Herbivore Magazine Article on the SHAC 7: “The World Takes? How corporations and politicians turned animal rights activists into terrorists”

by Will Potter on January 19, 2009

in Terrorism Court Cases

[This was published by Herbivore Magazine in one of their mini-books a while back. I realized I hadn't posted it here, and it's not available anywhere else online. Hope you enjoy it.]

"The World Takes? How corporations and politicians turned animal rights activists into terrorists," Herbivore, Volume 13, 26-48.

By WILL POTTER

On some days in Trenton, N.J., the only thing separating the grey Delaware River from the grey horizon of office buildings and the flat grey sky is a big sign in glowing neon red.

"TRENTON MAKES, THE WORLD TAKES" runs 254 feet across the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge, which spans the Delaware River. The capital san serif letters average nine and half feet tall by six and a half feet wide, and weigh about 300 pounds each. It took four sign technicians, a crane, and $383,427 for Trentonians to adamantly refurbish the dilapidated slogan in 2005. The phrase’s 1,500 linear feet of glass tubing can be finicky. Sometimes an E or an A will burn out. Sometimes an entire word. But when that neon is lit up, Trenton defiantly shines.

The city has maintained that proclamation since 1911, when the Chamber of Commerce held a contest for a slogan that would remind thousands of passengers on Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line that Trenton had made it. Steel. Pottery. Wall plaster. Anvils. Mattresses. Bricks. Rubber. Linoleum. Trenton was "the nation’s tire capital." Trenton made the steel rope that held up massive suspension bridges. And Trenton made the world’s largest bathtub, to be used by the massive President William Howard Taft.

S. Roy Heath won that contest, and $25, for "The World Takes, Trenton Makes." But that needed some editing. Who could put the world before Trenton?

* * *

Over the years, the world stopped taking. Through the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, Trenton’s manufacturing base eroded. The Roebling wire rope plant, once supplier for the Brooklyn Bridge and Slinky, shut down. The Wire Rope District now exists in name only.

In 1924, about one out of every two jobs in the county came from manufacturing. Now it’s about one out of every 25.

Some manufacturing plants still hum. But the economic backbone of Trenton is now the state government and the pharmaceutical industry. Trenton, and the rest of New Jersey, now depends on making laws and drugs.

Pfizer, Wyeth, Johnson and Johnson, Merck, Sandoz, Glaxo Smith Kline, Chiron, Covance, and 245 other pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies call New Jersey home, according to a directory maintained by Rutgers University. They’re the heavy hitters in "the medicine chest of the nation," as former Governor Christie Whitman called her state.

"What automobiles are to Michigan and oil to Texas," one industry group head has said, "The pharmaceutical and medical device industry is to New Jersey."

Some state leaders fear the nation’s medicine chest going the way of Motor City. The pharmaceutical job market is shrinking by three or four percent in New Jersey, while it increases by 40 percent or more elsewhere. Nevada and Pennsylvania, among others, are trying to siphon off some of New Jersey’s financial flow. CEO Magazine’s "Best and Worst State Report" for 2005 ranked New Jersey 46th. The state must act swiftly to secure its position as the pharmaceutical capital of the world. The neon writing is on the wall.

To the global pharmaceutical industry, though, there’s an even bigger problem brewing in New Jersey. This is ground zero in a new War on Terrorism. It’s here that Huntingdon Life Sciences, the notorious contract animal testing company, is based. It’s here that animal rights activists launched a historic campaign against the lab that rattled the industry to its core. And it’s here, in Trenton, that six of those activists were convicted on "terrorism" charges for attempting to shut down one of the last things New Jersey makes.

* * *

Five undercover investigations inside HLS labs have shown workers punching beagle puppies in the face, dissecting live monkeys and falsifying scientific data. One investigator, Michelle Rokke, wrote in her diary:

"I saw him pick a dog up off the floor by his front leg and toss him in a cage… when he tried to close the cage door one of the dogs tried to get out. He repeatedly slammed the cage door on the dog’s head."

Armed with this information, animal activists in England—the other location of an HLS lab—launched an international campaign called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. Their goal wasn’t to simply expose the abuse, or call for reform. Their goal was to put the lab out of business.

Following the lead of effective anti-apartheid divestment campaigns in the 1980s, activists knew the only way to change a business practice is to aim for the bottom line.

They brought the company to its knees, primarily through a Wall Street level knowledge of how corporations operate. The SHAC USA website schooled activists in business savvy: primers on investors, market makers, and pink sheets. It also listed home and work addresses for anyone doing business with HLS, from bankers on down to toilet paper suppliers.

