Operation Biteback: Oregon State University Raid
from No Compromise Issue 16
 

In Spring of 1991 some friends and I decided it was time for a direct action campaign against the U.S. fur farm industry. We had been contacted about animal research being conducted at Oregon State University that was funded by the Mink Farmers Research Foundation, an organization that collects a tax on mink pelts at the auction house and funds research to benefit fur farmers.

An undercover investigation funded by Friends of Animals had exposed the vulnerable links in the fur farm industry, specifically in research and development. Through only a handful of universities the MFRF financed research that was aimed at lowering the overhead costs to raise mink and prevent the spread of disease among mink in captivity. By the end of February 1992 all but one recipient of MFRF funds had felt the bite of the A.L.F. Besides OSU, Washington State University in Pullman. Michigan State University in East Lansing, the Fur-Breeders Cooperative in Edmonds, Washington and Malecky Mink Ranch in Oregon had been raided. This is the story of the first raid of what would become known as Operation Bite Back.

We rode up to Corvallis, Oregon on our mountain bikes surveying the outlying areas of campus until we located the long barns of the Experimental Fur Farm. Ditching our bikes in the brush we approached along Oak Creek, a waterway that wound along the fur farm right up to its property boundary. Everywhere were the tracks of mink that had escaped from the farm. Having never been the target of even protests, let alone a direct action attack, the farm's security consisted of little more than outdoor lighting, fences and a caretaker's quarters.

After a few hours in the brush watching for security activity, we ventured over the fence onto the property where we surveyed each building until we felt we had identified the general layout of the station. Besides the mink barns there were storage buildings for farm equipment, a workshop, the experimental feed building, a laboratory, the caretaker's house, and offices of the head researcher, Ron Scott.

Next we hopped over the five-foot fence surrounding the mink barns which was topped with an electric wire, the type used to pen in horses, choosing not to open the gate should it be alarmed. A few of the sheds were empty of mink and one small female roamed freely within the confines of the actual farm. Checking the gate for an alarm, we wedged the door open and watched as the female who had followed us bolted to freedom. Just then, we looked above the gate to the adjoining research laboratory and noticed a window to a bathroom that was left unlatched.

We opened the window and then closed it again and retreated off the property to the creek to watch for any response should the window be alarmed. There was no noticeable activity. Next we ventured onto the roof where we could view the entire field station. It was an extreme rarity to conduct a first time reconnaissance and feel confident enough to conclude that an action was possible, but that is exactly what we did.

We knew that the type of action we planned would bring down a wave of repression on animal rights activists, but we believed it was time the fur farm industry was targeted by the A.L.F. and OSU, as the number one recipient of MFRF funds seemed the logical first strike. If successful, in one attack we could neutralize over six research projects that, if concluded, would result in innovative developments in captive mink raising. OSU's Experimental Fur Farm had been established by the US Department of Agriculture in 1926. At 65 years of age it was high time for its retirement. Now came the recruitment stage of the action. Rather than draw from already suspected A.L.F. activists, it was decided to approach people completely unknown to law enforcement authorities. A handful of trusted activists who had proved their commitment in other campaigns were contacted, only in person and talked to only outside of their homes. Not one declined the invitation to become a member of what would be called the Western Wildlife Unit of the A.L.F.

On our second recon mission we were armed with topo-graphical, county and state maps for the entire region. Roads were driven to establish escape paths should we be detected during the raid and drop-off and pick-up points were estab-lished. We avoided stopping at any shops and stores in the area and filled up on gas far from the target. When the raid happened and if we became suspects because of our above-ground activism, we knew our pictures would be shown to local merchants so it was wise to not be seen in the area.

Our group began to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of one another and crafted our roles for the raid based on them. Some people were better drivers, others more observant and vigilant. In that way we delegated who was to drive, be lookouts and lead the entry team. We conducted all night surveillance on the day of the week we planned the raid and became intimately familiar with the normal activity during that time. With the confidence that only competent A.L.F. operatives and thorough planning can create, we next discussed tactics. We wanted to shut the farm down, not necessarily win public support. Arson became the logical tactic as well as confiscation and destruction of vital research documentation and genetic records for the mink.

The primary experiments being conducted at the time involved tests of experimental feeds. We decided that the experimental feed building where the feed was mixed and stored would be targeted for an incendiary device attack. The building was a safe distance from the mink barns and downwind from the caretaker's home. Next we decided on removing all the identification cards from the mink cages and seizing all records of the mink in the head researcher's office.

With the open bathroom window we were able to enter the main laboratory numerous times before the raid which aided in not only locating vital records, it also afforded us the opportunity to read letters and memos that detailed the relationship the station had to area fur farms and the MFRF. We were even able to remove documents on recon missions, photocopy them and return them the same night. By the night of the action we already had our own records of every research project at the station and the names and addresses of literally every fur farm and supplier in the Northwest.

