Every time Nick Mallard went out to demonstrate against animal testing, he knew there was a chance he would be arrested for disorderly conduct — a misdemeanor.
The last time he went out, the charges were much more serious: He and eight other activists took it upon themselves to protest outside the Hill Country home of an executive tied to animal testing. They showed up early Friday morning with signs and buckets ("To make noise," the 21-year-old explained), and a few minutes later they were carted away by local police. The charge: third degree criminal stalking, a felony punishable by 10 years in prison.
The executive works for Marsh Inc., a risk and insurance services firm with an annual revenue of $5.2 billion. The protesters work for no one but animals, and are loosely associated with the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign (SHAC). SHAC has targeted Huntingdon Life Sciences, Europe's largest contract animal testing laboratory, for the past decade in an effort to stop the deaths of 500 animals a day in their labs. SHAC claims that Marsh insures the workers of HLS and deserves to be targeted. By attacking the companies that work with HLS, SHAC says it can shut down the research facility.
Mallard says that he is not a member of SHAC — "The people who were arrested, we have our own grassroots campaign." — but it looks like federal and state officials are trying to line him and other activists up as such. Before making bail at 3 a.m. Tuesday, Mallard was questioned by Kendall County authorities and the FBI. He refused to talk with the federal agent.
Demonstrators in the United Kingdom have successfully limited the scope of Huntingdon's business, first by forcing shareholders to sell their stock in the company, and then by pushing the company's corporate brokers to resign. In the last week of 2000, the company was delisted on the New York Stock Exchange, and was taken off Nasdaq in October 2001.
"`Economic pressure is` the only thing that they understand," says Feral, a 28-year-old animal activist who was not at the Friday morning demonstration. "We're hitting them where it hurts."
In addition to testing cancer and AIDS drugs, HLS uses animals to test pesticides, hair dyes, and skin treatments. The products are tested on dogs, cats, monkeys, and rats.
A commonly-referred-to experiment — by activists, at least — was secretly documented in one of five undercover infiltrations of HLS labs: a frustrated technician, unable to draw blood from a puppy's vein, instead punched it in the face until the red started to flow.
The techniques of the direct action against Marsh are simple: Meet with the company, ask it to end its collusion. If it won't, instead of showing up at the two offices in San Antonio and protesting, activists are setting up camp outside employees' homes, at their country clubs, and anywhere other people will hear the message.
"We're really looking at how to shut a company down," says Feral. "The days of shouting at brick walls are over." In January of 2002, a campaign against Stephens Inc. — a Little Rock, Arkansas-based investment bank — coincided with the company selling HLS' credit line to an unidentified investor. Stephens said the sale had nothing to do with the protests.
As far as being aligned with SHAC, Feral says, "There is no roster or membership list. It's a loose network, with shared research by individuals."
Donald J. Barnes, executive director of Voice for Animals and a 22-year-veteran of the animal rights campaign in San Antonio, has never seen a direct action of this type.
"It's incredible the amount of effect they've had without any formal leaders. It is in fact a grassroots campaign, and it is working," Barnes says. With what seems like concern, he adds, "The question's then: At what expense? That's another thing entirely."
Demonstrations have become violent at times, especially in the UK: baseball bats, bricks, and broken windows have appeared at HLS protests; Managing Director Brian Cass was once struck in the head by a bat-wielding activist.
Marsh has filed a lawsuit against SHAC, in part to protect itself from the same treatment. The suit claims that "SHAC is an international terrorist organization with an express singular goal — the annihilation of Huntingdon Life Sciences."
The suit continues that employees of the insurer have been harassed, intimidated, and made to fear for their safety. The last line of the Causes of Action concludes that the company itself fears that workers may "resign from Marsh, causing Marsh additional economic loss."
"Marsh is now suing whoever they can identify," says Feral, who predicts the company will be out of HLS by year's end. But, he adds, they "are one of the few groups who have fought back."
When asked for Marsh's reaction to the SHAC campaign, head of communications Tom Elliot said, "We can't confirm or deny anything about this."
This is not the first time Marsh's detractors have been arrested, but it is the first time any have been charged with stalking. If it does anything to affect the movement, Feral believes it will only renew spirit in the fight for animal rights.
Out on a $25,000 bail, Mallard's two court dates are tentatively scheduled September 10 and 12; in addition to stalking, police charged him with resisting arrest. Mallard says he was protecting the camera he brought to document the event while an officer tackled him. The camera is still in custody.