Domestic terrorism

The animal-rightsers are acting like the right-to-lifers. Success breeds imitation. Where’s law enforcement?

The animal-rights nuts are imitating the anti-abortion nuts even referring to one of their targets as “Tiller,” after the murder victim in Kansas. No actual murders, yet, but explosions and death threats. One reason may be that anti-abortion terrorism has been so effective in driving down the number of places where abortions are available.

If I were running the FBI, I’d think about putting some undercovers into action against both groups of domestic terrorists. And does the First Amendment really allow the Animal Liberation Front to convey death threats with impunity by pretending to be an intermediary rather than the author of the threats?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

23 thoughts on “Domestic terrorism”

  1. First Amendment absolutism seems to be one of the few things shared by both the professional left and the professional right. I understand why the professional right likes it–it funds the plutocratic party, and freedom to libel is at the heart of Fox News' business plan. As Mark noticed, it also helps create a violent atmosphere, which generally benefits the right more than the left.

    I don't understand why the professional left likes the First Amendment, except for some warm and fuzzies associated with the fight against McCarthyism. (Fwiw, this fight was lost in the courts–US v. Dennis–and won in the political arena.) Other countries ban Naziism, without any loss of practical individual liberties. The mere existence of an abstract right isn't worth a damn, unless you have the resources to defend it. Who can defend their First Amendment rights against–say–a takedown notice? Only the rich.

  2. I think the US has a much healthier attitude towards Nazism than countries that ban its expression. Could be a hysteresis thing – when an idiotic ideology has few adherents, it's better to let them parade around and look silly than to fester in the shadows.

    I'm sure Mark doesn't mean to express an equivalence with the anti-abortion folks, but the animal rights types haven't done anywhere near the level of damage, and the "eco-terrorists" even less so.

  3. since we're talking about domestic terrorist groups, let's don't forget the terrorists on the other side of the abortion debate, those abortion supporters and abortion "doctors" who have caused the mass murder of countless babies. There is no equivalence here, as this group has committed by far the most atrocious crimes against mankind.

  4. My favorite animal rights moment (from the Wikipedia):

    January 26, 2003 – Palestinian terrorists strapped a bomb to a donkey and then exploded it remotely on the road between Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. No humans were injured in the attack. PETA director Ingrid Newkirk wrote to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat asking him to keep animals out of the conflict.

  5. Bux, remember what the word terrorist means. Abortion doctors don't view the fetus as a person, and so when they end its life they aren't intentionally committing violence, nor are they trying to achieve political ends through fear and intimidation. In the same way, when you eat a hamburger, you don't consider the cow's life to have the same sanctity as a person, and are not intentionally committing violence. I wouldn't call you a terrorist.

    That said, if killing a fetus is wrong, then what the abortion doctor is doing is wrong. Just as if harming/killing an animal is wrong, then eating meat is wrong. But these are very subjective and personal value judgments.

  6. Eli, abortion and meat-eating are no more subjective and personal value judgments than are any other moral judgments. Morality, by definition, is universal, and if two people disagree about a moral question, then one is right and the other is wrong. This is not to say that abortion and meat-eating must be either right or wrong in every circumstance, but, in every particular circumstance, each is either right or wrong.

    The reason that some view abortion and meat-eating as subjective and personal is that, unlike murder, people disagree as to their morality. But that doesn't mean that both sides can be right. I happen to think that, in most circumstances, abortion is moral but meat-eating is not. Therefore, I believe that people who eat meat are acting immorally.

  7. It's a fair point Eli. The word "terrorist" is such an elusive and over-used term nowadays. The strict definition may not apply to abortion doctors (although there are cases of extremist "pro-choice" advocates which likely fall under the definition of terrorism). But regardless of if abortion performers, enablers, and activists fall under the definition of terrorist activity, abortion is a horribly violent atrocity. I personally believe that history will show it to be THE moral stain on our society. And so I find no moral equivalence with the violence (as wrong as it is) performed by a small group of whacko pro-life zealots and the violence performed every day on innocent babies.

    Henry, I whole-heartedly agree with your assertion that neither abortion nor meat-eating are morally subjective. You are asserting that moral absolutes exist, and I agree. The question then (which I have raised many times on this site) is on what authority can a moral absolute be drawn? How do we determine (or seek to determine) what is the absolute moral answer? Who or what is the final arbiter of morality? We can't draw on science to answer moral questions; science is not equipped to make value judgements. I don't believe we can draw on personal or popular opinion, even when it's the majority view. History is replete with examples where immoral behavior has been the popular viewpoint at a given time. Plus, that brings us back to subjectivity. So where does it come from? I have to say that the inescapable logical conclusion is that it comes from a higher power.

