2 - Introduction
Muzzling a Movement: The Effects of Anti-Terrorism Law, Money, and Politics on Animal Activism
In 2009, I was researching the high-profile SHAC 7 case in preparation for writing this book. The SHAC 7 consists of leaders from the animal activist group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), who were prosecuted and imprisoned based on charges of animal enterprise terrorism. I reached out to the SHAC activists, some of whom were still in prison. I mailed each of them a cover letter and law journal article that I had written (“Animal Lovers and Tree Huggers Are the New Cold-Blooded Criminals?: Examining the Flaws of Eco-terrorism Bills”). The letter explained my background in animal law, especially my study of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), previously called the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA). I wrote:
The thesis of my book is that the AETA (and the unfair comparison of [animal rights] folks to terrorists) unconstitutionally silences the [animal rights] movement. I also examine the politics and money that were behind the politicians who sponsored both the AEPA and AETA. I would like to write an entire chapter of the book on SHAC and although I have found a lot of the SHAC information on the internet and from No Compromise and Bite Back, I would much prefer a live interview with you to ensure accuracy. Would you be willing to meet with me to discuss your experience with SHAC and in prison so that I may include a more complete and accurate picture of SHAC in my book?
I presumed that prison-life was so restricted that prisoners would enthusiastically accept an invitation to meet with a visitor. So, after juggling the logistics of traveling to prisons in New York, Connecticut, Minnesota, and California for these interviews, I eagerly awaited the activists' replies. They never came. Instead, I received the following letter from the United States Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons, regarding the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minnesota (where SHAC activist Kevin Kjonaas was imprisoned):
RE: Animal Rights book excerpt.
I then wrote to the Regional Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, enclosing my journal article and cover letter to Kjonaas. I questioned how my letter, article, and statement of intent could possibly be interpreted as facilitating criminal activity. About three weeks later, I received a large manila envelope from the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone that contained nothing other than my journal article.
The above-named publication has been rejected in accordance with the Bureau's Program Statement on Incoming Publications (PS 5266.10), which provides in part:
A publication may be rejected only if it is determined detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or if it might facilitate criminal activity.
The above-named publication has been rejected because it contains information which could facilitate criminal activity.
My letter to Kjonaas was not returned. I don't know if it was delivered to Kjonaas, filed, or discarded. I wonder how many other letters wound up on the “cutting-room” floor of the prison mailrooms for fear that such communication might facilitate criminal activity. One thing is clear: on my book-writing journey through which I explore the silencing of animal activists, I have been halted by the very blockade about which I am writing.
* * *
Terrorist. The word has become part of our daily lexicon. Since 9/11, airports haven't been the same, nor have tall buildings in metropolitan areas. The beginning of the twenty-first century was marred by an event that shook the United States to its core and created a pervasive sense of anxiety and unease among its people. In a groundswell of patriotism, Americans united, at least for a definitive period of time, against Osama Bin Laden, against Al Qaeda, and against other violent political enemies.
Meanwhile, animal activists who had been mobilized in our country for decades and who preached nonviolence and compassion, became a target of the government's anti-terrorism campaign. These groups endorsed plant-based diets, rescued animals, and exposed to the world the tortures that befell animals in factory farms, circuses, vivisection laboratories, and other institutions. Yet, despite their principles of pacifism, these activists were branded as terrorists by the government. Indeed, according to the government, the industries that economically profited from acts such as beak-searing, branding, castration without anesthetic, chemical poisoning, dismembering, intensive confinement, mutilating, skinning and teeth cutting, were considered to be victimized by the terrorist groups of activists who protested such animal cruelty.
But what actually stirred the government to spend millions of dollars to fund the Joint Terrorism Task Force's infiltration of animal activist groups through the use of informants, wiretaps, and other crafty spy methods? What inspired federal agents to raid the homes of animal activist groups with full riot-gear and helicopters hovering above? What evidence did the government find that justified the imprisonment of six animal activists who simply hosted a website and held demonstrations protected by the First Amendment? And what led the Federal Bureau of Prisons to transfer one of those activists to a Communications Management Unit, in which accused international terrorists, including several Al Qaeda members, were detained?
While law enforcement was expending exorbitant amounts of money targeting animal activist groups, politicians helped push through the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. This arguably unconstitutional legislation enabled the government to effectuate even more of an attack on animal activism. Why would politicians support such an extreme legislative effort? Ask the politician whose top campaign contributors hail from the agricultural industry. Ask the politician whose marital income is substantially enriched by the pharmaceutical industry.
The media is also concerned about the animal activists' outreach. Millions of dollars in advertising revenue are at stake if the outlet publishes an anti-cruelty message. That's what forced a television station producer to rescind his offer to a vegan cookbook author who was scheduled to discuss her new cookbook on air. While the producer was personally excited about the author's new cookbook, the dairy industry advertisers of the television station were not.
Thus money seems to be the root of these political agendas against animal activists. After all, the government and media didn't start closely paying attention to animal activists until they started to cause significant economic loss to the pharmaceutical industry.
* * *
I was able to converse with two of the SHAC 7, Josh Harper and Andrew Stepanian, who had been released from prison. When I asked Harper if the government was recording our phone conversation, he replied that after being so closely tracked by the government for several years, he assumed that everything he said and did was monitored. It is this increasingly epidemic fear of government monitoring among activists that will force them to self-censor. Activists' efficacy on behalf of nonhuman animals will then be severely reduced, and the government and media will have successfully muzzled the movement.
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