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How The Pursuit Of Animal Liberation Activists Became Among The FBI’s ‘Highest Domestic Terrorism Priorities’

Friday, October 26th, 2012

by Leighton Woodhouse (Huffington Post)

On January 16, 2006, two federal agents pulled off of Oregon’s Route 66 and onto a dirt road in the Southern Cascades, about nineteen miles northeast of downtown Ashland. They didn’t get far. There was a blizzard, and the road was buried in snow. The agents were forced to stop just a couple miles short of their destination.

On most winter mornings, the road that forced the agents’ retreat was plowed by Jonathan Paul, a tall, broad-shouldered, 39 year-old volunteer firefighter with a shaved head and a soul patch. Paul had gotten off to a late start that day; it was nearly time for lunch. While the FBI agents sat in their stalled vehicle, Paul climbed into his snow plow, which he kept parked beside his fire truck in the garage next to the solar-powered house where he lived with his wife and three dogs. At the intersection with Route 66, the agents watched as Paul pulled up the road and drove past them. They turned their car around and followed him onto the mountain highway.

Five minutes later, Paul pulled into the parking lot of the Green Springs Inn to order one of the few vegan items on the menu of the only restaurant in the area. The FBI vehicle pulled in behind him, and the agents followed Paul inside. One of them flashed his badge, and Paul knew at once that a nearly nine year-old crime had finally and inevitably caught up to him.

On July 21, 1997, the Cavel West Horse Rendering Plant, in Redmond, Oregon, was burned to the ground. It was never rebuilt. While in operation, the Belgian-owned slaughterhouse killed and dismembered as many as 500 horses per week, according to Paul, many of them formerly wild animals rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management and adopted out to private individuals who then sold them to the plant to be butchered. The meat was packaged and shipped to Europe and Japan for human consumption.

For over a decade, neighbors had petitioned and protested in a seemingly endless campaign to shut the plant down. In addition to the ethical concerns, Redmond locals complained about the stench, the constant screams of the horses, and the blood overflowing the local sewage system, backing up into neighbors’ bathtubs and knocking out the city’s water treatment plant.

An incendiary device consisting of a mixture of glycerin soap and diesel fuel nicknamed “vegan jello” accomplished what a decade of legal means had failed to achieve. Paul, along with an activist he had recruited named Jennifer Kolar, had mixed the fuel. The other three participants in the arson were Kevin Tubbs, a Nebraskan transplant who had moved to Eugene to work for the Earth First! Journal, Joseph Dibee, a software engineer at Microsoft, and Jacob Ferguson, who later turned into an FBI informant. Tubbs served as driver and lookout. Ferguson carried the fuel, and Dibbee planted the devices. After the ignition timers were set, the perpetrators fled the scene in Tubbs’ van. They stopped at a pre-determined location to dispose of their clothes, gloves and masks and destroy them with muriatic acid. A few days later, the “Animal Liberation Front – Equine and Zebra Liberation Network” faxed a communiqué to Craig Rosebraugh, ALF spokesperson, detailing the steps taken in the action and claiming responsibility for it.

Paul was prepared for his arrest; he had been expecting it. Over the last four years, the government had conducted a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional investigation into a string of arsons and other property crimes by radical animal rights and environmental activists with the Animal Liberation Front and its sister organization, the Earth Liberation Front. The investigation was called “Operation Backfire.” The month before, based on information provided by Ferguson, who had worn a wire and recorded conversations with his former colleagues, the FBI had arrested Tubbs, along with six other underground activists (Ferguson had once tried to record Paul implicating himself as well, but Paul had refused to discuss his past with him). Paul had known and worked alongside some of the arrestees; others were strangers.

Paul could not have known it, but his fellow activists’ long-standing pledges to refuse to assist prosecutors in the event of arrest broke down almost immediately. All of the defendants except for two — William Rodgers and Daniel McGowan — had hastily signed plea bargains and agreed to cooperate with the investigation (McGowan’s case was the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary, “If a Tree Falls”). Rodgers was so shaken by the government’s success in turning his co-defendants that he committed suicide in his cell.

Information provided by the cooperating defendants led to the arrests of Paul and six other activists. Three of them chose to cooperate with the FBI, while four, including Paul, refused. (Three more suspects remain fugitives, Dibbee among them.)

Four days after his arrest, the Department of Justice issued a press release referring to Paul and the other defendants as terrorists. At a press conference announcing the activists’ indictment, FBI Director Robert Mueller, standing alongside Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, cited the pursuit of environmental and animal rights-related criminal perpetrators as among the agency’s “highest domestic terrorism priorities.”

Of the twenty criminal events investigated under Operation Backfire, none had targeted human beings or resulted in the death or injury of a single person. No action by the ELF or the ALF in the United States has, in fact, ever killed or injured anyone. Both groups’ crimes are, by design, restricted to property.

The same cannot be said of anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists and right-wing militias, none of which have been subject to special federal legislation singling them out as terrorists as ALF and ELF activists have. Indeed, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a mundane intelligence assessment in 2009 outlining the threat of terrorism from right wing extremists, conservative outrage forced Secretary Napolitano to withdraw it (just three months earlier, DHS’s release of a similar report detailing cyberterrorism threats from animal rights and environmental activists and anarchists went more or less unnoticed by the media).

Though what the FBI now calls “eco-terrorism” predates September 11, 2001 by at least two decades, since the events of that date, both the laws on the books pertaining to political activism and the implementation of those laws by police and federal investigators have shifted dramatically in the direction of repression. In a time of perpetual national emergency, freewheeling use of the “terrorist” label enabled Congress to pass the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in 2006, a law that substantially broadened the powers of the Justice Department to pursue animal rights activists — including those who engage strictly in First Amendment activities — as terrorists. Likewise, this year, the label helped two state legislatures pass “Ag Gag” laws that criminalize undercover video investigations of animal abuses in the agriculture industry.

On the enforcement side, police and federal investigators have pursued perpetrators of arson, vandalism and even highly charged political speech as terrorists, and applied investigative techniques commensurate to the threat of Al Qaeda sleeper cells to disrupt their networks, including surveillance, infiltration, raids on homes and offices, and the use of grand juries to force innocent people to inform on their friends and colleagues. Currently, two self-described anarchists are in jail in Seattle merely for refusing to provide information on other activists in a grand jury proceeding. Neither is regarded as a suspect in the vandalism under investigation or have been charged with any other crime.

Describing the charges brought against the defendants in Operation Backfire, David Iglesias, the former federal prosecutor for New Mexico who was terminated by Attorney General Gonzales in the 2006 U.S. Attorney firing scandal, told the Eugene Weekly in 2007, “It seems to me what happened here should not fit my traditional definition of what terrorism is.” Iglesias described the terrorism label as “political” and “overreaching.”

In environmental circles, the terrorism charges brought against the Operation Backfire defendants marked the culmination of what became known as “the Green Scare”: the post-9/11 period in which widespread anxiety about a very real threat to American security was marshaled by federal law enforcement and then redirected to discredit a movement. While the legal targets of the dragnet were underground activists who engaged in illicit activity, the political targets, many activists believe, were lawful, mainstream environmental and animal rights groups and the causes they stood for.

The FBI denies this. In a statement provided for this article, a spokeperson wrote, “The FBI does not investigate individuals based on their beliefs or other first amendment protected activity like free speech. It is when the individual exhibits intent to or crosses the line to commit a crime that we have an obligation to act. Working within our legal authorities, the prevention and detection of these criminal acts prior to their fruition is our objective.” (The spokesperson went on to note that domestic terrorism is the agency’s “top investigative priority,” and pointed to “evidence of an ongoing conspiracy by members of the ELF and ALF” that caused “over $40 million in economic damages.”)

Activists who have been in the FBI’s sights tend to disagree. “The FBI’s pursuit of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, including Jonathan Paul, was the largest domestic terrorism investigation in history,” says Will Potter, author of Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege. Potter, who has himself been questioned by the FBI in the past for legal protest activity, discerns in the terrorism label a campaign of pressure by law enforcement agencies, at the behest of animal enterprise and resource extraction industries, upon licit groups to curtail their Constitutionally protected advocacy activity. Potter sees a continuity of this pressure campaign in both the government’s recent aggressive prosecution of climate activist Tim DeChristopher and in the passage of laws this year in Utah and Iowa criminalizing undercover investigations of animal abuse on factory farms. “Now, the same corporate and political interests who were calling for a crackdown on the ELF are calling for a crackdown on undercover investigators and on people like Tim DeChristopher who is in prison for non-violent civil disobedience,” Potter continues. “This is how political repression operates. It always begins on the fringes and, if allowed, creeps steadily towards all forms of dissent.”