The long awaited day finally came when justice would be done for the Mink Nation. Operatives gathered in a not so distant city and from the morning onward we rehearsed our roles and reviewed surveillance maps, photos, videos and notes until even those who did not participate in surveillance missions were familiar with our target. No one was allowed to wear their own shoes or clothing and everything we intended to use on the raid would be disposable. New tools had been purchased and incendiary devices assembled and tested. The routes we would take were driven and checked for unusual activity and the vehicles gassed up and checked for burnt out lights or other signs that would attract police. The previous night a final reconnaissance mission was con-ducted and the conclusion made that all was a go for action.

Finally came that time when anticipation was the hardest part of an action. Plans had been reviewed, batteries in flashlights checked, day packs loaded. Darkness is all we awaited. Two separate vehicles were loaded with operatives and gear and we broke off into two groups. In the first group one operative set out on bike to establish the look-out position. This person would monitor a police scanner programmed with the frequencies for city, state and county police and should they respond to any suspicious activity at the station. Their job was to identify the police codes and inform the rest of the team immediately. Radio silence was to be maintained unless something was amiss. This way any communication would be deemed urgent instead of frequent radio communication, which eventually becomes distracting.

One team approached from the creek and immediately entered the fenced in mink barn area and began stripping identification cards from cages. Another two-person team climbed through the bathroom window and moved directly into offices and labs with targeted documents and began loading empty packs with the material. All other research material was spilled out onto the floor and a water line broken to flood the building. Any equipment of value was taken into a sound-insulated room and smashed. With the main laboratory trashed and flooded and all documents either destroyed or seized, the trademark red spray-paint was pulled out and messages for the researchers left in three-foot letters. Of them all the most telling would be, "A.L.F., MORE TO COME...THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING."

Every tool and paint can used in the lab was wrapped in plastic garbage bags and loaded back into the packs. By now the amount of documents seized was easily over 75 pounds. One operative's sole duty would be to carry them out. A more direct escape route than that taken into the station was chosen and the break from our original plan revealed immediately an overlooked hole in our security. As the operative crossed in front of the caretaker's house a motion detecting light was activated and their presence revealed. Luckily they were able to take cover before anyone could see them but to the lookout it appeared that we had been detected.

At that very moment two other operatives inside the experimental feed barn were setting up incendiary devices. When the alert came over the radio an evacuation from the property commenced and all operatives were called off the action. From the lookout's vantage point the two joined the third and surmised that, though the light had been triggered, detection had not occurred. With the knowledge that without the destruction of the experimental feed building the station and research projects might be able to continue, the two operatives opted to return. All other operatives were withdrawn, except the lookout and the incendiary devices left behind were set up and activated with a 50 minute timed delay. The two warriors piled nesting boxes and skinning boards around the devices, which were placed centrally in the wood building, and then called in over the radio for pick-up.

Once in the vehicles, with all seized documents off in a separate vehicle where they would be taken for review, the remainder of the Western Wildlife Unit stripped off all clothing worn during the raid and wrapped it in more plastic garbage bags. These and all other disposable items were deposited by separate individuals in separate garbage receptacles. No tools were disposed of with clothing and we chose dumpsters and trash cans where it was unlikely anyone would be rummaging through. With the adrenaline rush fading with the evening darkness, exhaustion crept over the team members. As we headed south on the interstate at the speed limit, the sun began to rise over the horizon.

Today would be a new day for the Mink Nation. Never again would fur farmers feel secure in their bloody business. It would still be hours before news reports would confirm that a fire had swept OSU's Experimental Fur Farm, destroying its feed building, but still those of us on this action knew our efforts had been successful. We didn't need anyone to tell us our actions were justified. The look in the mink's eyes the previous night said enough. Already documents seized in the raid were being reviewed by still action-ready warriors. Of particular interests was letters stating that the Northwest Fur-Breeders Cooperative in Edmonds, Washington was making feed donations that made experiments at the station possible. Without such support, the station would not be able to conclude its feed experiments. Before the week would end a fire would rip through the Cooperative causing $400,000 in damages and destroying half of the facility. Six months later OSU would announce the permanent closure of its Experimental Fur Farm citing in part the lack of state and private funds to continue research. An A.L.F. press release issued on the fur farm's own letter head accepting responsibility for the raid promised more attacks and ended with the vow that Operation Bite Back would not end... "Until the last fur farm is burned to the ground."

In the name of all fur farm prisoners, this was and is only the beginning.

OPERATION BITEBACK TIMELINE

May 1991 - arson attack on Oregon State University Experimental Mink Farm. Lab permanently closed!

June 15, 1991 - Northwest Fur Breeder's Co-Op (Washington) arson attack. $500,000 damage; site closed.

August 21, 1991 - 7 coyotes, 6 mink and 10 mice liberated from Washington State University Experimental Fur Farm. Office of John Gorham (leading fur industry researcher) broken into and trashed; $50,000 damage.

Late 1991 - attempted arson attack on Rocky Mountain Fur Company (Hamilton, Montana).

February 28, 1992 - Michigan State University fur industry researcher Richard Aulerich's lab subject of an arson attack. 32 years of research destroyed; 2 mink released.

October 24, 1992 - 33 coyotes freed from USDA Animal Damage Control Predator Research Facility (Logan, Utah). 2 fires set at fur researcher Fred Knowlton's office and a USDA predator research facility; $150,000 damage.