  8. Bux, the flaw in your "inescapable logical conclusion" that morality comes from a higher power is that there is no evidence of a higher power. To say that morality is objective is not to say that there is an answer "out there" that we can find. It is to say that we can argue about moral questions on the basis of reason, and that they are not merely matters of taste.

    The same thing, incidentally, is true of aesthetic questions. They are objective in that we can argue about them on the basis of reason. For example, I maintain that, objectively, Shakespeare is a superior writer to John Grisham. If you tell me that you prefer Grisham, I cannot argue with your tastes. Nevertheless, using reason, I might persuade you that Shakespeare is superior to Grisham, even as you continue to prefer Grisham.

  9. So, a guy is some hero for injecting monkeys with methamphetamine and then killing them after they've experienced withdrawals? Why not experiment on children and retarded people? Their intelligence and capacity to feel is comparable to that of monkeys.

  10. Dennise, in animal rights philosophy, the argument you give is called the argument from marginal cases, and it is irrefutable. As Jeremy Bentham said, "the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" Because animals can suffer, and, with respect to being raised and slaughtered for food, or experimented upon, they differ from humans in no relevant way, it follows that to discriminate against them in these areas is speciesist — it is done solely because they are of a different species from us. The logic of speciesism is identical to that of racism, sexism, or homophobia, where discrimination occurs on the basis of no relevant distinction. If you want to do some reading on the subject, I recommend that you start with Peter Singer's Animal Liberation.

  11. Henry, there most certainly is evidence for a higher power. What I find though is that it often comes down to what you will accept as evidence. Remember too that evidence is not the same as proof. In order to demonstrate that there's evidence for a higher power, I simply must demonstrate that the case for a higher power is more plausible than the alternative.

    Back to objective moral truth, I think you are confusing objectivity with subjectivity still. If morality is objective, then that means that at the very least there is a right answer that theoretically can be discovered. It seems that you are coming right back to "taste", because smart people can argue on the basis of reason and come to different conclusions. Are you saying that if someone theoretically perfected their reasoning ability then they would come to THE right answer? Wouldn't an entity with perfect reasoning start to look like a deity? I think you're heading down the path of humanism, which ultimately comes back to subjective morality since there is no one human or group of humans that is the authority on morality.

  12. Bux, I am arguing that there is a position between "absolute" objectivity and matters of taste. We might claim that scientific objectivity approaches "absolute" truth, although, if you've read Thomas Kuhn, for example, you know that there are problems with that claim. But let's assume that it is an absolutely objective truth that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. At the other end of the spectrum is pure subjectivity, or matters of taste — I like vanilla and you like chocolate. In between absolute objectivity and pure subjectivity are moral truths and aesthetic truths, which I call "objective," but I would not insist on the word. You're right that two people can argue about morality on the basis of reason and come to different conclusions, but, if they are arguing on the basis of reason, then they are claiming more than, "abortion, or meat-eating, or whatever, seems right or seems wrong to me." At least in theory, one side's arguments are stronger than the other's, and only a deity could know THE right answer. But that does not make morality subjective, like our taste for vanilla or chocolate.

  13. Henry————————————-

    I don't believe animals have rights simply because they feel. I do, however, believe some animals have rights comparable to that of many humans because they have comparable intellectual abilities, hence my comparison between children and monkeys. I don't believe we should torture animals though. I don't believe have a right to life or freedom solely on the basis of their capacity to feel (One cannot have a right to something if one lacks the intellect to use or value it).

    Bux——————————————————-

    I don't care if there is a higher power or not. It does not logically follow that an act is moral or immoral simply because a deity says so. Even if it did, how would you know what this deity thought?

    You also posit a false dichotomy between divine command theory and non-objective ethics. Ethics can be objective in principle without relying on the commands of some deity.

    I have hard time seeing how ethics could have an objective basis when it relies on the personal tastes of an individual, even if that individual is a deity.

    Also, divine command theory

  14. Henry————————————-

    I don't believe animals have rights simply because they feel. I do, however, believe some animals have rights comparable to that of many humans because they have comparable intellectual abilities, hence my comparison between children and monkeys. I don't believe we should torture animals though. I don't believe animals have a right to life or freedom solely on the basis of their capacity to feel (One cannot have a right to something if one lacks the intellect to use or value it).

