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December 2006/January 2007
Behind the SHAC: A Turning Point in Activism
The Satya Interviews with the SHAC7

 

On March 12, 2006, the SHAC7, Kevin Kjonaas, Lauren Gazzola, Jake Conroy, Josh Harper, Andy Stepanian, Darius Fulmer and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), the corporation, were found guilty under the federal Animal Enterprise Protection Act. Six activists were sentenced to one to six years in prison, found guilty of multiple federal felonies for their assumed part in campaigning to close down the notorious animal testing lab, Huntingdon Life Sciences. They are not accused of smashing windows or liberating animals, but rather of “physical disruption” or as the government says, causing HLS to “suffer financial hardship from lost investments, distracted management, computer attacks and terminated business relationships.” They allegedly encouraged others to engage in legal and illegal acts by simply reporting on them via “controversial” website tactics such as, posting names and addresses of involved CEOs, investors, insurers, and others in conjunction with Huntingdon Life Sciences, and promoting commercial and residential pickets against companies that invested in or provided support to the HLS.

During the trial information was presented to the judge about each activist, showcasing their worst qualities, picking and choosing sound bytes of phone conversations and using evidence to prove the scientific benevolence of animal testing. Nothing from the opposing argument, shedding light on the abuses committed by HLS, was allowed.

What’s become of freedom of information, freedom of speech, legal demonstrations and legal actions? The recent passing of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and the SHAC7 convictions set a terrifying example for animal activists throughout the country. While industries expect the AETA will clear the way for the government to go after activists campaigning against big business, the SHAC7 hopes we will continue fighting for animals. While they advocate awareness before action, they hope their jail time does not result in even more activists off the street.

Before their self-surrender date on November 16, with the exception of Andy Stepanian due to an earlier imprisonment date, Maureen Wyse had the opportunity to phone the SHAC7 and discuss their sentencing and what it means for the future of activism.


 

Kevin, Willy and Buddy
Name: Kevin Kjonaas
Age: 28
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Convicted of: Conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, Conspiracy to Stalk, three counts of Interstate Stalking, Conspiracy to Harass using a Telecommunications Device
Sentence: 6 years

Okay, what does your conviction really mean?
I would wager a hefty bet that the jury who delivered this verdict could not explain what their findings ‘meant,’ as it was just easier for them to say ‘guilty’ than affirm constitutional protections for things they politically disagree with.

What do you think the federal investigation, trial, conviction, sentencing and imprisonment means to activists in this country?
In short, it means advocating animal liberation successfully is now illegal. I know this sounds overly dramatic but the government built their case around this very interpretation of the AEPA. Despite other U.S. Attorneys and the Deputy Director of the FBI John Lewis testifying to the Senate that the AEPA could not be used to prosecute groups, like SHAC, for causing economic loss (a nonphysical disruption), the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office charged ahead creating a constitutionally corrosive case-law that can be used against any animal rights group that has a website or uses the postal service to run protest campaigns aimed at abolition.

What my overzealous arrest, Kafkaesque trial, predictable verdict, and harshly long sentence tells other activists is that democracy is dead. You have no right to challenge the ruling powers. And if you haven’t come to this realization, it’s because you’ve never actually tried to change anything.

What were some of the misrepresentations during the trial?
I don’t feel any of us were fairly represented, as we are not terrorists. And the court would not allow anything to come in with regards to the suffering of animals inside HLS. This trial is a perfect example of the scapegoating of animal rights activists as terrorists to foster this climate of fear that has helped to cement American corporate hegemony.

Do you have any regrets?
I regret I hired Eric Schneider. I regret I did not stand up in open court and decry his incompetence as I was tempted to do. I regret that none of our attorneys made juror number eight wake up for our trial.

With regards to my behavior, it goes without saying, I am hardly an angel. I regret I did not speak out against the [activists’] activities I found objectionable taking place in targeting HLS. But I regret not doing this as a matter of my own conscience. I do not believe I was legally obligated to do so, and I hope Third Circuit Court of Appeals will agree with me.

