Over the last few years, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have received death threats, had their cars firebombed and had their homes vandalized by activists who want to stop animal testing. This week, one UCLA professor said enough is enough.
David Jentsch is a neurobiologist who studies the effects of drug addiction and mental illness. He uses monkeys in his research, and that's made him a target of animal rights extremists. Early in the morning on March 7, they set his car on fire.
"I rose my head up from my pillow and looked out my window, and I saw a glow coming from the window that if you've ever seen, you wouldn't mistake for anything else," he recalls.
Jentsch ran downstairs, out the door, grabbed his garden hose and frantically tried to put out the fire.
"But at that point, the damage had been done," he says. He's not talking about the car; he means the terror he now lives with.
The FBI is hoping a $75,000 reward in the case will lead to an arrest.
For several years, extremists have eluded arrest as they targeted nearly a dozen UCLA researchers. One neurobiologist last year sent an e-mail to an extremist Web site that read "You win" and pledged to give up experimenting on animals.
Law enforcement authorities have recently stepped up the fight against extreme animal rights activists. The FBI this week put the first U.S. citizen, an animal rights extremist, on its "Most Wanted" terrorist list. In Los Angeles, the district attorney just indicted two activists on harassment charges.
For his part, Jentsch refuses to give into the fear. After his car was set on fire, he founded UCLA Pro-Test, an organization that supports animal research and the UCLA scientists who have been targeted by extremists.
Last week, he spoke before hundreds of UCLA medical students, professors and technicians rallying in Los Angeles to support animal researchers.
"Whether you participate in animal research or not, we are all a community of scholars and we are standing up today to say that that horrible face that comes in the night can't come anymore — it has to stop," he told the crowd.
But not all animal rights activists are terrorists, says Elliot Katz, who attended the rally to protest animal research. Katz, a veterinarian and president of the group In Defense of Animals, says he worries that extremists are getting all the attention, while Jentsch is the real problem.
"He becomes the victim rather than the animals he is victimizing," Katz says.
Katz says computers or human subjects should be used in research instead of animals. He says Jentsch's studies, which require administering methamphetamines and other drugs to monkeys, are cruel and immoral.
But Jentsch says his work can't be done without using live subjects. He says it's immoral for him not to do his research.
"I think it is immoral to turn a deaf ear to addicts and say there is no treatment for you," Jentsch says. And he says he won't stop until he finds that treatment.