Today could be the most confrontational day yet. Protesters have been saying it will be "a day of action" against faculty members who use animals for research.
The advertisements, found on Web sites such as Craigslist and MySpace, do not include details of the protest, and messages sent to an e-mail address in the ads were not returned. The protests, according to the listings, are being held because "40,000 nonhuman animals are currently held captive and being tortured at UC Berkeley."
Since August, activists have visited the homes and offices of several Berkeley researchers. An October protest at the El Cerrito home of toxicology professor Leonard Bjeldanes led to several arrests, although prosecutors declined to file charges.
Several researchers declined to speak about the harassment, which has become a problem across the 10-campus University of California system. Campus chancellors released a joint statement in December decrying the protests, saying the university supports free speech but that some actions "have crossed the line."
"They're not above putting bombs under people's cars," said UC Berkeley spokesman Bob Sanders, referring to an incident at the home of a UCLA professor. "They're domestic terrorists."
Nearly three-quarters of the university's animals are rodents, but scientists also use organisms ranging from lizards to hyenas for anatomical, medical and behavioral research.
UC police, who did not comment, have warned faculty members about today's protest, Sanders said, and the campus main animal facility is guarded around-the-clock. More than a dozen faculty members have reported harassment, he said.
While the El Cerrito protest yielded 18 names to police none of whom are UC Berkeley students, ages 17 to 29 it has been difficult for investigators to pin down which group is responsible for the protests. Militant animal rights organizations often switch names, and members wear masks at protests.
Several people arrested or cited at the El Cerrito protest did not return e-mail messages, nor did a handful of UC Berkeley students involved in animal rights groups.
Some organizations, including those involved in the UCLA protests, send messages to a press office run by Jerry Vlasak, a former surgeon who has become a voice of the animal liberation movement.
Vlasak said Friday he has not heard from the group behind the Berkeley protest, but said he understands its purpose: Animals don't need to be cut open for many types of research.
"Activists have sent a clear message that it's no longer business as usual," he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. The researchers are "animal exploiters, exploiting animals for personal gain."
Researchers have often retorted that protesters are willing to reap the benefits of animal research.
Would they turn down medical treatment after a car accident, faculty members ask, because the procedures were perfected on animals?
In some cases, the confrontations have led scientists to aban-
don their research. Sanders said UC Berkeley does not want that to happen on its campus.
"But if it threatens your spouse or child, it makes you have second thoughts," he said.
The harassment will stop only if authorities can remove the secrecy surrounding the protesters, said Edythe London, a UCLA neuroscientist who returned to her Beverly Hills home in October to find a window broken and a garden hose flooding the house.
"It would be very important to pierce the veil and link human beings with these illegal actions," she said Friday. "Free speech is one thing, vandalism is another."
Animal-rights protesters in the East Bay have previously targeted employees of pharmaceutical companies such as Chiron Corp. In 2003, Chiron employees in Orinda, Lafayette and Piedmont were awakened at 3 a.m. by activists with bullhorns, and fake tombstones were placed on one lawn.
Protesters also bombed two East Bay companies that year, and federal authorities continue to search for Daniel Andreas San Diego, who they say is a ringleader. The FBI did not return repeated phone calls Friday, so it was not clear whether the agency is investigating the Berkeley activists.
Although some at UC Berkeley said they were frustrated Contra Costa County prosecutors had not pursued criminal charges in the El Cerrito protest, District Attorney Robert Kochly said that demonstration did not appear to break any laws. Protesters simply debated Bjeldanes on a Sunday afternoon, he said.
"If my neighbor comes to the door and argues with me," Kochly said, "he's not going to get convicted of disturbing the peace."
Reach Matt Krupnick at 925-943-8246 or email@example.com.