Posted at New Times
Animal rights activists are gearing up for their latest call to arms: a protest outside the home of Matthew Block. Block is the founder of South Florida-based Worldwide Primates, a company that imports and sells monkeys across the world for scientific research experiments. Activists claim that the company tortures animals.
On Sunday it’ll all come to a head when protesters gather outside Block’s home in the gated River Reach community in Fort Lauderdale.
“We are having this protest to further expose the decades of immense suffering and animal abuse Matt Block has been responsible for,” activist Ghazal Tajalli tells New Times. “We aim to reveal the cruel business practices of Worldwide Primates, under the guise of science, and create accountability for those involved in the ongoing primate trade.”
Block says the activists claims are patently false. “When you are claiming that we torture animals, I urge you to check your facts,” he says “I have audits and inspection reports that show we run a very good operation here. We have never been charged with cruelty. If we had issues with the way we treat our animals, we wouldn;t have bee in business for 35 years.”
This weekend’s action isn’t the first time this chanting, flier-waving group, Smash HLS, has resorted to extreme protest tactics. Whereas other activists had handed out pamphlets or filed lawsuits against these companies in the past, Smash HLS has used drones to capture aerial shots of laboratories, and publicly pressures employees of companies it considers immoral by posting their names and photos on websites or calling their homes.
“Consistent with past campaigns and actions, we always aim for concrete results,” Tajalli says. “South Florida Smash HLS has been very successful in putting direct pressure on the companies and individuals involve in the cruel primate trade.”
In 2010, Smash launched its first demonstration outside another primate importer’s Miami facility. Activists posted the home address and cell phone numbers of Primate Products Inc. president Donald Bradford. Similarly, they protested outside his gated community. Later they posted gruesome photos of bloodied monkeys strapped on examination tables. It led to Nova Southeastern University to stop purchasing from the company.
The idea is to shame these companies out of business, or shame their customers. Smash HLS activists have harassed companies affiliated with primate testing. In 2011, Amerijet and Monach Air Group met Smash’s demands and announced they would stop transporting monkeys.
Smash HLS has been criticized for its maneuvers. In 2013, the group protested outside a tiny Miami Beach home of Matt Block’s 93-year-old mother. “They’re harassing a 93-year-old,” Block said at the time. “She’s not active in the business.”
Block also points out that nine protesters were arrested on October 30, 2013, “When you start attacking employees’ vehicles or following them home or showing up at their homes at 3 a.m., that’s a problem,” he says.”It;’s not freedom of speech.”
But activists say that Block is not an innocent victim. Activists point to his role in the Bangkok Six, a botched smuggling operation that left six orangutans dead in 1990. Block served 13 months in federal prison.
Gary Serignese, one of the Smash HLS organizers, has been arrested four times for noise violations and resisting arrest. In 2013, eight Smash HLS members were arrested after protesting outside Worldwide Primates’ location in Southwest Miami-Dade.
“For this particular protest, we are focusing on putting the spotlight directly on Matt Block,” Tajalli says. “He has traditionally made great efforts to remain unnoticed from the public eye.”
The demonstration will start at Sunday Novermber 29 at 2 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale. Go online for more information.