What are you going to miss most in jail?
My life partner Aaron, my mother, and my two little guys, Willy (the beagle) and Buddy (the giant retriever-shepherd mix). Privacy, organic food, unpolluted water, and quiet dinners. I will also miss silly things like how the Sopranos ends, who will win Top Chef, and trying to figure out what the hell is going on with Lost. And wine. There is so much everyday life you take for granted, you really cannot appreciate things until you have them taken away. It will be hard, but it’s also not the end of the world. It’s not like I am going to be a beagle inside of HLS.

In his Satya interview, Peter Singer criticized SHAC activists: “Some of their tactics have not been really thoughtful about what impression they are making on others, and how we are going to advance the whole cause of animals, rather than just shut down Huntingdon.” [Oct, 06] Care to comment?
It would seem that those like Mr. Singer, who I call the conservatives or republicans of the animal rights movement, would have us all believe the current welfare agenda they are advancing is somehow less damaging than risking new approaches. I don’t buy the delusion that revolutions or social changes attempted in our political justice history were achieved by being polite, dressing in a middle-class manner, and frequenting veggie eateries. We want animal liberation, but don’t want to get our hands dirty. We want a political fight, but it’s important that everybody likes us. How convenient for people like Mr. Singer to tell us we can have our over-indulgent lifestyles, take no personal risks, and still relieve our guilt about the collapse of the natural world.

For an intellectual giant, I am disappointed to see Mr. Singer parroting the same rhetoric as the U.S. government and our corporate opposition in assuming “SHAC tactics” are limited to just direct action. For every news account of a broken window or liberated beagle, there were thousands of people staging peaceful pickets, writing letters and leafleting. SHAC became popular because it was a breath of fresh air in a stagnant and ideologically rigid movement. It was a campaign that eschewed hierarchy, embraced diverse approaches, was not afraid to try new methods, and not bound by politics of the pocketbook. This campaign was honest about how it felt and unabashed about its anger.

What would you like to say to animal activists?
I hope people continue to care about our struggle, have the courage to debate our principles, have the honesty to assess where we are, where we are going. I hope they have the dedication to follow their hearts instead of listening to me, Mr. Singer or corporate America.

One little lesson I learned with regards to our sacred First Amendment rights is that while we have the right to free speech, to say whatever we want, we do not have the right to be heard. And that is a very big distinction.

Info: www.supportkevin.com.


 

Name: Lauren Gazzola
Age: 27
Hometown: New York
Convicted of: Conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, Conspiracy to Stalk, three counts of Interstate Stalking, Conspiracy to Harass using a Telecommunications Device
Sentence: 4 years, 4 months

What does your conviction really mean?
The government’s whole case is based on a literal conspiracy theory (not the paranoid kind). Under the law, this means the defendant agreed with at least one other person to commit an illegal act and someone who was part of that agreement took at least one action in furtherance of that act.

The problem with conspiracy theory is that you don’t have to commit an illegal act to be guilty of conspiring to commit an illegal act. The big problem with this case is that the evidence was based entirely on speech, entirely on what we allegedly said. It’s really problematic when you try to square a conspiracy theory with the First Amendment. It’s problematic for the movement in terms of the effects it may have if the government prevails on appeal.

What do you think the federal investigation, trial, conviction and now sentencing means to activists in this country?
I really don’t know what it means but I hope it doesn’t mean that they’re scared and going to be less active.

What were some of the misrepresentations during the trial?
I definitely think our efforts against HLS as a whole were misrepresented. There were thousands of protests against HLS across the world and the government was picking and choosing the ones they wanted to show to the jury. When you’re assessing speech and whether or not it’s protected, a lot of the time the answer to that question relies on the context of that speech. I don’t think the jury really got to see the actual context of the speech.

Do you have any regrets?
I certainly regret the fact I was convicted for what I believe to have been allegations of constitutionally protected expressions.

HLS, though beleaguered, is still a profitable industry. Where do you see anti-vivisection activism in the future?
I hope people recognize that, especially when you’re fighting against such powerful opposition, this sort of backlash is par for the course and should be expected and viewed as something that may happen. I don’t want it to be taken as we’ve reached the end of some line, how do we start a new line? I think it’s the same line.

