The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), 18 U.S.C. § 43, is a federal law designed by corporations for the purpose of protecting the profits they make from animal abuse and exploitation. Former President George W. Bush signed AETA into law on November 27, 2006 at the urging of a corporate lobbying group – the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – a group that is largely funded by corporations that profit from animal exploitation. See http://www.alecwatch.org. AETA attempts to eradicate the First Amendment rights of animal rights activists so that cruel, socially unacceptable practices of exploitative animal industries will be insulated from public scrutiny and democratic discourse.
Under well-established principles of Constitutional law, the AETA is unconstitutional because the language of the law is both too vague and too broad. The law’s vague language makes it impossible for an individual to know if an act of public protest could potentially land the individual in federal prison convicted as a “terrorist.” The vague language also gives unbridled discretion to the police and other government agents to decide whether an individual’s actions or statements of political dissent are acts of AETA “terrorism.” By giving complete discretion to police and other government agents to decide whose protest is terrorism and whose protest is not terrorism, the law encourages – and even requires – arbitrary and subjective enforcement based on the personal predilections of the individual police officer and prosecuting attorney. Moreover, the law’s broad language reaches into the realm of protected First Amendment activities because it metes out long prison terms for acts that are constitutionally protected. By enacting the AETA, Congress has elevated corporate profit above fundamental and cherished Constitutional rights that have created our nation, including the freedom to plan and implement acts of public protest such as leafleting, picketing, public assembly, publishing or voicing dissenting viewpoints, and boycotting. An individual could be convicted of any one of these “offenses” under the AETA and be imprisoned, fined, and forever branded a “terrorist” as a result.
Moreover, the AETA’s threat of harsh federal prison sentences – with confinement in extremely restrictive terrorist units – would make any person think twice before engaging in any form of animal rights advocacy that could be swept up in the broad net cast by the language of the AETA. Thus, in addition to violating the U.S. Constitution with its broad and vague language, the AETA also violates the U.S. Constitution because of its “chilling effect” on individuals who desire to participate in protected First Amendment activities in the realm of animal rights advocacy, but refrain from doing so because they are afraid of being defamed and/or convicted as terrorists.
Contrary to the position taken by supporters of the AETA, political dissent is not synonymous with terrorism. To the contrary, it is the foundation of our democracy. AETA was drafted, proposed, and pushed by corporate interests in order to avoid exposure and public scrutiny of the socially unacceptable business practices that they would prefer to continue to profit from. Please use this website to educate yourself on the background, language, implications, and enforcement of the AETA. Learn about the risks it poses to our basic American freedoms to advocate for social change, no matter what type of social change we are advocating for. Take this information to educate your friends and neighbors and start community dialogues about this law and its implications. Click here for a copy of our AETA trifold to disseminate in your community.
Although the AETA was officially birthed as a child of the post-September 11, 2001 “war on terror” hysteria, it has its roots in an earlier statute: the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA). (AEPA 1996) | (AEPA 2002). Upon the urging of a coalition formed by animal testing giant – the National Association for Biomedical Research – the U.S. Congress passed the AEPA in 1992. The purpose of the AEPA was to make it easier to silence animal rights advocates who are successful in publicly exposing business practices that abuse animals. AEPA was unprecedented: for the first time, Congress used the word “terrorist” to describe an individual who interfered with animal-based industries. The AEPA criminalized the actions of any individual who “intentionally damage[d] or cause[d] the loss of any property (including animals or records) used by the animal enterprise” while attempting to cause “physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise.” Under the AEPA, an individual who “caused” a property loss of $10,000 could be sentenced to fines and/or six months in prison. If an individual “caused” a property loss of more than $10,000, the sentence could be fines and/or three years in prison. Loss of property was not limited to physical property; the statute included loss of profits alone as an economic damage. If an individual caused “serious bodily injury” related to their AEPA-prohibited conduct, the sentence could be fines and 20 years in prison. If an individual caused a human death related to their AEPA-prohibited conduct, the sentence could be fines and life in prison. It’s important to note that in the history of the American animal rights movement, there has never been an injury or death to any animal or human.
