Don’t have a cow, man

A pair of incendiary devices—milk jugs filled with flammable liquid—shut down the McDonald’s restaurant on Mangrove Avenue for several hours Monday and drew a horde of reporters, police and federal investigators to the scene, where the perpetrators had spray painted “Meat is murder” and other animal-rights slogans on the property.

The devices, found by an employee earlier that morning, were dismantled by bomb experts from the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.

A note claiming responsibility for the devices was left at a payphone at the scene, and another note was dropped through the mail slot here at the offices of the Chico News & Review. The typed note, attributed to the activist group Animal Liberation Front, states that McDonald’s was targeted “because of their prevalent connection to the factory farming industry” and goes on to say that “the specieist attitude of the meat eating society also needs to stop.”

In an e-mail interview with the ALF’s North American press office (Click here for the full text), anonymous spokespersons said the organization supports the recent action, though it is unaware of any operatives active in the Chico area. The action can be seen, the group said, as “part of a campaign of economic sabotage which seeks to raise costs and lower profits of animal exploitation businesses.”

The ALF, which the federal government has labeled a “special-interest extremist” group posing a “serious terrorist threat,” is loosely organized, composed of small cells that are encouraged to act independently in order to shield other activists from incrimination. The group has claimed responsibility for thousands of actions since its inception in the late 1970s.

A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has taken the lead in the search for the McCulprits, said the investigation was focusing on specific leads, not on the possible affiliation of the suspects.

“While certainly we’re going to be assessing the claim, for us membership or group affiliation with the ALF is not our focus. Our focus is on the actions.”

Past actions undertaken by the group range from torching fast-food restaurants and rural government structures to stealing animals slated for laboratory experimentation. The FBI estimates that the ALF, along with its sister organization Earth Liberation Front (ELF), has undertaken more than 600 criminal acts in the past six years, causing $43 million in damage. The group espouses a philosophy of nonviolence when it comes to living creatures but not with private property.

Veda Stram, administration and outreach coordinator for Animals Voice, a Chico-based Internet magazine that provides resources for above-ground animal activists, said the ALF’s tactics give animal-rights groups a bad name.

“We are against violence and threats of violence in all its forms,” Stram said. “The animal-rights movement is a movement of compassion.”

Stram did sympathize with the ALF’s cause, however, saying that Americans eat 1 million animals an hour, a statistic she characterized as “a horrific nightmare.”

Mark Burnington, owner of the Chico McDonald’s franchise, was unavailable for comment. The McDonald’s Corporation, which announced $15.4 billion in revenue last year from its worldwide operations, has long been a visible and convenient target for activist groups, who accuse the company of destroying rainforests, exploiting workers, mistreating animals and making people fat.

In an effort to counter that image, McDonald’s recently released its first "social responsibility report," which portrays the fast-food chain as one that "creates jobs, makes local investments, buys goods from regional suppliers, and is dedicated to giving back to the community." The report notes that 70 percent of its 290,000 restaurants are independently owned and that the corporation gives millions to charity every year.