Cavel West was Paul’s last arson, but it was neither his first nor his last act of physical intervention in defense of animals. Paul undertook his first animal liberation action when he was eight years old. Paul’s father, a manager at Morgan Stanley, took his son to Africa, where for the first time in his life, Paul viewed cheetahs in the wild. When he returned home to Western Massachusetts, he visited the zoo and was traumatized by the sight of cheetahs in captivity, pacing around in their cages. When he got to school, he went around and set off as many mousetraps as he could find.

Despite his childhood ethical revelation, until his early adolescence, Paul continued to hunt for sport. One day, when he was a freshman in high school, Paul and his friends were out shooting birds. Paul hit one in the wing, and it fell to the ground on its back. It was suffering, and Paul was able to connect to that suffering in a way that was new to him. It was something of an epiphany. He picked up a rock and smashed the injured bird, putting it out of its misery. He never hunted again.

Paul soon gave up eating meat, then all animal products. In his early twenties, he moved to California. “A lot of the people that I was hanging around with were very smart people who were very educated,” Paul says. “And I listened and learned from them, and I started understanding what was really going on, and understanding more about ecosystems and how important things were, and this and that. And as I started to understand that, I started putting it all together like a puzzle. I was able to complete the puzzle and I saw this very dark world that to me was very disturbing.”

He undertook his first major animal liberation action in 1986 at the University of Oregon, where, according to Paul, researchers were conducting experiments on perception that included taking pregnant cats, opening them up, extracting their fetuses, sewing the eyes of the fetuses shut, and putting them back into their mothers so they would be born blind. Then lab technicians would conduct tests on the blind kittens. After months of reconnaissance, Paul and some fellow activists broke into the lab, destroyed computers and equipment and released close to 300 animals, including cats, mice and rabbits. They were unable to get the monkeys out because they had not secured new homes for them; all they could do was give them bananas and take a sledgehammer to the device used for their vivisection.

Following the University of Oregon raid, Paul’s life became animal liberation. He got a rush out of the action. He quickly became one of the most prolific underground animal rights activists alive. In 1987, he participated in the first ALF arson in the United States, at an animal research laboratory under construction at the University of California at Davis. The next month, he cut a section of a wooden fence at a wild horse corral run by the Bureau of Land Management in California, freeing the captured horses. That same year, he broke into a research facility at Loma Linda University in Southern California, removing dogs and research documents. In 1989, Paul and another activist executed the largest raid in the ALF’s history at the University of Arizona at Tucson, freeing and re-housing about 1,200 animals. In the ’90s, he helped shoot undercover video footage of the brutal killing of minks on fur farms, and derailed shark hunts off the coast of Santa Cruz. The project he made the most enduring commitment to was founding the American version of the Hunt Saboteurs, an organization that had been physically disrupting fox and deer hunts in England since the ’60s and which was a precursor to the original Animal Liberation Front in the United Kingdom. In the U.S., Paul and other activists focused on Big Horn Sheep hunts in the Mojave Desert. They would follow hunters for miles, blaring noisemakers to keep their prey moving and putting out false scents to throw off the dogs. If necessary, they would put their bodies between the rifles and their intended targets. (Forty-four states now have “hunter harassment laws” that criminalize this kind of activity.)

“There’s a despair that we all hold in us,” says Paul. “I think that for myself I can say that somewhere I tend to channel the suffering and the pain and the destruction in me, and it’s a pretty intense experience to always have that in you. I will say that in a lot of ways I prefer to [be] aware and be in touch with my despair [rather] than to be unaware and not in touch with what’s going on. I don’t want to live in bliss, I want to live in reality. And a lot of times the reality of what’s going on is very disturbing and scary. And so the only way I could channel that is to do something about it.”

The type of direct action-style activism that Paul practiced was extraordinary, but in the 1990s it was hardly unique. Throughout the ’80s, Animal Liberation Front cells and other animal rights groups had racked up scores of successful lab break-ins, arsons and rescues, some of them accompanied by major public relations victories. In 1984, ALF activists broke into the University of Pennsylvania’s Head Trauma Research Center, where scientists were conducting experiments on live baboons funded by the National Institutes of Health. The activists stole sixty hours worth of audio and videotapes shot by the vivisectors themselves that showed them laughing and joking as they inflicted brain damage on inadequately anesthetized baboons with a hydraulic device that simulated whiplash, and posing the severely injured primates in front of the camera, Abu Ghraib-style, for fun. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a 26-minute edited film from the footage that received media attention all over the world. The following year, NIH cut off funding for the center and the lab was closed. Soon after, Congress passed new legislation improving standards of oversight and care of laboratory animals.

In the environmental movement, radical activists were adopting equally confrontational tactics in the ’80s and ’90s, most famously under the banner of Earth First!. Begun out of a conscious and explicit rejection of the inevitable compromises of mainstream environmental groups, Earth First! championed the use of direct action and sabotage (nicknamed “monkey wrenching”) to halt environmental destruction at its source. Earth First! activists destroyed logging equipment, established blockades of logging roads into old growth forests, and in 1985, developed the tactic of climbing and physically occupying trees for days, weeks or months on end to protect them from loggers’ chainsaws.

Soon after founding the Hunt Sabs, Paul and other animal liberationists found themselves accompanied on their expeditions by Earth First! activists. Earth First!ers were not all animal rights devotees, and at that time, their political persuasion was, collectively, as libertarian as it was anarchist. The original founders of Earth First! proudly embraced a redneck cultural sensibility, fusing it with a back-to-the-Earth, Mother Gaia spirituality. Many Earth First! ‘eco-warriors’ ate meat, wore leather, and even hunted. But they all opposed big game trophy hunting as a crime against conservation if not against the animals themselves.

Surrounded by environmental radicals, Paul’s perspective on his own activism began to expand, incorporating elements of Earth First!’s biocentric ‘Deep Ecology’ philosophy, which emphasizes the innate interconnectedness of life, into his perspectives on animal exploitation. “There’s always a bigger picture involved with the whole thing,” says Paul. “I always feel that if you’re a person that is going to have the heart to go out and defend an individual animal how can you not have the heart to see the whole picture of what’s really going on in this world? We’re in the sixth mass extinction right now. We’ve got ecosystems collapsing everywhere, species dying out. And animal liberation is tied to that, directly.” As the radical environmental worldview shaped the ideology of Paul and his colleagues, the animal rights crowd began to participate in Earth First! forest defense actions. The two movements were merging.

Like many social movements before it, Earth First!’s uncompromising tactics had earned it a place on the FBI’s list of public enemies. At 5 a.m. on May 30, 1989, following three years of infiltration, armed federal agents stormed the Tucson home of one of Earth First!’s founders, Dave Foreman, and arrested him (seven years later, the FBI’s case against Foreman resulted in a $250 fine). Then, almost exactly a year later, Earth First! organizer (and friend of Paul’s) Judi Bari was crippled for life and nearly killed in a car bomb explosion. Within hours of the blast, the FBI accused Bari and the other passenger, Earth First! activist Darryl Cherney, of harboring the bomb themselves, claiming it was set off accidentally. Agents were at Jonathan Paul’s home in Santa Cruz almost immediately, asking questions. Seven weeks later, the Oakland District Attorney announced that he had insufficient evidence to charge the pair with any crime. Many believe that the bomb was in fact planted by the FBI and the Oakland Police.

The animal rights movement was likewise commanding increased attention from federal investigators. While Paul was busy leading the Hunt Sabs, his friend and former Santa Cruz housemate, Rod Coronado, carried out a string of high-profile ALF arsons, which he dubbed “Operation Biteback,” that targeted the physical infrastructure of the fur industry. Paul didn’t participate in the campaign and wasn’t a suspect in the investigation into it, but in 1993, federal prosecutors hauled him in front of a grand jury in Spokane to compel testimony that might lead to the perpetrator’s capture. Paul refused to cooperate, and was locked up for five months. At the time, it was the longest jail term ever meted out for animal rights activism.

It was around this time that Paul first started hearing the term “eco-terrorism.” Paul attributes its genesis to the Wise Use movement, an anti-environmental grassroots coalition and corporate public relations campaign founded by Ron Arnold, who claims credit for the word’s coinage. The neologism had already gained currency in Washington, D.C. Following the 1987 arson at the University of California at Davis in which Paul acted as driver, for the first time, the FBI labeled a crime carried out by animal rights activists as “domestic terrorism.” The following year, referring to Earth First! activities, Idaho’s Republican Senator James McClure introduced that phrase’s specific sub-variant, “eco-terrorism,” into the Congressional record.