Animal welfare and environmental protection groups raised concerns about the broad net cast by the vague language of the AEPA. What was of particular concern was the language “loss of any property,” which included profit loss. Campaigns for social change often involve physically disruptive actions, such as sit-ins and pickets, that lead to a loss of profits for a business. Indeed, some campaigns for social change are undertaken for the primary purpose of diminishing corporate profits in order to end exploitative business practices. One historic example is the divestment campaign staged in the United States to force South Africa to end its brutal apartheid regime. From 1948 to the early 1990′s, the government of South Africa enforced a racial segregation and discrimination policy onto its citizens, which severely curtailed the rights and liberties of nonwhites with respect to residency, travel, assembly, education, employment, and marriage. This policy was lethally enforced by the military and included many instances of arbitrary detention, torture, and killings by those state actors. The policy was intensely protested in South Africa and the government responded with violence and imprisonment of leading voices of dissent, such as Nelson Mandela. Eventually, the international community mounted enough pressure to force the South African government to end apartheid. One element of this international pressure that is widely recognized as a key factor that catalyzed the end of apartheid was the divestment campaign in the United States. University students and faculty all over the country held teach-ins and demonstrations, disrupted meetings, took over campus offices, and otherwise used physically disruptive tactics with the express intention of causing profit loss to the companies investing in South Africa. At Columbia University, students interrupted trustee meetings and took over the Graduate School of Business. At UC Berkeley, 61 students were arrested after building a shantytown in front of the chancellor’s office. As a result of these types of activities, the boards of trustees of several prominent universities voted to divest completely from South Africa and companies with major South African interests. These types of activities used to successfully end apartheid would have been considered terrorism under the AEPA if used to protest animal abuse and cruelty. Under the AEPA then, an individual could have been convicted for engaging in practices that are well-established forms of advocacy for social change.
Despite the alleged need for the AEPA, for many years the federal government failed to find any conduct to prosecute under the AEPA. Accordingly, lobbyists for animal industries began to urge Congress to widen the scope of the law. Around this time, the FBI pronounced that the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) – an underground animal rights activist movement that engages in direct action that causes property damage – was one of the top domestic terrorist threats in the U.S. However, this pronouncement was dubious because government agents and corporate lobbyists have completely failed to ever cite any ALF activity that has caused any human injury whatsoever. They cannot cite any such incidents because there has never been a human injury or death in the U.S. related to animal rights activism in the history of the animal rights movement. To the contrary, the ALF’s guiding principle is to be “a nonviolent campaign” in which activists take “all precautions not to harm any animal (human or otherwise).”
Significantly, other ideological groups routinely engage in conduct that does injure or kill humans, but individuals in those groups have not been singled out and labeled by the federal government as domestic terrorists. For example, FBI statistics show that there were more than 7,400 hate crimes motivated by race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation in 2003 alone. Since 1977, there have been at least 13,000 recorded acts of violence directed at the people who work in abortion clinics, including at least 7 murders. Between 1991 and 2001 there were 2,100 acts of violence against unions including bombings, shootings, and near fatal injuries. Additionally, FBI statistics have recorded hundreds of environmental crimes by industries violating laws that protect air quality and water quality, and require safe transportation and disposal of hazardous waste. That type of illegal destruction or damage to public property, which comprises human health with injury or death and causes millions of dollars in damage in restoration costs, is not considered terrorism by the FBI either.
Riding the government’s terrorism bandwagon, Edward J. Walsh of the National Animal Interest Alliance, an organization supported by animal industries, started pushing legislators to expand the AEPA to include such benign acts as “pies in the face.” According to Walsh, this type of conduct – such as the PETA activist who threw a tofu-cream pie in the Canadian Prime Minister’s face – is a terrorist act and must be punished with a long federal prison sentence. In response to citizens who questioned the constitutionality of his proposed expansions, Walsh fell back on the overworked hyperbole of the post-September 11, 2001 terrorism hysteria by stating that members of Congress who did not want to expand the AEPA were “aiding and abetting terrorism . . . .”
