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June/July 2005
When They Came for Us
By Kevin Jonas

 

It was 4:30 a.m. in California late last May and my phone started ringing. Early morning phone calls are never a good sign and this one proved no different. An activist in New York called with news that at six a.m. EST a Long Island activist working on the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign had been arrested at his home for violations of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA). Someone witnessing the arrest had seen other names on the federal indictment papers.

My two roommates and I suspected we were likely the other names on that list, and there was a good chance that at six a.m. Pacific Time we would be met with the same rude awakening. I got up, brushed my teeth, put on court clothes and waited at the front window. Sure enough, at six a.m. I saw a dozen heavily armed, armored, and masked individuals appear out of nowhere charging towards the front door, complete with a battering ram.

There is something to be said about having a loaded gun pointed at your head. Time slows down and everything goes silent. The only things that existed at that moment were the sheen of that pistol, just inches from my face, and my own deafening heartbeat. Reality quickly slapped me back however, as it was not just me under attack at that moment but also one of my distressed dogs who had four guns locked on him and one belligerent federal agent screaming “WE WILL SHOOT YOUR DOG!!”

By the grace of other prepared roommates, Buddy and Willy were calmed and their lives spared that morning. But my own, that of six co-defendants, and our tenacious protest movement would just be entering its most trying period.

The Prosecution
From its very start, the arrest and prosecution of the SHAC 7 would never be about this small handful of activists. That 15 agents from the FBI, ATF, Secret Service, and Federal Air Marshall Services (complete with a helicopter over our house) came to arrest us was not because Lauren, Jake, and I were going to be hard to capture—but rather to create a spectacle that could not be missed within our animal rights community. The press releases sent within 20 minutes of our arrest by the U.S. Attorney’s office and Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) are testimony to this.

I cannot feign surprise that we, as an activist community, are now under corporate and governmental attack. Many of us at the “front lines” of this movement have been psychologically bracing ourselves for this kind of reaction for years. In college, I studied political science and learned about the repression of civil rights workers, suffragettes, labor organizers, and anti-war agitators. I saw the trouble caused by false arrests, the abuses of the FBI’s CoIntelPro (Counter-Intelligence Program), and the draconian prison sentences given to nonviolent demonstrators. It gave me pause to learn of their beatings and the constant threat of violence at the hands of law enforcement. The bullets that felled Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and the students at Kent State now haunt me daily. The romance of “struggle” quickly dissipates when the suffering of past social justice activists becomes real to you.

Nor is the motivation for this attack difficult to understand. The worldwide Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign has been incredibly effective. Using the animal testing lab HLS as its vehicle, it has targeted and sent trepidation throughout the entire vivisection industry. It has threatened the profit margins of top pharmaceutical companies, and now serves as a blueprint for a fiscal attack currently being adopted by other social justice causes. It has become a source of inspiration for so many that animal liberation is a reality we can and should be fighting for. Beyond Huntingdon’s inevitable closure, this campaign’s continuing achievements are squarely pitted against business and legislative priorities.

What is most upsetting to me about the repressive threat we are under now is that, sadly, it is working to the advantage of the abusive industries we are all so emphatically opposed to. The prosecution of the SHAC 7 is having its desired chilling effect on protest activity across the U.S. Since the day of the indictment, HLS’s stock price has risen. The biggest lobby on Capitol Hill, that of the pharmaceutical industry, bought themselves a reprieve from protest and accountability via corrupt governmental intervention. While it is an affront to democracy, it is an even more worrisome obstacle to the realization of animal rights and protection.

The indictment of the SHAC 7 is an indictment of animal liberation. We are charged with violations of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (referred to by the much more sinister charge of “Animal Enterprise Terrorism”)—a never before tried law passed in 1992 at the request (and not much more than that) and financing of the fur, meat, and pharmaceutical industries. It is a constitutionally-challenged statute punishing anyone who causes “physical disruption” to a business using animals. The Act essentially renders actions such as civil disobedience (done specifically by a movement that abhors the physical injury of any being) equivalent to the horrors perpetrated on September 11, 2001.

We are not even accused of damaging anything, trespassing, larceny, or any physical assault. Rather, we are accused of engaging in speech. Specifically, we are alleged to have operated a website and published a newsletter that dared to report on and promote protest activity specifically aimed at the closure of HLS. According to the government’s briefing for the case, “SHAC was formed with the specific purpose of interrupting the business of HLS and to ultimately force it to cease operations altogether thereby causing a disruption of its business.” It couldn’t be any more clear: advocating and campaigning for animal liberation, if the government prevails in this case, will be illegal.

Don’t like those slaughterhouses? Too bad! Factory farms got your goat? Live with it! Free Willy? I don’t think so! Only ‘bigger cages’ and ‘better treatment’ will be acceptable, if anything at all. Before you begin your next campaign you had better check with your local U.S. Attorney’s office to make sure your objective is acceptable to the state and the corporate powers that control it.

That this one grassroots campaign has weathered through 26 civil lawsuits, multiple grand jury witch hunts, 13 FBI raids, scores of false arrests, and has been a major Department of Justice priority and target for electronic surveillance should be a jarring wake-up call for some of the more confrontationally-adverse in our movement.

Time to Speak Up
As much as I could continue to rail against the injustices I personally have suffered—from having my most intimate conversations recorded, my private belongings seized, my freedoms stripped, and my name attached to a terrorist label—it is the animals’ suffering that humbles our own. Regardless of what many may think about me, SHAC, and what it stands for, the attack on our ability to advocate for their safety stands at risk and demands movement-wide attention.

The last three years of SHAC protest activity have taught me a lot about movement “unity,” and, at times, the lack thereof. But all must now realize that the SHAC 7 prosecution is a precursor to a broader attack against many more efforts, individuals, and organizations. There is a famous saying by Pastor Martin Niemöller recalling how first the Nazis came for the Jews, and he said nothing. Next the Communists, and again he said nothing; then the trade unionists and so on. When the time came and they were coming for him, there was no one left to say anything.

They are coming for SHAC now.

Are you going to say something?

Kevin Jonas is a campaign coordinator for Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA. Since 1999 he has been a full-time volunteer in the international effort to close down the notorious animal testing lab. To learn more visit www.shacamerica.net.

 

 


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