Then, in 1992, in response to the Operation Biteback arsons, Congress took another step in transforming such activists into terrorists by quietly passing the “Animal Enterprise Protection Act.” A gift to the pharmaceutical lobby (principally the National Association for Biomedical Research), the new law carved out special protections for animal-based industries by creating a brand new category of criminal activity, called “animal enterprise terrorism,” with special sentencing enhancements specifically aimed at underground animal rights groups. From now on, rescuing or assisting in the rescue of animals from death or torture at the hands of a profit-seeking venture, or assisting in the destruction of the equipment used to inflict pain or death on those animals, were not merely felonies to federal prosecutors, they were acts in the same legal class as the crimes perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski or Osama bin Laden.

It wasn’t until 1998, however, that the “eco-terrorism” term really gained traction. In October of that year, one year and three months after Paul had helped burn down the Cavel West plant, a massive fire at the Vail ski resort in Colorado resulted in $12 million in damages and prime time news coverage across the country. The arson, whose stated purpose was to halt the resort’s planned expansion into delicate lynx habitat, was carried out in the name of the Earth Liberation Front, an offspring of the Animal Liberation Front that had started in the United Kingdom and had been active in the U.S. for several years. (Years later, the FBI arrested William Rodgers, also known as “Avalon,” for the crime.)

Until Vail, crimes carried out by radical environmental and animal rights groups were a persistent but secondary issue for the FBI. With the Vail fire on the front page of newspapers coast to coast, the FBI’s priorities changed overnight. FBI Director Louis Freeh, who had told a group of animal and resource extraction industry representatives in Europe less than a year earlier that ALF, ELF and Earth First! activities were not even on the agency’s ‘radar screen,’ told the Senate Appropriations Committee in February 1999 that animal rights and environmental activists were now among “the most recognizable single issue terrorists at the present time.”

The FBI’s about-face was a coup for the animal enterprise and resource extraction industries, whose lobbyists had already been pressuring politicians to put Earth First!, ALF and ELF into the same threat category as assassins, airline hijackers, and international mass murderers. Bragging about Freeh’s change of perspective, the Fur Commission USA wrote in its March 1999 newsletter: “Over the last year, the people of the fur trade have been key players with other animal and resource based industries in a concerted effort to push eco and animal rights terrorism up the government’s priority pole. These efforts have resulted in a strong statement of commitment from the FBI.” The government had not yet gone far enough, the newsletter cautioned, “But what a difference a few months can make!”

An even bigger sea change came on September 11, 2001. It took only a few hours after planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon before the animal enterprise and resource extraction industries and their allies in Congress sought to capitalize on the opportunity to shine the spotlight on “eco-terrorists.” On the day of the attacks, Alaska Congressman Don Young speculated that the act of mass murder could be the work of environmental extremists. One day later, Oregon Congressman Greg Walden declared “eco-terrorists” to be a threat “no less heinous than what we saw occur yesterday here in Washington and in New York.”

The gambit failed in the short run. During the months and years that followed 9/11, the Bush administration was too preoccupied with the real threat of the moment, Al Qaeda, to make a top priority of a loose network of arsonists, saboteurs and civil disobeyers focused on the destruction of property and not on the taking of human life. Moreover, in the wake of the attacks, ALF and ELF activity abruptly dwindled to almost nothing, as did most other political protest and dissent in the United States at that time. Out of the twenty separate criminal acts committed by the activists rounded up in Operation Backfire, only one of them took place after 9/11 — an arson at the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse Corrals in Litchfield, California, one month and four days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. According to the ALF Press Office, crimes by ALF and ELF activists declined by nearly half following September 11th.

Nevertheless, the watchword of the decade was now “terrorism.” The Justice Department had been granted unprecedented new powers by Congress through the passage of the PATRIOT Act. Careers could now be made in federal law enforcement by breaking a case that could credibly be labeled as terrorism while resources for other priorities dried up. In the private sector, demand spiked for executive and director level security personnel to protect companies from shadowy terrorist threats; more than 200 colleges and universities created new homeland security-related degree and certificate programs to fill the new slots. Many more of these newly minted corporate security officers were worried about their domestic political opposition than about Al Qaeda.

With the criminal histories of the ALF and ELF now comfortably ensconced within the rubric of “terrorism” by the Animal Enterprise Protection Act and the declarations of the FBI, the social, legal and political framework for a major government counteroffensive against animal rights and environmental activists was never stronger.

During that time, Paul was in Washington State, working alongside Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepard Conservation Society (and star of “Whale Wars” on Animal Planet), which Watson has described as “the navy of Earth First!”. He helped found Ocean Defense International, an organization dedicated to derailing whale hunts conducted by an indigenous tribe that enjoyed sovereign whaling rights. ODI used the same straightforward approach Paul had employed with the Hunt Sabs on land and that Watson had been perfecting on the water for years: they would pursue the whaling vessels with small coastal boats, and, as the Makah hunters closed in on their prey, they would steer their boats between the whales and the hunters’ high-powered rifles.

It was while working for ODI that Paul met his wife, Tami Drake. On a Saturday in May of 1999, the Coast Guard confiscated ODI’s boats. On Monday morning, the Makah harpooned a grey whale. There was nobody there to disrupt the slaughter. It took 17 minutes for the whale to die, and Drake, a paralegal at the time, watched it happen on the local news. She called in to work and said she wasn’t coming in that day. She tracked down Paul and the ODI crew and volunteered to help with the legal work to get their boats back. Paul was especially persistent in seeking her aid. “Every day he was calling me,” she says. “‘Have you gotten my boat back?’ Maybe he had a premonition that he’d need legal help in the future. But six months later, we were together.”

Drake and Paul became partners in activism as well as in life. They bought a bus, turned it into a mobile whale education center, and drove up and down the West Coast, educating children about marine mammals. They purchased their home together in the Siskiyous. Drake knew the depth of her partner’s commitment to animal rights, and she suspected that he may have engaged in some illegal animal liberations, perhaps breaking into a laboratory or two. Beyond that, Paul did not speak of his underground history, and she tried not to ask.

In 2004, seven separate investigations into an assortment of underground actions by multiple federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were merged into Operation Backfire. The investigation got its major break when a roommate of Jacob Ferguson filed charges with the Eugene Police, accusing him of stealing her truck. She later found the truck parked down the street, but by then, investigators were linking Ferguson to an SUV arson. Ferguson had become addicted to heroin and had a young son. The FBI soon ensnared him, and played on his fears of being locked up and separated from his son just as he had been separated from his imprisoned father. Ferguson agreed to wear a wire, then systematically sought out his accomplices and attempted to record each of them admitting their roles in crimes past.

The FBI came to Paul’s home with a Grand Jury subpoena on December 7, 2005. Drake took her husband out into the woods and grabbed him by the collar. She asked him if she needed to be afraid that the FBI was going to return, kick in their door and shoot their dogs. He told her no, they were just harassing him. A few weeks later, Drake flew to Seattle to visit her daughter. While she was there, she received a phone call and learned that her husband had been arrested. “I dropped to my knees,” Drake says. “I thought, whatever he’s arrested for, he didn’t do it. We got him bonded out in nine days. I asked him quietly, ‘Did you do this?’ And he got this sheepish grin on his face and he said, ‘Do you really want to know?’”

As with the other defendants, prosecutors tried to turn Paul immediately. He didn’t even entertain the idea, and nor did those closest to him. Drake told him she would stand by him throughout, as long as he didn’t snitch. His mother told him the same thing.

Federal prosecutors tried Paul on charges of arson and conspiracy, and sought sentencing enhancements for terrorism. Paul lucked out. In the midst of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping scandal, the prosecutors were on shifting and precarious political ground. Attorneys for the defendants submitted a discovery motion demanding that the government turn over any and all evidence collected through warrantless wiretaps. The government responded by agreeing to a plea bargain with a non-cooperation clause in exchange for the defense’s dropping the discovery request; a rare event in any trial, and an about-face for the government.

Paul was imprisoned in Phoenix, Arizona. He was out on bail prior to his incarceration, so he walked himself into the facility. As soon as he entered the system, he was thrown into solitary confinement for a week, then transferred to a unit. “Prison is so race-based,” he says, “The first thing is all these white guys give you your shower shoes, soap, give you what you need until you can get to the store. So you get settled up, and then have to figure your way around things. You have to be careful who you deal with. But it was not that bad of a place compared to other places.” Like other prisoners, Paul read, and he exercised. He ran his first marathon by running hundreds of laps around the prison track. He served three years, and then another six months in a halfway house.

