Two activists with the animal rights group “Negotiation Is Over” (NIO) have been arrested at a protest in Florida. Group founder Camille Marino was arrested on an out of state warrant, and is awaiting extradition to Michigan.
In Michigan, NIO is campaigning against an animal experimenter at Wayne State University named Donal O’Leary, who uses dogs in heart experiments. One of the dogs, the Dalmation pictured above named Queenie, was forced to run on a treadmill with a device implanted in her heart, catheters protruding from her body, and open wounds leaking fluids. Doctors have urged the federal government to investigate O’Leary’s violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
Marino has allegedly posted personal information about O’Leary on the NIO website, alongside inflammatory commentary and her voicing support for physical violence. (Most of these posts appear to have been removed recently.) For example, on one of the NIO blog posts about O’Leary, a commenter wrote 800 words of gruesome details about what should be done to him, such as “We will then strap you into a monkey restraining device and use industrial pliers to crack your testicles like walnuts.”
Is there any chance I can persuade you to videotape your proposed activism so that we might upload it to NIO for the entire community to enjoy?
I just finished sending off an email to this motherfucker wishing him a slow painful death.
I would be elated to actually watch it come to pass!
In response to the violent rhetoric and posting of personal information, Wayne State University banned Marino from campus. Later, O’Leary obtained a court order that instructed Marino to remove the personal information from her website. She not only refused, she reposted it and wished him “good luck” collecting his legal fees.
Since her arrest, there has been wildly inaccurate information about the case. For instance, some NIO supporters claimed she was being held in a maximum security prison (she’s not, she is in Alachua County Jail). Others put out press releases saying that this was the first arrest under the National Defense Authorization Act (her arrest had nothing to do with NDAA). Such exaggeration doesn’t help anyone.
However, NIO’s opponents are spreading what could be much more dangerous misinformation.
Marino’s campaigning is controversial, but to call it a “hate group” is overreaching. Among the many differences between NIO and hate groups is that animal rights activists are opposing people because of what they do rather than who they are.
An even more important difference is that hate groups engage in physical violence, while NIO has only sensationally talked about it on blogs and Facebook.
As one commenter said on Hate Watch:
Upon reading the story it looks like Ms. Marino is not guilty of any serious crime… She did have a protective order issued against her, I’m not sure it was really violated here and it may get dismissed. She has committed no specific act of violence or damage to property. An expired drivers license is no big deal either.
These are important points to consider when discussing whether NIO’s blog is protected by the First Amendment. At the heart of the two key standards in First Amendment law is the question: Is the speaker using outrageous rhetoric to get attention, or will these threats be carried out?
In this case, the answer is clear.
While Marino and her followers may praise the tactics of anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder and suicide bombers (Marino says: “If one is going to end their own suffering, it would be an admirable act if they took as many abusers as possible with them”) there has never been physical violence in the name of their cause.
And while Marino may write about how she is eager for the day when animal rights activists cross that line and murder human beings (and other activists have been saying the same thing for decades), it is just that: words.
There are limits to speech, of course, and there’s no doubt that NIO’s conduct tests those limits. But, as I wrote in Green Is the New Red:
The history of the First Amendment is one of protecting the vulgar, the crass, the wayward and unhinged. It has protected Clarence Brandenburg, a Ku Klux Klan leader, when he called for “revengeance” against the courts, Congress and the president, while Klansmen at the rally shouted “bury the niggers.” At a very different kind of rally, Robert Watts told anti-war protesters that he would refuse service if drafted to Vietnam. “If they ever make me carry a rifle,” he said, “the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J.”
Why have the courts upheld such a radical interpretation of the First Amendment? What can be the value of sensationalistic, offensive speech?
The courts have not made exceptions to the First Amendment lightly or without controversy, believing that the amount of protection afforded to those on the fringes reflects the freedoms of those at the center.
Protecting the rights of the Brandenburgs, the Wattses, and the Everses may sound outrageous to those who have been on the receiving end of the vitriol, such as animal experimenters.
And it might even sound outrageous to much of the animal rights movement, because NIO has been such a divisive and confrontational group amongst other animal activists.
But in cases like this all parties should step back and remember that, at its core, the First Amendment has never been about protecting or supporting unsavory speech; it’s about refusing to prohibit it.