Activists took to the streets, the phones, and executives’ homes with bullhorns, phone blockades and plenty of smart-ass, aggressive rhetoric. All actions related to the campaign—both legal and illegal—got posted on the SHAC website: news of legal protests, leafleting, speaking events and video screenings—and also anonymous communiqués.

"Arghh Matee’
In the wee hours of Tuesday, July 24th, we paid a visit to the home of Brian G Rogan President of Capital Markets to The Bank of New York, Plum Point Rd. in Sands Point, LI, NY. 20 holes were drilled in the right side of his 30 foot yacht, and one 6inch by 6inch hole was sawed through the right hull.
Various workings of the boat were also tampered with. As the boat began to take on water it was cut loose and pushed out to sea, we left before confirming whether or not the boat sunk. Both the boat and his personal dock were left covered with painted slogans denouncing BNY’s involvement with Huntingdon Life Sciences, the largest reading ‘money means nothing- life Means everything.’
Upon escape we cut through his estate to his personal Flag Pole, his Amerikkkan Flag was lowered and discarded like the trash it is, and replaced with the only flag that matters, a pirate flag!
For the 500 lives lost today at HLS, and for our brother Carlo Guliani who was shot and killed this week protesting the Group of Eight Summit in Genoa,
Our hearts bleed for you!
The P.A.L.
Pirates for Animal Liberation
HLS thar she blows!"

Other posted actions include subscribing a CEO to porno mags, setting off stink bombs in offices, and paint-stripping cars. They were sometimes crude (calling a church and accusing a CEO that attends of fondling children) and often ominous (phrases like "we know where you live" appear in many communiqués). SHAC unabashedly supported all of it.

It worked. The lab now teeters on the brink of economic collapse, after more than 160 companies, including Marsh Inc., UPS, and Fedex, have pulled out. The New York Stock Exchange dropped HLS in 2000, and the London Stock Exchange followed in 2001.

The tactics worked a little too well. Industry groups and pharmaceutical corporations knew that if activists brought a multinational corporation to its knees, they wouldn’t stop there. Greg Avery, a SHAC UK organizer, has bluntly said as much: "When it closes we will move on somewhere else until all animal testing is banned in this country." HLS is just the training ground, and the pharmaceutical industry knows it.

Industry groups launched a massive scare-mongering media campaign to label activists as "terrorists" for campaigning to put the lab out of business, and to link them—ideologically, at least—with the underground actions of groups like the Animal Liberation Front. Corporations targeted by SHAC hit back with lawsuits and restraining orders, but the campaign kept moving.

In May, 2004, the government and industry groups tried something new. They charged
Kevin Kjonaas, Lauren Gazzola, Jacob Conroy, Joshua Harper, Andrew Stepanian, Darius Fullmer, John McGee and the organization SHAC with conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 1992. The law got little attention when it was passed except from groups like the National Association for Biomedical Research that pushed it through.

It created the crime of "animal enterprise terrorism" for anyone who travels in "interstate or foreign commerce" (like crossing state lines or using the mail) and "intentionally damages or causes the loss of any property (including animals or records) used by the animal enterprise, or conspires to do so."

The government first used the law in 1998, charging Peter Young and Justin Samuel with animal enterprise terrorism for releasing thousands of mink from Wisconsin fur farms. Samuel pleaded guilty, was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay over $360,000 in fines. Young was on the run for seven years, and then caught in 2005 and sentenced to two years in prison.

Ostensibly, that’s what the law was meant to do: go after the activists who "cause the loss of any property," who sneak into labs and steal/liberate animals. The law, industry groups said, was needed to go after the underground.

* * *

The Department of Justice press release proclaimed, "Militant Animal Rights Group, Seven Members Indicted for National Campaign to Terrorize Company and Its Employees."

"This is not activism. This is a group of lawless thugs attacking innocent men, women and children," U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said. "We will not stand by and let any group or individuals violate federal law through violence and intimidation, no matter what cause they profess to advocate for in the process."

The defendants were never charged with mailing anthrax-laced letters, planting pipe bombs, hijacking airplanes or any action most reasonable people would consider terrorism. And in their 27-page indictment, not once were SHAC activists accused of any of the crimes posted on the website, let alone any "attacking innocent men, women and children." They weren’t charged with smashing windows, gluing locks or breaking into labs. They "conspired" to put the lab out of business by running a website:

"On or about July 10, 2002, a smoke bomb was set off at the offices of a subsidiary of M. Corp. in Seattle, Washington causing the evacuation of a high-rise office tower, and a second smoke bomb was set off at the offices of M. Corp. in Seattle, Washington, causing the evacuation of that high-rise office tower as well. After these events, the SHAC Website posted a report about the smoke bomb attacks."