    Bux——————————————————-

    I don't care if there is a higher power or not. It does not logically follow that an act is moral or immoral simply because a deity says so. Even if it did, how would you know what this deity thought?

    You also posit a false dichotomy between divine command theory and non-objective ethics. Ethics can be objective in principle without relying on the commands of some deity.

    I have hard time seeing how ethics could have an objective basis when it relies on the personal tastes of an individual, even if that individual is a deity.

  15. Dennise,

    Your statements about animal rights are self-contradictory. If you do not believe that we should torture animals, then you believe that animals have rights based on their capacity to feel. If you believe that animals have rights comparable to those of human children, then you do not believe that rights depend upon the having the intellect to value them. Again, I suggest you read Animal Liberation to help you to think clearly about these issues.

  16. Henry: do we need to believe that animals have rights in order to be against the torture of animals? I would think that one could base a very solid argument against animal torture on the duties of a person to have moral integrity.

  17. Paul, rights and duties are correlative. If a person has a duty not to torture an animal, then the animal has a corresponding right not to be tortured. I could not understand the claim that a person has a duty to have moral integrity unless it is a duty toward someone else.

  18. Henry,

    If a person has a duty not to trespass on land, does the land have a corresponding right not to be trespassed upon?

    I would also like to point out that some of your arguments don't seem to pass the test of self-consistency. If suffering is enough to grant legal rights, and duties are correlative to rights, how do we handle the problem of carnivorous critters? Should we incarcerate wolves? And if not, why not?

  19. Joe, S.,

    If a person has a duty not to trespass on land, then the owner of the land has a corresponding right not to have his land trespassed upon.

    Suffering is enough to grant rights (we're discussing moral rights, not legal rights) vis-a-vis those who have a duty to respect such rights. Wolves, like mentally incompetent people, do not have such a duty, because they lack the capacity to respect such rights. Earthquakes and floods cause suffering but have no duties either.

  20. Henry,

    I understand your argument for not punishing the wolves: lack of capacity. But we still lock up crazed two-legged psycho killers, even though their insanity means that their acts are not criminal. We sorta believe that we have an obligation to protect the rest of the population from these folks. To avoid species-ism, don't we have a similar obligation to protect the prey of all hunters, be they two-legged or four-legged or six-legged or eight-legged? (Not to mention aquatic species.) And if not, why not? Unequal protection is reminiscent of Jim Crow.

  21. Joe S.,

    The fact that those of us who are mentally competent have a duty not to harm others unjustifiably (I use that phrase to encompass various immoral acts, such as murder, killing animals for food, trespassing, etc.) does not mean that we have a duty to stop others from doing the same. If we get together and form a government, which creates a police force to catch alleged criminals and a system of justice to try and punish those found guilty, and lock up those found insane, we do so for prudential reasons. In other words, we do it because it seems like a good idea, not because we have a duty to do it and would be violating anyone's rights if we didn't.

    If we decide not to interfere with predatory animals who kill other animals, we do that because interfering with predatory animals does not seem like a good idea — perhaps because predatory animals are generally carnivorous and would not survive if they could not kill other animals, so we would be violating their rights unless we were acting in self-defense. As for hunting by humans, we should outlaw it, as well as all other killing of animals for food or sport.

  22. Henry———————————————–

    "Your statements about animal rights are self-contradictory. If you do not believe that we should torture animals, then you believe that animals have rights based on their capacity to feel. If you believe that animals have rights comparable to those of human children, then you do not believe that rights depend upon the having the intellect to value them. Again, I suggest you read Animal Liberation to help you to think clearly about these issues."

    You misunderstood me. I stated, "I don’t believe animals have rights simply because they feel." The word "simply" here means that not all rights animals have, whatever those rights may be, come only from the capacity to feel.

    I also stated, "some animals have rights comparable to that of many humans because they have comparable intellectual abilities." Note the word "comparable," meaning a similar level of rights are shared by animals in at least some cases. Also, they can have rights because of their intellectual capacities, but it does not follow deductively that other animal rights cannot exist for other reasons.

    Essentially, I do not see a requirement that all rights come from the capacity to feel or intellectual capacities.

    Again, I believe an animal must have the capacity to appreciate a right in order to have that right, which is why an animal can have a right not to be tortured but not a right to life, the same basic view as Peter Singer's.

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