Animal Rights Activist on Trial

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This fall an animal rights activist will be on trial for releasing mink from a farm in north central Wisconsin. Authorities have implicated Peter Daniel Young in multiple raids of fur farms across the Midwest that resulted in the setting of thousands of animals free.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

An upcoming Wisconsin trial for an animal rights activist could cement the standard for what's considered domestic terrorism. The case involves longtime fugitive Peter Daniel Young. He's charged with raiding fur farms across the Midwest and setting thousands of animals free. Wisconsin Public Radio's Shamone Mills reports.

SHAMONE MILLS reporting:

The rows of thick red pine, which surround a mink farm in north central Wisconsin, offer protection from the wind, but the tall trees and short wooden fence were no match eight years ago for those who slipped onto Alex Ott's farm outside the city of Tomahawk. They let loose 350 of Ott's prized mink, which were kept in long rows of metal cages under tin-roofed sheds.

Mr. ALEX OTT (Mink Farmer): This shed here is what they snuck into. They came in, and what they did was--these are the latches that we have in here, and what they did was they just came and they turned the latches and they went through and they opened up all these doors through this whole shed, right up and down like this. They came in here and that's what they did.

(Soundbite of mink)

MILLS: The peeping sound of baby mink show that Alex Ott did survive the setback and loss of some of his best breeding stock. Some of his mink were recaptured. Many others died in the wild. One man, Justin Clayton Samuel, was apprehended in Belgium for the raid and served two years at a federal prison in Chicago. Another, 27-year-old Peter Daniel Young, was arrested in late March in California. The most severe charge Young faces is interfering with commerce through threat or violence, which authorities call an animal terrorism charge. His defense attorney, Chris Kelly, disagrees and says this case is not about terrorism.

Mr. CHRIS KELLY (Defense Attorney): Terrorism has obviously become a scare word or a buzzword since 9/11, and terrorism is generally defined as a violent attack upon a civilian population for political purposes, and that's not what's described in this case.

MILLS: Young's supporters point out no humans were hurt in the raids the government describes as terrorism, but the FBI says the financial injury to fur farmers was significant, and they consider radical environmental and animal rights groups a growing threat. Their activities have not been widely reported in recent years, but federal prosecutor Robert Anderson says such groups are still very active.

Mr. ROBERT ANDERSON (Federal Prosecutor): Perhaps it is that we're focusing in the media and elsewhere on international terrorism and the things that have higher priority, but the animal rights terrorism or eco-terrorism is still a very active, vibrant movement in this country.

MILLS: Jerry Vlasak, a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front, says stiffer penalties for crimes committed in the names of animals won't change the group's activities. Meanwhile, Young is slated to go on trial this fall. While the case may open the door to the workings of a group the government accuses of terrorism, it will also likely widen debate over just what that word means. For NPR News, I'm Shamone Mills in Madison.

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