No activist has been charged with the smoke bomb action. The feds have generally had a hell of a time catching the saboteurs responsible for actions like this. Underground activists have claimed credit for more than 1,200 criminal incidents since 1990, according to the F.B.I., and there are 150 pending "eco-terror" investigations. Law enforcement agents haven’t been able to find the members of the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front responsible for the attacks, so they went after those in the spotlight. Think red baiting, with a green twist.

Here’s an example of one of the actions tied to the defendants in the indictment:

SHAC "caused the website www.stephenskills.com to be launched in order to apply pressure on
S. Inc. to cease doing business with HLS."

Apparently these news postings and website launchings were so "terrorizing" that the government couldn’t even name corporations that have been targeted in the indictment. They are only identified by single letters, like "S. Inc." or "M. Corp."

"Because of the nature of the campaign against these companies, we didn’t want to subject them further to the tactics of SHAC," said Michael Drewniak, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, in an interview.

* * *

Activists, reporters and anyone else paying attention can read between the lines. These businesses are some of the wealthiest on the planet: They need no corporate witness protection program. This was one small maneuver in a broader War on Terrorism, to redefine the victim. The victim is not the Beagle puppy being punched in the face because the lab tech can’t find a vein. The victim is not the activist being charged with "terrorism" for defending the tactics of others. The victim is the corporation, whose profits were so ruthlessly assaulted.

Lunch breaks during trial gave jurors and defendants about 30 minutes to find some food and rush back to the courtroom. Even if they had longer, it probably wouldn’t have helped the defendants. Of all the things Trenton makes, vegan food, it seems, is not one of them.

During one break in the trial, I visited the Trenton Federal Courthouse "cafeteria" with some of the defendants. They knew the routine, and so did the woman behind the counter. The "animal rights terrorists" had a special menu, not listed alongside the other items on the rectangular white board with black block-letter stickers.

"Soy hot dog?," she asked, smiling. She snapped on a pair of latex gloves, pulled limp, flesh-colored Tofu Pups from their clear plastic wrapper, briefly microwaved them on paper plates, and plopped them on bleached white bread. We each paid about $4.

"I already feel like I’m in prison," someone said, only half joking. There probably wouldn’t be Tofu Pups in prison.

There wasn’t much talking during lunch. The tactic, I believe, was to finish the Tofu Pup as quickly as possible and leave the crinkling linoleum, folding chairs, and discolored wall paneling behind.

We headed out the door, and toward the elevators that lead back to the courtroom. As we passed the metal detectors, a group of attorneys stopped us. One of them asked: "Are you all law students?"

What else could they be? Not criminals. Not terrorists. Andy wore spotless, tailored three-button mod suits, often with a bright pink shimmering tie. Jake looks like who is: a clean-cut kid from Connecticut more comfortable in cargo pants and a hoodie than court clothes. Darius works as a paramedic in New Jersey. Josh, a filmmaker, would flip through skateboarding magazines or sometimes talk about hardcore bands between court proceedings. Lauren seemed to comfortably fit the law student image, maybe because she had planned on taking the LSAT until cops stormed her house with guns drawn. I glanced at the other attorneys flowing through the metal detectors, trailed by other activists in their own court clothes.

"No," Lauren said, smiling, and without hesitation. "We’re on trial for terrorism!"

The security guard scanning briefcases on a six-foot conveyor belt laughed.

* * *

I sat in the overflowing courtroom for the SHAC7 sentencing, sandwiched between a New Jersey activist and a mustached local reporter. As I watched the six 20-something defendants in their thrift-store court clothes comfort their mothers while standing tall, shoulders back, for their friends, I felt like I was watching history. I don’t mean that in a Red Scare kind of analogy, although that is clearly applicable. I mean that a surreal feeling struck me. In 10, 20, 50 years, young people will look at this trial, just as we look at past eras of repression, and wonder: "How did you let this happen?"

How did we let this happen?

