Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, March 9, 2007
Title: “The AETA is Invidiously Detrimental to the Animal Rights Movement (and Unconstitutional as Well)”
Authors: David Hoch and Odette Wilkens
Green is the New Red, November 14, 2006
Title: “US House Passes Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act With Little Discussion or Dissent”
Author: Will Potter
Earth First! Journal, November, 2006
Title: “22 Years for Free-Speech Advocates”
Student Researcher: Sverre Tysl
Faculty Evaluator: Scott Suneson, MA
The term “terrorism” has been dangerously expanded to include acts that interfere, or promote interference, with the operations of animal enterprises. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), signed into law on November 27, 2006, broadens punishment present under the Animal Enterprises Protection Act (AEPA) of 1992. One hundred and sixty groups, including the National Lawyers’ Guild, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Humane Voters, Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine, and the New York City Bar Association, oppose this Act on grounds that its terminology is dangerously vague and poses a major conflict to the US Constitution.
The broad definition of an “animal enterprise,” for example, may encompass most US businesses: “any enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products.” The phrase “loss of any real or personal property,” is elastic enough to include loss of projected profit. Concerns deepen as protections against “interference” extend to any “person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.”
A letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to Congress dated March 6, 2006, “on behalf of hundreds of thousands of activists and members and fifty-three affiliates nationwide,” explains their opposition to AETA based on the concern that First Amendment activities such as demonstrations, leafleting, undercover investigations, and boycotts may be punishable as acts of terror under the overly vague and open-ended law.
The ACLU letter maintains, “Lawful and peaceful protests that, for example, urge a consumer boycott of a company that does not use humane procedures, could be the target of this provision because they ‘disrupt’ the company’s business. This overbroad provision might also apply to a whistleblower whose intentions are to stop harmful or illegal activities by the animal enterprise. The bill will effectively chill and deter Americans from exercising their First Amendment rights to advocate for reforms in the treatment of animals.”
Author Will Potter argues that the harsher amendments that AETA brings to its predecessor, AEPA, are hardly necessary, as AEPA was successfully used to disproportionately prosecute the SHAC 7—six animal rights activists organized to expose the illegal and inhumane operations of Huntingdon Life Sciences—for “animal enterprise terrorism.” Budgerigar of Earth First! recounts that three of the defendants were charged under AEPA in September of 2006 with interstate stalking and conspiracy to commit interstate stalking for organizing demonstrations and running a website that published names and addresses of those involved in the vivisection industry. The group was collectively sentenced to twenty-two years in prison. “The supreme irony of this case,” notes Budgerigar, “rests in the fact that these activists were convicted of conspiracy to damage the profits of an animal enterprise, but not of actually damaging it. Even so, the ever-so-honorable judge ordered the defendants to pay a total of $1,000,001 in restitution fees.”
Yet Congress deemed that AEPA was not a serious enough tool for going after animal rights “extremists.” David Hoch and Odette Wilkens of Equal Justice Alliance ask, “How did this bill [AETA] pass the House?”
Hoch and Wilkens explain that in spite of the fact that one hundred and sixty groups opposed its passage, the House Judiciary Committee placed AETA on the suspension calendar, under which process bills that are non-controversial can be passed by voice vote. The vote on the bill was then held hours earlier than scheduled, with what appears to have been only six (out of 435) Congresspersons present. Five voted for the bill, and Dennis Kucinich, who said that “[t]his bill will have a real and chilling effect on people’s constitutionally protected rights,” voted against it. Kucinich went on to say, “My concern about this bill is that it does nothing to address the real issue of animal protection but, instead targets those advocating animal rights.”
Budgerigar concludes, “The message could not be more clear: run an effective activist campaign, and you will be vilified, criminalized, and imprisoned.”
UPDATE BY DAVID HOCH AND ODETTE WILKENS
The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), whose recent passage received virtually no media coverage, will chill the first amendment rights of animal advocates and serve as a template for future limitations on the free speech of all activists. The Act subjects anyone who (1) uses interstate commerce, (2) with the intent to damage or interfere with an “animal enterprise” or with any person or entity associated with an animal enterprise, and (3) causes any economic damage or corporate profit loss or bodily injury or fear of bodily injury, or (4) conspires or attempts to do any of the foregoing, to prosecution for “animal enterprise terrorism.”
AETA expands the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA), under which six animal activists were convicted and imprisoned for publicly advocating animal protection activities. The new law requires less serious conduct than the “physical disruption to…an animal enterprise” called for in AEPA, provides stiffer penalties for economic damage and subjects violators who cause no economic damage, bodily harm or fear of serious bodily harm, to as much as one year in prison, while also serving as a predicate for wiretapping.
