When the Gander Objects
Imagine that you're an extremist. You suggest that the targets of your advocacy should be killed. You proudly advocate harassing and terrorizing people you disagree with. You relish their fear — fear for their homes, fear for their families, fear for themselves. You sneer that any law that prevents you from terrorizing your political opponents is an unjust law with no moral force, and you scorn the mechanisms of the state. You associate with, and promote, crews of people who share your views and who put them into action.
Now imagine that one of your compatriots, a former ally in your movement, begins to use those same tactics on you — the very tactics you've endorsed and applauded. Imagine that you are the one being subjected to fear.
Would you abandon your principles? Would you run to the very authorities you previously condemned as tools of a racist oppressor state? Would you point to the deeds your adversary has done as evidence of dangerousness — even though you previously endorsed those very deeds? Would you beg the oppressor state to protect you — the advocate of using fear as a political weapon — from fear?
Of course you wouldn't. Notwithstanding the fact that you read this site, you're a human being with dignity and self respect. Not even a dog would sink to that sort of self-denying groveling, and bear in mind that a dog will sit down in the middle of your book club and lick its own balls.
But Dr. Steven Best, of the Department of Philosophy of the University of Texas at El Paso, has less dignity than a dog.
If Dr. Best isn't a terrorist himself, he's a philosophical cheerleader and apologist for terrorists. His cause is animal rights. This article at the Southern Poverty Law Center illustrates first his self-seriousness and immersion in revolutionary rhetoric:
Best declined repeated interview requests from the Report, saying via E-mail that a productive conversation would not be possible unless the Southern Poverty Law Center (the Report’s publisher) gets its “moral bearings straight” and takes on the “academic-industrial complex” as “the true forces of hate.”
Next SPLC gives a bit of background on some of Best's advocacy and activities:
“Let every motherfucker who shoots animals be shot; Let every motherfucker who poisons animals be injected with a barrel of battery acid; Let every motherfucking vivisector be vivisected and thrown away like the shit they are,” he wrote in 2011. “May this upside down world be set right … and the human voice never again be heard.”
Best has never faced criminal sanctions for acting on his beliefs, but he has flirted with what activists call “direct action.” In April 2010, he posted on NIO a video of himself attempting to confront a man rumored to trap and poison cats that wandered into his yard. The man wasn’t home, but his wife and small daughter were. “If I hear he’s hurting cats, I’m going to be all over his office,” Best told them. “You tell him I’ll have a thousand people all over this place. You tell him Steve Best dropped by. You remember that name.”
Best posted the man’s phone numbers and addresses, along with pictures of his wife and children, beneath the video. In an update the next day, he thanked “all who called and expressed concern” for letting the alleged cat-poisoner know “he is being watched.”
Best is much admired within the radical fringe of the animal liberation movement. As co-founder of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office (with which Marino is also involved), he’s helped enable “underground” activists — like the Animal Liberation Brigade member who firebombed Jentsch’s car — to anonymously claim credit for terrorist acts.
His biggest contribution to the movement is ideological. Under his notion of “extensional self-defense,” humans are morally justified to act as “proxy agents” for animals and use violence against their “oppressors.” This doctrine is virtually identical to that embraced by anti-abortion extremists, who call the murder of abortion practitioners “defensive action” and celebrate those who do it.
Is Dr. Best the sort who believes in "the system?" Well, look at his blog and judge for yourself:
Fuck this corrupt, omnicidal, nihilistic, corporate-controlled, fascist world-system; you don’t reform evil, you destroy it. Not a chance in hell to create a culture of life until we destroy the culture of death. Disease has consumed the entire body of civilization. We live among ruins, we inhabit a graveyard, an apocalyptic wasteland strewn with corpses, carrion, and zombies.
Strong words. Surely this is a man who would never appeal to the fascist world-system himself.
Or would he?
See, one of the people Dr. Best used to endorse and applaud and encourage is Camile Marino of "Negotiation is Over."
Using language and tactics consciously borrowed from violent anti-abortion extremists, Marino sends threatening E-mails, publicizes the personal information of her targets, and encourages NIO sympathizers to destroy their lives by whatever means they deem appropriate, whether lawful or not.
