From DC Indymedia:
On Saturday, April 12, an FBI agent arrested an animal rights activist at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. The activist was charged with wearing a mask in public—a Class 6 felony in Virginia.
On April 5, the arrested activist attended a protest at GMU and wore a mask. After the GMU Police Department identified the activist, a warrant was issued for his arrest. When he appeared at a protest one week later, he was identified and subsequently tackled and arrested. The arrested activist was protesting Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus for their history of animal abuse.
The FBI agent who arrested the activist is part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force and is based in Prince William, VA. His name is Vincent Antignano and his badge number is #1035. He was stalking the arrested activist after he protested on numerous occasions against a private company, Huntingdon Life Sciences, which conducts medical tests on animals.
I spoke with the activist arrested, and I think it’s critical to note that neither he, nor the other protestors, were charged with anything like property destruction. He simply wore a mask at a lawful protest.
To those unfamiliar with activist groups or protests, that may seem odd. Why wear a mask if you aren’t going to do something wrong? What do you have to hide?
For some, it might be an attempt to look intimidating, tough, or just cool. But for many, many activists I’ve interviewed, it’s viewed as a necessity in this political climate. With the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces harassing and filming lawful protests, creating files on political activists, harassing them at home, and bringing grand jury witch hunts, activists don’t want to be singled out and targeted, and they also don’t want to stop speaking up for what they believe.
Ominously, a previous post on Indymedia about the FBI harassment said:
Help is urgent and we cannot continue this alone. Activists feel intimidated and threatened from many sides. Help is needed.
The bigger question here, though, beyond the absurdity of charging a non-violent, lawful protestor with a felony for wearing a bandana, is why the Joint Terrorism Task Force is monitoring a circus protest.
Even if you believe that groups like the Animal Liberation Front are truly the “number one domestic terrorism threat,” even if you believe that breaking a window in the name of the environment is a national security concern, protests against Ringling Bros. haven’t seen very much of that. Elephants have not been “liberated,” and the use of non-violent civil disobedience at circus protests isn’t nearly as common as it was in the late 90s. Ringling, though, has been relentless in targeting activists.
What the FBI is doing could be described, to borrow another Orwellian phrase from this “War on Terrorism,” as a pre-emptive war. Activists aren’t breaking the law, but they must be arrested because they MIGHT break the law.
Think that’s absurd? Check out the comments by FBI Special Agent Robert Springer Springer, who told a university crowd that the construction of a highway in Indiana could “arouse an eco-terrorist attack.”
But don’t worry, dear readers. As this FBI agent says, “We uphold the Constitution in everything we do…By working in domestic terrorism investigations, you get to see the First Amendment in action.”