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February 2003
Editorial: The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

By Catherine Clyne


A national hunters’ lobbying group, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (, is using its clout to pressure state and federal legislators to push its agenda. To be sure, hunters are a tiny minority in this country and many of their campaigns seem trivial, but they are hyper-focused, make a lot of noise, and people in high places are hearing their message—and responding—and right now, they’ve set their sights on animal activists.

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (formerly known as the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America) is a political action committee (PAC). Their purpose is to “protect the rights of hunters, anglers and trappers nationally in the courts, legislatures, at the ballot, in Congress and through public education programs.” They were established in the 1970s to defeat an anti-trapping initiative in Ohio, and have grown to the point where they now have formidable resources and the political savvy to effectively influence lawmakers.

Last month, for example, the Sportsmen’s Alliance launched what seems a trivial campaign. They’re putting the squeeze on Michigan State University (MSU) for hosting the Animal Legal and Historical Web Center (, a database of legal information related to animal issues. It’s obviously a valuable resource for scholars, students, lawyers, and advocates—even for their opponents. But the sportsmen complain the Web Center provides information that helps activists file lawsuits to “stop hunting.” As a state-funded institution, by hosting the website, the hunters say that MSU is using taxpayers’ money to support anti-hunting groups.

“It really disturbs me that public dollars would be used in something as political as this,” said State Rep. Susan Tabor (R-Lansing). Rep. Tabor, along with other hunter supporters, called MSU President Peter McPherson to demand he close down the website. Those who don’t know better will take the hunters’ claims at face value: Evidently Rep. Tabor and other misinformed callers hadn’t bothered to glance at the website, which is an informational database, not an incendiary campaign tool for activists. Since when is it illegal to distribute legitimate legal information? More importantly, what is a hunters’ PAC doing telling us what is and is not appropriate material for an institute of higher education?

The hunters’ group doesn’t mention that, along with their political arm, they have a nonprofit arm that receives considerable sums of public funding for “educational” programs. Funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, supports their “Trailblazer” program, designed to recruit new people by familiarizing children and their families with firearm use and hunting, among other things. That seems a more objectionable use of tax money than a university hosting an informational website.

For the record, MSU has no intention of shutting down the website. What this shows us, however, is that when it comes to influencing the political system, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance knows what it’s doing; and no issue seems too small when it comes to defeating animal activism.

Paying Attention
You might roll your eyes and think: So—some stupid group wants to shut down a website. What’s the big deal?
Well, on January 24th, the group issued a gloating press release: “Legislation to Penalize Animal Rights Terrorists Introduced in Texas.”

According to the release, last month State Rep. Ray Allen (R-Dallas) introduced Bill 433 which will “recognize animal and eco-terrorism as a form of domestic terrorism, increase penalties for persons participating in politically motivated acts of animal or eco-terrorism and create specific penalties for those who encourage, assist or finance these acts of terrorism.” The introduction of this bill is seen as the first step in a state-by-state campaign to pass legislation that singles out animal and environmental activists and groups and prosecutes them as “domestic terrorists.” It’s called the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” variations of which are being lobbied to legislators in Mississippi, New York, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin for 2003. The sportsmen see this as a major step toward their goal to “bring about the ultimate defeat of the animal rights movement.”

We can giggle at their audacity and say they’re full of hot air, but perhaps at our peril. Words matter—especially now. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “domestic terrorism” is defined by the U.S.A. or “Patriot” Act as activities that “endanger human life” and break federal or state law, and intend to: “intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence government policy by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.” The ACLU warns: “This over-broad terrorism definition would sweep in people who engage in acts of political protest if those acts were dangerous to human life.” The “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” that targets animal and environmental activists one-ups this by broadening the definition. No longer is prosecution as a “domestic terrorist” limited to acts “endangering human life;” politically motivated acts, and those who might encourage or fund them, are condemned as terrorists. These laws are intended for a tiny minority who do not necessarily represent the views of most activists. But the broadening of the legal definition of terrorism opens the door for criminalizing acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, such as openly scaring away animals during hunting season or blocking logging trucks from forests, to be tried and harshly sentenced.

Time to Wake Up
I’m not suggesting that violent acts should go unpunished. Those whose actions cause death, injury, and terror deserve to be tried and judged by their peers in a court of law. So far, actions committed in the names of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) have involved the destruction of property, ranging from distasteful graffiti, thievery, and breaking and entering, to bombing and arsenal. Reportedly, each action was carefully planned so that no living creature would be harmed. As of this writing, there has been no loss of life directly resulting from such actions in the U.S. To be sure, it must be terrifying to be on the receiving end, but the perpetrators hardly deserve to be placed in the same category as those who would slam an airplane into a building, intentionally killing thousands.

Ultimately, it’s the label that matters, and that’s what is so clever. Once you’re branded a terrorist, the public and politic will have no sympathy for you or your cause—no matter how innocent you are.

Animal and environmental activists have formed PACs and have had considerable success influencing legislators and proposing specific bills, but we’re nowhere nearly as organized as we could be. So we can learn a thing or two from the Sportsmen’s Alliance: The reason they’re so effective is that they are extremely focused and use their political know-how to work the system. When it’s to their advantage, they also form powerful coalitions to further their cause.

Last summer the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance petitioned the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to endorse their “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act.” ALEC ( is a bipartisan membership association for conservative lawmakers with considerable clout and an impressive track record. The ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force influences lawmakers by developing legislative models for certain hot-button policy issues. In December, the ALEC Task Force voted to adopt the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” possibly opening new doors for the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance to further achieve their agenda.

People used to scoff at tree- and bunny-huggers—those who care about the earth and the creatures we share it with. Their laughter rings hollow now as our numbers continue to rise.

The rumblings are on the horizon. It is up to us to wake up, pay attention, and mobilize our own political clout to fight back.

Thanks to John Goodwin, Grassroots Coordinator of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), for background material. To learn more and get involved, here are some places to start. For animal-related legislation, HSUS (; 202-452-1100) is very active: see the “Government Affairs” section of their website. Formed in 1999, Humane USA (; 703-847-0075) is a PAC that elects animal-friendly lawmakers. On the environmental front, the Sierra Club has its own legislative office in Washington, DC (; 202-547-1141). Founded in 1970, the League of Conservation Voters (; 202-785-8683) represents the voices of environmentally-concerned voters.


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