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Animal-Rights Activists Challenge Terrorism Law

Sarahjane Blum (pictured) and four other animal-rights activists are suing the federal government over the constitutionality of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Photo courtesy of Gourmetcruelty.com

Since they’ve been busy convincing the rabble which are the compelling stories of the day, the 24-hour cable-news networks have understood — and thus, conveyed — precious little about the importance of a necessary lawsuit that was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.

From the Associated Press: “A group of animal rights activists sued the U.S. government Thursday to challenge the constitutionality of a rarely used law they say treats them like terrorists if they cause a loss in profits for businesses that use or sell animal products. Five activists represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights filed the lawsuit in federal court in Boston, asking that the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act be struck down as unconstitutional because it has a chilling effect on lawful protest activities.”

For those who are unfamiliar with this sinister piece of federal legislation, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act — which served to update the odious Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 — was signed into law by President George W. Bush about a year after the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s John Lewis told CNN: “The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement.”

Would that we could turn the calendar back and ask Mr. Lewis, rhetorically: “Really, John?”

A Los Angeles Times report points out: “The AETA, as the law is known, prohibits damaging or interfering with an animal enterprise by causing damage or loss of property, by intentionally making some individual fear for his or her safety, or by conspiracy. The allows for domestic terrorism charges and affords extremely severe penalties, including terror sentencing enhancements.”

In September, Casey Suchan, who worked as a producer on Denis Henry Hennelly’s 2010 film Bold Native, told me: “I think the disturbing thing is that what we’re talking about are designer laws. And we’re talking about an agenda that the FBI pursues that’s really directed by agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, and (their) corporate interests … And, at the end of the day, when you threaten the pockets of big business in this country, they’ll buy legislation to call what you’re doing terrorism.”

Rachel Meeropol, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times story as saying: “The law criminalizes causing damage or loss to the real or personal property of an animal enterprise. … 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.”

Language on the Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis website reads, in part: “The intended targets of (the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act) are a subset of animal rights activists and environmental activists, sometimes called ecoterrorists, who engage in acts of force, violence, and threats involving animal enterprises. … (The law does not prohibit any expressive conduct, such as peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstrations, protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.)”

The OLPA’s claim that “the law does not prohibit any expressive conduct, such as peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstrations, protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution” is bogus and insulting.

The complaint (Blum v. Holder) filed in Massachusetts on Thursday points out: “The first indictments under the AETA were issued in February of 2009 against four young animal rights activists … Known as the ‘AETA 4,’ the activists were each charged with one count of conspiracy … and one count of animal enterprise terrorism … According to the criminal complaint, the AETA 4 took part in a series of demonstrations at the homes of several University of California at Berkeley professors who engaged in experimentation on animals. The 4 allegedly trespassed onto the professors’ lawns and chanted slogans … The complaint also alleged that three of the four defendants either created or distributed a flyer listing the professors’ home addresses, identifying them as bio-medical researchers, and stating ‘animal abusers everywhere beware we know where you live we know where you work we will never back down until you end your abuse.’ After a year of pre-trial motions and discovery, the indictments were dismissed by United States District Judge Ronald M. Whyte. … The Court found that the indictments, which parroted the language of the criminal statute, did not provide adequate facts indentifying (sic) what each defendant was alleged to have done to violate the law.”

Judge Whyte obviously knows discrimination when he sees it, and in this case, he recognized that the “intended targets” (to use the OLPA’s language) were hardly terrorists.

The legislators who bent over for their callous, corporate puppet masters and passed the flagrantly unconstitutional Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act know just as well that the so-called “AETA 4” are not terrorists. But that’s how the legislation’s beneficiaries demand that animal-rights activists are treated.

As Ms. Suchan so appropriately put it, “when you threaten the pockets of big business in this country, they’ll buy legislation to call what you’re doing terrorism.”

In 2007, Will Potter, the author of Green Is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege (City Lights Publishers, 2011), wrote a piece for Herbivore Magazine headlined “Animal Enterprise Terrorism 101,” in which he explained: “Supporters include the usual suspects Herbivore readers know and love: National Association for Biomedical Research, Fur Commission USA, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Wyeth, United Egg Producers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and many more.”

It should come as no surprise that it was not at all difficult for the above-mentioned “corporate interests” to design and buy the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 and the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. What is frustrating is that the 24-hour cable-news networks have shown little interest in what Ms. Suchan so perfectly described as these “designer laws.”

We are talking here about laws that were enacted for the economic benefit of industry. We are talking about laws that allow special prosecutions to be carried out on behalf of the captains of industry — laws that are armed with disproportionately punitive muscle.

We are talking here about government-sanctioned discrimination against those who would dare to exercise their right under the U.S. Constitution — a document, it should be pointed out, that corporate sycophants in Washington, D.C. (and those running for the highest office in the land), defend at every turn — to “speak on these matters of public concern,” as expressed in Blum v. Holder.

If certain sections of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, for example, are worrisome enough to be duly scrutinized by the 24-hour cable-news networks, why then does the mere existence of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act come as a surprise to most?

It is because the 24-hour cable-news networks have decided that this and related discriminatory and unconstitutional “designer laws” are not what We, the People should be talking about.

What would make this discussion unavoidable is a federal judge’s opinion that the plaintiffs in Blum v. Holder are right.

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