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Back You are here: Home Social Justice Animals Terrorism act muzzles animal rights movement

Terrorism act muzzles animal rights movement

MuzzledFree speech and civil liberties – key tenets of the US Constitution – have been severely curtailed by harsh legislation against animal rights activists engaging in non-violent protest, writes Dara Lovitz.

13 February 2011

In 2006, six animal activists of the group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) were convicted of terrorism under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act and sent to federal prisons across the United States.

Did they kill anybody? No. Did they cause physical harm to anybody? No.

What they did was apparently more dangerous:  they caused a significant loss of profits to a powerful laboratory at which nonhuman animals are subjected to horrific experiments which test household products, pharmaceuticals, foods, and other products.

A new crime: animal enterprise terrorism

After a series of amendments, the “Animal Enterprise Protection Act” became the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act” (AETA). Whereas the prior emphasis seemed to be on the protection of animal enterprises, the new emphasis is on the terrorists who target the animal enterprises.

The linguistic shift thus highlights the trend away from passively protecting animal enterprises (indeed the former statute had been applied only a handful of times) toward aggressively prosecuting animal activists.

The AETA gives federal agencies the authority to arrest, prosecute, and convict individuals who engage in acts that threaten “animal enterprises”. As defined by the AETA, an “animal enterprise” includes commercial or academic enterprises that use or sell animals or animal products for profit, food or fiber production, agriculture, education, research, or testing; zoos, aquaria, pet stores, breeders, furriers, circuses, or rodeos; or any other enterprise that is “intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences.”

The AETA criminalizes any act that crosses state lines (obviously including all internet communication) that is intended to damage an animal enterprise or interfere with its operations. Conspiring to attempt such an act (but not personally undertaking it) is also a violation.

The law addresses criminal acts against property or persons. Under the AETA, criminal actions that damage property or cause property loss include damaging, manipulating, or taking records; defacing, dismantling, or destroying real property (a building, its structure, or its locks, windows, doors, etc.); and injuring, taking, or releasing nonhuman animals.

Significantly, property loss includes costs that reduce profits—such as the costs of replacing damaged property, repeating an interrupted experiment, or increasing security in response to intimidation of anyone connected with the enterprise. Should you be found to have violated the AETA, you would be subject to restitution – essentially paying back the animal enterprise for such costs.

Acts against a person include those against someone who works for the animal enterprise, that person’s partner, or a member of that person’s immediate family. Under the AETA, it is criminal to intentionally place such a person in reasonable fear of serious bodily harm or death by harassing, intimidating, or threatening him/her; trespassing on his/her property; or damaging his/her real or personal property.

Under the AETA, activists can be found criminally liable for reducing the financial well-being of clients, insurance companies, banks, health providers, accounting firms, shareholders, market makers, and internet providers who do business with individuals or entities targeted by activists for abuse of nonhuman animals.

Penalties for violating the AETA range from significant fines to 20 years’ imprisonment.

The constitutional failures of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that law enforcement focus on the criminal acts themselves, as opposed to the political views of the actors. Once law enforcement has selectively prosecuted and silenced individuals based on their political beliefs rather than on their actions, a grave constitutional violation has occurred.

The AETA violates activists’ right to freedom of speech. The text of the Constitution itself provides a remarkable framework for the ideals of our founding fathers. That text was ratified only with the assurance that the Bill of Rights, which includes the First Amendment, would attach.

Our Constitution’s principles of freedom inherent in the First Amendment dictate that we must have an expansive marketplace of ideas in which to publish agreement, dissent, and opinion, because only through the unrestricted publications of citizens’ ideas can truth prevail.

Freedom of speech is thus considered by the courts to be vital for political, social, and economic reform. The Constitution’s protection of speech is essentially a commitment of the government to abstain from inhibiting the free expression of ideas, which thereby ensures the continued building of politics and culture.

A bedrock principle of the First Amendment is that the government may never restrict expression on the basis of the ideas that it conveys, however unpopular those ideas may be.