Today, Paul lives with his wife again in his home in the Siskiyou Mountains. He gets up at 5 every morning and goes to work doing forest restoration. He has legally converted the property around his house into a wildlife sanctuary. In the summer, animals are everywhere.

Since his arrest, laws targeting activists for terrorism prosecution have become significantly more draconian. In 2006, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a bill conceived of and advanced by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-sponsored conservative think tank and lobbying group that champions pro-”free market” legislation. The new law criminalizes actions aimed at “damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise,” including First Amendment activity such as pickets and boycotts. The legislation was crafted explicitly to empower law enforcement to squelch hitherto legal, above-ground animal rights advocacy, after a group of activists called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty nearly shut down an infamous multinational animal testing corporation through purely legal means. Activists charge SHAC’s target, Huntingdon Life Sciences, with killing hundreds of animals a day through their toxicity testing business, which involves practices such as injecting puppies with pesticides. Undercover footage has shown Huntingdon technicians punching beagle puppies in the face and dissecting a live, conscious monkey. Under the AETA’s predecessor, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, six SHAC activists were convicted as terrorists for posting publicly available information on a website. They were sentenced to a combined 23 years in prison. The new law was created because the animal enterprise lobbies felt that those penalties did not go far enough.

This year, laws were passed in Iowa and Utah that make it a crime to take a job at a factory farm for the purpose of shooting clandestine video footage of animal abuse. As with the AETA, these laws were a direct response to the success of an animal advocacy group using legal means to expose industrial cruelty — in this case an undercover video by Mercy For Animals. The FBI has already recommended prosecuting undercover investigators under the AETA as terrorists.

Both the legal and the procedural underpinnings of this enforcement regime are in dispute. The constitutionality of the AETA has been challenged in court, and a recent Congressional report raised questions about the FBI’s habit of pinning the terrorist label on political activists who have never physically harmed a single person. Over the last decade, the government has assumed an aggressive and highly selective posture against radical animal rights and environmental activists that rests on precarious legal and philosophical footing. Its ability to sustain that approach is uncertain.

“The FBI’s obsession with animal rights and environmental activists is not only misguided, it’s flat-out dangerous,” says Will Potter. “The government is spending time and money on political activists, who have never harmed a human being, when violence by right-wing extremists continues to escalate. The Justice Department’s own Inspector General has warned the FBI about this, and so have members of Congress. Yet the FBI continues to focus on environmentalists who are trying to protect life, while downplaying the actions of right-wing groups seeking to take it.”

Paul is not optimistic about the future for animals, the environment and humanity. He sees himself as a realist, and he doesn’t see much reason for hope. He suspects that the world is more likely headed toward environmental collapse than renewal. He’s glad he has lived a life of activism, but he doesn’t believe it’s enough in the end.

At the moment, there’s nothing he can do about it in any case. The terms of Paul’s probation bar him from any form of advocacy work. He has tried to focus on his personal life, his finances, and building a home for himself and the animals around him that reflects his values. But insulating himself from the world is not in his nature, and the ban on activism is a significant frustration.

“There were times in my life that I felt like I needed to take some time off for myself to actually be selfish for once in my life, not as selfless as I have been,” he says. “And I did that, but it didn’t take long before I realized I had to get back into being an activist, because I just felt like I had to keep doing things. And that’s part of being an activist, is not stopping.”

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Convicted Terrorist Scheduled to Speak Before Presidential Debate

Monday, October 15th, 2012


BY MATTHEW BOYLE

A convicted terrorist released from federal prison in December 2008 is scheduled to speak in Hofstra University’s “public area” outside Tuesday’s presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, The Daily Caller has learned.

Andrew Stepanian, a felon who went to prison for animal enterprise terrorism, appears on Hofstra University’s published schedule at 8:00 p.m., during the hour before the debate begins. Stepanian runs The Sparrow Project, a left-wing PR project whose website indicates connections with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Stepanian, an ardent animal rights activist, was convicted in 2006 of terrorism stemming from a criminal conspiracy to target a company that tested medications on laboratory animals. He received a three-year sentence for his activities on behalf of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC).

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, then the U.S. Attorney for the state, oversaw the prosecution of SHAC and six of its members under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, a 1992 law — later updated in 2006 — whose only section is titled “Animal Enterprise Terrorism.”

All the defendants were convicted.

Among SHAC’s tactics were the distribution of matchbooks printed with a picture of a black-masked figure and the slogan “strike a match.” Inside the matchbook cover was printed the name and address of a target.

Today, Sparrow Media’s website features an “about us” page that instructs: “We want you to strike that match, light that fire, and fight that fight.”

The New York Times reported that during the three-week trial of Stepanian and his co-defendants, “defense lawyers acknowledged that a Web site run by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty posted home addresses and other personal information about animal researchers and others.”

The defendants said they were engaging in free speech and claimed no connection with what the Times characterized as the resulting “vandalism, death threats, computer hacking and pipe bombs.”

Reached for comment, Stepanian said he would be speaking about ”the exponentially growing prison industrial complex and specialized prison programs like Secure Housing Units & Communications Management Units.”

Stepanian was housed in a Communications Management Unit in Illinois with other terror convicts during the final mouths of his incarceration.

Hofstra University’s website reports that the U.S. Secret Service and local law enforcement are handling security for Tuesday’s debate.

“The United States Secret Service (“USSS”), in conjunction with local law enforcement officials, is responsible for all security arrangements in connection with the Presidential Debate to be held on our campus on October 16, 2012,” the website reads. “After taking into account all security considerations, the USSS will determine access to all campus areas, and perimeter fencing will be installed in some areas to secure restricted areas.”

A Secret Service spokesman told The Daily Caller that Hofstra’s “public area” where Stepanian is scheduled to speak is outside the campus ”secure zone.”

“We have a secure zone and what you’re referring to [the public area] occurs outside of our secure area that has been established for this event,” the spokesman said. “I would refer you to the school on that matter, but the Secret Service respects everyone’s First Amendment rights.”

Spokespersons for Hofstra University and Gov. Christie did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

http://dailycaller.com/2012/10/15/convicted-terrorist-scheduled-to-speak-tuesday-night-before-presidential-debate/

Public Area

Public AreaThe United States Secret Service (“USSS”), in conjunction with local law enforcement officials, is responsible for all security arrangements in connection with the Presidential Debate to be held on our campus on October 16, 2012. After taking into account all security considerations, the USSS will determine access to all campus areas, and perimeter fencing will be installed in some areas to secure restricted areas.

Hofstra University has designated the Hagedorn Hall outside area and parking lot, at the corner of Uniondale Avenue and Hempstead Turnpike as a Public Area. This area is outside the restricted areas and will be open to pedestrians only. The Public Area is accessible to and visible from Hempstead Turnpike and is large enough to accommodate members of the Hofstra community as well as visitors to our campus.  If need should arise, the Public Area may be further extended to the south.

The Public Area will be equipped with a podium and a sound system so that speakers may register in advance to have the opportunity to present their views. Registration is not required to enter the Public Area, but was required to reserve a speaking time for microphone/podium.

The Public Area will be open on October 16 from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

The University will not regulate the content of any speech and the general University rules governing demonstrations and public assembly will apply. Please note that no wooden or metal signs will be permitted, nor may any signs be affixed to wooden, metal or similarly rigid fixtures. The Nassau County Police Department will also be present to ensure compliance with New York State, County and local laws.


Registration Information: To ensure that as many people as possible have an opportunity to speak, a completed Public Area Speaker Permit Application had to be submitted to the Speaker Registration Manager no later than 5:00 p.m. EDT on Friday, October 12, 2012. Registration is now closed.


Speaking Times: The Speaker Registration Manager allocated speaking times based upon the requests received. When necessary, speaking times were determined by lottery. Speaking times is posted below and will be posted at the Public Area on the day of the Debate.