People need to recognize that six people are going to jail, not an entire movement. People need to fill in the holes of those six people, but not look at it as an end. People really cannot act that way, especially with the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The AETA is a serious issue, but I wonder if some of the concerns over the amendments are heightened by activists. I am concerned about the hysteria over it. There are certain categories of unprotected speech, and a legislative statute cannot criminalize expression, which does not fall into one of those specific categories. The AETA may make minor illegal activity “more illegal,” it may allow more abuse of prosecutions, but it cannot render constitutionally protected speech unprotected.

What are you going to miss the most in jail?
Dance class. [Laughter.] I miss it now. [Laughter.] I don’t have a dog and I don’t have a boyfriend, so dance class. Even if I did have a dog and did have a boyfriend, I would miss dance class more.

What would you like to say to animal activists before going in?
Don’t dare write me a letter, send me a book or put money on my commissary, and certainly don’t praise my efforts, unless you have first done something for the animals. Does that sound mean?

I love it.
Something effective for the animals. Like being vegan, for example, doesn’t count. Not that it’s ineffective, but it’s not enough. [Laughter.]

Info: www.supportlauren.com.


 

Name: Jake Conroy
Age: 29
Hometown: Connecticut
Convicted of: Conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, Conspiracy to Stalk, three counts of Interstate Stalking, Conspiracy to Harass using a Telecommunications Device
Sentence: 4 years

What does your conviction really mean?
[Laughter.] To be quite honest, I’m still trying to figure out what we did wrong. A number of years ago after participating in civil disobedience I came to the realization that handing yourself over to the police didn’t make any sense. I respect those who do it, but I wanted to find creative and effective ways to push the envelope without breaking the law. I certainly didn’t want to perform some grand conspiracy to commit major felonies.

What do you think the federal investigation, trial, conviction, sentencing and imprisonment means to activists in this country?
I think it means something different to the government than it does to activists. The government thinks they’re setting a precedent for activists around the country. That any sort of demonstrating or act on behalf of animals will cause them to come after you. They want to scare people into inaction. But the government is coming down on us hard because [the SHAC] tactics were so successful. We need to continue to be more imaginative and constructive. We need to walk that line of being aggressive, but also legal.

What were some of the misrepresentations during the trial?
The government painted us as thugs, extremists and terrorists, which isn’t accurate. But I don’t think they misrepresented the direct action message. The demonstrations they cite happened for a reason. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, people shouldn’t be ashamed of things they did. People did them because they felt compassionate about the issue and wanted to see things change.

Is there any part of your story you feel was not represented in the courtroom?
They definitely went out of their way to mischaracterize us. For instance, they referred to me as a “person of privilege.” Which is just insane. My mom is a single mother who raised three kids by herself and really struggled to allow us to pursue the things we wanted to. I moved out of the house when I was 18. I’m 30 now and can’t think of a single year I haven’t been living greatly below the poverty level.

Do you have any regrets?
I believe the fight against animal abuse and in this case against HLS is just. I have no regrets about having to go to prison either. As long as people on the outside keep up their end of the bargain, keep fighting animal abuse, I’m willing to take a hit for the team. I think of all the people they could have gone after, they picked us not because we were out breaking windows, visiting homes or even making phone calls, but because they thought of us as the public face of the campaign. It was the easiest way to send their message. They are removing six individuals out of tens of thousands, and one website out of tens of millions, so I am happy to sit in prison as long as the rest of the movement continues to fight.

HLS, though beleaguered, is still a profitable industry. Where do you see anti-vivisection activism in the future?
For 20 years they were winning the battle. Then in the late 80s there was a huge push to end vivisection. With ALF raids exposing horrendous cruelty, and the work of above ground groups, we made amazing strides. Then the vivisection industry published white papers outlining how to destroy the animal rights movement. And it was working. But over the past few years starting in England and then here in America, they have realized the animal rights movement is still a force to be reckoned with. We have introduced tactics, ideas and new ways to push this movement forward that are really exciting. HLS might be open today, but in the grand scheme of things, we’ve really won that battle.

