Animal-rights activists Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane were arrested by the FBI on Friday after allegedly traveling 40,000 miles to release thousands of mink from fur farms.
The activists allegedly drove through Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and elsewhere in 2013, freeing minks from farms and vandalizing other fur-associated properties, a statement released from the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Buddenberg and Kissane were arrested in Oakland, California, and charged under the Conspiracy to Violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
A grand jury indictment unsealed on Friday estimated that the couple caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage during their spree of "animal enterprise terrorism."
The indictment alleges that the pair snuck onto farms and destroyed breeding records and freed thousands of minks around the country. Where exactly the mammals ended up is unknown.
The indictment details one instance where the activists allegedly used "paint, paint stripper, a super glue-type substance, butyric acid, muriatic acid, and glass etchant" to vandalize a retail furrier called Furs by Graf in San Diego.
In other instances, the couple is said to have vandalized the personal residences and property of current and former fur business owners. At one point they even allegedly freed a bobcat from a farm in Montana.
According to the FBI, "The defendants slashed tires of a meat distributor's truck in San Francisco; smashed windows and glued the door locks at a furrier business in Minneapolis, Minnesota; vandalized and attempted to flood the Sun Prairie, Wisconsin home of an employee of the North American Fur Auctions."
According to the indictment, Kissane and Buddenberg were not secretive about their allegedly crimes either, detailing them on animal rights websites and newsletters.
In spite of their self-made publicity, officials say the pair managed to avoid authorities for years by withdrawing large sums of cash from their bank accounts in advance. They also apparently only used public internet in libraries or internet cafes, had encrypted email accounts, and avoided the use of cell phones.
The indictment states that though they have both remained unemployed, they funded their trips by selling items on Amazon and Ebay.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 3.54 million mink pelts were produced across the country in 2013 -- almost a third of them coming from Wisconsin. The total value of the pelts reached almost $200 million.
"Whatever your feelings about the fur industry, there are legal ways to make your opinions known," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. "The conduct alleged here, sneaking around at night, stealing property and vandalizing homes and businesses with acid, glue, and chemicals, is a form of domestic terrorism and can't be permitted to continue."
The FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force said they will continue their investigation into the actions of Kissane and Buddenberg, Special Agent Eric S. Birnbaum of the San Diego Field Office said in a press conference.
The FBI has said the two were acting independently of any animal rights campaign or organization. However, Birnbaum warned that authorities will continue to investigate and prosecute anyone who "engages in similar criminal conduct for the purpose of advancing their own personal agenda."
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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