TIME SLOT SPEAKER ORGANIZATION
3:00 PM Rick Remington Autism Speaks
3:10 PM Christopher Masak Alzheimer’s Association
3:20 PM Maria L. Roach United for Change USA
3:30 PM Margatet Melkorian LI Alliance, Hofstra University
3:40 PM Neiki Ullah Act for Sudan
3:50 PM Diane Sare LaRouche PAC
4:00 PM Brett Linley Hofstra Students for Liberty
4:10 PM Ariel Flajnik Women of Action (Hofstra)
4:20 PM John Dennie Communities and Postal Workers United
4:30 PM Arlene Williams Greenribbon World
4:40 PM Daniel Burke LaRouche PAC
4:50 PM JoAnn D. Smith Planned Parenthood Action Fund
5:00 PM Camille Rivera, Ben Master, Cara Noel United NY
5:10 PM Jason Javier, Gregory Fries, Amber King United NY
5:20 PM Michael Stewart, Autumn Morgan United NY
5:30 PM Camillo Mac Bica, Ph.D. Veterans for Peace Long Island
5:40 PM Christopher Weihs
5:50 PM Greg Maney Center for Civic Engagement
6:00 PM Andrea Miller (Sabrina Shulman – ALTERNATE) NARAL Pro-Choice New York
6:10 PM Damon Noto, M.D. Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH)
6:20 PM Anthony Zenkus Adelphi University: Member Occupy Wall St
6:30 PM Ian Wilder Green Party
6:40 PM TBA Occupy the East End
6:50 PM Ben Lowe (Danika Foster and Rachel Lamb) Young Evangelicals for Climate Action
7:00 PM Troy Smit Empire State NORML
7:10 PM Michelle Gagnon
7:20 PM Baron Vanderburg
7:30 PM Michael Davoli American Cancer Society Action Network
7:40 PM Yuefeng (Tim) Sun New Tang Dynasty Television
7:50 PM Georgianna Culcleasure
8:00 PM Andrew L. Stepanian The Sparrow Project
8:10 PM Jennifer Christian Enough Project
8:20 PM David Adams NORML Long Island
8:30 PM Najaah Daniels St. John’s University Students for Global Justice
8:40 PM Abdalmageed Haroun Act for Sudan
8:50 PM Anthony Applewhaite
9:00 PM Sarah Rial My Sister’s Keeper
9:10 PM Fran Minieltiello Brooklyn for Peace
9:20 PM Adam Weissman TradeJustice New york Metro
9:30 PM Kimberly Hollingsworth Humanity Is Us
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How easy is it to become an Animal Terrorist?

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

by Alicia Graef

The federal government asked U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro to toss a lawsuit filed by five animal advocates last year that claimed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) is unconstitutional.

AETA was lobbied for by a number of agribusinesses, the fur industry and pharmaceutical companies that have a financial stake in the continued exploitation of animals and was passed under Bush in 2006 and was intended to target violent activities, such as attempted bombings at UCLA’s primate research center.

However, the lawsuit, Blum v. Holder, argues that the law goes too far and the overly broad way it’s written could technically cover many legal activities from leafletting to whistle-blowing. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing the group, “the language of the AETA covers many First Amendment activities, such as picketing, boycotts and undercover investigations if they ‘interfere’ with an animal enterprise by causing a loss of profits. So in effect, the AETA silences the peaceful and lawful protest activities of animal and environmental advocates.”

An attorney for the Justice Department argued that the law isn’t directed at constitutionally protected activities, such as holding peaceful protests, reports Businessweek, but the activists disagree and believe it has had a more chilling effect than was intended and has left them afraid to speak out for fear of being prosecuted as terrorists.

“The fear of prosecution is not hypothetical and the chill is not hypothetical,” said Alex Reinert, a lawyer for the group.

The law hasn’t been used much, but it has been used. The SHAC7, a group of six activists, were convicted of multiple federal felonies under the former Federal Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 for campaigning to shut down the notorious animal testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences. They didn’t break anything, steal anything or hurt anyone.

Their crime? Making a website and disseminating information about documented cruelty that was being hidden behind closed doors and highlighting both legal and illegal activities to help shut it down. They all received jail time.

In 2009, two activists received jail time for releasing hundreds of animals from a mink farm.

“The law criminalizes causing damage or loss to the real or personal property of an animal enterprise,” Rachel Meerpol, a staff attorney at the center told the LATimes. “Because those terms aren’t defined, you have to take them at their common usage. And under common usage, ‘personal property’ includes money, includes profits. So that means that the acts can fairly be read to criminalize anyone who causes a business to lose profits. Activists from any social movements could be subject to prosecution as terrorists if their advocacy, if their lawful protest, affects the bottom line of a business.”

As pointed out by those in opposition to this law, and in the cases of Ag Gag legislation, there are already laws on the books to protect businesses and individuals from trespassing and damage.

“I spent years uncovering conditions on foie gras farms and educating the public about the way ducks and geese are abused,” said Sarahjane Blum, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I no longer feel free to speak my mind on these issues out of fear that my advocacy could actually convince people to stop eating foie gras — affecting those businesses’ bottom line and turning me into an animal enterprise terrorist.”

These businesses seem less concerned with keeping their properties and employees safe than they do with keeping what they do out of the public eye. Undercover investigations that are brought to light by organizations such as Mercy for Animals and a few of the plaintiffs have a more far-reaching effect than any property damage ever could and will hopefully change the hearts and minds of the public.

Leaving this law in place and allowing businesses to hide their actions behind the war on terror sets a dangerous precedent for targeting any activist who wants to rock the boat and stifles the free-market of ideas…one of the very things the Constitution is intended to protect.

The judge still has to rule on the government’s motion to dismiss.

To submit an article for publication, send a note to [email protected].

Disclaimer: The information on this site is for educational and entertainment purposes only. There is no intent, express or implied, to promote illegal activities. We assume no liability for the potential actions of any third party. All data compiled here has been gathered from, and is available through, independent public sources.

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What’s fueling the “War on Terror?” Clue: It’s NOT Terrorists

Saturday, September 1st, 2012

Brennan Browne is a dear friend of NIO. He escaped the trappings of capitalism and lives off grid in an undisclosed location. He was very ill in early July and he has now been missing for about six weeks. We’re recirculating his last article and hope that he resurfaces safely soon. Much love

by Brennan Browne

Do we REALLY have millions of terrorists on American soil plotting our demise? According to the ACLU, Uncle Sam’s list of those it considers terrorists is growing by leaps and bounds — some 20,000 individuals are added each month. In its March 2008 online newsletter, the ACLU surmised that at the rate names were being compiled, the terrorist “watchlist” would surpass one million…that was nearly 4 years ago.

One has to ask why our government has strayed so far from the core, defining, aspects of TRUE terrorism to one which seemingly includes nearly everyone. Most of us can remember the following events where the term “terrorist” did indeed correctly apply to the individuals involved, even if their underlying cause may have held legitimacy:

The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich West Germany — members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and killed by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. The terrorists were demanding the release and safe passage to Egypt of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs jailed in Israel. 11 Israeli athletes, 1 West German police officer and 5 terrorists died.

Oct. 7th, 1985 — The Achille Lauro — four heavily armed Palestine Liberation Front gunmen hijacked the cruise ship off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, threatening to blow it up and kill the 11 Americans on board if 50 Palestinian militants imprisoned in Israel were not released. When their demands weren’t met they shot and killed disabled 69-year-old Jewish-American, Leon Klinghoffer, then pushed him overboard in his wheelchair.

There are exhaustive examples of bonafide acts of terrorism, genuinely deserving of that classification. However, what the public is being force fed today has little to do with real terrorism and is nothing short of a full-fledged propaganda campaign. A deliberate, controlled, mass indoctrination — not unlike Bush’s prelude to the Iraq invasion — of lies, fear and hysteria utilizing the “terrorist” label to scapegoat innocent citizens in a bid to quash multiple dissent across the board.

Setting fire to a Hummer to draw attention to society’s gluttonous, over-consumption of fossil fuels is arson — not terrorism — no matter how disingenuously our government uses the term to intensify public prejudice and paranoia. Hoisting one’s self into a tree to prevent clear-cutting an old growth forest is a defiant, non-violent act of protest against corporate greed and environmentally destructive practices; it is by no stretch of a sane person’s logic — terrorism. Freeing non-human animals subjected to neglect, abuse, torture and murder may be relabeled “terrorism” by powerful corporate interests controlling Congress, in order to expeditiously imprison and dispose of those who stand in the way of their rapacious business practices and profits, but that doesn’t make those individuals terrorists. Such acts can never be compared — with any moral or ethical honesty — to the violent acts of kidnapping, torture and murder of human beings undertaken by real terrorists. No. The “terrorist” paradigm is being rabidly exploited by the corporate state to silence any and all opposition to its imperialistic agendas.