What are you going to miss the most in jail?
Lots of things. I’m such a homebody. I love sitting around watching movies, listening to crappy music and eating lots of vegan junk food. I will miss all the creature comforts, my friends, my partner, my dog. But at the end of the day, I was looking at doing 11 to 13 years and now I will be out in three and half. It’s a small sacrifice to make especially when you think about all the animals sitting in cages, the billions that will die every year I’m in there.

What would you like to say to animal activists before going in?
It’s important not to forget the people in prison. I’m excited to hear from people, get letters, make phone calls. But I hope for every letter I get, you’re sending ten more to animal abusers. For every visit, I hope people will make ten visits to animal abusers. I really hope the passion and excitement the animal rights movement has seen over the past few years continues, that people keep fighting.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
The support we got while awaiting trial, during trial and after has been really overwhelming. It was also very exciting to see 22 rabbits liberated in Massachusetts dedicated to the SHAC7. Knowing a rabbit slated to die in a laboratory, is now running around, having fun, living life… and he’s named Jake.

Info: www.supportjake.org.


 

Name: Josh Harper
Age: 31
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Convicted of: Conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, Conspiracy to Harass using a Telecommunications Device
Sentence: 3 years

What do you think the federal investigation, trial, conviction, sentencing and imprisonment means to activists in this country?
I think people should be very frightened. When you look at my investigation, one of my closest friends of 15 years was spying on me, paid to be an FBI informant. My house was raided by a Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Secret Service. The Department of Homeland Security came to my home and arrested me. It was all related to speech activities. Talking about controversial tactics, even encouraging other people to undertake them is not illegal unless you provide those people with the means. So the idea these counterterrorism measures could be used to come after me for a couple speeches I made should be frightening to everyone.

What were some of the misrepresentations during the trial?
We were prevented from gathering expert testimony about vivisection and from speaking about what was happening inside HLS. Yet prosecutors and prosecution witnesses repeatedly made statements that everything Huntingdon does is humane, the animals are treated well, and our undercover footage was fake. Anytime anyone made the attempt to rebut, they would object and the judge would uphold it.

Although my co-defendants should not have been prosecuted the way they were, it was difficult spending weeks and weeks listening to testimony about other people’s actions, actions I had no say in. I didn’t make the choice to name somebody’s children on the website. I wouldn’t have. Andy, Darius and I are going in for promoting illegal protest, we’re going to jail for speaking about controversial tactics and I think that’s part of the story that hasn’t been told.

Do you have any regrets?
You always hear ‘Don’t do the crime, if you’re not willing to do the time.’ Well, I’m doing the time, but I didn’t get the satisfaction of doing the crime. Honestly, if I knew I was going to end up serving three years, well maybe I would have been sending black faxes.

HLS, though beleaguered, is still a profitable industry. Where do you see anti-vivisection activism in the future?
Anti-vivisection activism is going to continue along the same path it’s on now with creative and innovative searches for ways to undermine the industry. The problem with vivisection is that it’s supported by the big Western powers. So to bring it down, you have to find the pillars keeping it afloat and go after those. SHAC tactics have shut down breeders and importers of animals for vivisection. It has kept Oxford University from building animal labs, it’s kept animal labs in Japan from relocating in England and so on.

What are you going to miss the most in jail?
My dog, Lady Bird. She was rescued from a really abusive situation. She was my motivation. After a day of protesting, I would come home to a living, breathing example of why HLS needs to be shut down. I can call my human friends and family from prison, they can visit me, but I’m probably not going to see Lady Bird for another three years.

What would you like to say to animal activists?
In the animal rights movement, we have this defeatist attitude and it prevents us from coming to a place where we can actually win. Everyone complains about the size of their local group, they don’t feel their numbers are enough. But historically, it is not groups of people who begin turning the wheels of change, it’s individuals. People who take the personal initiative to fight as hard as they can. When we begin to recognize our personal responsibility and get past all the self-defeating nonsense, then maybe we have a chance of winning.

