Violence in Context

Adonia David

 Yesterday I received an email with a picture of cats that were force-fed toilet cleaner by Proctor and Gamble – an example of animal testing of the type that goes on every day.  The photo was posted by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an umbrella entity that many view as a fringe and frightening network of individuals who are willing to save animals in testing facilities by taking steps that are prohibited by society such as property destruction etc. (ALF’s guidelines insist that all precautions be taken to make sure no animals or humans are harmed when any destruction occurs, but the fact remains that arson and similar activities are carried out at times).  I have seen other information posted by ALF, perhaps the most disturbing being the story of Britches, a newborn monkey stolen from his mother for a study on “maternal deprivation” and whose eyes were sewn shut to study “sight deprivation.” He was kept in what appeared to be a shut cabinet and given none of the affection a young animal requires.  Members of ALF saved him and, watching the video, I’ll freely admit that I saw them as the heroes of the story despite their reputation. Continue reading

AETA 4 Case Dismissed

David Cassuto

The first and so far only case yet brought under AETA (the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act) has been dismissed.  It seems that the government did little more in its indictment than recite the statute and state that the defendants had violated it.  The Constitution requires more.  Without a clearly defined set of allegations, the defendant cannot possibly defend herself.  The indictment must allege with specificity how they broke the law, when, and precisely by who.  Continue reading

New Book on AETA and Animal Activism

David Cassuto

From the email, a new book by Dara Lovitz:

I am pleased to announce the publication of my book, Muzzling a Movement: The Effects of Anti-Terrorism Law, Money, and Politics on Animal Activism, which examines the silencing of the animal activist movement in violation of time-honored constitutional principles.  For further information, or to order your copy, go to the website for Lantern Books.  You can also order the book from Amazon.  

Thank you so much for your support!

Dara Lovitz, Esq.

Can U.S. v Stevens Bite Back?

Irina Knopp

barking_cartoon_dogI am currently working on a paper that looks at the case, arguments for and possible consequences of U.S. v Stevens. Recently, I’ve found several articles online suggesting that the statute in the case thought to promote animal rights in America could possibly hurt animal rights groups.

Rory Eastburg, author of the article “High Court to Consider Categorical Ban on Cruelty Images,” warns that animal rights groups should be very careful what they wish for because such groups often use film and images to expose the animal abuses that go on and the vague exemption for serious content in 18 U.S.C. § 48 may get them in trouble.

He states, “Many if not all films made by such groups falls squarely within the terms of the statute because they are recording unlawful treatment of animals.” Eastburg fails to explain how animal rights group videos/images would fall under the interstate commerce element of 18 U.S.C. § 48.

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National Lawyers Guild Activist Handbook

The National Lawyers Guild has published a new booklet for animal and environmental activists entitled: Operation Backfire: a Survival Guide for Environmental and Animal Rights Activists.  You can download it here. It offers some background on the AETA and AEPA (predecessor to AETA) and how to comport yourself when detained or questioned by law enforcement officials.

H/t: GreenIsTheNewRed.com

–David Cassuto

Radio as Animal Enterprise — Some Further Thoughts on AETA

The Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for downing two towers in Snohomish County, Washington.  The ELF statement declared that: “AM radio waves cause adverse health effects including a higher rate of cancer, harm to wildlife, and that the signals have been interfering with home phone and intercom lines.”  No one was injured but the property damage was apparently significant.  Read about it here.

The government has labeled ELF a domestic terrorist threat and acts like these domestic terrorism.  My question is whether those responsible need fear prosecution under AETA (Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act).  I have blogged elsewhere about the danger of AETA’s vagueness and its overbreadth and here we have an example of what I mean.

Continue reading

Animal Advocacy: A Threat to All That’s Right and Good…

Here’s a newsflash: animal rights people control the discourse on animal issues.  At least that was the message of the recent meeting of the Animal Agriculture Alliance.  One speaker, Professor Wes Jamison of Palm Beach Atlantic University, opined that animal advocates drape their message in a cloak of religiosity because people are ignorant about yet receptive to religion and therefore vulnerable to messages couched in piety.  Plus religious converts tend to be zealous and donate big bucks.

Bruce Vincent explained that animal advocates thrive on conflict and market fear.  He urged attendees to budget money in their business plans to become activists for animal and extractive industries.  Vincent is the Executive Director of Provider Pals, a cultural exchange program linking school groups with farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers, oil field workers, commercial fishermen and “others who provide the basics of everyday life.”

Kay Johnson Smith, executive vice president of the Animal Agriculture Alliance believes that if industrial agriculture doesn’t act soon, regulations will be on the horizon.  Her solution: Create self-imposed guidelines and follow them.  Factory farmers should not squash the discussion; they should take it over.  Only through being proactive can the industry stay unregulated.

There’s much more from many other people, which you can read here.

What can we take away from all this?  As I see it, this level of consternation would bode well were Big Food not still skating along without any real threat of regulation and protected by laws like AETA.  As things stand, such rhetoric augers neither good nor ill; it simply reflects the status quo and the fact that Industrial Agriculture did not become dominant by being complacent.  We should study these speeches carefully, absorb their lessons and fear neither the speaker nor the spoken word.

–David Cassuto

AETA’s First Legal Challenge

We knew that the government would eventually invoke the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) and now it has.  Earlier this year, authorities arrested 4 activists for alleged threats and vandalism against research facilities at UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley and charged them under AETA.  The defendants (known as the AETA 4) argue that the law should be struck down as unconstitutional and the judge is at least listening.  We will be watching this one closely.  AETA is an abomination (as I have argued here) but a good result in this case would be nothing short of astounding.

–David Cassuto

Crime vs. Terrorism: The Case Against AETA

As one commenter recently noted, 4 animal rights activists were recently arrested and charged with suspicion of terrorism for their threats and harassment of University of California researchers (full story here).  I have not seen enough details to take a substantive position on the case but I do have something to say about the the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), the law under which the defendants were charged.  AETA is, in my view, one of the most dangerous laws this nation has ever enacted.  Here’s why:

The following scenario could happen tomorrow: A sixty-eight year old grandmother from Long Island gets tired of reading about the awful conditions in factory farms and determines to see for herself.  She receives permission from Big Food, Inc. to visit a company facility in New Jersey.  Big Food insists, however, that she take no pictures while inside and she agrees.   During the tour, the woman becomes sickened by the conditions under which the animals are housed and surreptitiously snaps a few pictures on her cell phone.  She then circulates the photos to an animal rights group for posting on the group’s website along with a plea that something be done to save the animals.

Did our Long Island grandmother break the law?  Absolutely.  She could be prosecuted for trespass, harassment and other violations, in addition to facing civil liability.  But thanks to AETA, she has become more than a mere lawbreaker.  She is now a terrorist.

AETA became law in November, 2006.  It was enacted ostensibly because industry groups feared violent attacks by animal rights “extremists.”  Yet, AETA’s predecessor, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (“AEPA”), already contained harsh penalties for violent acts against animal enterprises.  AETA incorporates those penalties but also goes much further.

Under AETA, non-violent “interference” with an “animal enterprise,” which causes no economic damage and endangers no one, can land a person in prison for a year.  If economic damage results, the penalties increase dramatically.  For example, if our fictional grandmother’s behavior inspired acts of civil disobedience (e.g., forming human chains that prevented trucks from transporting animals in or out of the facility) that caused Big Food to lose money, she could face ten years.  Yet, if her deeds had been directed at a non “animal enterprise,” she would likely incur a fine and/or community service.  At best, this harsh, arbitrary and selective prosecution amounts to bad public policy.  At worst, it violates the Constitution.

To pass constitutional muster, a law cannot be vague or overbroad or impose cruel or unusual punishment.  It must also have a rational basis for existing.  AETA fails in all three categories.

First, it is both vague and overbroad.  As the law is written, virtually anything could be an “animal enterprise” and the supposedly criminal behavior of “interfering with” such enterprises is very poorly defined.  Despite good faith efforts to comply with the law, one could still be violating AETA without knowing or meaning to do so.

Second, AETA imposes disproportionate sentences far in excess of those imposed for similar behavior under other laws.  Indeed, its penalties dwarf those for crimes most of us would consider far more severe.  For example, it is hard to understand why someone protesting slaughterhouse conditions could land in jail for ten years while sex offenders usually do less than five.

Finally, AETA (re)criminalizes conduct that neither causes nor threatens bodily harm, economic damage, or even non-violent physical obstruction, and which is already illegal under existing state and federal law.  Such redundancy lacks any rational basis.  It seems more concerned with stifling dissent than protecting the public from terrorism.

Terrorism usually refers to the intimidation (terrorizing) of a civilian population through mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.  A terrorist is someone who commits such acts.  Classifying standard-issue crimes – including civil disobedience – as terrorism conflates crime (the breach of a legal duty), and terrorism (the use or threat of violence to intimidate or cause panic, especially as a means of affecting political conduct).  All terrorists are criminals but not all criminals are terrorists.  Merging the two erodes normative protections that our founders painstakingly created to safeguard us from tyranny.

Under AETA, well-meaning citizens peacefully trying to bring about social change become the domestic equivalent of enemy combatants.  The danger here is not just that people like our grandmother from Long Island will become stigmatized and get imprisoned for long periods, though that by itself would be problem enough.  It is also that over time, the term terrorism will lose its meaning.

Terrorism should mean something.  We should fear it, do everything we can to suppress it, and punish it when it occurs.  When our government labels something a terrorist threat, the national response should be one of unity and singularity of purpose.

Yet, some activities classified as terrorism under AETA enjoy widespread sympathy and could also be constitutionally protected.  For example, organized protests against puppy mills or the treatment of veal calves could lead to prosecution under the Act.  Calling such protests terrorism has a deeply pernicious effect.  When the nature of the so-called terrorism becomes plain, we could find ourselves empathizing with the perpetrators.  That means we would become – in the eyes of our government – terrorist sympathizers.

So what has AETA wrought?  It has produced a legal regime that stifles free expression and labels dissent a terrorist act.  As a result, it has created a rogue nation of terrorists and terrorist sympathizers and opened a new front of the War on Terror.

We have met the new enemy.  And once again, it is us.

dnc