Suppression of speech based on its content completely undermines the profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited; it is also considered, in the courts’ own words, “governmental thought control.”

It is well established that when the speaker’s views differ from what the government perceives to be the larger societal view, that speaker’s ideas deserve paramount constitutional protection.

The message that nonhuman animals should not be abused and exploited certainly pales in comparison to the larger, majority view that nonhuman animals are the property of humans and thus may be used for food, clothing, science, entertainment, or however else those profiting from such use see fit.

Thus, the message against animal exploitation should receive optimum constitutional protection. The very existence of a statute like the AETA, however, is proof that the animal activists’ message is being denied such protection.

The United States Supreme Court has also affirmed that a person’s speech cannot be inhibited merely because that person is associated with a group that may have been responsible for violent acts.

For example, a right-wing Christian cannot be held accountable on the grounds that another right-wing Christian has bombed a clinic in which abortions are performed.

Freedom to associate is a fundamental right because in many instances, a minority individual’s voice is too faint to be heard alone; but the sounding of the collective voices of that person’s political peers increases the likelihood that the message will be heard.

Despite the mandate that under the Constitution, one’s association with individuals who break the law should not render him/her a criminal, the conviction of the SHAC defendants was based on association. At trial, the government showed nothing more than loose, circumstantial evidence establishing a mere association between the SHAC defendants and some individuals who were alleged to have committed illegal acts.

In addition to the First Amendment, animal activists’ rights under the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments are also being hindered. The Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution mandate equal protection under the law. In other words, in the application of laws, the government must treat an individual in the same manner as anyone else in similar conditions or circumstances.

Under the AETA, low-level property crimes such as trespass or vandalism are raised to the level of a federal crime of terrorism. To illustrate an unequal consequence, consider the following: if you vandalize the property of a Planned Parenthood in the name of anti-choice activism, you face nothing more than a simple state code violation, likely a misdemeanor; whereas if you vandalize an animal enterprise in the name of animal rights activism, you face felony prosecution for the federal crime of terrorism.

The AETA is thus unconstitutional because it is based on the content of the speech and penalizes the speaker for his/her viewpoint – when that viewpoint is the opposition of animal use and abuse.

No comparable law penalizes a speaker whose viewpoint, for instance, opposes gun control or healthcare reform. By singling out animal activists, the AETA violates their constitutional right to equal protection.

Quelling essential debate

As our Supreme Court has written: “[A] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute.” The very purpose of the First Amendment is to protect speech that is unpopular with the community and unfavorable to the listener.

The First Amendment was not created to protect the message espoused by the majority or by those in power, but to protect that of the minority. Indeed, it is the open gate to unfettered expression that leads to a progressive nation; one built upon varying ideas and concepts that result from debate, discussion, and resolution.

Our country was not born from agreement, but from disagreement, and the First Amendment protects our rights to disagree. To the extent that the government restricts a group’s message because it dislikes the nature of that message, the right of all groups to disagree becomes threatened, and as a nation we suffer.

But what of the true victims? Nonhuman animals, at the mercy of the profit-hungry entities who use and abuse them, obviously cannot unite on their own behalf. It then falls to humans with a conscience to advocate for them. But such activists are being denied the basic constitutional rights that would enable them to properly advocate for the voiceless animals.

Sadly, then, those who simply wish for their important message of nonviolence to be heard lack the otherwise universal benefit of the freedom of speech and protest enshrined in the Constitution.

In a free society, animal activists deserve to speak openly against animal abusive industries. Otherwise, we are entering an era the Founding Fathers attempted so vigorously to avoid – one dismally defined by “government thought control.”

muzzling_movementDara Lovitz is the author of Muzzling a Movement: The Effects of Anti-Terrorism Law, Money and Politics on Animal Activism. Published by Lantern Books. Dara is an Adjunct Professor of Animal Law at Temple University Beasley School of Law and the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University, and the incoming Vice Chair of the Animal Law Section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. She is an animal activist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a board member of Four Feet Forward and Peace Advocacy Network.

