"It used to be everyone was worried about their laboratories being broken into and their data being destroyed, their animals being taken away," said Jeffrey Kordower, head of the Society for Neuroscience's animal research committee. "What they've decided to do now is make things more personal."
The Washington-based Foundation for Biomedical Research said researchers were harassed or otherwise victimized more than 70 times in 2003, up from just 10 the year before. The number of attacks has held steady or risen ever since, according to the group.
Activists say the escalation in tactics results from a frustration that nonviolent methods have failed to stop what they call the needless torture and killing of animals.
"An animal has as much of a right to life as we do. To take a life without provocation is immoral, it's violent, there's no excuse for it," said Jacob Black, 23, an organizer of demonstrations at the homes of UC Berkeley researchers. "To name and shame these people as morally bankrupt individuals in our society is key."
In 2006, activists began besieging the homes of several UCLA professors. Masked protesters converged on scientists' homes late at night, banging on doors, throwing firecrackers and chanting, "We know where you sleep," according to court documents.
Threatening calls and e-mails followed. Firebombs were left near homes three times; two failed to go off, while the third charred a front door. One professor's home was flooded when a garden hose was shoved through a broken window.
During the onslaught, which lasted two years, a UCLA scientist with small children informed protesters he had stopped doing animal research.
"Effective immediately, I am no longer doing animal research," vision researcher Dario Ringach wrote in an e-mail. "Please don't bother my family anymore."
Though no one has been seriously hurt since the jump in home protests, the attacks have drawn the attention of the FBI. The agency has broad authority to investigate animal rights incidents under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 2006.
The Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for dousing a home owned by Leventhal with glass-eating acid and covering it with animal rights slogans. Leventhal estimated the damage at $20,000. At another home, the group claimed responsibility for putting glue in the house's locks and pouring salt to destroy the front lawn.
Experts from the Associated Press, 8th July
"Animal rights protesters torment scientists"
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