Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) has hit out at the leader of Portland's chapter of In Defense Of Animals (IDA) for alleged connections to "extremism" following a protest about animal research at the facility the weekend before last.
IDA boss Matt Rossell, who led the infamous downtown protest outside Schumacher Fur and more recently, was dog-piled by private security at the Lloyd Center after protesting against the alleged use of puppy mills by Scamps pet store, contacted the Mercury last week with concerns about an exclusion issued to his wife, Leslie Hemstreet, by OHSU security at the protest on April 22.
I should warn you, you might like to get coffee and settle into a comfortable chair before continuing.
Hemstreet took their 2-year-old daughter and her 4-year-old friend to the restroom at OHSU while Rossell and other IDA protesters were outside the facility, protesting the recent award of $10.4billion in Federal stimulus dollars to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH, Rossell alleges, awards the majority of its grant money to an "old boy system" of animal researchers who squander the money on "unnecessary, irrelevant and cruel animal experiments" like giving cocaine to quail, and studying the effect of binge-drinking on four to nine day old rats. The OHSU primate center got more than $12million of this money.
Rossell was accompanied at the protest by a former lab technician at OHSU, Tony Carr, who had studied the effects of nicotine exposure on lab rats at OHSU. Carr resigned over bad treatment of the animals detailed in a story in the Willamette Week recently.
Hemstreet, meanwhile, was issued a permanent exclusion from OHSU at the protest—except in the event of her requiring emergency treatment—for "refusing to leave when instructed." But Rossell says his wife's exclusion was already filled out with her name when she received it. And he says Hemstreet did not refuse to leave, either. Hemstreet has responded by appealing the exclusion in a letter, which you can download here. Here's Hemstreet's exclusion, being written by the OHSU security guard:
The Mercury called OHSU spokesman Jim Newman to get more information about the exclusion. Hemstreet and the two girls were also asked to move along from the sidewalk outside the hospital. Newman said they were asked to move along for allegedly blocking the sidewalk, although "it's laughable that they consider that someone could have been blocking anyone's egress up to that building," Rossell says. "It's literally a huge expanse of concrete and they were just standing there without signs. There was no protest happening there."
When it comes to focusing security on Rossell and Hemstreet, however, Newman responded with some pretty strong emails:
As I mentioned on the phone, the reason why Mr. Rossell and his wife are of concern is not because they are animal rights activists. They have a complete right to protest and raise their concerns. The reason why we are concerned is because of their history of aligning themselves with extremists. They have also been involved in extremist activities.And...
As I mentioned on the phone, it is puzzling to me why the local press has never looked into Rossell’s background. He is basically the face of animal rights for Portland yet his past actions and connections are pretty disturbing.
Which is where the last few days of back-and-forth between Newman and Rossell began.
Newman cited pages 15 through 17 of this federal district court transcript from 2007, in which Rossell and Hemstreet were accused by a prosecuting attorney of helping Rossell's friend, Kevin Tubbs, conceal evidence of a break-in at a research lab in California:
Tubbs was convicted and is serving a 12-year sentence for arson in relation to his animal rights activism.
"What was said in court was not true," responds Rossell. "It's true that Kevin is my friend, and that it was a shock when he was arrested on those charges. We knew him as a really sweet guy who rescued cats. I don't agree with the choices that he made and he's paying dearly for some of the choices that he made."
Rossell says he thinks OHSU is mounting a public relations campaign against him because it wants to create a "smokescreen" about the real issues. Newman responds that Rossell "says this is a smokescreen because he doesn’t want you to ask about it." "Once again he is trying to get the media to write about his cause without ever talking about his troubling actions and associations which are the very reasons he is a security threat to OHSU," Newman says.
Newman made other allegations against Rossell in his emails to the Mercury, providing a link to a California conference where Rossell was a featured speaker. "On this occasion, one of Rossell’s co-presenters was Craig Rosebraugh who at the time ran the press office for the Animal Liberation Front," wrote Newman. "Another co-presenter was Kevin Jonas who is now in federal prison for his role in the SHAC campaign - a campaign that literally involved stalking people at their homes, costly damage at homes and other menacing acts."