 

 

 

Comments   

0 #11 John Doppler Schiff 2011-02-16 19:16
Much of the impetus for demonizing peaceful activists has come from industry-funded front groups.

David Martosko, mouthpiece for the industry front group "Center for Consumer Freedom", has apparently been hounding activists since at least 2002. SHAC holds a special place on his list of targets, and the misinformation and anti-activist scaremongering in his Senate testimony contributed heavily to AETA's passage.

Martosko's employer, the CCF (also known as HumaneWatch), is run by Richard Berman. Berman collects tax deductible "donations" from unpopular industries and funnels them through his various nonprofit front groups into the coffers of his wholly-owned, for profit PR firm. In 2008, 92% of corporation "donations" wound up in Berman's hands. Demonizing vegans, activists, and public interest charities is a profitable enterprise for Berman.

And with the anonymity provided by nonprofit law in the US, corporate sponsors can fund vicious smear campaigns against activists without being exposed to the outrage of the public. Berman refuses to reveal the sources of his funding, so there is no concrete evidence linking him to Huntingdon Life Sciences.

However, Monsanto is a confirmed donor to Berman's attack groups. Monsanto contracts with Huntingdon to perform horrific animal toxicity testing.

I maintain the HumaneWatch.inf o website, which monitors CCF's activities. The HumaneWatch.inf o staff uncovered evidence that a supposed activist by the name of "Gregory Davis" was stalking activists on Facebook. He had friended more than 300 authors, bloggers, activists, and employees of public interest groups, especially those opposed by CCF. We noted suspicious behavior, mannerisms, and remarks from "Gregory" that were reminiscent of Martosko, and became suspicious. Ultimately, we were able to track the stalker to two IP addresses: one traced to within a few blocks of Martosko's office; the second traced to within a few blocks of Martosko's home.

Given that Martosko has a deep-seated hatred of activists, a substance abuse problem, a reported history of erratic behavior and stalking, and appears to have a concealed weapon permit, his access to the personal information of so many prominent individuals would be cause for concern.

One day after we published this information, the "Gregory Davis" account was deleted, and dozens of references to Martosko were stripped from Richard Berman's websites.

Details of the stalking incident are here: humanewatch.info/blog/2011/02/09/alert-stalker/

Stay safe!
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0 #10 JMW 2011-02-15 21:10
Orlanda, I'd love for you to explain how SHAC is non-violent, how using animals for research is "terrorism" [see dictionary definition - what exactly are we trying to intimidate animals through fear into doing?], and how, pray tell, is Gandhi's actions in any way akin to that of animal rights activists [he was fighting for the liberation of PEOPLE - the only species that can understand and appreciate freedom] - oh, and how harmless you are to the animals. You're using a computer powered by electricity that kills animals, and I'm sure the land you live on now was not signed over to you by the animals who lived on it previously [to say nothing of all the myriad ways people harm animals even when they don't want to...].

Otherwise you sound pretty damn ignorant of the struggles of people throughout history, if you think human use of animals is on the same level as that.

[Non-violent activists being jailed... I suppose your definition of violence is the same as that SHAC-posting moron from AR.net? "It's only violence if a person is hurt, not if an object is damaged"?]
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0 #9 ORLANDA 2011-02-14 20:23
I notice no one seems concerned about the terorism of non-human animals, the torture, the murder, the abuse, the exploitation. Why should those who commit atrocities against animals be exempt from atrocities? A tad hypocritical.

But what is REALLY disturbing is the fact that NON-VIOLENT animal activists are being jailed.
OMG.

Then again - they jailed Gandhi and in the end he won. They threw everything at him and he still won.

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall - think of it, always.
Mohandas Gandhi

No one needs to harm animals. No one. Not for any reason. One day we'll get there. It's just a matter of time.
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0 #8 JMW 2011-02-14 11:17
CSM, go and read SHAC's own bulletins if you want evidence.

I spent a couple of years on the Animal Rights dot net site, and one listmember posted items from SHAC itself.

If they don't include the details the police reports and newspaper articles will.