Here’s how a sentencing hearing for a federal case usually works. The judge makes a statement about the federal sentencing guidelines, if they apply, and their parameters. The prosecutors then generally ask for sentences somewhere in the middle or on the high end of those guidelines. Defense attorneys respond with a series of nitpicky points about the sentencing recommendations, using legal jargon the defendants and family members don’t understand, and argue that their client should receive a reduced sentence. Sometimes they submit letters from friends or family members saying that Johnny is a "fine young man" or that Jane is an "upstanding person who made a poor decision." Sometimes defendants say they have seen the light, and realized the error of their ways. Sometimes they cry.

Here’s how a sentencing hearing for animal rights activists convicted of "terrorism" charges for running a website works. The judge made a statement outlining the outlandish sentencing guidelines—higher than most rapists and violent criminals face. The government asked the judge to throw the book at these "extremists." One by one, the defense attorneys fight for a month here and a month there, anything to keep these activists from spending their 30s in prison. The defendants stare ahead blankly. The defense attorneys don’t just submit letters of support, they submit tomes. The judge raises a bound book submitted by Jake Conroy’s attorney, with letters from professors, friends, and activists that say they have been inspired by Jake’s compassion. The judge says she has rarely seen anything like this in any case.

The prosecutors don’t give an inch. Charles McKenna, the chief assistant U.S. attorney for New Jersey, who was the prosecutor in the case, rises from his seat after each speech by a defense attorney, and lets his voice reach a nearly vitriolic fervor.

Some activists laughed, others simply shook their heads at the absurdity of it all.

"Kevin Kjonaas was drunk with power."

"[Lauren Gazzola] had the bullhorn and was clearly the person in charge."

"Jake is not a man of compassion."

Nobody laughed.

Pressed up against activists in the back row, I could feel their muscles tense. A man across the aisle with a freshly shorn head and a sharp three-button suit bit his clenched fist and flexed the muscles in his left hand. I kept the corner of my eye on him, waiting for him to jump from the pew and disrupt this spectacle.

He didn’t. The spectacle continued, with McKenna saying that Jake and the others had "good homes, good schools," and they "chose to throw it all away." He sounded like he was describing bank robbers or meth addicts, not individuals using their First Amendment rights.

The defendants were sentenced to between one and six years in prison.

Activists lurked around the courtroom after the sentencing. Those that were turned away from the overflowing courtroom rushed in to ask what happened. Nobody seemed to know what to say.
The defendants put their game faces back on. They pressed the flesh and thanked everyone for coming. They did their best to remain strong and lift everyone’s spirits. "It could have been worse."

The local press rushed the defendants and prosecutors with skinny notebooks in hand. I felt like such a horrible reporter. What do you say to someone who has just been sentenced for "terrorism"? It reminded me of working the cop shop at The Chicago Tribune, and having to write about murders and dead siblings found in storage lockers, and having to ask people how it made them feel. What a ridiculous question, but reporters always ask it.

Instead I told Josh and Jake that I strongly disapproved of their pastel colored shirts. Josh, who had his sentencing postponed until the next day, asked if I knew someone who had a tie: he ran out of clean court clothes. I started to take off mine, but he just laughed. "Dude, skinny ties are for skinny guys. I’ve got a little bit more to love."

Outside the Trenton courthouse was part press conference part family reunion. Reporters kept asking activists to talk to them about the case and how they felt. "Are you a reporter? I’m not going to answer any of your questions." In this Green Scare, they said, who would want to have their picture in the paper at an "eco-terrorism" trial?

* * *

"This is just the starting gun," proclaimed David Martosko of the Center for Consumer Freedom, an industry front group.

The SHAC7 faced a double-edge sword going into trial. If they lose, they go to prison, and are labeled "terrorists" for the rest of their lives. No more law school. No more working as paramedic. No more graphic design. Nobody wants to hire a convicted "terrorist." If they win, it could be the foundation of an even harsher political crackdown.

But in a testament to the power of the Green Scare, the SHAC7 have been cut by both edges of that blade simultaneously. They were convicted. Yet they are still a threat.

That’s the message of industry groups constructing their most ambitious scare-mongering campaign yet. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act has been in the works, in various forms, since 1992. It has always stalled out, usually in committee. But now, bolstered the conviction of the SHAC7, industry groups want more.

Some of the pharmaceutical powerhouses from the nation’s medicine chest have made their presence known in Washington as the architects of this Green Scare. Pfizer, Wyeth, Glaxo Smith Kline, Chiron, and Covance have all backed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The SHAC campaign came a little too close to home. They don’t want to be next.

