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for the Clampdown: How the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act Became
Law By Lee Hall
This year, six anti-vivisection activists were found guilty
of federal charges over an interstate campaign that violated the Animal
Enterprise Protection Act. That law, originally passed in 1992, was strengthened
after the events of September 11, 2001 in response to heavy lobbying from
animal testing firms and pharmaceutical companies. In some cases, the changes
trebled mandatory jail sentences. High-profile arrests have also occurred
in Britain, involving the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in an international
enforcement effort under the USA-PATRIOT Act.?And most recently, with the
Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), lawmakers have set out to label
a wide range of advocacy “terrorism” for damaging or disrupting
an animal-use enterprise or connected business, augmenting the legislative
authority invoked in the SHAC case.
Animal advocacy groups are ill-equipped to counter the political trend of burgeoning
anti-terror laws and the prosecutorial mood these laws stir. The Humane Society
of the United States—the wealthiest of animal protection groups—routinely
campaigns for Republicans in close races to make its point about puppy mills
or cockfighting. Some of these same Republicans are the driving force behind
laws such as the AETA.
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Tom Petri—a lawmaker hoping to make the USA-PATRIOT
Act permanent and who introduced the House version of the AETA—was endorsed
in 2004 by the Humane USA PAC, an organization formed by leaders of major animal
protection groups, including the HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, the ASPCA, the Animal
Welfare Institute and the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. Its directors
and advisors are, according to its website, “top grassroots and national
animal protection leaders.” Apparently these individuals could stomach
Petri’s vote to approve $77.9 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations
in fiscal 2003, including $62.5 billion for military operations in Iraq and the
Bush administration’s war on terrorism, and $4.2 billion for homeland security.
Evidently they heard no alarm bells when, at the end of 2002, Petri received
a 13 percent rating by the American Civil Liberties Union. At the same time,
Petri’s rating from the CATO Institute was 78 percent, indicating a zest
for free trade agreements; and in November 2003, Petri voted “yes” to
hasten approval of—ahem—forest thinning projects. Petri receives
consistently high marks from the NRA and from immigration restrictionists.
Non-citizens have borne the brunt of the harshness of anti-terrorism law for
years, while the animal advocacy movement has largely ignored the government’s
treatment of them. Gruesome deaths of overheating or exposure happen frequently
along the Mexican border—the dead numbered 472 in 2005—because enforcement
policy since 1994 has pushed people into the most rugged and remote stretches
of desert land. We might suppose that any “anti-cruelty” group worth
its salt would take notice. But animal advocates were virtually silent on the
Secure Fence Act of 2006 (authorizing a 700 mile fence construction project along
the U.S.-Mexican border that will threaten the environment, rare plants, bats,
jaguars, pronghorn and human beings).?A release from Defenders of Wildlife recommended “high-tech
surveillance and communications equipment, enforcement and conservation training
for border security and land management personnel, and strategically placed vehicle
barriers and fencing where it will be more effective”—but not where
it would imperil jaguars and desert bighorn sheep. The release concluded by identifying
Defenders of Wildlife as “one of the nation’s most progressive advocates
for wildlife and its habitat.” If that group, and other law-focused groups
like it, were able to define “progressive” less narrowly, the Secure
Fence Act might not have been so easily enacted, and more allies from outside
the animal advocacy movement might have been available to oppose the AETA.
As it is, scores of corporate, nonprofit, and educational groups have endorsed
the Act. Did the major legislation-oriented animal groups hold back from waging
a vigorous public counter-campaign to avoid upsetting their conservative friends
in Congress? If so, progressives should think hard before believing that wealthy
and politically influential groups such as HSUS stood in real opposition to the
To some extent, the overwhelming Senate vote for the Animal Enterprise Terrorism
Act reflects the isolation of animal activists from the broader progressive community.
While mainstream groups romance conservative politicians, the rhetoric of militant
activism invites nemesis. Together, these two segments of advocacy pave the way
for reactionary laws like the AETA.
A Gift to the State
There’s growing discomfort among the global public, including progressives,
with militant tactics. In California, a firebomb appeared on the doorstep of
a 70 year-old whose home was thought to be occupied by a primate researcher;
in England, activists against the building of a lab at Oxford have reportedly
followed construction workers home after work, and human remains were dug up
from a village cemetery to pressure a local farm to stop breeding guinea pigs.
