Authorities 'Ferreting' out Terrorist Group That 'Freed' 10,000 Mink

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - Activists claiming affiliation with an FBI-designated domestic terrorism group burglarized a mink farm in Washington state Monday, releasing approximately 10,000 of the more than 20,000 animals housed there. About 9,000 of the mink had been returned to the farm late Monday, but at least 200 died as a result of their release.

At least some of the animals that were rescued after the attack are expected to die from the stress of the ordeal, and another 1,000 mink are expected to die from heat exposure or dehydration if they are not found within a day.

Sometime between midnight and 4 a.m. (PDT) Monday, an unknown number of Animal Liberation Front (ALF) supporters illegally entered the Roesler Brothers Fur Farm in Sultan, Wash., and began releasing the mink housed there. Sultan Police Chief Fred Walser said the burglary and theft were not noticed until after the activists had left the area.

"We got a call about 4:17 a.m. from a citizen who said there were several hundred mink running loose on the roadway," Walser told television station KING. Seattle Times reporter Christopher Schwarzen described "dead mink...lining Highway 2," the major roadway adjacent to the farm.

James Jarboe was serving as domestic terrorism section chief in the FBI's Counter-terrorism Division in 2002 when he told Congress that "some special interest extremists, most notably within the animal rights and environmental movements, have turned increasingly toward vandalism and terrorist activity" to achieve their goals.

"During the past several years, special interest extremism, as characterized by the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), has emerged as a serious terrorist threat," Jarboe told the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. "The FBI estimates that the ALF/ELF have committed more than 600 criminal acts in the United States since 1996, resulting in damages in excess of $43 million."

The ALF e-mailed local media, claiming credit for their supporters' actions.

"All institutions of animal exploitation - regardless of any attempts to conceal their bloody operations - will be located and the animals liberated," the e-mail stated.

Pelts from mink, like those damaged or destroyed in the ALF burglary, are valued at $40 to $50 apiece. Combined with damage to the Roesler farm, lost revenue from disrupted breeding activities and damaged or lost pelts could reach $500,000.

David Barbarash, a self-described "animal rights" activist and the former spokesman for ALF, told Earth First! The Radical Environmental Journal that stealing the property of animal breeders is not the group's only goal.

"As well as liberating animals, the ALF participates in what we call economic sabotage," Barbarash said. "We destroy property used to abuse, torture and kill animals."

Barbarash, who is not a suspect in the Roesler farm attack, has acknowledged that ALF activists equate "animal rights" with human rights and that they do not recognize human property rights over animals.

Don McKinney, a spokesman for the Coulston Foundation, told in 2002 that such actions do much more harm than good to the animals the activists are trying to "liberate."

"They supposedly are wanting to make life better for these animals," McKinney observed. "But to date, all they've done is cost the people who have to take care of the animals hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars."

Coulston is a not-for-profit biomedical research facility accredited by the College of American Pathologists. The experiments it performs on chimpanzees are among the final steps in confirming the safety of new vaccines for human use.

McKinney feels the activists haven't fully considered the consequences of their actions.

"The majority of these [stolen] animals, particularly the mink and laboratory mice, die from exposure, starvation. They get eaten by predators," McKinney explained. "All they've really done is just sign the death warrant for the majority of these animals."

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.