The AEPA has not been used often, but it has been used to convict animal rights activists for constitutionally protected conduct. Federal prosecutors used the AEPA against individuals who volunteered for the Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign. See http://www.shac.net. The SHAC volunteers were convicted of conspiracy to violate the AEPA for merely helping to run a website. The government argued that the SHAC volunteers disrupted the commercial activity of the Huntington Life Sciences (HLS) laboratory, in violation of AEPA, because a video was posted on the SHAC website that exposed the torture of dogs inside the HLS laboratory. The website also posted videos from five undercover investigations at the HLS laboratory that had recorded heart-wrenching animal abuse by HLS employee such as research scientists punching beagles in the face and dissecting live, conscious monkeys. The website also exposed instances where HLS had falsified scientific data in order to promote animal testing. The media attention garnered by the SHAC website resulted in the corporation losing investors and money. Ultimately, HLS was even dropped from the New York Stock Exchange as a result of the public outcry over its abusive practices.
The FBI could not catch the individuals responsible for the undercover HLS video investigations, so instead they arrested the SHAC volunteers who were helping to run the website and charged them with conspiracy under the AEPA. Thus, volunteering to help run a website, alone, was enough to land the SHAC volunteers in federal prison. They collectively faced 24 years in prison and restitution to HLS exceeding one million dollars.
As this case illustrates, in the wake of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration’s “war on terror” has descended into hysterical scape-goating reminiscent of the anti-communist “Red Scare” of the 1950′s, wherein political activists are demonized because their beliefs challenge the dominant social paradigm. As historians and journalists have documented, the term “terrorism” has historically been used by governments “to keep the population afraid and insecure,” and create a kind of lynch mob hysteria in order to achieve political goals. Although the new hysteria over terrorism has encouraged the mainstream media to swallow and promote the notion that political activists who cause profit loss to industry are terrorists, more well-established and logical definitions of terrorism define it as activity intended to kill humans for political purposes. This distinction has been lost in the rush to prosecute non-violent activists as terrorists.
In 2002, James F. Jarboe, Domestic Terrorism Section Chief of the FBI Counterterrorism Division testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Resource Committee and Subcommittee on Forest and Forest Health. While recognizing that the ALF “discourages acts that harm an animal, human and nonhuman,” he asserted that the ALF had emerged as a “serious terrorist threat” because ALF- associated conduct had caused millions of dollars of economic damage. Jarboe further pronounced that the ALF was the “top priority in domestic terrorism.” He called the activities of the ALF “ecoterrorism,” and defined that term as “the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target often of a symbolic nature.” Thus, Jarboe made it clear that the FBI considers a threat to cause symbolic property damage to be an “eco- terrorist” act if it is motivated by concerns for animal welfare, regardless of whether or not property damage ever materializes.
1. David Barsamian, They Call All Resistance “Terrorism,” INT’L SOCIALIST REV., Aug.–Sept. 2001; Howard Zinn, TERRORISM AND WAR 57 (2002); Andrew Hartman, The Politicization of Terror: September 11 and American Historical Selectivity, Z MAGAZINE, Dec. 2001, at 25.
Animal-based industries exploited this new government rhetoric to bolster their lobbying efforts to expand the reach of the AEPA under a new name: the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). The AETA was originally drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). See http://www.alecwatch.org
ALEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that consists of state and federal legislators who are funded by corporate donors to draft and introduce industry–friendly legislation. When the AETA legislation was passed, ALEC included over 2,400 state lawmakers and members, as well as alumni of at least nine state governors and 80 members of the U.S. Congress. The group is funded primarily by large corporations, industry groups, and conservative foundations that pay up to $50,000 a year (in a tax-deductible donation) in membership dues; members have included corporations like Philip Morris, Johnson & Johnson, Bayer Corp., and Enron. In 2000 alone, ALEC members introduced and convinced legislatures to pass 450 ALEC-drafted laws.
