House Passes Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act With Little Discussion or Dissent: Notes from the House Floor “Debate”

by Will Potter on November 13, 2006

in Terrorism Legislation

Project Censored 2008 Book CoverUPDATE: This article was named by Project Censored as one of the top 25 under-reported news stories for the year. It appears in Censored 2008.

They did it. Corporations, industry groups and the politicians that represent them rushed through legislation labeling activists as “terrorists” on the first day back from Congressional recess. Just moments ago the House passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act as part of the suspension calendar: in other words it was put on a list of non-controversial bills to pass with one swoop by voice vote.

Here’s a recap of some of my notes on the “debate” on the House floor. I apologize that this is not in a more polished form, but I wanted to get this out to you all right away:

Representative Bobby Scott, often called the go-to guy in the House on civil liberties and civil rights issues, came out swinging in support of the “eco-terrorism” bill. Not only did he not oppose the legislation, he lined up with the corporations, industry groups and conservative extremists in full support of it. Scott, a Democrat, said existing laws have been “reasonably effective” but “gaps and loopholes” prevent law enforcement from going after animal rights “extremists.” Scott failed to note, even in passing, that the existing law– the Animal Enterprise Protection Act— was used to successfully prosecute the SHAC 7 on “animal enterprise terrorism” charges for running a website. Scott dishonestly ignores this crucial bit of information, and said that activists are “taking advantage of the fact that” AEPA doesn’t cover “affiliates and associates” of animal enterprises: but that was, precisely, what the SHAC campaign was all about.

Disturbingly, Scott said in passing that civil disobedience would be covered in the bill– something other supporters of the bill have denied– but he tried to ease public fears by saying that the civil disobedience must cause disruption and loss of profits, and “it must be proven that such losses were specifically intended.” Bobby Scott, who frequently praises the achievements of the civil rights movement, stood on the House floor and advocated the inclusion of the tactics used by that movement in a “terrorism” bill. The only things that’s different between then and now, between the civil rights and animal rights movement, is the cause.

Representative Thomas Petri, a Republican from Wisconsin usually in stark contrast to Scott, said much of the same. He had the nerve to stand on the House floor and say, with a straight face, that “current federal law,” including the AEPA, has been “inadequate” in going after animal rights activists. Petri knows full well that ALL the crimes listed in this bill are already crimes, that the original bill has been used successfully, and that the animal and environmental movements have never claimed a single human life. Petri and the corporations that support him call the existing legislation “inadequate” because, in their mind, the true threat is not the underground wing of the movement, but the movement itself. That’s where this vague and overly broad legislation comes into place, wrapping up civil disobedience, undercover investigations and other non-violent activity as “terrorism.”

Only Representative Dennis Kucinich spoke up against this dangerous legislation. “This bill was written to have a chilling effect,” he said, “on a specific type of protest.” He also said that, “We have to be very careful of painting everyone with broad brush of terrorism.” And, in an interesting spin on the debate, Kucinich said lawmakers would be better off addressing animal issues and demonstrating their compassion.

He also raised what’s essentially a very conservative argument about the bill preempting existing law. A section of the bill says it shall not be construed

(3) to provide exclusive criminal penalties or civil remedies with respect to the conduct prohibited by this action, or to preempt State or local laws that may provide such penalties or remedies.

Kucinich noted that that’s precisely what the bill does. It provides exclusive penalties based on the beliefs of those who are accused.

Kucinich got in a little back and forth with James Sensenbrenner about the bill, with Sensenbrenner repeatedly citing a provision of the bill that “exempts” First Amendment activity. (Thank you to Senenbrenner and our patriotic members of Congress for reminding us that their is still a First Amendment. However, saying “this is Constitutional!” doesn’t make it so. If anything, it’s an admission that the bill has serious flaws.) At one point, Sensenbrenner read off a list of quotes from animal activists that he said exemplified the targets of the legislation. It was the same tired old list of quotes from the mid-90s and from a fairly recent Congressional hearing. Kucinich promptly noted that the quotes were exactly that: “Constitutionally-protected speech.” It’s misleading, he said, to say the bill exempts First Amendment activity, then use First Amendment activity as an example of why the bill is needed.

But perhaps the most disturbing segment of this whole scare-mongering debacle was when Sensenbrenner ended his comments, and ended the floor debate, by talking about the American Civil Liberties Union. He said the ACLU is the guardian of the First Amendment. He said the ACLU has a proud history of being a constitutional watchdog. And he said he has a letter, from the ACLU, saying they would not oppose this legislation and had no substantial concerns, essentially giving the Green Scare a green light.

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