Our government is doing things that haven’t been done in hundreds of years and I wonder if—with the police state and surveillance technologies increasing in power—we’re in the last window of time rebellion is possible. And to think people might not do what is necessary to stop this cycle of fear chills me more than anything. Every moment we have really counts. I’m going to be in prison for the next three years where I can’t do anything. And I would give anything in the world to be in another activists’ shoes, to be active.

In his Satya interview, Peter Singer criticized SHAC activists: “I think some of the publicity has been damaging to the movement. People ought to be asking themselves, if the CBS evening news cameras were on me now, would this be something I could expect people to support ?” [Oct 06.] Care to comment?
Peter doesn’t know me, and he doesn’t know what I was specifically accused of. He wasn’t there and probably doesn’t realize that my co-defendants’ sexual preference played more of a role in the trial than our personal conduct. People like him never seem to acknowledge that we had an anonymous jury or that we weren’t allowed to present expert testimony. This case was a complete and total frame-up and to have people who haven’t seen the evidence and who don’t know the full story pass such harsh judgment on us is really disappointing. Especially from his perspective, saying consensual sex with animals is all right. Killing disabled children. I don’t remember that being particularly positive media.

How can readers show support?
Continue the struggle to free animals with all their might. Make sure the government’s plan to deter militant and radical protest, by sending spokespersons to jail won’t work. Step up to the plate and dedicate your life to this cause. That would mean the most to me.

Info: www.joshharper.org.


 

Name: Andy Stepanian
Age: 28
Hometown: Long Island, NY
Convicted of: Conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act
Sentence: 3 years

Due to his alleged involvement in actions against Huntingdon Life Sciences, Andy Stepanian was ordered to self-surrender on October 3, 2006, two weeks following his sentencing. Andy was held in the Brooklyn Municipal Detention Center, then moved to Pennsylvania, and now is being held in the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, NC where it is said he will remain for the duration of his three-year sentence. We were unable to conduct an interview with him.

Here is Andy’s statement to the court on Tuesday, September 19, 2006 before being sentenced to 36 months in prison, as best recalled by himself and his support committee:

Your honor, I was advised by my attorney that I should use this opportunity to make a statement to this court regarding this aforementioned case. With that, I would like to take this opportunity to say something sincere and constructive.

There are very few things in this world that bother me more than animal cruelty, sexual violence, child abuse and racism. Our society suffers from an illness, an illness with symptoms that narrow our vision, and polarize our moral constructs into ‘us and them’ and ‘black and white.’ Often society commits its most heinous acts when people view the world with no recognition of grays. This narrow world view is apparent in modern situations like America’s public debate over the efficacy of torture, a crime against humanity so morally bankrupt that it’s proponents suffer from the most acute stage of this aforementioned illness, with a world view limited only to the ‘us vs. them’ and the ‘black and white.’

I believe that the prevention of animal cruelty perpetrated by Huntingdon Life Sciences is a most noble cause, but despite its nobility its advocates should not revert to a narrow sight that dilutes and erodes its moral high ground.

This case and this trial was a learning experience for me. Through testimony in this trial I learned about events and activities alleged to have been done in the name of animal liberation that disturbed me… Though my co-defendants and I had no knowledge or connection to these events, I would like to make a personal apology in response to the following testimonials.

Through testimony I learned about a man who was afraid to take his son to the park to see the dogs. No one should deny someone time with their child. To that individual and his son I would like to say I am sorry.

Through testimony I learned of a woman who had her intimates posted and sold on eBay. There is no excuse for sexual threat, ever. I am ashamed that anyone would commit such an act. To that woman I would like to say I am sorry.

Through testimony I learned about people who were the focus of animal welfare protests, who had children with special needs like autism, who could have been potentially scared by the situations. No child should ever be scared. To those families I would like to say I am sorry.
Lastly I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to my family, my friends, my loved ones and to the hundreds of supporters who have shared in my grief throughout the duration of this trial. To all of you I would like to say I am sorry.