U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced ALEC’s AETA proposal to the U.S. Senate as S. 3880 and it was passed on September 29, 2006. The bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Republican Thomas Petri as H.R. 4239 the day after the federal mid-term elections. Many members of the House were still on vacation. Only one Representative, Dennis Kucinich, spoke out against the bill. The House approved the bill via a voice vote on November 13, 2006 under suspension of the general rules for deliberative assemblies, which is a procedure usually reserved for non-controversial legislation. Not one lawmaker present in the House, not even Kucinich, proposed to take a roll call, and had a roll call been performed, it would have shown that there were not enough legislators present to legitimately pass the bill. The AETA was signed into law by former President George W. Bush on November 27, 2006.
Language Of The Law
The AETA criminalizes damage of, and/or interference with, an animal enterprise if any property is lost or damaged, any person is placed in “reasonable fear” of death or serious bodily injury, or if an actor conspires or attempts to do either thing. The definition of “economic damage” includes “loss of profits” and “increased costs resulting from . . . trespass . . . or [resulting from] intimidation against a person or entity . . . .” The penalty section of the AETA requires that even if there is no property loss or damage, and no fear instilled in any person, there is still a sentence of a fine and/or a maximum of one year in prison for violation of the AETA. This penalty could apply in a situation where there may have been an “attempt” to conduct, or a “conspiracy” among several individuals to implement, a protest that never came to fruition, and thus never actually caused a loss of profits. If there is no injury or fear by any person but there is over $10,000 of “economic damage,” the statutory penalty is a fine and a maximum of 5 years in prison. If there is no injury or fear by any person but there is over $100,000 of “economic damage,” the statutory penalty is a fine and a maximum of 10 years in prison. If there is no injury or fear by any person but there is over $1,000,000 of “economic damage,” the statutory penalty is a fine and a maximum of 20 years in prison. So, for example, if the internet publication of video recordings of animal abuse at Huntington Life Sciences resulted in a corporate profit loss of over $1,000,000, the individuals who published the recordings on the internet would each be facing up to 20 years in prison. Moreover, if those same individuals had planned to post the recordings on a website, or attempted to post the recordings on a website, but ultimately never posted them, they would still be facing up to 20 years for “attempt” or “conspiracy” to interfere with profits. (And of course it is the corporation that determines what the profit loss is, which leads to blatant and gross exaggerations in the amount of monetary damage actually claimed).
Another example of effective animal rights advocacy that could now be prosecuted as “eco-terrorism” under AETA is the much-publicized undercover investigation of abuse of “downed cows” by the Humane Society of the U.S. In 2008, the Humane Society released a shocking video that showed employees from the Hallmark/Westland slaughterhouse of Chino, California kicking cows, ramming cows with blades of a forklift, and applying painful electric shocks to the cows in order to force them to stand up and walk to slaughter. See http://www.humanesociety.org/video (search for “Downed Cows”). The cows featured in the video were mostly “downed cows,” which are cows that are too sick or weak to stand. Downed cows often host food-borne pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella, and consumption of downed cow meat is linked to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as “mad cow disease.” At the time of the investigation, more than 100,000 schools and childcare facilities were consuming beef from the Hallmark slaughterhouse.
The Humane Society’s exposure of Hallmark’s slaughterhouse practices catalyzed a major political response. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended Hallmark’s eligibility for participation in federal lunch programs, shut down the plant for “egregious” regulatory violations, and recalled 143 billion pounds of Hallmark meat (the largest beef recall in U.S. history). The cost of the recall, to the company and the government, is estimated at over one billion dollars. The U.S. Congress held eight hearings to discuss the issue of consumption of downed cows, and eventually President Barack Obama announced that downed cows would be banned from human consumption. The local county prosecutor initiated criminal investigations of the Hallmark plant’s manager and the manager eventually pled guilty to two felony counts of animal abuse.
Although the Humane Society’s internet publication of the results of its undercover investigation obviously resulted in criminal justice and a safer food supply, under the AETA the Humane Society investigators could find themselves answering to federal felony charges for interfering with Hallmark’s profits. Under the AETA, “animal enterprise” includes any “commercial . . . enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products for profit, food or fiber production.” Certainly a slaughterhouse qualifies as a commercial enterprise that uses and sells animals for food. Furthermore, the AETA criminalizes interference with an animal enterprise if any property is lost or damaged, and the definition of “economic damage” includes “loss of profits.” The massive beef recall and suspension from participation in federal contracts, which led to a profit loss of millions of dollars for Hallmark, was entirely the result of the Humane Society’s investigation. Thus, the socially beneficial and constitutionally protected conduct of the Humane Society investigators falls well within the conduct prohibited by the AETA. Under the AETA, the investigators could each face up to 20 years in prison.
It is critical to highlight the fact that the prison terms meted out by the AETA are tiered according to the amount of profit loss claimed by the corporation. Instead of setting one maximum prison term for any action that violates the AETA by causing profit loss, but does not cause fear or injury, and leaving the profit loss amount relevant only to the restitution inquiry, which was how AEPA was structured, the AETA premises the potential term of incarceration on the amount of profits lost by the corporation. Clearly, by its plain language then, the AETA is primarily geared toward imprisoning individuals for diminishing corporate profits as a result of effective advocacy, and the more effective the advocacy, the longer the prison sentence.
In addition to the penalties authorized by the language of the AETA itself, the federal government also uses “sentencing guidelines” to determine an individual’s sentence. These guidelines include an “enhancement,” which allows increased penalties, for actions that the government deems to be “terrorism.” For example, the federal sentencing guidelines provide that a first offense act of arson alone should have a sentence of 33-41 months (2 – 4 years). But with a terrorism sentence enhancement that sentence (for the same crime) becomes 168 – 210 months (14 -15 years). In addition, receiving the terrorist label at sentencing directly affects the type of incarceration an individual will face: the federal Bureau of Prisons considers the terrorist designation seriously and assigns such prisoners to maximum security prisons or super-maximum security prisons. These facilities are designed to house the most violent criminal offenders in the nation and may require 23 hours of lockdown in a cell each day, as well as limit conversation with family to one hour per month. The government could certainly argue that a conviction under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act merits a terrorism sentencing enhancement. In fact, Andy Steppanian, one of the SHAC defendants, was the first white person to be sent to the super-max “Communication Management Unit” in FCI Marion, IL. His “terrorist” crime was helping to organize a public campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences (animal torturers).
The AETA has significantly broadened the scope of conduct that was prohibited under the AEPA, expanded the potential “victims,” and increased the penalties. There is no longer a requirement for a physical disruption; now only an “interfere[ence]” is required. There is now a much more expansive and ambiguous definition of “economic damage,” which includes “costs resulting from threats, acts or vandalism, property damage, trespass, harassment, or intimidation.” There is no longer a requirement that the conduct affect an animal enterprise; now conduct is criminal even if it only affects parties “having a connection to . . . animal enterprise,” otherwise known as ‘tertiary targets.’ The penalties for nonviolent conduct have increased from a maximum of three years in prison to a maximum of 20 years for the same nonviolent conduct. Finally, whereas the AEPA required some kind of actual loss of property for a terrorism charge, the AETA completely dispenses with that requirement and allows for criminal convictions for actions that “place a person in reasonable fear” of serious bodily injury to themselves or their family “by a course of conduct involving threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, criminal trespass, harassment, or intimidation.” Thus, if an owner of a business feels intimidated or harassed by an animal rights campaign, but no actual property damage, profit loss, or injury ever occurs, there may still be grounds for terrorism charge under the AETA.
We have constitutional safeguards for a reason. Without the undercover work and exposure from the Humane Society in the Hallmark downed cow case, our nation would have been completely oblivious to the fact that school lunches being served to thousands of children contained potentially deadly meat. The AETA compromises the likelihood of future undercover exposes, like the Humane Society’s investigation of Hallmark, by threatening federal prison terms, exorbitant fines, and a terrorist label for that type of conduct, as discussed above. But it’s not just animal rights advocates that need to be concerned about the AETA, other advocates for progressive social change, who threaten corporate profit margins, will be next on the chopping block if we don’t act now.