In the accounts of such campaigns, the moral questions surrounding vivisection
have, unsurprisingly and most unfortunately, been lost. Even support for the
campaigners’ freedom of speech has been lost.
One of Britain’s most respected progressives, George Monbiot, explains
the way in which this has played out: The demonstrators who have halted the construction of the new animal testing
labs in Oxford command little public sympathy. Their arguments are often woolly
and poorly presented. Among them is a small number of dangerous and deeply unpleasant
characters, who appear to respect the rights of every mammal except Homo sapiens.
This unpopularity is a gift to the state. For fear of being seen to sympathize
with dangerous nutters, hardly anyone dares to speak out against the repressive
laws with which the government intends to restrain them.
As Monbiot points out, government seizes the opportunities provided by apparently
dangerous activists to begin treating all kinds of dissenters as terrorists.
A similar clampdown, Monbiot observes, is taking place all over the world.
Leading up to the introduction of the current anti-terrorism proposal was last
year’s invitation from Senator James Inhofe to John Lewis of the FBI to
speak on animal advocacy and eco-militancy. “There is nothing else going
on in this country over the last several years,” Lewis declared, “that
is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions.” The
essence of Lewis’s claim received an eerie confirmation when a physician
named Jerry Vlasak, introduced as an animal advocate, proceeded to tell a Congressional
committee that deadly force “would be a morally justifiable solution” against
scientists who test on animals. Not exactly a marginal figure, Dr. Vlasak happened
to be a board member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society—an organization
boasting a number of high-profile environmentalists and animal protectionists,
and has a celebrity-spangled advisory board.
“I’m deeply shocked,” said Elizabeth May, executive director
of the Sierra Club of Canada. “I don’t care what somebody is doing,
murder is murder. That is crossing a line that is not only irresponsible and
illegal but immoral. And I don’t want any part of that.”
And it goes without saying that Vlasak’s statement is extremely useful
to those who wish to silence dissent. Yet only the public pressure following
May’s threat to resign from an advisory role with Sea Shepherd influenced
Paul Watson, the group’s president, to finally dismiss Dr. Vlasak.
Animal advocates who seem unpredictable and dangerous are disengaging themselves
from the movement’s ethical platform, and from any moral framework that
most people recognize,?allowing an oddly effective sort of anti-activism to emerge.
Detractors take advantage of the activists’ unpopularity, simultaneously
fashioning themselves as stars on the moral stage which the activists have evacuated.
One personification of this new anti-activism is 16 year-old Laurie Pycroft who,
early this year, finished shopping in Oxford and ran into some activists protesting
the lab. Pycroft and two friends quickly made up their own sign, protesting the
protesters: “Support Progress, Support the Oxford Lab.” Pycroft,
who hopes to become a neurosurgeon, gained widespread media attention for founding
a group called Pro-Test.
Iain Murray, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, points
to Pro-Test as a model of “grass roots” organizing for the U.S. to
The Rise of Corporate Front Groups
The silencing of activism strengthens people and groups who want us to believe
that exploitation is a moral good. Behold Ron Arnold, who, nearly a decade ago,
through Free Enterprise Press, published the book Ecoterror: The Violent Agenda
to Save Nature. “After the events of September 11, 2001, ”Arnold’s
Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website proclaims, “our vision
has taken on even greater meaning.” Arnold has exploited the current legislative
mood, asking the public to send “evidence, information or tips” about
activists who may have acted illegally to the EcoTerror Response Network, which
will pass it to law enforcement agents. The site objects to the Animal Liberation
Front and Earth Liberation Front, and some “bullies” working at a
county branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Arnold
paints with a broad brush. As early as 1979, he told Logging Management magazine, “Citizen
activist groups, allied to the forest industry, are vital to our future survival… They
are not limited by liability, contract law or ethical codes… [I]ndustry
must come to support citizen activist groups, providing funds, materials, transportation,
and most of all, hard facts.” Arnold would later exhort Canadian logging
industrialists: “Give them the money. You stop defending yourselves, let
them do it, and you get the hell out of the way. Because citizens’ groups
have credibility and industries don’t.” So industry, guided by public
relations experts, successfully funds the pious “citizen activist groups” whose
representatives are welcomed as experts by many federal and state lawmakers.
The “citizen activists” know that legislatures will protect property
rights, and, when the time is right, manage dissent. Laws such as the Animal
Enterprise Terrorism Act validate their perspective.
Then there is Rick Berman’s Center for Consumer Freedom. John Stauber,
founder of the Center for Media and Democracy, has likened CCF to “a tax
advantage for paying your lobbyist.” With non-profit status, CCF has ardently
campaigned to wave off concerns about mercury in fish; notably, CCF has accepted
contributions from Coldwater Seafood. Last year it spent $600,000 to advertise
in papers, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and
USA Today, that the government’s concern with obesity studies is “hype.” As
the Center for Media and Democracy points out, the CCF’s advisory panel
has included people connected with National Steak & Poultry, Outback Steakhouse
and Cargill Processed Meat Products. Financial support has been traced to Coca-Cola,
Tyson Foods, Applebee’s, White Castle and Wendy’s restaurant chains,
the rest stop caterer HMS Host Corporation, Perdue Farms, the Michigan Turkey
Producers Cooperative, and the makers of several brands of dairy desserts.
Berman and Co. also sponsors the Employment Policies Institute, which works to
keep the minimum wage low.
Also promoting unfettered business are conservative think tanks. In 1988, Ronald
Reagan declared that “the most important American scholarship comes out
of our think tanks—and none has been more influential than the American
Enterprise Institute.” Founded in 1943, the group counts among its alumni
James Buchanan, Dick Cheney, former President Gerald R. Ford, Alan Keyes and
Justice Antonin Scalia. AEI is connected with the Heritage Foundation, and has
received financial support from the Scaife Family Foundations, the Kraft Foundation,
the Procter & Gamble Fund, Philip Morris, Amoco and Exxon Mobil. It leases
office space to the Project for the New American Century, a propeller of the
Bush administration’s crusade for regime change in Iraq. With the Federalist
Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, AEI runs NGOwatch, a “monitoring
tool” critical of organized attempts to provide public services contrary
to the desires of global multinationals.
In a June opinion piece which ran in the Arizona Star and the Charleston
AEI visiting fellow Kenneth P. Green waved off “vegetarian researchers” Gidon
Eshel and Pamela Martin, the pair whose high-profile article, published through
the University of Chicago, estimates that the typical U.S. resident puts out
1.5 tons more carbon dioxide each year than do complete vegetarians. Green points
out that the savings adds up to only 1.6 percent of worldwide emissions. Actually,
given that U.S. residents make up just about five percent of the world’s
people, that figure suggests the spread of vegetarianism would make a substantial
impact. Green also argues that organic foods are no more nutritious than conventional
offerings—without mentioning worker health or the ecological impact of
pesticides—before glibly concluding, “Waiter? I’ll have the
People committed to a plant-based diet hold a key answer to the global warming
question, which is arguably the greatest terror facing the world. Yet these front
groups and think tanks are dismissing us all—even scientists speaking out
about the connections between diet and climate change. Senator Inhofe, whose
political success has been boosted by oil money, said people concerned with climate
change “love hysteria.” Inhofe was also the primary Senate sponsor
of the AETA.
That bill is becoming law because militant tactics have given oppressive forces
the ability to rationalize a need for it; because the dominant paradigm in animal
advocacy is isolation from compatible progressive causes; and because corporate
front groups have organized around portraying environmentalists and animal advocates
in an extremely negative light, then tapped into the current drive for anti-terror
In the long term, it’s imperative that progressive thinkers create liaisons
and learn from each other. The single-issue advocacy groups that follow the corporate
paradigm are unlikely to understand the point. But let the AETA be a wake-up
call to the rest of us.?
Lee Hall, a holistic practitioner of animal rights, works with Friends of
Animals, an advocacy group which will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary in
City in 2007. Lee’s new book is Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights
Advocacy in the Age of Terror. An extended version of this article first
in Dissident Voice (www.dissidentvoice.org).