Redefining the ‘terrorist’ label to include non-violent acts of civil disobedience has become a convenient strategy to demonize, criminalize and incarcerate those who publicly denounce the growing multifaceted, unconstitutional, jackbooted behavior of a government gone mad. Entrapping peaceful groups by infiltrating them and using coercive, bullying tactics by government snitches and provocateurs, to railroad law-abiding citizens into committing crimes they never would have undertaken in the first place, seems solely “American” in nature. For all of the historic red-baiting hysteria about Russia and China’s brutal crackdowns, it’s doubtful that these countries actually INVENT crimes to imprison people. How do I know this? Because they don’t need to. They don’t hide behind a hypocritical facade of democracy. If an individual is problematic to the government they are simply arrested — no need to play mind games for the benefit of an uninformed public to cover their tracks. Their citizens are well aware of the extent of their government’s criminality.

(more…)

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US asks judge to dismiss challenge to law that animal activists say chills protected protests

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Courtesy of the Associated Press

BOSTON — The federal government asked a judge Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a group of animal rights activists who say a rarely used 2006 law has a chilling effect on lawful protest activities.

Five activists represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights sued the U.S. government last year, asking that the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act be struck down as unconstitutional.

A Justice Department attorney on Wednesday argued that the law is not aimed at constitutionally protected activities such as leafleting, writing letters to newspaper editors or peaceful protests.

“It is not aimed at speech. Rather, it is aimed at violent, destructive conduct,” said Deanna Durrett, an attorney in the Justice Department’s civil division.

But the activists say the law is vague and has left them afraid to participate in public protests.

The law can be used against a person who “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property used by an animal enterprise.” The activists say personal property can include a loss of profits for a business, meaning that a fur protester who persuades a consumer not to shop at a particular store could face a terrorism charge.

The law also can be used to prosecute anyone who “intentionally places a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury” through threats, vandalism, harassment or intimidation.

“The fear of prosecution is not hypothetical and the chill is not hypothetical,” said Alex Reinert, a lawyer for the activists.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro did not immediately rule on the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Sarahjane Blum, of Minneapolis, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said she has been an animal rights activist for more than two decades, but she has turned down public speaking offers and is afraid to show an undercover video she made at a foie gras farm because she is afraid she could be prosecuted under the law.

“Every single time I am asked to speak, I have to do a calculus in my head about whether it can be construed as illegal speech and illegal action,” she said after the hearing.

The law has been rarely used since it was enacted in 2006.

In 2009, two activists in Utah were indicted for releasing hundreds of animals from a mink farm. Both pleaded guilty to animal enterprise terrorism and were sentenced to 21 months and 24 months in prison.

The same year, four activists were charged for allegedly participating in threatening demonstrations at the homes of University of California scientists who did animal research. A judge eventually dismissed the charges.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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When Extreme Animal Rights Activists Attack

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Lawmakers, researchers, and peaceful activists all say they deplore violence committed in the name of animal rights. But laws that may label some protesters as “domestic terrorists” are upsetting activists.

by Sue Russell (Miller-mcCune)

This is the third of several stories exploring the contentious relationship between the scientific community, which insists animal research is essential to medical progresss, and the animal rights activists working to abolish animal experimentation. Earlier pieces included the effort to shift the debate from sidewalks to courtrooms, and efforts to establish the “personhood” of species like apes and whales.

Daniel Andreas San Diego joined Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” watch list in 2009. Bin Laden is gone, but San Diego remains. Listed as “armed and dangerous,” with a $250,000 price on his head, the Berkeley, California, native is only the second U.S. citizen to make this particular FBI list. He is 34, a vegan, and a skilled sailor. His tattoos depict burning, collapsing buildings. On his chest is a burning hillside coupled with the words, “It only takes a spark.”

San Diego is an animal rights zealot. He is under federal indictment for allegedly igniting explosive devices outside two Northern California firms – biotechnology giant Chiron and homecare-product manufacturer Shaklee — in 2003. The FBI says a potentially deadly second explosive at Shaklee, strapped with nails and likely targeted at first responders, was defused.

Frankie Trull, founder and president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, calls these “inexplicable, unforgiveable kinds of actions.”

FBI assistant director Mike Heimbach calls them acts of terror, possibly meant to take lives, destroy property, and damage companies. The FBI has noted an uptick in violent rhetoric by animal activists and a shifting away from the code of nonviolence toward blatant threats and intimidation. Its website asserts that between 1979 and 2008, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth Liberation Front, and other extremist groups have committed more than 2,000 criminal acts and caused $110 million in damages.

In a February 2011 Nature magazine poll, nearly a quarter of the animal research scientists who responded reported being affected by or knowing someone affected by animal rights activists. A little more than 15 percent had changed practices or direction as a result. Whether driven by fear or conscience, some large institutions are responding to calls for animal rights — this week, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inked a deal with cosmetic maker L’Oreal that they hope brings them closer to one day using a computerized system to forecast a chemical’s safety instead of using live animals.

Ultimately, as long as biomedical researchers continue experiments using animals, they’re likely to have their own image problems in the war for hearts and minds.

In January, protesters waved signs asking the government to remove Harvard’s animal-testing license for violations in Harvard-affiliated labs and to suspend animal testing there. Then, on March 1, the director of Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center stepped down after the death of a fourth monkey in 21 months attributable to “human error.”

In June 2010, a dead animal was found after being left in a cage being sanitized with water reaching 180 degrees Fahrenheit. The facility said it died before entering the washer. Research is currently suspended at the center, which has more than 1,700 monkeys and has received 19 citations from the USDA for Animal Welfare Act violations in three years.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Daniel Andreas San Diego’s gripe with Chiron and Shaklee, authorities believe, was that both companies apparently did business with Huntingdon Life Sciences, one of the world’s largest contract research organizations, with operations in the United Kingdom, United States, and Japan. It provides animal-testing facilities and services to clients in such industries as pharmaceuticals, food, and chemicals.

Huntingdon has long aroused the ire of moderates as well as extremists. Since 1989, disturbing undercover footage — from showing a beagle pup being punched in the face to a live monkey being dissected apparently while conscious — has emerged from various undercover investigations. In 2001, a Huntingdon executive in the U.K. was severely beaten by three masked extremists bearing bats.

The FBI believes San Diego has ties to Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and ALF — two groups blamed for some of the most dangerous criminal acts in the name of animal liberation. ALF is an amorphous organization with autonomous underground cells of outliers. San Diego has been described as a “lone wolf,” Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and the ALF as “leaderless resistance.”

ALF’s website says it “has historically been opposed to violence against any living being, though other groups and activists do not observe this limitation.” Defending illegal actions like property destruction, it says: “Members of the ALF and other underground organizations feel that in order to truly liberate animals, the unjust laws that allow their exploitation must be broken.”

(more…)

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Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and the Suppression of Free Speech

Monday, March 12th, 2012

by Kimberly White (The Jurist)

Since its passage in 2006, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) has systematically suppressed the lawful advocacy for animal rights by labeling individuals who engage in acts or conspire to “interfere” with an animal enterprise as “terrorists.” However, on its face AETA is plagued with unconstitutionality. Not only could AETA be deemed unconstitutional under the overbreadth and vagueness doctrines, but it also is presumptively invalid since it is both a content-based and viewpoint-based restriction. The “chilling effect” on free speech and advocacy institutionalized by AETA, also called the “Green Scare,” should be enough to warrant public outrage because it is a shameless attempt to silence environmental activists with fear. However, AETA goes beyond these flagrant constitutional violations and threatens all activists, or individuals with a disfavored opinion, with the potential to be labeled a “terrorist.”

The core provision of AETA establishes that a “terrorist” is an individual, who with the:

[P]urpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise, or any real or personal property of a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.

Thus, pure property damage without any injury or loss of human life is “terrorism.” Yet AETA goes further and mandates that no real damage or losses actually need to occur before the “terrorist” label is permanently affixed by applying equally to any individual who “conspires or attempts” interference.

When urging the passage of AETA in front of Congress in 2006, the FBI identified the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front as the “most serious domestic terrorist threat in the United States today.” The FBI made this statement while directly admitting that these groups’ actions have never resulted in the death of a single person and, in fact, that they have never even targeted human life. It is worth repeating that it is an undeniable fact—conceded by the government—that no human being has ever been killed by the animal rights movement. This also stands in stark contrast to the death of animal rights activists caused by police brutality. However, establishing that animal rights activists are “terrorists” was the very purpose behind the passage of AETA.