And CSM, apologies are not going to Make It Better. You can apologise all you want, but the people who are living lives of fear that the violence directed at them will go one step further and kill someone are going to need more than apologies - they're going to want justice against the cowards [always, they do it anonymously, so that no one finds out - the sort of actions taken by cowards] who slashed the tires on their cars or tossed bricks through their windows at night.

And it's not just the researchers. SHAC's six degrees of separation means that if you're the janitor at HLS, you're a target too. And so is your family.

This is bully tactics meant to cause fear in the targets, hoping that the victims give up and move onto something else, and then SHAC will post to their site crowing another victory.

Basically SHAC's behaviour [and that of others like them] is that of someone who knows damn well they can't win the argument rationally, so they have to use bully behaviour to change what people do.

And yes, Lynner, only extremists whine about AETA. Only those who think the kinds of things AETA protects people from is legitimate protest, like the person who wrote this article does/implies that they do.
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0 #7 Lynnes Honey 2011-02-13 21:12
As JMW points out, no one needs to be physically hurt or killed for a terrorist act to occur. A common theme today by the AR factions that practice this type of behavior is that we did not hurt or kill anyone. But the fact is that you did hurt people, not in the physical sense, but in the fiscal sense by depriving people of their incomes and/or livelihoods. They have made people fear for their personal safety and rights. Placing fear is what is called terrorism.

If the people in these groups would place their energies into the finding of facts and activities that are barred by law, perhaps they would have more respect. If they used this information to sue or bring criminal charges against these people and companies, they would perhaps be more successful. Unfortunately, doing such things would not satisfy a need for destruction and violence that these people seem to have. As long as they feel they need to act in this manner, they will be subject to the laws of th eland, just as everyone else is.
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0 #6 matt 2011-02-13 20:15
jmw, there is over 100 definitions of the word terrorism. the definition you chose really waters down the word terrorism

in 2003, prime ministers of many islamic countries met at a conference. they agreed to condemn terrorism, but they couldn't agree on what it is.

never once heard the united states air force bombing of an apartment building in baghdad or israel using white phosphorus against palastine in 2006 being described as terrorism by mainstream media
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0 #5 CSM 2011-02-13 19:27
No, it's not acceptable protest, & I as an animal rights guy of many, many years, do not condone that. However, I ask you to post the articles re: the info.you referred to:"Firebombs, bricks through windows, threats of violence, targeting people after hours, printing the names and addresses of targets on the internet, digging up the remains of dead relatives..."

From what I know, there was none of that in those particular cases.

Again, I know that the type of protests you mentioned are not protests, it is terrorism, & it helps no animal in going about it in that manner.

If you provide the proof that terrorist activities were used by those imprisoned, I sincerely apologize to any victims of their acts, but I don't believe that was the case.
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0 #4 RowanM 2011-02-13 19:26
Oh Lord, not the false stories about dogs being released from crates at dog shows - albeit with a new wrinkle of anti-freeze. That story is older than the hills and has no basis in fact. There is not ONE documented incident of such acts at dog shows - not even one. Yet it seems to have happened at every dog show in the country for the last 30 years. Sigh. Can't you animal exploiters come up with something more original?
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0 #3 Rachel Jonas 2011-02-13 19:05
I can appreciate your opinion, but groups like these are the same ones that busted windows out of RV's, released dogs from crates (at an arena that is near a busy interstate might I add), threw broken glass into the rings in which dogs were being shown, put anti-freeze into water buckets, and sprayed crates with anti-freeze, at a dog show I was recently at. The acts I was witness to are all acts of terrorism as listed by the definition above. Considering that things such as I have listed happen on a regular basis I am very glad that these behaviors will no longer be acceptable and will finally be punishable!
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0 #2 Lynner 2011-02-13 18:41
I always thought that rabble rousing was an exception to freedom of speech - and certainly the animal rights activists incite others to vigilantism and violence against others, if they don't commit it themselves.

Oddly, only extremists seem to be whining about AETA.
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