URGENT: Misinformation Campaigns on AETA

by Will Potter on November 13, 2006

in Terrorism Legislation

I’ve been receiving a flood of emails from people who have called their members of Congress, raised concerns about the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and been met with a barrage of misinformation. Here’s an email being distributed by the office of U.S. Representative Rick Larsen, with my responses and clarifications.

—— Forwarded Message
From: “Dabbs, Michael”
Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2006 09:34:24 -0500
Subject: RE: HSUS statement on AETA


Thanks for the information. We have taken another strong look at the concerns raised by the other groups. We are confident that the bill provides ample protection of First Amendment rights and does nothing to prevent peaceful protesting or boycotting of animal stores, research facilities, or anything else. A lot of the concerns were addressed in bipartisan negotiations, which have been incorporated into the Senate version of the bill (which is what we are voting on today).

Here is the text of a letter that was sent around that addresses the concerns. Please take a look at it. Feel free to give me a call today to discuss the specific concerns.

As we discussed last week, Rick would not support a bill that he does not feel protects crucial First Amendment rights. Rick feels that stronger protections are needed to deter blatant destruction to small family farms or research facilities. This bill would do that.

Again, give me a call in our DC office (202.225.2605) if you’d like to talk about this more.



Michael Dabbs
Legislative Director
U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (WA-02)
107 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

On September 30, 2006, the Senate approved S. 3880, the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 2006,” by unanimous consent. S.3880 is the product of meticulous negotiations between the majority and minority members of both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees. However, some groups continue to circulate misleading information about AETA in hopes of preventing House passage. In order for Members to be able to respond to their constituents and remain confident in their continued support of this important bipartisan legislation, we have prepared the following statements in response to the primary criticisms still being circulated regarding the revised bill.

Criticism #1 : AETA poses a threat to First Amendment rights.


First Amendment activity is expressly excluded from the bill’s coverage. The legislation includes a Rules of Construction which states: “nothing in this section shall be construed – to prohibit any expressive conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstrations) protected from legal prohibition by the First Amendment to the Constitution; to create new remedies for interference with activities protected by the free speech or free exercises clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution, regardless of point of view expressed, or to limit any existing legal remedies for such interference.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) expressed concerns with the original legislation, which were addressed in S. 3880, and the ACLU has now stated in a letter to Chairman Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member Conyers that it does not oppose S. 3880, despite minor criticisms.

The First Amendment “protections” in the bill are just window dressing. They’re absolutely meaningless. The fact that lawmakers note the legislation doesn’t prohibit conduct “protected from legal prohibition by the First Amendment” shows that they realize it is vague and overly broad. It’s a red herring to distract from the content of the bill, and the politics behind it, and ease public fears. But simply proclaiming “this legislation is Constitutional!” doesn’t make it so.

Criticism #2: AETA could make it illegal for citizens to boycott or encourage a boycott of a company that uses animals for research.


Boycotts are specifically excluded in the bill. While the bill does base penalties on the level of economic damage caused by an activity, the activity must be illegal in order to be covered under the bill. The term “economic damages” does not include a “lawful economic disruption (including a lawful boycott) that results from lawful public, governmental, or business reaction to the disclosure of information about an animal enterprise.” The term includes damages or losses that result from “threats, acts or (sic) vandalism, property damage, trespass, harassment, or intimidation taken against a person or entity on account of that person’s or entity’s connection to, relationship with, or transactions with the animal enterprise”.

Not so fast. It’s absolutely correct that the bill exempts “any lawful economic disruption (including a lawful boycott) that results from lawful public, governmental, or business reaction to the disclosure of information about an animal enterprise.” This is no safeguard. For instance, undercover investigators and whistleblowers may cause financial loss for a company beyond the losses related to third party reactions. Companies may argue that salaries for undercover investigators, increased internal security, and extensive employee background checks are added costs of doing business because of activists.