No one is off limits. The group has verbally attacked students — among them an undergraduate researcher at Florida Atlantic University whose work involved fruit flies. And it has gone after professors who don’t work directly with animals but use open source data collected by others who have.
Previously Dr. Best has supported Marino by, for instance, helping her put bounties on the contact information of biomedical students so that her group could threaten and harass them. (Edited to add: Dr. Best asserts that he merely allowed Marino to use an account and did not know of or endorse her activities.)
But Dr. Best, for all his fondness for animals, apparently never learned a very fundamental lesson about them: when you lay down with dogs, you get fleas. Put another way: when you associate with the sort of people who eagerly throw themselves into threatening and menacing scientists and grad students, sometimes you learn to your regret that they are terrifyingly crazy.
As the blog Speaking of Research reported this week, Dr. Best felt it necessary to appeal to the fascist oppressor state to get a temporary restraining order against Marino, who apparently turned against him and began deluging him with frightening threats and invective. His TRO application — available through the Speaking of Research link, with relevant portions also hosted here in case he makes further use of the oppressor state to attack their site — represents a man abandoning his stated principles the moment they are turned against him.
I hope you see how little regard this woman has for the law, for the rights and respect of others. . . . Please help stop these vile terrorist tactics against me, before she inflicts further damage to my reputation, my psychological well-being and health, and even possibly to my physical body.
In the TRO application, Dr. Best describes Marino's animal rights campaign — the campaign which he encouraged and endorsed, the campaign for which he provided philosophical underpinnings — as evidence of why Marino is dangerous and why the court should issue a TRO against her.
She has a history of this, in fact the Wayne State University has her banned from there and a Professor has obtained an order of protection against her to stay away from his home and the University but she violated that and was arrested. I know that this last part has nothing to do with me but I just want the court to understand the kind of person we are dealing with and why I fear her and her threats.
Also note that Dr. Best — an open advocate and user of vivid language, a outspoken defender of vivid free speech — wants a court not just to prevent Marino from contacting and threatening him, but to silence her:
I want a full cease and desist order to stop her from ever again contacting me in any way, including ever mentioning my name in any public forum or context whatsoever, including her website and n [sic] Facebook.
Perhaps Dr. Best has had a complete change of heart, and we'll soon see a new essay from him renouncing threats and violence. Or perhaps the TRO application should simply be seen as an extension of his prior work, this time used to protect the most important, the most majestic, the most noble of animals — Dr. Steven Best:
I am a Dr. Professor [sic] at UTEP and I can't have her slandering my name and the treats she is posting. Please help me.
Being an internationally known and respected author, speaker, and (UTEP) professor, these are no minor concerns for me.
No doubt Dr. Best would dismiss all of this by saying that he's not actually a sniveling hypocrite who abandons his principles at the first sign of them being turned against him — he'd say that this is different. He advocates threatened violence and violence for principle, but Marino is using it against him out of madness and personal pique. Let's leave aside the utter foolishness of anyone surprised to encounter madness among terrorists. Let's instead focus on Dr. Best's insipid utopian idiocy. Dr. Best apparently believes that his ideas — that violence and threats of violence are morally justifiable — will only be employed in the service of politics he likes. Only a damned fool thinks that. The rule of law is what defends us not just from animal rights terrorists, but from people who kill doctors who perform abortions, and people who kill "blasphemers," and people who kill gays, and people who kill people of different races, and people who kill people of different politics. We abandon it at our collective peril.
Based on the documents Dr. Best has submitted, the New Mexico court should probably issue a temporary restraining order against Marino. It appears that she has engaged in true threats, as opposed to mere rhetoric, and that she may pose a genuine physical danger to Dr. Best if she ever comes near him. The rule of law protects even those who scorn it. Just as freedom of expression protects the Phelpses and the Skokie Nazis who would ditch it in a heartbeat if they took power, laws against threats of violence protect even those who sneer at them, like Dr. Best.
But I can't see why anyone either inside our outside of the animal rights movement should ever take Dr. Steven Best seriously again.
Edited to add: Commenter Dan Weber points out this revealing gem:
She has always talked about killing herself, and that she would "take someone out with her"; I now fear that person will not be a medical researcher/vivesector she loathes so intensely, but rather me.
Emphasis, and evidence of sociopathy, in original.
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