Fear and Rage: Responding to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and the Green Scare

by Will Potter on July 27, 2007

in Activism & Activists' Response,Terrorism Legislation

A few folks asked that I post this, so here goes. It’s the audio and text from the plenary speech I gave at the national animal rights conference in Los Angeles, about how people choose respond to the fear created by the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, “terrorism enhancements” and the Green Scare more broadly.

Because of the topic of the plenary, and the focus of the conference, I focused on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, but it’s important to note that this is just one component of a larger campaign to silence dissent.

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“Fear and Rage”
Delivered July 21, 2007
at the national animal rights conference

Well I was here at the animal rights conference last year, just a month or so after I testified against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, warning that it was going to be fast-tracked, and that it might actually become law. Now, I suppose my role this year could be to mourn its passage, say it sounded the death knell of democracy, and encourage everyone to start fleeing to Canada.

You’re laughing because you know you already have your passport. And those that aren’t laughing are just thinking, “Canada isn’t NEARLY far enough away.”

Instead, I’ll take this opportunity to be the bearer of good news. So as my update to the state of civil liberties post-9/11, post-Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, post-Constitution, I’m pleased to report that, to my knowledge, since the law was passed in November, no animal rights activists have been boxed up and shipped to Guantanamo.

The sad thing is I used to say that as a joke, and some days I’m not sure if I’m joking anymore. Or if people realize I’m joking. After the law passed I actually received more than a few emails from activists asking if they could be sent to Gitmo, or deported, or hauled before a military tribunal for being an animal rights advocate.

And as emails and phone calls and blog comments kept rolling in, from people who were worried about being labeled a terrorist for their legal activism, it confirmed to me the true power of this legislation. The true power of this law, and the true threat, is not necessarily how it can be used, although that’s a big problem. It’s true power comes from how people respond to it, how people react to the prospect of being labeled a terrorist in a post-9/11 climate.

There are a few workshops this weekend about the specifics of the law and the SHAC case, so if it’s alright with you all I wanted to speak more broadly tonight, focusing on exactly that: how people choose to react to the law. How people choose to react to the prospect of their activism being lumped together with flying planes into the Twin Towers.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to do quite a few talks like this since the law passed, and through that speak with hundreds of activists around the country, and it seems like anytime the AETA and this Green Scare comes up, it elicits a range of reactions. A mixture of fear and rage.

It seems like that has seeped into every crevice of the animal rights and environmental movements. Some folks that have been active for a very long time have told me it’s harder to attract and retain volunteers. That this fog of fear has made people lose focus of the campaigns and the work that needs to be done.

Sometimes I feel like there’s a fine line between those two emotions, fear and rage. To me it feels like they’re each made up of bits of the other. They can both be all-consuming. They can both overwhelm reason and focus. They can both lead to paralysis.

There’s fear from a government, with ever-expanding police powers, saying, “The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement.”

There’s fear from the Department of Homeland Security sending bulletins to corporations warning about “eco-terrorism” like “flyer distribution” and “tying up company phone lines.”

There’s fear from watching environmentalists in the Northwest being rounded up and branded as “eco-terrorists” before they even set foot in court, then hit with “terrorism enhancement” sentences for property crimes that never harmed a human being.

There’s fear from watching the conviction and sentencing of the SHAC 7 for “conspiring” to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. For not breaking the law, but vocally supporting those who do.

Here’s thing about fear, though: the thing is, it hits the hardest when you’re alone. It’s easiest to get depressed and hopeless and afraid when it’s just you and your thoughts.

When you come together with other activists, though, with campaigns and projects and goals, organizing and resisting and fighting back, I’ve seen a pretty magical thing happen. People inevitably stop talking about how they are afraid. And they start talking how they’re pissed.

There’s the rage from the absurdity of industry groups calling Hoot, a children’s movie, “soft-core eco-terrorism for kids.” Or when the Center for Consumer Freedom said Charlotte’s Web promotes “animal rights extremism.” Or when a popular right-wing website warned, “tofu makes you gay.”

There’s the rage from the Department of Homeland Security not listing right-wing terrorists on a list of national security threats, despite the Oklahoma City bombing, the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, violence against doctors, and admittedly creating weapons of mass destruction.

And there’s the rage of the House of Representatives passing the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, on the first day back from November elections, with six members of Congress in the room. There’s the rage of them doing that just hours, just hours, after lawmakers and celebrities broke ground for the new memorial honoring that terrorist Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s funny how quickly history can shift, isn’t it? MLK was a radical. There’s no way waltzing around that. Politicians love quoting how King had a dream. But King said, “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

King was harassed, surveilled, defamed. Now, those same defenders of profit motives and property rights hail him as a hero, a national icon, and demonize environmental and animal rights activists using similar tactics.

Now I’m not saying that you all should pat yourselves on the back and compare yourselves to MLK. But I think we need to put everything that’s going on now in a historical context.

I started out tonight talking about Guantanamo. But there was some truth to that. I think it needs to be said that things could be a hell of a lot worse. Black liberation, American Indian and antiwar activists, among others, were constantly harassed, spied on, and framed for violent crimes. Anarchists organizing for an 8-hour workday were set up in kangaroo courts for murder, then executed. Socialists have been sentenced for sedition, for making antiwar speeches.

And not very long ago, Arab-Americans in the United States were rounded up in the wake of 9/11, physically and psychologically abused, deported. I can crack jokes about Gitmo because that’s not a level of fear that the very white, very privileged, very insular animal rights and environmental movements have yet had to face.

I think that confronting this Green Scare means having the humility to recognize the place of this government repression in history, and having the humility to reach out to other movements and learn from their struggles.

This weekend we’re going to hear a lot about the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, the SHAC 7, Operation Backfire and other forms of government repression. That’s scary stuff, there’s no doubt about it.

But I think the best way to cut through that fear is to cut through all the fog of misinformation and rhetoric and exaggeration, and see for yourself what’s going on here. When you peel away the layers of PR campaigns and gossip and rumors, it takes away some of the mystery.

There’s a fine line between those two emotions. And I hope that by taking a cold hard look at this law, and the Green Scare more broadly, we can turn fear into rage, and that rage can become a catalyst, to stop they cycle of history repeating itself.

It’s long overdue.

Thank you.

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