Furthermore, notice how many times that “exemption” uses the word lawful. All activists I’ve interviewed have plenty of stories about frivolous charges and trumped up charges (“disorderly conduct” and “trespassing” seem to be two favorites of law enforcement agents who can’t get anything else to stick). At the point any of those baseless, non-violent charges are added into the equation (like if an investigator sneaks onto corporate property to film animal abuse) the already-weak protections of that exemption don’t even apply.

Criticism #3: AETA was drafted carelessly and has not been properly debated in Congress.


In the 109th Congress there have been three legislative hearings dedicated to this legislation. House and Senate Judiciary Committee staff spent months working with animal rights advocates to make changes to the legislation to accommodate their concerns. These changes included adding further First Amendment protections as well as adding language that ensures that all conduct that may be prosecuted is intentional. This modified legislation has received wide bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Hmm. Months working with animal advocates? Really? If that’s the case, how do you explain opposition by the Humane Society, ASPCA, Peta and dozens of leading animal groups?

National organizations are lining up in opposition to this bill, and activists are terrified about “terrorism” rhetoric being batted around by corporations, and used in legislation singling out one political cause. In light of that, it is completely irresponsible to push this legislation on the suspension calendar (for non-controversial bills) and try to sneak it through the House.

One part of that statement is absolutely correct, though: this legislation was not drafted carelessly. It was done carefully. Intentionally. And, I’d say, maliciously. Lawmakers know how to carefully craft legislation that is not vague and overly broad and, at the prodding of corporations and industry groups, they simply chose not to.

Criticism #4: There is no need for AETA.


Between January of 1990 and June of 2004, extremist elements in animal rights organizations such as Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC), and Earth Liberation Front (ELF) committed more than 1,100 acts of terrorism causing more than $120 million in damages. The FBI considers such extremists activities among its most serious domestic threats. Officials from both the FBI and the DOJ have testified multiple times before Congress that current state and federal law is inadequate to address the threats and violent acts committed by animal rights extremists.

That’s bull. Here’s what corporations and the politicians that represent them conveniently don’t tell you. The SHAC 7 were convicted under AEPA, the original law, for running a website. And environmental activists have been rounded up as part of “Operation Backfire” and charged with serious property crimes, including arson. It’s simply dishonest for business groups and Department of Justice officials to say more legislation is needed. It’s scare-mongering and double-speak at its worst for government officials to say their “hands are tied” in light of this massive government repression.

It should be noted, also, that underground activists have the least to fear from this bill. It’s unlikely that even illegal, underground activists like the Animal Liberation Front would be impacted. Their actions, such as releasing mink from fur farms, spray-painting buildings, and even arson, have not claimed a single human life, and have not been deterred by the convictions of the SHAC 7 under the original AEPA.

Criticism #5: AETA creates a new crime of terrorism designating animal rights protestors as terrorists.


AETA amends the existing “Animal Enterprise Terrorism” statute (18 U.S.C. 43), which has been law since 1992. It extends existing protections for animal enterprises to individuals, businesses and agencies, such as farmers, scientists, biomedical and biotechnology industries, research universities, teaching hospitals, financial institutions and others, who have associations with an animal enterprise. AETA is in response to rising incidences of violence and threats against these entities as a way to adversely impact animal enterprises without directly violating the existing Animal Enterprise Terrorism statute.

It’s true that “animal enterprise terrorism” is not a new crime under this bill. However, renaming the legislation the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, expanding it to include any business even loosely associated with an “animal enterprise,” and including vague and overly broad language, drastically expands the scope of the law.

Finally, I hate to point out the obvious here, but if activists are destroying property, harassing individuals, stalking… THOSE ARE ALL CRIMES ALREADY. If individuals are not prosecuted for those actions, it is because law enforcement agents are simply too incompetent to catch the individuals responsible. Putting those crimes in “terrorism” legislation won’t magically turn a Keystone cop in Sherlock Holmes, but it will risk wrapping up non-violent activists in “terrorism” rhetoric, and chilling First Amendment activity.

Previous post:

Next post: