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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 10 June 2003 Issue


By Judith Marie Gansen

Article 23 - How To Make Someone Think You Are a Terrorist When You Are Not

The irony of a recent incident that happened to me is that I worked as a very dedicated secretary for law enforcement for years.  I have several written commendations generally not given to clerical staff and left the department with an excellent work record.  Please see my Article entitled "Saving Children and Animals Beats Cool Drinking Any Day, #11.  I am repeating some of my same thoughts here as it is important to realize the issue of alcoholism is an important one to me--I also worked for Hospice and was a Church Secretary--generally not the type to commit acts of violence.   Someone once said to me I like to pick the tough jobs but the truth is I like to work where I feel I am making a difference.  I have sometimes found myself in the position of having to explain and/or defend the actions of police officers to other activists.  While police corruption exists along with "bad cops" as well as horrible mistakes even good cops can make, overall people usually haven't a clue how difficult their job is--spend some time and go on a ride along with a cop--it will open your eyes to their world.  We need to always remember that cops went along with firefighters INTO the Twin Towers to save people while everyone else ran out.  It is also true they are not saints and all of them are not animal lovers either.  I am among the first to speak up if an officer harms an animal without justification.

One of my quests in life has been to find a cure for the disease of alcoholism--if I can find anyone doing non-animal research on this disease I want to send them some money when I can (if anyone knows of such research, please let me know).  The social problems caused by this illness are responsible for a high percentage of violence against innocent family members--especially the worlds' most vulnerable--children and animals.  Years before I became meat-free I made the decision to stop social drinking completely.  Statistics are frightening for alcohol-related homicides, drunk driver deaths, spousal and child abuse and animal cruelty.  As I have previously mentioned from cradle to grave we are bombarded by advertisements that tell us drinking is cool.  Movies and TV often show movie stars with liquor in hand to ensure that our young people associate drinking with adulthood.  In one of my favorite escapist movies--"Someone Like You"--actor Hugh Jackman hands a drink to Ashley Judd and says it is to "kill the pain" from a breakup.  If we learned to embrace pain as normal we would all be a lot healthier--pain and rejection are part of life.  We need to teach this to our children.  Of course there are "responsible drinkers" but we don't really know yet why some cross the line into alcoholism.  Is it really worth taking that chance?  My husband and I don't have liquor in our house -- it's okay to be different and we can still have fun!

The Incident

An article in our paper talked of some research being done on this disease so I did a search on the net and found the university.  I clicked on the email address provided on their website--that's what the email address is there for, right, to contact them?  No where does it say this email address is for researchers only.  When I do research on something like dog health issues if a website says for vets only then I don't contact that email address so I do follow rules.

I decided not to mention I was an animal activist in my email to them since that might cause apprehension on their part but mentioned I did want to find someone doing non-animal research on this disease so I could donate.  I simply asked if they could tell me what kinds of animals they use if any and that if they did research on dogs and cats I could not donate to them.  I asked if they could refer me elsewhere to anyone doing non-animal research.  I didn't feel asking about the animals was an inappropriate question since I have seen researchers interviewed on TV as well as other news stories where we are openly told what animals are being used.  There was no deceit here on my part--I admit I also used the email opportunity to preach a little to let them know that there are people out in the world who would donate to this research if it did not involve animals.  (Not only because it is more humane but because it is increasingly believed to be better science.)  It took all the courage I had to send this email since this disease is a sensitive subject to most people and few like to admit it has touched their lives in any way whether it is a friend or relative you are worried about.

Their Response to Me

The research department had many options here--tell me they could not divulge that information.  Tell me to "bugger off," refer me to someone in their "public relations" department, not respond at all, etc., etc.  Instead, I got a response from the Director of Public Safety--a police officer and the director even.  While his email was polite overall, I was told my email was "unsolicited" and therefore inappropriate.

While I simply signed my first name to my email I was apparently checked out as he responded back including my last name and referred to my writing for AIP and mentioned the Animal Liberation Front and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and "since you are familiar with these groups and their tactics, I hope that you will understand that your unsolicited questions about the specific types of animals used caused some concern."  I was asked to "refrain from unsolicited emails to research staff regarding specifics about animals or research protocols, and put your questions in a letter."

