Why Is a UT Professor Collecting Donations for an Animal Rights Group that Targets College Professors?

Negotiation is Over uses donations to a bounty program for launching harassment campaigns against students and professors who do animal testing. Its donation account is registered to University of Texas El Paso philosophy professor Steven Best.

Why Is a UT Professor Collecting Donations for an Animal Rights Group that Targets College Professors?

Negotiation is Over (NIO), an animal rights organization run by Camille Marino, started a bounty program this summer offering a $100 reward to college students willing to provide addresses, phone numbers, and personal information of students and professors whose research used animals.

On its website, the group outlined a plan to place flyers across college campuses advertising the reward. “STUDENTS – EARN EA$Y MONEY!!! Negotiation Is Over would like to pay you $100 cash for information about each biomed student who is learning to experiment on animals in your university,” the flyer reads. The Gainesville Sun reported that the group distributed the flyers at the University of Florida Health Sciences Center in July. It’s not known how many people, if any, took the offer. Marino has not responded to any requests for comment about the campaign.

NIO uses what it calls “applied persuasion tactics,” and intimidation to press biomedical students to abandon their studies.

These tactics include harassing targets via email and encouraging supporters of the organization to target researchers on their “most wanted” list.  Although NIO doesn’t explicitly call for violence or take credit for attacks, it has in the past made threats against professors and sympathized with organizations like the Animal Liberation Front, that have carried out attacks. NIO also publishes the personal information of college faculty members on its website.

In October, Wayne State University banned Marino from its campuses declaring her a “significant potential danger” after she launched a harassment campaign against professor Donal O’Leary.

At a glance, the rest of the NIO site could serve as a fan club for Steven Best, a tenured University of Texas-El Paso (UTEP) philosophy professor whose writing and YouTube videos are featured on every page. The organization uses his “Manifesto for Radical Liberationism: Total Liberation by Any Means Necessary,” as a founding document.  Content from his personal blog is often cross-posted on the NIO website almost immediately after he publishes.

The NIO membership section directs members to a small PayPal button on the right column of the page if they wish to donate. The group also sells annual memberships for $20 and lifetime memberships for $50.  Since that appeal for money, the site has been rapidly pushing out content.

Click on NIO’s donation button and it takes you to a donation page set up to send money to an account managed by someone using a Road Runner provided email address – the kind that you get for free when you sign up for Internet service.

A quick Google search of the email address reveals the owner of the address, none other than Steven Best, isn’t shy about putting his contact information on everything he touches.

The search turns up his personal websites, journal articles, a Facebook fan page, and not surprisingly, the NIO website.

Best, whose interests include animal rights activism and “forging a future organized around values of democracy, equality, and peace rather than tyranny, hierarchy, and violence,” is a pillar among animal rights activists. His sometimes-controversial stances have garnered him international fame – and infamy.  In 2005, Best was banned from the United Kingdom under a law that seeks to keep out visitors who “foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs; seek to provoke others to terrorist acts; [or] foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts.”

In a 2010 feature in the El Paso Times, Adriana Gomzez Licon wrote, “Best knows he is gambling with his career when he protests against the school’s environmental policies with a bullhorn outside UTEP President Diana Natalicio’s office, or when he openly supports a movement that undertakes criminal activities to save animals from research laboratories and slaughterhouses.”

In an email, Best refused my request for an interview, saying, “I have no relation with NIO except solidarity; anyone can publish my essays… She (Marino) can comment for herself, and my views on MDA are easy to find online, thank you, goodbye.”

Within hours of my email contact with best on Friday night, the PayPal donation button had been removed from the Negotiation is Over website. Unfortunately, if someone was trying to cover Best’s tracks, they forgot to remove text on the membership page that says, “Please use the Paypal link in the right sidebar of this site or send your enrollment fees through PayPal to [email protected]

NIO had never asked for money or donations for the campaign until the last week of October when Marino posted an appeal on the website asking supporters to send money to help continue operations. The site has often been down for long periods of time because of lack of resources, according to one commenter.

PayPal allows users to send and receive money without sharing financial information by creating an online “wallet” linked to personal bank accounts and credit cards. Once an account is set up, users can send and receive money just using their email address. PayPal’s acceptable use policy says users may not use PayPal for “items that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity.”

Best’s connection with NIO could look to some like a conflict of interest considering UTEP is a university that conducts animal testing.

During a telephone interview last month, university spokesperson Veronique Masterson said the campus doesn’t have specific rules concerning faculty involvement with groups outside of campus on their personal time. “What faculty does outside the university is a First Amendment issue,” Masterson wrote in response to the information linking Best’s e-mail address with the group’s PayPal account.

Animal rights groups are getting pretty creative with their revenue sources these days, but despite the university’s policy to not get involved with what faculty do on their personal time, it seems like it would be problematic for a university to employ someone who is affiliated with a bounty program that funds harassment targeting university students and faculty.

Other than the email address being used to collect donations to NIO, Best is particularly difficult to get a hold of.  He doesn’t respond to messages to his university email address and his voicemail inbox is too full to accept any more messages. Masterson said she had the same result when attempting to call his office number, but said she’s attempting to set me up with an interview with university president Diana Natalicio. Masterson made it clear that there have been no reports of intimidation on UTEP’S campus.

[Image via The University of Texas- El Paso]