AETA serves animal enterprises wishing to brand animal activists as criminals and treating dissent as terrorism, and indicates a trend toward treating dissent as terrorism, as evidenced by the Justice Department’s current attempt to increase sentences up to twenty years through the application of a concept called “terrorism enhancement.”
AETA violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments by proscribing formerly protected modes of expression and invidiously discriminating against animal activists through the imposition of harsher sanctions than those applied to similar or even more serious crimes under the 2005 federal sentencing guidelines. The Act is also unconstitutionally vague, due to the indecipherable ambiguity of statutory terms such as “interfere with” or “profit loss.” That vagueness extends to declared exemptions for lawful boycotts and peaceful protests, which could involve the same conduct that would subject one to prosecution under AETA. A lawful boycott is, by definition, the intent to interfere with and cause economic damage to some enterprise.
Furthermore, an animal enterprise need not be acting lawfully to be protected under the Act. Illegal animal enterprise is not an affirmative defense for activities such as whistle-blowing or undercover investigations into animal cruelty, labor conditions, or environmental violations.
To pass AETA, the House invoked a technicality that allows non-controversial bills to be approved by a voice vote, and then voted when only six members were present, although the bill was highly controversial, with approximately one hundred sixty organizations opposing its passage. The Act is unjust, oppressive, and unconstitutional and the honorable thing would be for Congress to repeal it, but without public knowledge and pressure that is unlikely. Therefore, a more prudent strategy would be to increase public awareness until a critical mass convinces Congress to rescind the Act.
To learn more about AETA or become involved in the effort to repeal it, visit the Equal Justice Alliance website at http://noaeta.org/index.htm.
UPDATE BY WILL POTTER
Shortly after passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, the Fur Commission USA distributed an announcement to supporters proclaiming “Mission Accomplished!” Corporations have been eager to appropriate much of the “War on Terrorism” rhetoric against activists, but this was an interesting PR choice. Bush stood on the USS Abraham Lincoln in front of a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” in 2003, only to be dogged by that hubris months, and now years, later.
It looks like corporations may be haunted by similar ghosts in this domestic front of the “War on Terrorism.” Not only has the legislation not deterred illegal activity by underground activists, it may have actually added fuel to their fire. On January 5, 2007, the Animal Liberation Front—considered by the FBI to be the “number one domestic terrorist threat”—distributed an anonymous communiqué related to vandalism at the home of a University of Utah animal researcher. It concluded: “PS. To all the vivisectors we have yet to visit: don’t bask in your recent legislative victory for too long. This new animal enterprise law means NOTHING. —ALF”
It wasn’t an isolated incident. Just two days after the president signed the law, another communiqué claimed credit for vandalizing the windows of a pharmaceutical company, and underground activists signed it: “Dedicated to the SHAC 7!” (The SHAC 7 are a group of activists convicted under the original legislation. They were never accused of anything like breaking windows: they “conspired” to violate the law by running a website and vocally supporting both legal and illegal tactics against companies doing business with a controversial lab).
If the purpose of AETA is to go after underground activists, that mission is far from accomplished. And if the purpose of AETA is to go after “the above ground,” activists are organizing to challenge that mission as well. Just a few weeks after the legislation passed, student activists protested outside the offices of US Rep. James P. McGovern in Massachusetts, naming and shaming him for not being present for a vote. McGovern’s staff quickly stated publicly that he does not support the law, he would have voted against it if he had known about a vote, and he would advocate for repeal.
And then there were dozens of community events around the world to raise awareness about labeling activists as “ecoterrorists,” from South Africa to Greece to Minneapolis, MN.
“Mission Accomplished”? Ahem.
To be clear, in some ways the mission of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act has been accomplished: it has instilled a level of fear in mainstream, above-ground, legal activists that they may one day be hit with the T-word in this ever-expanding “War on Terrorism.”
But through my reporting I’ve found that an interesting thing happens when people learn about this “Green Scare” and the corporate and political interests behind it: that fear easily turns to rage. More than 140 comments have been posted on the article I wrote about the legislation passing the House. Some of them express fear and a bit of hopelessness. Many share the tenor of “Jersey” who wrote: “do they really think everyone is going to crawl into the woodwork and stand for this?”
Since the law passed, I have been speaking regularly in public forums like the New York City Bar Association, Yale Law School, activist conferences, and with both mainstream and alternative press, and I’ve been able to see that phenomenon over and over again: questioning and investigating the legislation, and the money behind it, demystifies the law. It declaws it.
That knowledge is what ultimately worked against Senator Joseph McCarthy, succeeding where the “loyalty oaths” and the “naming names” failed. It can work now, too. If reporters do their jobs, and expose these issues to the general public, people can stop being afraid and start being pissed.
For more information, please visit http://www.GreenIsTheNewRed.com.