of views about biomedical research involving animals and a range of different groups campaign against this research using a variety of tactics. The majority of animal rights groups campaign within the law – by leafletting, peaceful demonstrations, lobbying, etc – however, a small minority of radical animal rights extremists are prepared to break the law to blackmail individuals and organisations into ending their involvement with animal research.
Over the past decade several countries have introduced tough legislation to protect individuals and organisations from ARE and convict those responsible. Crackdowns on animal rights extremism in the United Kingdom and United States have been largely successful but there is evidence that extremist tactics are being exported to many other countries. Animal rights extremists are now operating on a global scale, targeting businesses and individuals working throughout the bio-medical research sector and its supply chain, including transport companies, banking institutions and insurers.
“Today, the majority of animal rights extremism is intended to harass or intimidate rather than cause physical harm and incidents of violence are very rare.”
Today, the majority of animal rights extremism is intended to harass or intimidate rather than cause physical harm and incidents of violence are very rare. The most common criminal tactics include hostile demonstrations, sending threats, publishing defamatory statements, or circulating contact details of organizations or individuals and encouraging their harassment. Less frequently, animal rights extremists will undertake ‘direct action’ such as physical crimes on property including trespass, theft and vandalism. Only in very rare cases are there reports of violent crimes like arson, the use of incendiary or improvised explosive devices or physical assaults. Although the tactics employed by animal rights extremists can vary widely these threatening behaviors all constitute crime and the impact on those targeted can be significant.
Activism vs Extremism
It is important to distinguish between animal rights activists and extremists but increasingly extremists are blurring the line between legal and illegal activity. Many animal rights extremist groups have successfully positioned themselves in the mainstream, presenting a misleading, law abiding front to the public while encouraging members to engage in criminal activity. Extremism often emerges alongside legitimate animal rights campaigns and it can be difficult for targeted organizations and individuals to distinguish between lawful protest activities and more threatening, criminal behaviours. There is evidence that the impact of recent lawful animal rights campaigns have been amplified as targets struggle to disassociate legal animal rights campaigning from the threat of animal rights extremism.
Use of the Internet
The internet has broadened the scope of ARE, providing a forum for extremists to network, exchange information and coordinate their actions on a global scale. Animal rights extremists are known to use
the internet to research individuals and organisations, publish personal information on potential targets and encourage action among their networks. Numerous websites exist to spread the message of extremists and publicise their crimes.
“Propaganda on the Internet is one of the main tools of violent ARE groups. Most of their actions are published and claimed via their websites. The professional management of these websites gives the impression that some ARE groups are supported by a large group” – Europol TSAT report 2012
- The History of Animal Rights Extremism
- Outlawing Animal Rights Extremism: learn more about legislation introduced to protect individuals and organisations from animal rights extremism
- Need support?: Information and advice for targets of animal rights extremism
- Existing Groups & Campaigns: Information on existing Animal Rights Extremist organizations and campaigns