In March, six activists were convicted on "animal enterprise
terrorism" charges-that's right, terrorism-- for campaigning
to shut down the notorious animal-testing lab Huntingdon Life
Sciences. On June 7, they will be sentenced: two defendants
face up to a year in federal prison, and others likely face
five to 10 years.
They weren't accused of murder, bombings or taking hostages.
They're big crime? Running a website.
They posted news about the international campaign to close
HLS -- legal actions like protests and illegal actions like
stealing animals from labs -- and unabashedly supported all
of it. The government never accused the SHAC 7 of committing
any of those acts, but said that posting communiqués
and supporting direct action amounted to a campaign of harassment,
intimidation and "terrorism."
Even in this post 9/11 climate, running a website probably
wouldn't top most people's list of terrorist plots. So how
did corporations use the government to turn protected-albeit
controversial-First Amendment activity into "terrorism"?
ANIMAL ENTERPRISE PROTECTION ACT
The Patriot Act, domestic spying, no-fly lists: the scope
of the War on Terrorism's impact on activism, and everyday
life, grows wider and wider. But the legislation that led
to these charges started long before 9/11, and had been sitting
idly until now.
In 1992 Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Protection
Act . It received little attention except from groups like
the National Association for Biomedical Research that pushed
It created the crime of "animal enterprise terrorism"
for anyone who travels in "interstate or foreign commerce"
(like crossing lines or using the mail) and "intentionally
damages or causes the loss of any property (including animals
or records) used by the animal enterprise, or conspires to
It also spelled out sentencing guidelines:
- Causing less than $10,000 in damages means fines and/or
six months in prison.
- Causing more than $10,000 in damages means fines and/or
three years in prison.
- Causing "serious bodily injury" means fines
and/or 20 years in prison.
- Causing human death means fines and/or a sentence of "life
or for any term of years."
When the law passed, some green and civil rights groups cautioned
that its vague language could open the floodgates to prosecution
of non-violent activists. They noted that causing "the
loss of any property" is the objective of any boycott
or sustained activist campaign against industry: if activist
campaigns didn't hurt profits, corporations would never pay
attention. Bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s
probably caused a loss of property for those businesses, and
that's why they were key tactics in the civil rights movement.
A SLOW START
Those floodgates didn't open, though. The law sat on the
shelf for years, and industry groups started complaining that
the government did not use it to go after activists.
One reason is that law enforcement hadn't caught many members
of the Animal Liberation Front or Earth Liberation Front.
And they still haven't: underground activists have claimed
credit for more than 1,200 criminal incidents since 1990,
according to the F.B.I., and there are 150 pending "eco-terror"
Animal abuse industries were undeterred. They began pushing
for stiffer penalties and even broader language in the law.
In an analysis of the act, referenced repeatedly by industry
groups, a member of the board of directors of the National
Animal Interest Alliance said sentencing in the law had to
be increased. Edward J. Walsh said the absence of a death
"...is a veritable invitation to serious terrorists
to take advantage of what appears to be a clear mismatch between
sentencing guidelines and the severity of the criminal offenses
referenced in the Act; the implication is, "Come on.
Take the plunge. You will be back on the street in two, maybe
three years, no matter what you do." In this regard,
the Act is an embarrassment."
Since the law wasn't being used to go after arsonists, Walsh
and others pushed to expand the law's definition of terrorism
to include "not-so-savage acts" like "pies
in the face" that they said were taking a bigger toll
on the industry. Harassment and character defamation constitute
"something worse and far more dangerous to society than
a simple punch in the nose."
In an eerie forecast of President George W. Bush's "you're
either with us or against us" rhetoric in the War on
Terrorism, Walsh went on the offensive against any lawmakers
who attempt to roll back the law:
"Congressmen and women who are sympathetic to the
cause of animal rights must be reminded that they are aiding
and abetting terrorism when they work to dilute the language
of criminal statutes written to protect scientists, businessmen
and women, entertainers and farmers, as well as law-abiding
citizens in general, from hate-inspired violence."
Not everyone followed lockstep behind this legislative strategy.
Brian Carnell, who runs the anti-animal rights site www.animalrights.net,
"In fact it is hard to understand the point of having
such an act in the first place except as a symbolic gesture.
It would be far better off to simply charge animal rights
terrorists with arson, burglary or what have you and ask judges
to consider the political nature of their crimes during the
The government first used the law in 1998, charging Peter
Young and Justin Samuel with animal enterprise terrorism for
releasing thousand of mink from Wisconsin fur farms. Samuel
pleaded guilty, was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered
to pay over $360,000 in fines. Young was on the run for seven
years, and then caught in 2005 and sentenced to two years
Ostensibly, that's what the law was meant to do: land convictions
of underground activists who "cause the loss of any property,"
including rescuing animals from abusive industries.
Fast forward to the only other convictions under the law:
a group of activists who were never charged with breaking
into a fur farm, spray-painting slogans, or breaking windows.
The SHAC 7 simply made a point of vocally supporting those
So the law has been used to convict Animal Liberation Front
activists, along with activists running a website. But industry
groups still want more.
FROM BAD TO WORSE
Even before the SHAC7 conviction, industry groups pushed
for expansions of "animal enterprise terrorism"
legislation both federally and at the state level. The convictions
of Justin Samuel, Peter Young, and now the SHAC defendants,
have only whetted their appetites. As David Martosko of the
Center for Consumer Freedom, an industry lobby group, said
after the conviction: "This is just the starting gun."
Here's a sample:
- 1996: Congress amended the restitution provisions of
the Animal Enterprise Protection Act.
- 1999: The U.S. Senate approved an amendment to the Juvenile
Justice Act that would have increased penalties under the
Animal Enterprise Protection Act and created a database
of "eco-terrorism" crimes. It was introduced by
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), but did not become law.
- 2001: Congressman George Nethercutt (R-WA) introduced
the Agroterrorism Prevention Act. It would have increased
penalties, allowed for the death penalty, and established
a National Agroterrorism Incident Clearinghouse, and provided
grants to colleges and universities to protect against attacks
by animal rights activists. The bill didn't make it out
- 2002: Congress increased maximum penalties under the Animal
Enterprise Protection Act.
- 2004: On May 18 the Senate Judiciary Committee held a
hearing, "Animal Rights: Activism vs. Criminality,"
where FBI Deputy Assistant Director John E. Lewis joined
CEOs and researchers to call for stronger legislation. He
said law enforcement needed more tools to go after activists,
like SHAC member, who focus on "tertiary" targets
in order to influence the primary company.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) objected to the hearing and
"When most Americans think of threats that currently
face this country, we do not
mean "animal and eco-terrorism." Indeed, most
Americans would not consider the
harassment of animal testing facilities to be "terrorism,"
any more than they would
consider anti-globalization protestors or anti-war protestors
or women's health
activists to be terrorists."
- 2005: Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) introduced the Animal
Enterprise Terrorism Act to stiffen penalties and expand
the original law. It would include "tertiary targets,"
with the goal of "prohibiting intentional damage of
property belonging to a person or organization with ties
to an animal enterprise." Representative Thomas Petri
(R-WI) introduced a similar bill.
The Humane Society of the United States, along with the American
Civil Liberties Union, have opposed the bill because, as HSUS
notes in a letter to members of Congress, "this amendment
would sweep up and discourage lawful and constitutionally
protected activity intended to cause loss of profits, such
as boycotts, whistle blowing, protests, media campaigning,
enforcement actions by private humane societies, etc."
The legislation is pending in House and Senate committees.