Terrorism denialism

I was reading two articles on disparate subjects and found them oddly linked in my mind. The first former terrorist Bill Ayers’ explanation of why he didn’t respond when Obama was smeared by association and the second P. Michael Conn and James V. Parker writing for the WaPo about the escalation in recent years of animal rights terrorism.

What struck me about both these articles is the interesting divide between how terrorists justify their behaviors and diminish their objectives of striking fear into their opponents, and the reality of what the subjects of such acts perceive. Conn and Parker are quite right to use the label “terrorist”, as even though the ALF has been unsuccessful in actually killing someone so far, they’ve come close, demonstrated carelessness for human life, and ultimately are using acts of violence to intimidate others into changing their behavior.

Now frequently AR terrorism been downplayed in discussions on this blog as property damage, or mere economic assaults on research science. As an example of this mentality, listen to Ayers downplay the Weather Undergrounds violent activity:

I never killed or injured anyone. I did join the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, and later resisted the draft and was arrested in nonviolent demonstrations. I became a full-time antiwar organizer for Students for a Democratic Society. In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village. The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices — the ones at the Pentagon and the United States Capitol were the most notorious — as an illegal and unpopular war consumed the nation.

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

Notice the weasel language of “Symbolic acts”, “extreme vandalism” of monuments to war and racism (the Capitol?), “attacks on property”, and “respect human life”. This is total nonsense. Bombs communicate one thing, even if they don’t kill people – stop doing what you’re doing or you’re next. Similarly AR terrorists have said their burning of buildings, or cars, or flooding of researchers houses, or fires set at their houses aren’t directed at people but meant to preserve life, or convey their outrage. Guess what? It’s still terrorism! When the KKK burns a cross on a black family’s lawn, the fact no lives are lost is beside the point. When violent acts, even those resulting only in property damage, are used to intimidate and make people fearful for their lives it is terrorism.

Fortunately, Conn and Parker don’t mince words and call it what it is:

Terrorists have struck again. In the predawn hours one morning last month, they used an incendiary device to destroy two cars. You may not have heard about this, even though it followed a series of firebombings of homes and other vehicles. The attack didn’t take place in Mumbai or Baghdad but in Los Angeles. Yet the news couldn’t break through the reports on the holiday season and our economic woes.

The intended target of this violence, a researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles, was a scientist who uses animals in his work. But the terrorists, reportedly from an organization known as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), had bad aim. The burned cars belonged to people with no relationship to UCLA or even to animal research.

Black comedy? No, because lives hang in the balance, and not just those of the intended targets, their families and anyone who happens to reside nearby. Because of such terrorism, many medical researchers are rethinking their choice of profession, putting all of us at risk of losing out on medical advances that can dramatically improve, and save, our lives.

Some of our own colleagues in Portland, Ore., have had to endure black-hooded “ALF-ers” chanting in front of their homes, “2, 4, 6, 8, we know where you sleep at night.” The message is clear: Continue your research at your peril.

Terrorism is the use of violent acts for the purpose of coercion and advancement of a political ideology with no regard for the safety and welfare of others. Bombing houses, burning cars, and threatening researchers lives and the lives of their children counts and I’m glad that Conn and Parker are willing to call it what it is. This goes beyond the usual stupidity of groups like PETA and their denialist campaigns challenging the efficacy and usefulness of research (or their billboards linking milk and autism the disgusting liars). This is about human lives, those being put directly at risk by the terrorists and the thousands or millions of lives that may be lost with the loss of animal research.