Fifty years ago this month, four black students sat at a Woolworth’s whites-only lunch counter and refused to move. The following day 25 students did the same. A few days later, more than 300 showed up. The sit-ins quickly spread across the South and were a critical component of the civil rights movement. Decades later, the same conduct by animal rights and environmental activists are “terrorism” under a bill introduced in Washington State.
Senator Val Stevens has sponsored SB 6566, “an act prohibiting terrorist acts against animal and natural resource facilities.” The so-called “eco-terrorism” bill, like many others, ostensibly targets underground groups like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front. However, the bill is so broad that it explicitly targets non-violent civil disobedience and outlaws speaking out in support of “eco-terrorists.”
Here is the text of the bill. Among its provisions:
- Its sweeping definition of “eco-terrorist organization” could wrap up countless above-ground activists. It defines “animal rights or ecological terrorist organization” to mean “two or more persons with the primary or incidental purpose of intimidating, coercing, causing fear with the intent to obstruct, or impeding any person from participating in an activity involving animals” or natural resources. That last clause is the kicker. The bill’s definition of a terrorist organization includes any activist group that impedes business operations.
- Civil disobedience is “terrorism.” The bill explicitly mentions “Entering or remaining on the premises of an animal or horticultural facility if the person or organization” has “received notice to depart but failed to do so.”
- Speaking out in support of “eco-terrorists” is terrorism. The bill targets those who: “Participate in or support animal or ecological terrorism, including raising, soliciting, collecting, or providing any person with material, financial support, or other resources such as lodging, training, safe houses, false documentation, or identification, communications, equipment, or transportation that will be used in whole or in part to encourage, plan, prepare, carry out, publicize, promote, or aid an act of animal or ecological terrorism, the concealment of, or an escape from an act of animal or ecological terrorism.”
That final bullet point is the most dangerous section of the entire bill. It outlaws any activity, including communications, that “will be used in whole or in part to encourage,” “publicize,” or “promote” an act of animal or ecological terrorism.
“Encourage.” “Publicize.” “Promote.” There is absolutely no doubt that this language is intended to target the work of groups like the Earth Liberation Front Press Office, North American ALF Press Office, Bite Back Magazine, Earth First Journal, and others who distribute the communiqués of underground groups and vocally defend illegal tactics.
Make no mistake: that’s what this law is about. Speech. Sure, it includes stiffer penalties for property crimes and civil disobedience. The real danger, though, is the creation of a new class of law that explicitly exempts the First Amendment activity of those who support “terrorists.”
In my opinion, the law is so broad it could go even further, targeting those who provide “financial support” through legal defense funds. That’s debatable, of course, and that’s the problem; the law is so vague and broad that it is open to the exploitation of corporations, politicians and ambitious prosecutors.
Unfortunately, bills like this are nothing new. In fact, much of the language in this bill has been directly copied and pasted from a template bill created by the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council. You can read ALEC’s “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” here. A similar ALEC bill in Tennessee was described by its sponsor as targeting “left-wing eco-greenies.”
This bill, and others like it, have literally been bought and paid for by corporations.
Meanwhile, if you replace “animal and ecological” with “civil rights” throughout this bill, it could easily have been used against those activists at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, the Greensboro Four. Fifty years of history have made it easy, and even expected, to support once-controversial social movements and radical tactics.
The site of the Greensboro Four’s historic “terrorism” has now been commemorated with the opening of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.
UPDATE: The bill did not make it out of committee, and will not pass this session. We’ll stay on the lookout for future incarnations, as similar versions of this bill have been introduced in Washington State many times.