In another example, Rossell was a co-presenter at a national animal rights conference in 2005 with Jerry Vlasak, who is the current voice of the Animal Liberation Front. Vlasak has stated repeatedly that murdering scientists is an acceptable form of activism. Here is one of his famous statements:
"I don't think you'd have to kill — assassinate — too many vivisectors (animal researchers) before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on. And I think for 5 lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human lives."
Vlasak has also repeated these statements before US congress and on 60 minutes, yet Rossell decided to share the stage with him while maintaining that his organization (IDA) does not condone illegal actions. My question to Rossell is why on earth would you associate yourself with this person and these statements if this is your organization’s stance?
Rossell responds that by presenting at the same conference as somebody he does not necessarily condone their views. He adds that nonviolence is at the core of his activism on behalf of IDA. He says OHSU head of security Gary Granger has conceded in court that he, too, may have sat on conference panels with people he disagrees with. Granger made this admission in a court hearing over whether to give IDA access to public records over its treatment of lab animals, says Rossell.
"Newman talks continually about how transparent OHSU is," says Rossell. "But we have had to take them to court twice to try to get public documents, and won both times. The latest time was to get health and behavior records for the monkeys at the primate center. We first filed a public records request in 1995 and it took eight years to get hold of the documents."
"When OHSU were finally forced to cough up the documents, they spent an additional $21,000 of supporters' money to make sure that we got the documents in a format that was very difficult for us to look at, in hard copy, instead of in electronic format," Rossell continues. "This was 113,000 pages of documents. Can you imagine wading through that much information?"
"OHSU is transparent in terms of the information they want us to have, but when it comes to the information about the results of their research, they are the opposite of transparent," Rossell says.
Rossell adds that OHSU's lobbying efforts to renew House Bill 3094, which weakens Oregon Public Records Law to make it impossible to get the names of primate researchers, is further evidence of OHSU's desire to prevent transparency.
"I don’t see why Matt thinks we are not transparent," Newman responds. "My office spends much of our time answering press questions about our research, we issue press releases about it, our research is published in publicly available journals, the NIH posts data about our research online, we take the press through our animal care areas, we offer public tours of the primate center — I can accurately claim that we are one of the most transparent research institutions in the country."
More from Newman:
Rossell also states publicly that he does not believe in harassing individuals at home, yet attached is an article from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette where Rossell and other colleagues from SHAC do just that.
Rossell says he was present at the tour of vivisectionists' homes as part of an extensive speaking tour following his resignation from OHSU—where he had formerly worked in the primate lab for two years—in 2000. "They invited me to speak at a conference that was part of this whole weekend of activity, so I was along for the ride," says Rossell. "Nothing happened at those home demos that was illegal. No laws were broken, and there was actually no bad behavior that I saw. My behavior speaks for itself. I've been organizing around our campaign at OHSU since 2000, and I haven't organized a single home demo. If I believed in home demos and thought that that was a strategy that was useful, I would have done it. But we don't. We did a couple of silent candle-light vigils outside the OHSU president's home in the West Hills years ago, but that's all. And the president's home is actually funded partly funded by taxpayers' money," he says. "But that's it."
"I don't believe in any kind of intimidation or threats," he says. "But if you look at Cindy Sheehan and the demonstration she had outside President Bush's house, it seems like there has been a sort of established acceptance, on some levels, of that kind of behavior. She had throngs of media and supporters outside his house and the thing was essentially a home demo that lasted for weeks on end. I don't know if that's relevant, here, but it occurs to me."
More allegations from Newman:
Finally, attached is the photo I mentioned on the phone of IDA’s march to OHSU in April 2007 where under IDA’s name (IDA got an official city permit), a group of activists threatened OHSU with ALF attacks which later occurred. We had 2 attacks that year. Rossell has since claimed that he can’t control who shows up at their marches, but I think most people would agree that Rossell could have told the ALF not to march with them because IDA does not agree with their beliefs. Rossell chose not to do that. In fact in this photo, Rossell is seen standing right behind the sign that he says he does not agree with.
Here's that photo:
"They call it a permitted event," says Rossell. "The permit was for a march up to the primate center. When we arrived there, the officers who were escorting us up there said 'okay, we're done, this is it, we're leaving.' The permitted part of the march was over, and these kids unfurl this banner. OHSU says I should have told them to put their sign away, but I don't know what I was supposed to do. The demo gets advertised and of course we invite our members to appear, but these kids have their own agenda, which I don't agree with, and they showed up and made their point at the demo. It's a public demonstration and it's free speech. As inflammatory, offensive and unproductive as it is, I don't agree with it. If something like that were to happen again, because OHSU is making such a monumental deal out of it, I would probably behave differently in future. I'm not in control of other people's behavior at a public demonstration. Everyone is responsible for their own behavior at a public demonstration, but OHSU is trying to make me guilty by association."
Rossell tells the Mercury that this is not the first time OHSU has tried to associate him with extremism. In 2008, Rossell alleges that Newman contacted the media company Clear Channel in association with an advertising campaign run by IDA which featured the slogan, "the only voice they have is yours." "What possible business did they have doing that?" asks Rossell.
Newman admits having furnished information to Clear Channel about Rossell. In an email he writes: "I did speak with Clear Channel last year and provide them with some documentation (not the same things I shared with you, some of them) but why is that relevant to this discussion? Are we not allowed to discuss our security/safety concerns with others?"
"Since our billboard didn't mention OHSU, I hardly find it a security risk," says Rossell. "Why did they have any reason to contact Clear Channel and try to defame my character and IDA's character?" he asks. "We had five billboards up, they didn't actually tear the billboards down, but we were calling Clear Channel, and they said they couldn't work with us any more. They wouldn't share with us the information that OHSU had presented, but they said that OHSU had presented them with some alarming information."
"They had actually run the ads as a public service announcement, because of course we don't have a huge budget like they do," says Rossell.
Clear Channel spokespeople were not immediately available for comment at the company's Texas or Portland offices.
"My history with Jim Newman is long and detailed," responds Rossell. "I've responded to some of his allegations in detail in the past."
"It's difficult to see something and know it to be true and then have people try to undermine your efforts with such garbage," he continues. "It's just infuriating."
"This is basically just a play from the American Medical Association's white paper from 1989 in how to combat animal rights activists," says Rossell. "This has been their long-time strategy."
Bottom line number 1: Rossell is calling on OHSU to provide a porta-potty for demonstrators outside in future. "If we can't use the bathrooms at a publicly-funded institution," he says, "they should at least have to provide one."
Bottom line number 2: "Clearly Matt wants you to cover his story but does not want to talk about his own connections to extremists and illegal acts," writes Newman. "I urge you to not let him dictate your story to you."
And to think, all this started because a 4-year-old needed the restroom.
Author's note to readers: As a reporter, I've had difficulty knowing what to do with all this. Rossell has accused me of sensationalism in following up on the OHSU allegations. "You're playing right into their hands," he has said. "Why don't you talk about some of my other associations?" he has asked. "Why don't you talk about my affiliations with other primate technologists who have validated our work?" Rossell encourages readers to look at interviews with Dr.Jane Goodall, the world's best known primatologist, on the In Defense of Animals website.
Indeed, when spats like this break out, it's my journalistic instinct to back away. I suspect I'm not alone—this isn't exactly a story one could sell in ten seconds in the elevator. However, in this case, I think the spat is the story, more or less. Both sides seem so committed that they're unwilling to let a reporter off the hook if he wants to come down in favor of either. If there's a clear story running through the whole thing, I'm not sure I can find it. But perhaps you can, which is why I've presented the facts here in blog form, for your digestion.