Timothy Burke has a post up about the tactics of animal rights activists here. It argues, in a typically considered and well-tempered manner, that openly threatening scientists who use animals in experiments with violence is both morally dubious and tactically unwise. That it is tactically unwise I don't dispute: the people who dug up the owners' of a guinea pig farm's dead grandmother, quite apart from having done something really quite horrible, have done their cause absolutely no favours. I'm not sure that I agree with the claim that the adoption of those kinds of tactics is necessarily morally dubious, though, or at least, I don't agree with the way that claim is always put. Burke wants to say that once you've stepped outside the boundaries of procedural liberalism - the tedious mutinae of political life in a Western democracy: accumulating evidence, making a public case, building coalitions, and in the end, through the normal channels of political action, achieving change - you've stepped off the reservation. For instance, Burke makes this claim, which I think is extremely strong:
[o]nce you accept that it’s ok to put a molotov cocktail on someone’s doorstep because you disagree with them, you don’t have much to say about Timothy McVeigh except that he’s wrong and you’re right, he’s bad and you’re good–you can’t really say any longer that what he did was wrong, just that he did it in the wrong cause.
Timothy McVeigh killed over a hundred people. Intimidation and damage to property, including most damage to property which is reckless to the safety of the people whose property it is, is not mass murder. Just because someone has given up on some moral limits, it doesn't mean they've given up on them all. Further, I don't think anyone really wants to say that all and any breaches of procedural liberalism are to be unreservedly condemned. Take the animal rights activists' case at face value. They believe that scientists who test on animals are engaged in an activity equivalent to legally sanctioned torture of humans on a massive scale. Setting aside the question of whether that view is remotely justified, I'm not sure I would want to say that if what it claims is the case were the case, carefully considered and politically persuasive breaches of procedural liberalism would not be justified.