Industry groups pushed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act through the Senate, where it passed by unanimous consent. Not one senator voiced opposition. When midterm elections shifted control of both the House and Senate to Democrats, industry groups knew they had to work fast. They knew that a Republican White House, plus a Republican Senate, plus a Republican House equaled the best chances they’ve had in years to steamroll this bill through Congress.

Their "eco-terrorism" bum rush worked: the law passed the House on the first day back from midterm elections as part of what’s called the "suspension calendar." That’s D.C. speak for a House procedure to usher through non-controversial bills. Only six members of Congress were in the room when the bill passed. Only one, Representative Dennis Kucinich, raised any objections.

Perhaps the best disturbing segment of the whole scare-mongering debacle was when Representative James 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.

The law created stiffer penalties than the original Animal Enterprise Protection Act and expands its scope to include "any property of a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise."

One section of the legislation targets anyone who "intentionally places a person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to that person, a member of the immediate family (as defined in section 115) of that person, or a spouse or intimate partner of that person by a course of conduct involving threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, criminal trespass, harassment, or intimidation."

The problem is that the word "eco-terrorism" is being batted around recklessly by industry groups in a scare-mongering campaign that has included full-page ads in major newspapers and even stooping so low as to call a children’s movie "soft-core eco-terrorism for kids." They are doing everything they can to create this fear through scare-mongering: that’s the point. In light of this political climate, it’s impossible to discuss "reasonable fear," because industry groups are throwing all their weight into making the unreasonable seem reasonable–into making the public afraid of non-violent activists, so they can push a political agenda.

Here’s a very likely scenario: A group of activists holds a loud protest outside an executive’s home or office on a daily basis, as part of a national campaign. Activists yell and chant as people enter the building. Some wear masks or bandanas (which are increasingly common at protests, because activists fear being "blacklisted"). There have also been illegal actions like "vandalism" and "property damage" in the name of the same cause (which has been the case in every social movement, ever).

Activists clearly intend to "interfere with" the operations of animal enterprise. Toss in the climate of fear that industry groups have created, plus the raucous nature of the protest and the fact that it’s part of a coordinated campaign, and suddenly this First Amendment activity becomes "terrorism" under the law (through a "course of conduct" involving harassment, intimidation, vandalism… whatever they can get to stick). Through scare-mongering, the unreasonable becomes reasonable.

* * *

Underground activists won’t lose much sleep over the SHAC trial or this legislation. Their actions are already illegal (and they know it). The government has already labeled them the "number one domestic terrorist threat." And yet they continue to demonstrate that heavy-handed police tactics will not deter them.

Shortly after the sentencing of the SHAC7, anonymous activists sent a communiqué claiming credit for rescuing 23 rabbits from a vivisection lab in rural Massachusetts. They dedicated the raid to the SHAC 7. Six of the rabbits are named Jake, Lauren, Kevin, Andy, Josh, and Darius, after the defendants. (Who knew the balaclava-and-bolt-cutter set was so PR savvy?)

"And while the SHAC-7 will soon go to jail for simply speaking out on behalf of animals, those of us who have done all the nasty stuff talked about in the courts and in the media will still be free," the communiqué said. "So to those who still work with HLS and to all who abuse animals: we’re coming for you, motherfuckers."

Meanwhile, the government and corporations will continue coming for legal, above-ground activists.

Through my interviews with grassroots animal rights activists, national organizations, and their attorneys, I have heard widespread fears that the word "terrorist" will one day be turned against them, even though they use legal tactics. That grey fog of fear has seeped into every part of the movement. It clings to activists’ clothes, to their hair, like the cigarette stench lingering from last night’s drink at the bar. Even the most industrious activists, plugging away at campaign after campaign, have admitted that they can’t shake that fear. And the fog, it seems, is spreading. Some anti-abortion organizations, like the Thomas More Society, have already raised concerns that "eco-terrorism" legislation and rhetoric could become a model for labeling other activists as terrorists.

Other social movements have not rushed into the neon spotlight in the defense of animal rights activists, though, and they probably won’t any time soon. Animal activists have magnificently alienated themselves from other progressive activists, producing stunts and sound bites, costs be damned. Meanwhile, the New McCarthyists have constructed a scare-mongering campaign built not to destroy the underground, but to destroy the animal rights movement itself. It will be up to animal rights activists to challenge the architects of this Green Scare head on, to build bridges to other social movements, and to speak openly and honestly about the fear that, if ignored, could raze everything they’ve created. Until then, others will remain at a safe distance. They will be waiting to see how much the animal rights movement takes.

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