Well, I just sat there in shock.  I was angry and offended--here I am trying to accomplish a good thing and basically felt like I got slapped in the face--has the Far Right Wing succeeded in convincing everyone that if you are for animal welfare then you must be a terrorist?  One simple email from me and now I have become a potentially "suspicious" person.  Maybe the researcher or university had just been threatened or something--that would certainly make this situation more understandable to me but that was not mentioned.  I had brief visions of having to move all of us to Mexico and our dogs' photos showing up on a deck of cards as the most wanted by our government.   (okay, alittle humor never hurts)!

But how did I make the jump from wanting to help fight this disease to being a possible "terrorist" by asking a question and explaining why I could not contribute to animal research?  This researcher also had the option of answering me and then showing the email to their security department without telling me and I would never have known.  I wondered if I had emailed Planned Parenthood (who gets antiabortion threats) and asked a question or even said I was against abortion if they would have turned me over to their law enforcement department to respond.  I doubt it.  

This entire situation was very upsetting to me--to suddenly be thought of as possibly "an animal terrorist."  Especially since I was always on the side of law enforcement and worked with them, went to cop weddings, funerals, baby showers, had cop friends, donated to their collections, etc. etc.  I have always been a law-abiding citizen and most of my life a Christian and it upset me to think anyone could think I was not.  What upset me the most though was that by being turned over to law enforcement there was a presumption that I might be guilty--isn't the premise of our country innocent until proven guilty or has that changed now?  Some activists might back off because of any contact with the police or fear that a "file" might be created on them.  Instead, since I worked with law enforcement and generally believe open dialogue is important in any movement, I plan on sending them a copy of this article.

Communication is Everything

I asked the opinion of others (while keeping the identity of the university confidential) to be sure I had not done anything "wrong" or was possibly missing something here.  The majority of people I spoke to (both animal people and non-animal people) said the research department definitely overreacted.  AOL told me if there is an email address link on a website it is not inappropriate to contact them.  So it was more the nature of my email that was apparently considered "inappropriate."  It is also certainly true that people misrepresent themselves in emails--I am a reasonable person and I understand that.  I also don't like scaring people.  In retrospect, however, I still don't feel I deserved the response I got.  In my opinion this misunderstanding was caused by our "image problem" and the research department's desire to intimidate me.  They mistakenly believe that this kind of treatment will make us go away.  One animal activist suggested I contact the media about this incident.  Another told me to get off the net entirely or change my email address at least.

There are currently people in the far right wing of our government who would like to label us all as terrorists.  In this way, no one would listen to us and no changes would take place to better the lives of animals.  Nothing shuts down dialogue quicker than fear and paranoia--my initial reaction here was that I was afraid to even respond to them and it shocked me that I felt that way because I felt I had done nothing wrong.  The people who do terrorist-type violence in our movement (search Animal People's databases) often had criminal records previously and are just looking for another excuse to commit acts of violence.  We need to get that message out to law enforcement so they understand that.

A friend put me in touch with someone who works at another university so I could get a different perspective and better insight.  He told me that researchers don't like to have any dialogue with people--they just want to "do their thing."  Isn't that a bit arrogant on their part?  I can understand why they feel that way though--dialogue with compassionate people might make them feel guilty about what they do.  It is easier for them to feel nothing at all.  Dialogue with intelligent physicians and researchers like those from the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine might cause them to question the scientific legitimacy of what they are doing.  If they look at themselves as somehow "above" all the rest of us underlings because we are not research scientists it is much easier to sanctify what they do and color us as a bunch of overly emotional fanatics or worse, terrorists.

Well, I will continue to defend police officers when warranted, speak out against the use of violence and I will continue to look for an intelligent institution doing non-animal research attempting to cure this disease by studying the humans who have the disease since human beings are the only ones who can get human alcoholism.  My very intelligent chiropractor (intelligent because she also thinks "outside the box") believes alcoholism is caused by people having severe allergy problems.  If true, the cure would not ever be found by testing on animals.  How sad and tragic.  Until the day comes when I see a dog, cat, mouse or other animal order a drink in a bar I will continue to believe that animals are not the answer for this disease.  I hope and pray the cure comes soon to prevent the needless suffering and killing of so many innocents because someone had too much to drink.  Protecting innocent beings, whether four legged, winged or human, should be everyone's goal.  I believe this to be my purpose in life.  Like an artist who sees colors no one else can see, animal advocates need to show others the pain the animals suffer through peaceful means.  It's the only way to accomplish our goals.  Inch by inch and letter by letter and mind by mind we are succeeding because of our tenacity, our compassion and our courage--and that is why to some we seem to be such a "threat" to society.

Staff:  Animals in Print 
(free online animal publication)

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