The kind folks over at Herbivore Magazine approached me about writing a very nuts and bolts, straightforward, simple-as-possible piece about the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, because there has been a lot of misinformation about what the law actually does, and does not, do. This is what we came up with, a kind of “Animal Enterprise Terrorism 101.” Check it out on the Herbivore site, and below.
Animal Enterprise Terrorism 101
By Will Potter
About this time last year, corporations and the politicians that represent them were steamrolling the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act through Congress with little discussion or debate.
The mainstream press barely batted an eye. And national animal protection groups didn’t either, until the bill passed the Senate and it looked like it might actually become law.
Most people still don’t know about the law, and Project Censored has gone so far as to name it one of the most important, yet underreported, news stories of the year.
Activist communities have been talking about it, though. And, of course, with talk comes plenty of speculation and misinformation. So with the hopes of clearing up some confusion, and educating animal folks so they can spread the word to others, here’s a rundown of some of the basics, kind of an “Animal Enterprise Terrorism” 101.
What is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act?
It’s a federal law that was passed in late 2006, expanding a previous law called the “Animal Enterprise Protection Act,” and expanding the definition of “animal enterprise terrorism.”
But wait, isn’t that what put the SHAC 7 behind bars?
The SHAC 7 were convicted of “animal enterprise terrorism” under the original law (not the new one) for running a controversial website [link: http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/newred/] that posted news of both legal and illegal actions against an animal testing company, and adamantly supported all of it with plenty of snotty, fiery rhetoric.
They weren’t accused of actually doing the illegal things they posted on their website (breaking windows, or rescuing animals from labs), but the government said that through their website and their words they were guilty of “conspiracy.” So they were convicted of “conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act,” “conspiracy to stalk,” and “conspiracy to harass using a telecommunications device.”
So how is this different than the original law?
Supporters say the biggest difference is that the new law expands the definition to include so-called “tertiary targeting.” So, the terrorism law not only protects a factory farm, for instance, but now it officially protects any business that does business with the factory farm. (That’s kind of how the anti-apartheid movement worked, too).
To say this is “new,” though, is B.S. The SHAC 7 were convicted of doing exactly that. They didn’t directly target Huntingdon Life Sciences: they targeted the businesses that did business with Huntingdon Life Sciences. AETA may make the “tertiary targeting” language official, but it’s not a new power.
A more significant difference, though, is that politicians took a law that was already vague and overly broad and made it even more vague and even more broad. It expands the law to punish actions that instill a “reasonable fear” in employees of an animal enterprise, or their families. The problem is that corporations have taken out full-page ads in the New York Times [link: http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/2006/05/12/washpost-ad/] and launched PR campaigns to label activists as “terrorists,” and make the unreasonable seem reasonable.
The biggest change, though, is perhaps one of the most minute. Labeling the law the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was a calculated decision. It’s meant to send a very clear and chilling message to animal advocates, and make lawful, everyday folks afraid of being labeled a “terrorist” in post-9/11 America. That’s what this law is all about.
(A blow by blow look at the law is available at GreenIsTheNewRed.com).
Has anyone been prosecuted under this new law?
No. Ricardo Solano, one of the prosecutors in the SHAC 7 case, has been touting the passage of the AETA and promising industry groups that if animal activists “cross the line, the federal government will not stand idly by.” But so far, the government has not tried to use this new law.
And the previous law, which had been on the books since 1992, was only used twice. Once in the case of Justin Samuel and Peter Young, two activists who released mink from fur farms. And the other in the case of the SHAC 7.
Will I be labeled a terrorist for protesting or leafleting?
I doubt it, for a few reasons. And I should be clear, that’s not because of the language in the law “exempting” First Amendment activity. Anyone with any experience covering Congress or working on the Hill knows that’s hogwash. No law can blatantly outlaw First Amendment activity. Saying, “Trust us! It’s Constitutional!” doesn’t make it so.
Still, I don’t think people should be overly concerned of being rounded up as terrorists for doing something like leafleting outside a KFC. First, there’s limited law enforcement and “anti-terrorism” resources. I think this country is going down a very dangerous path, in terms of rolling back civil liberties, but things aren’t quite that bad (yet).
Second, corporations put a lot of money and resources into pushing this law, and I think they realize that using it to go after something like leafleting or protesting would immediately put it in jeopardy.
What about if I [insert legal or illegal tactic here]?
I don’t mean this is a cop-out, because it is important to question the scope of the law. But, in many ways, when you start asking this question, the law has already done its damage. When you start altering your legal actions and scaling back your nonviolent activism because you’re afraid of this legislation, then the law has already accomplished what its supporters intended.
Who was behind this?
Supporters include the usual suspects Herbivore readers know and love: National Association for Biomedical Research, Fur Commission USA, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Wyeth, United Egg Producers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and many more. Even the University of California joined the scare-mongering, along with some prominent Democrats.
How the hell did this pass?
It passed the Senate by unanimous consent, with the support of key Democrats including Senator Diane Feinstein: it was rushed through in the middle of the night just hours before Congressional recess for November elections.
It passed the House on the very first day back from the elections, by an obscure procedure called “suspension of the rules” that is meant for non-controversial legislation (like, on the same day, renaming a bridge after the man who created the Roth IRA). Only half a dozen lawmakers were in the room.
Wasn’t Dennis Kucinich the only one to vote against it?
No. Dennis Kucinich spoke against the bill. However, no lawmakers present on the floor of the House, including Kucinich, called for a roll call vote, which would have shown that there weren’t enough members of Congress in the room for a legitimate vote.
So what do we do?
I never quite know how to respond to this. I created GreenIsTheNewRed.com as a clearinghouse for news and analysis of the Green Scare: what to do with this information is up to you. So, I’ll turn the tables here. What needs to be done to successfully fight the “Green Scare”? What’s the appropriate response to legislation labeling activists as “terrorists”? How should activists deal with the chilling effect of this “eco-terrorist” scare-mongering?
Defending basic civil liberties in this ever-growing “War on Terrorism” will mean reaching out to other animal activists, other social movements, and the general public to try to answer these questions.
For more ways to raise awareness about the Green Scare, check here.
Will Potter is an award-winning independent journalist who focuses on how lawmakers and corporations have labeled animal rights and environmental activists as “eco-terrorists.” Will has written for publications including The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News and Legal Affairs, and has testified before the U.S. Congress about the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. He is the creator of GreenIsTheNewRed.com, where he blogs about the Green Scare and history repeating itself.