Animal rights activists have seen firsthand the government
rollback of civil liberties for the past several years. There
have been grand jury witch hunts, "no-fly" lists
and countless F.B.I. visits. There have been roundups in the
name of fighting "eco-terrorism," and animal enterprise
terrorism indictments for running web sites. Lawmakers, liberals
and even other activists have barely batted an eye.
But the domestic spying scandal facing President George W.
Bush right now may signal that civil liberties abuses in the
name of fighting terrorism-at least in the broadest sense-are
reaching mainstream consciousness.
The president recently acknowledged that he authorized the
National Security Administration to monitor communications
of people inside the country. In other words, to spy on ordinary
Generally, the government can't do this without a court order.
Government lawyers would have to go before the secret Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act Court and show that there was
reason to believe the target of surveillance was "an
agent of a foreign power." The federal judge had to approve
the request, and nearly always did.
But the directive Bush signed allows snooping without even
modest checks and balances, and with no judicial review: Bush
allowed the National Security Administration to write and
approve its own surveillance plans.
The administration came out boldly with this information,
seemingly not expecting the bipartisan outrage that has ensued.
A CNN poll issued on January 23 found that most Americans
were very concerned about government eavesdropping, and 58
percent even wanted a special prosecutor appointed to investigate
And Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, came
out with other lawmakers to say that Bush did not have the
authority to sidestep the constitution, and the courts, in
the name of fighting terrorism.
For activists in the trenches, this may not seem like cause
for celebration. The true breadth and depth of government
surveillance and harassment hasn't reached mainstream consciousness.
But it could be on its way.
The task for animal rights activists, then, is a familiar
one: kick things up a notch.
The reason so many non-radical Americans are concerned about
spying is that it's casting a huge net over everyone in the
hopes of catching a few criminals. They have a sneaking suspicion
that sweeping government powers are being used against ordinary
It's up to animal rights activists to instill that same suspicion,
that same outrage, in ordinary Americans about the repression
that this movement is facing.
There's plenty of material to pull from.
In FebruaryMarch, seven six individuals will standwere
convicted trial in New Jersey, facing over 20 years in prison
and millions in fines, forof violating the Animal Enterprise
Terrorism Act, a little-known federal law pushed by animal
abuse industries to deter campaigns by activists. The Shac
7-a reference to the seven individuals initially indicted-
wearen't charged with burning down buildings, or breaking
into labs. Their crimes strikes against them,, according to
the indictmentprosecution, awere things like running a Web
site and vocally supporting direct action. Sentencing has
been set for June 6, with Tthe defendants include an aspiring
law student, a paramedic, and a retail clerkfacing over 20
years in prison and millions in fines. These are: ordinary
people- including an aspiring law student, a paramedic and
a retail clerk- facbeing harassed imprisonment for trying
to make a difference.
According to hundreds of pages of government documents
obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, the F.B.I.
has been monitoring PETA meetings and activities. The ongoing
surveillance included non-violent outreach like a Vegan Community
Project event at the University of Indiana, and an animal
rights conference in Washington, D.C. This is basic public
education that millions of Americans use to advocate their
beliefs: if the F.B.I. can monitor activity like this, nobody
is safe from the surveillance.
Grand juries are being used around the country as
government witch hunts. Activists have been hauled before
the jury regarding direct actions that took place up to 10
years ago. They're told to answer questions about their political
views and political associations, and forced into jail if
they assert their rights. Those called before the grand jury
aren't being charged with crimes: they're just everyday people
being harassed for standing up for their beliefs.
A window is beginning to open. It has been nearly five years
since 9/11, and cracks are starting to show in the government's
"War on Terrorism" armor. Civil liberties abuses
are no longer completely accepted by everyday Americans as
a necessary evil for national security. Animal rights activists
should seize the opportunity to speak to Americans' fears,
and send the message loud and clear: We may be the first targets,
but if we don't work together-- you'll be next.
Will Potter is a freelance reporter in Washington,
D.C., who has covered how the War on Terrorism has impacted
civil liberties. http://www.willpotter.com