As for myself I would like to thank your honor and Mr. McKenna for allowing me to continue on with and ultimately graduate college while on house arrest. I understand that your honor will be sentencing me to jail, and even with that eventuality I plan to continue my education after my release with pursuit of a master’s degree and assistant professorship at the University of California.


While in tears, Andy also expressed that his sorrow is over-shadowed by his grief for the 70,000 animals being held hostage to a life of solitude, poisonings, un-anesthetized vivisections, live necropsies and beatings. “No animal should ever have to endure what the HLS criminals continue to do.”

Andy Stepanian is a spirited, individual with a big heart. He has consistently lived his life on a path for human, animal and earth liberation. Even while on house arrest Andy continued to mentor friends, write a book about his experiences and support the Long Island Animal Defense League. He will no doubt, on top of his activism, miss surfing, cooking, reading, painting and spending time with his loving family and group of friends.

Info: www.andystepanian.com.


 

Name: Darius Fulmer
Age: 29
Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
Convicted of: Conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act
Sentence: 1 year, 1 day

Okay, what does your conviction really mean?
I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. I still haven’t figured out what I have been convicted of doing.

What do you think the federal investigation, trial, conviction, sentencing and imprisonment means to activists in this country?
The stakes have definitely been raised. I believe it was inevitable. The more effective we are, the more victories and more successes, the more repression we face.

How would you describe your experience with the trial, especially being a peripheral defendant?
It was surreal, actually. The prosecution was able to confuse matters by having such wide leeway as far as information being entered—things that had no bearing on the case, on myself or my co-defendants. It confused the jury to the point where it wasn’t clear who was responsible for what, who had done what or said what. It also seemed the case was not just against us but anyone who ever had anything to do with the campaign against HLS. The jury ruled on that, not on us as individuals.

What were some of the misrepresentations during the trial?
The government had so many resources at their disposal. They had over 8,000 phone calls and they used just 40 or 50 of them. Inevitably if you’re having conversations with your friends, people you’re close to, they’re going to be able to pull something out that makes you sound bad. It might just be an off color joke about something that happened, the kind of things people say not assuming that the whole world is going to be listening in. Being able to so selectively pick and choose certain things, to create certain appearances, I thought was certainly unfair.

Do you have any regrets?
I think we all regret we didn’t do more to keep our communications personal and private. I regret we weren’t more vigilant and cognizant of how real the threat was.

HLS, though beleaguered, is still a profitable industry. Where do you see anti-vivisection activism in the future?
That’s a really difficult question. It seems like there’s a split going on right now between Europe and the U.S., where activity in the U.S. has sharply declined. I know it has something to do with the post-9/11 environment we live in. But I really look to Europe for things pushing forward and leading the way and hope that some day the U.S. will get over this period of repression and fear, and get back online, where we once were.

Do you think that’s a possibility? Or do you think that the movement is really stunted by the AETA?
We’ve faced repression before. We’ve been through legal suits, false arrests and all those things, and it never stopped us. It’s an element we need to deal with, but inevitably we will get over it. Even in countries where there’s much more oppression, people speak their minds, despite the risk. Eventually we will move on.

What are you going to miss the most in jail?
Being home for the holidays. My parents, who live down in South Carolina, are my only family. This will be the first Christmas that I haven’t spent with them, and I know that’s going to be particularly hard for them and for me.

What would you like to say to animal activists?
Having been through everything I have, I find it hard to preach to anybody else about how they should go about fighting for what they believe in. I just hope everyone continues to fight by whatever means they feel are most effective.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Throughout human history conflict has always been settled with violence. Violence is the language humans communicate with and a lot was made in this trial of how horrible animal rights activists are because they stand in front of people’s houses and yell and things of that nature. Rather than condemning us for aggression, we should be commended for the restraint we show. The fact there has never been any violence visited upon vivisectors or animal abusers in this country shows a remarkable amount of restraint on our part. Nonviolent campaigning—no matter how aggressive—is actually a radical shift away from the usual human solution of bloodshed.

Info: www.shac7.com/dari.

 

 

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