AETA’s “chilling effect” on First Amendment activities was not an unintended effect of the legislation, but was a purposeful strategy to silence dissent pursued by large corporations whose profits depend on the exploitation of non-human animals. Recently, Will Potter—author of Green is the New Red—was featured on JURIST as a Guest Columnist and discussed how AETA threatens all activism. This systematic suppression of free speech was anticipated by Potter, who, in 2006, during the House Committee on the Judiciary Hearings, held prior to the passage of AETA, warned “this legislation … will force Americans to decide if speaking up for animals is worth the risk of being labeled a ‘terrorist,’ either in the media or in the courtroom. That’s not a choice anyone should have to make.” This unconstitutional suppression of free speech and silencing of dissent is precisely the affect AETA continues to have on activists.

Challenging and overturning AETA needs to be a multi-faceted approach that not only attacks the unconstitutionality of the law in litigation, but also fosters public awareness and discontent. The fact that the government is trampling free speech and—for the first time in history—making it a crime to engage in civil disobedience, a lawful, time-honored and effective form of protest, should be enough to garner support from all types of advocates. Further, any rational person, even if they are unsympathetic to animal rights, can see the injustice in labeling an individual who trespasses or causes property damage as a “terrorist.”

However, given the inundation of misinformation by the media, it is unrealistic to expect the American people to suddenly be mobilized by the plight of animal activists. More importantly, based on US Supreme Court precedent, if AETA’s constitutionality was challenged, the court would overturn it as a violation of the First Amendment. Even though it is impossible to truly predict the outcome of an issue presented to the US Supreme Court, there are several severe constitutional defects in AETA, and no precedent (even indirectly) supporting that AETA could be construed as a lawful restriction on protected speech. As a starting point, AETA is protected speech—and thus subject to First Amendment protection—because it does not fall into any of the limited “categorical exclusions” of historically unprotected speech, such as fraud, obscenity and defamation. Since it prohibits protected speech, AETA is unconstitutional on several grounds: overbreadth, vagueness, regulating speech based on content and viewpoint and by promoting guilt by association.

Under the overbreadth doctrine, if a law’s scope “sweeps” in a “substantial” amount of protected speech, it is unconstitutional. AETA’s “sweep” extends to lawful protest and renders civil disobedience illegal. AETA prohibits individuals from “interfering” with an animal enterprise. However, by failing to define “interference” or providing any standard that would limit its scope, the plain meaning of “interfere” reaches protected speech. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, “interference” means “the act of meddling in another’s affairs; and obstruction or hindrance.” Almost all of the most utilized and respected nonviolent advocacy methods—picketing, disseminating truthful information about industry practices, protests, sit-ins and especially economic boycotts—can easily be labeled as “meddling” or “hindering” an enterprises’ affairs. Indeed, AETA has already been utilized to unconstitutionally suppress lawful forms of expressive conduct. Thus, the very purpose of the overbreadth doctrine—to prevent a “chilling” effect on free speech by causing individuals to refrain from protected speech based on fear of prosecution—has already been shown to have been violated. Most alarmingly, AETA was specifically passed to expand the scope of illegal conduct to anything that “interferes.” Its proponents felt that the prior law, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA), was inadequate to effectively hamper activist efforts because the AEPA only criminalized “physical disruption” of an animal enterprise.

A court reviewing AETA, or any law, for overbreadth is not required to find that the statute “as applied” in the specific instance in front of the court violates protected speech. The application of the overbreadth doctrine relaxes normal standing requirements, thus requiring a litigant to demonstrate that overall the law will have the effect of prohibiting protected speech, as opposed to the litigant being required to prove that the law has a direct effect on their own speech. However, if a court determines that a law suffers from overbreadth, the court will seek to determine if a narrowing of the statute is permissible before finding it unconstitutional. Yet, there is absolutely no potential to narrow AETA and remedy its unconstitutional overbreadth because it suffers from incurable vagueness.

Stemming from the notice requirements of due process, a statute is unconstitutional based on the vagueness doctrine if it fails to apprise a citizen of ordinary intelligence of what conduct is prohibited. In addition to violating the overbreadth doctrine by prohibiting “interfering” conduct, AETA is unconstitutionally vague. Almost all of the expansive terms in AETA suffer from vagueness: “animal enterprise”, “damage”, “personal property” and lastly the phrase “places a person in reasonable fear.” AETA criminalizes any interference that “causes the loss of any real or personal property” used by an animal enterprise or “a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.” By failing to define or provide any limiting standard for interpreting “personal property,” AETA prohibits protected advocacy by reaching anything that causes a loss of profits. It has been firmly established by the US Supreme Court that property includes loss of profits and good will. Since these losses are the very goal of nonviolent activism, AETA has the effect of criminalizing protected expressive conduct simply because it has been successful.

The heart of the First Amendment’s free speech protection is that the government cannot prohibit, punish or penalize speech based on its content. AETA is inherently content-based because it only prohibits action, which “interferes” with an animal enterprise. To determine whether a law is content-based or content-neutral the US Supreme Court has stated that the “government’s purpose is the controlling consideration.” AETA was passed due to pressure from the FBI, and industries engaged in animal exploitation,holding that the AEPA, passed in 1992, was inadequate to address the economic harms inflicted by the animal liberation movement. The legislative hearings refute any argument that government’s purpose was to the contrary.

Any content-based government regulation is presumed to be unconstitutional unless it survives strict scrutiny. To meet strict scrutiny the government must demonstrate that the restriction on speech is necessary to achieve a compelling governmental objective and that the law utilizes narrowly tailored means to accomplish this interest. The only government actions that the US Supreme Court has held survive the strict scrutiny standard have been in situations where the government argues that national security is the compelling interest. It is likely that the government would attempt to argue that as a measure to prevent domestic “terrorism,” AETA is justified by a compelling national security interest. Even if the Court were to accept that meritless justification, thus ignoring the clear stated interest within AETA, to protect against interferences that cause loss of revenue to animal enterprises, AETA cannot be upheld under the second requirement that the law be narrowly tailored. To survive this prong of strict scrutiny the government would need to demonstrate that AETA fulfills the national security interest in the least restrictive manner and that there was no “less burdensome” way to achieve the goal.

AETA also suffers from viewpoint-based discrimination because the government allows only expression on one side of the issue, while prohibiting discourse of the opposing viewpoint. The established method for discerning if a restriction is viewpoint-based requires an examination of how the government has chosen to regulate the speech, and is therefore not a question of what speech is regulated. Clearly, by singling out, prohibiting and deeming “terrorism” only the speech and expressive conduct that opposes (or “interferes”) with the interests of an animal enterprise, the government has sought to regulate only the individuals who support animal rights.

This is not a hypothetical exercise on AETA’s constitutionality, this law has condemned activists to unprecedented jail sentences and permanently branded them as “terrorist” for the rest of their living years on earth. AETA also gives judges the discretion to utilize sentencing enhancement for “terrorists,” resulting in an additional 20 years to the original sentence. This has already been applied against activist Daniel McGowan, who is serving time in a terrorism specific prison that is the subject of the award-winning documentary, “If A Tree Falls.” In the face of the government’s “chilling” attempt to suppress free speech and nonviolent activism, the legal community has not only a remarkable opportunity, but an ethical obligation, to advocate for the unconstitutionality of AETA and seek to have this egregious legal error overturned.

Kimberly White studied Government and Politics and Psychology at the University of Maryland. At Lewis & Clark Law School, she is a member of the Environmental Moot Court in addition to a staff member of the Animal Law Review. She has also worked at the Crag Law Center and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center.

Suggested citation: Kimberly White, Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and the Suppression of Free Speech, JURIST – Dateline, Mar. 11, 2012, http://jurist.org/dateline/2012/03/kimberly-white-animal-terrorism.php.

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As eco-terrorism wanes, governments still target activist groups seen as threat

Monday, March 12th, 2012

by Juliet Eilperin (Washington Post)

Ben Kessler, a student at the University of North Texas and an environmental activist, was more than a little surprised that an FBI agent questioned his philosophy professor and acquaintances about his whereabouts and his sign-waving activities aimed at influencing local gas drilling rules.

“It was scary,” said Kessler, who is a national organizer for the nonviolent environmental group Rising Tide North America. He said the agent approached him this past fall and said that the FBI had received an anonymous complaint and were looking into his opposition to hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” The bureau respected free speech, the agent told him, but was “worried about things being taken to an extreme level.”Even as environmental and animal rights extremism in the United States is on the wane, officials at the federal, state and local level are continuing to target groups they have labeled a threat to national security, according to interviews with numerous activists, internal FBI documents and a survey of legislative initiatives across the country.

Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad (R) signed a law this month, backed by the farm lobby, that makes it a crime to pose as an employee or use other methods of misrepresentation to get access to operations in an attempt to expose animal cruelty. Utah passed a similar bill, nicknamed an “ag-gag” law, on Wednesday. Last month, Victor VanOrden, an activist in his mid-20s, received the maximum sentence of five years in prison under a separate Iowa law for attempting to free minks from one of the state’s fur farms.

At the same time, though, acts that might be defined as eco-terrorism are down. In recent years, the broad definition has included arson, setting mink free at fur farms, campaigns to financially bankrupt animal testing firms and protests in front of the homes of some of those firms’ executives.

Michael Whelan, executive director of Fur Commission USA, estimated that in the 1990s “there were close to 20 attacks per year on our farmers” and that since 2003 there have been fewer than two attacks a year on American mink farms.

“Overall we’ve seen a decline in activity, in terms of violent criminal activity,” FBI intelligence analyst Erin Weller said in an interview.

FBI officials say two factors contribute to the reduced threat.

One is their successful prosecutions of several activists, in particular the 15 convictions in 2007 for members of the Earth Liberation Front. The national sweep of radical environmentalists was chronicled in the Oscar-nominated 2011 documentary “If a Tree Falls.” Not only did several ELF members get long prison sentences — Stanislas Meyerhoff got 13 years — but also many activists testified against others to get lighter punishments.

“That’s had an impact on the movement as a whole,” Weller said.

The second factor is that environmental and animal rights activists may view a Democratic administration as more sympathetic to their goals and be less inclined to take radical steps.

“Obviously if you think there is going to be support for your position, you’re going to use legal means rather than illegal means,” Weller said.

 

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Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act Threatens Activism

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

sparboe cruelty

by Will Potter (The Jurist)

A recent undercover investigation into one of the nation’s largest egg producers, Sparboe Farms, documented hens mangled in cage wire, many with open wounds, and chicks having their beaks burned off by workers. This is just one of many investigations by animal welfare advocates that have exposed standard industry practices, created national dialogue about factory farming and in some cases prompted criminal charges. Newly released FBI documentsshow that the government is less concerned about these abuses and more concerned about the economic loss caused to businesses. The FBI has also been keeping files on factory farm investigators, and recommends prosecuting them as terrorists.

It may come as a shock to most people to learn of potential terrorism charges for investigators who, at worst, have trespassed or rescued a few injured animals. Yet, this is merely the latest chapter of a long-running campaign. I have documented how corporations created the term “eco-terrorism” in the 1980s and then used public relations campaigns, congressional hearings and ambitious court cases to manufacture what the FBI calls the “number one domestic terrorism threat.”

Perhaps the most dangerous tactic employed by corporations has been the manipulation of post-9/11 fears to enact designer terrorism legislation. Foremost among these new laws is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). The act was passed in 2006 at the request of the National Association for Biomedical Research, Fur Commission USA, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Wyeth, United Egg Producers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and many other corporations and business groups that have a financial stake in silencing animal rights activists.

The AETA expands the definition of “animal enterprise terrorism” in 18 USC § 43. Its sweeping language criminalizes “interfering with” the operations of an animal enterprise, instilling a “reasonable fear” in those who are protested, and causing a “loss of profits.” The scope of the law is widened further through its emphasis on “tertiary targeting.” It not only protects animal enterprises, but also any business that does business with an animal enterprise.

In response to civil liberties advocates and in implicit recognition of the vague language, supporters of the bill included a paragraph noting it does not “prohibit any expressive conduct … protected from legal prohibition by the First Amendment.” While it is true that the AETA does not explicitly outlaw protest, saying “This is Constitutional” does not make it so.

The true threat of the law is the fear it has created. This chilling effect on First Amendment activity is at the core of a new lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Blum v. Holder [PDF], filed on behalf of five longtime activists who say the vague, overly broad language of the AETA has made them think twice about using their rights. One of the plaintiffs, Ryan Shapiro, is now a doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He uncovered the FBI file discussed previously through a Freedom of Information Act request. Shapiro once participated in undercover investigations; he stopped after the passage of the AETA. He says this file — which lists him by name — and other prosecutions confirmed his fears of being prosecuted as a terrorist.

The industries targeted have countered that the AETA is no different from hate crime legislation targeting the Ku Klux Klan. “It’s always been possible to punish those who burn crosses, deface houses or otherwise harass people on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation,” Dan Murphy wrote in Dairy Herd. “But often, the small fines and minimal jail terms prescribed by trespassing and property damage statutes don’t fit the egregious nature of the offenses.”

To most reasonable people, the offenses by factory farms are much more egregious than the act of videotaping them. The purpose of the AETA is not to fulfill a legal void, as supporters claim. Animal rights activists have never committed physical violence against a human being, which is but one trait that makes a comparison to hate crimes so offensive and desperately overreaching. The crimes they have committed, such as trespassing and theft, are already crimes. When it comes to the extreme crimes of underground groups, like the Animal Liberation Front, reclassifying them as “terrorist acts” does not deter the groups. According to a Justice Department report [PDF], animal rights crimes were actually on the decline until the passage of “animal enterprise terrorism” legislation, then they spiked.

The purpose of the AETA is to deter aboveground activists like Shapiro by leveraging the power of fear. Exposés by national groups like the Humane Society of the United States, Mercy for Animals, and PETA have rattled these industries to their core in a way that vandalism or arson never could. Animal enterprises are trying to deflect scrutiny, and hope to use the War on Terror to scare their opposition into submission.

Regardless of how one feels about animal rights or animal rights activists, the targeting of political activists as “terrorists” because they cause a loss of corporate profits sets a dangerous precedent. Occupy Wall Street, for example, clearly is focused on challenging corporate power and has utilized a diversity of tactics currently classified as “animal enterprise terrorism,” including non-violent civil disobedience and home demonstrations. If this legislation is not overturned, it will be the blueprint for targeting all protesters that pose a threat to business as usual.

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Animal-Rights Activists Like Me Aren’t Terrorists

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

by Lauren Gazzola (EGP News)

I was three weeks away from taking the Law School Admissions Test in 2004 when I was arrested and charged with domestic terrorism.

I hadn’t hurt anyone or vandalized any property. In fact, the indictment didn’t allege that I’d committed any independent crime at all, only that I’d “conspired” to publish a website that advocated and reported on protest activity against a notorious animal testing lab in New Jersey.

In March of 2006, I was convicted of “animal enterprise terrorism,” sentenced to 52 months in prison, and ordered to pay $1 million in restitution to the lab for increased security, management time spent dealing with protests, and legal fees incurred obtaining injunctions against me and other protesters.

Incidentally, I’d been planning to focus on free speech when I got to law school.

Needless to say, now that I’ve finished serving my sentence at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, I’m more than a little wary of continuing my activism, as I fear that my speech may once again be deemed terrorism.

That’s why, as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in Massachusetts on December 15, I’ve asked a federal court to strike down the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. This law punishes anyone who causes the loss of property or profits to a business or institution that sells animals or animal products, or to any business “connected to” an animal enterprise.

In short, it recasts as “terrorism” one of the primary purposes of protest and provides special protection to a particular class of businesses. This is no surprise. The Fur Commission USA, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, United Egg Producers, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and other pharmaceutical companies — all of which are protested by animal rights activists — lobbied heavily for the AETA.

The campaign I was involved in when I got arrested was enormously successful. Dozens of investors, customers, and service providers abandoned the New Jersey lab. It nearly went out of business several times, due in no small part to vigorous protests around the country.

The speech on our website was indeed controversial. When anonymous activists liberated 14 beagles from the lab, we cheered. When protesters demonstrated outside lab employees’ homes, we applauded.

This is the First Amendment’s strength — not its limit. The First Amendment doesn’t just protect uncontroversial speech. It protects speech that’s unpopular, contentious, and even shocking.

As the Supreme Court recognized more than 60 years ago, speech may “best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”

The animal rights movement will continue to induce unrest, as have countless other protest movements throughout history, and as the Occupy movement is doing today. But creating unrest isn’t terrorism, Unrest is the growing pain of extending rights, expanding compassion, and creating a better world.

When the government protects powerful corporate interests from powerful social movements, America abandons its high purposes, and we resign ourselves to conditions as they are.

Lauren Gazzola served 40 months in the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut for publishing a website that advocated and reported on protest activity against an animal testing lab. Learn more about the movement to abolish the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act at http://abolishtheaeta.org Distributed via OtherWords.org.

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