As discussed above, the AETA classifies something as benign as the posting of undercover video investigations of animal abuse on the internet as terrorism. It is clear that this classification is in place to demonize and silence any form of protest that might actually change business as usual. The AETA is unconstitutional because it is too broad and too vague. Ordinary citizens engaged in traditional forms of protest activities would not know that they are violating the seemingly limitless boundaries of the law. The terms of the law are so ill-defined that nearly any act of protest can result in an indictment. Techniques that have been used for decades in various social movements – sit-ins, pickets, strikes, marches – are now acts of terrorism if they cause profit loss to an animal enterprise, or it they could hypothetically cause that profit loss. What used to be constitutionally protected rights to free speech and protest are eviscerated by the AETA.
By providing the federal government with the means to indict activists as terrorists, the AETA will have a “chilling effect” on constitutionally protected activities. The legal concept of “chill” or a “chilling effect” is part of both substantive and procedural constitutional legal doctrines that have been firmly established by the United States Supreme Court at least since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950′s and 60′s. In multiple cases, the Supreme Court outlawed government activity that forced individuals to disclose associational ties (e.g., Communist Party membership) and forced organizations to disclose membership lists (e.g., NAACP members) and found that such government activity has a chilling effect on the constitutional freedom of association found in the First Amendment. Although the chilling effect doctrine protects all constitutionally protected activity, it is especially applicable to the protection of First Amendment activity, such as the right to free speech and to form assemblies. Our First Amendment jurisprudence illustrates that the intention of the original drafters of the Constitution was to protect our freedom to engage in political expression from tyrannical government activity, such as repressive federal laws, that would diminish that freedom.
Essentially, the chilling effect occurs when government conduct deters individuals from engaging in constitutionally protected activity for fear of punishment or unfavorable social repercussions. The chilling government conduct might come in the form of a law, accompanied by punishment for violating the law in the forms of fines, imprisonment, civil liability, or deprivation of government benefits. Unfavorable social repercussions created by the government might include conduct such as government surveillance or contrivance of public hostility towards a targeted group that leads to a decline in organizational membership.
Following this definition of the chilling effect, it seems fairly obvious that on its face, AETA is a law designed to chill animal rights advocates from exercising their First Amendment rights. By labeling anyone that “interferes” with industry profits as a terrorist, and by imposing harsh prison sentences and/or fines on those that are convicted, the AETA will deter those that wish to peacefully advocate for animal rights. Regardless of whether one agrees with animal rights advocates or not, animal welfare is topic that deserves to be openly, honestly, and publicly debated. The AETA sabotages this dialogue by prioritizing corporate profits above public discussion. If we don’t stop the AETA in its tracks now, there is nothing to prevent industry groups from continuing to push the envelope and lobby for legislation that criminalizes and chills the First Amendment conduct of other progressive groups and movements. Who will be next?
In the section below, we are compiling a summary of all cases prosecuted under the AETA to date. All of the cases so far are incidents of nonviolent protest and property damage that are being prosecuted as terrorist acts. Please check back regularly for updates.
Case of Buddenburg, Khajavi, Pope, and Stumpo (AETA 4)
On February 20, 2009 four young people, Joseph Buddenburg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope, and Adriana Stumpo were arrested and charged with violating the AETA. There are three separate incidents alleged in the indictment against the four defendants. The first incident occurred on October 21, 2007, when a group of 20 protesters demonstrated outside of a University of California, Berkeley professor’s home in El Cerrito, California. Federal investigators allege the protestors trespassed onto the front yard of the professor’s home, rang his doorbell, and made noise chanting “animal rights slogans,” such as “1, 2, 3, 4! Open up the cage door! 5, 6, 7, 8! Smash the locks and liberate!”
The second incident in the indictment occurred on January 27, 2008. Eleven protestors marched down a public sidewalk in front of the homes of several University of California researchers. The government alleges that the protestors chanted “defamatory” comments and used chalk to write “defamatory” messages about the professors/vivisectors on the public sidewalk. They also alleged that unknown protestors confronted the vivisector on the front porch of its house and a slight tussle ensued. The third incident in the indictment simply states that “[o]n or about January 27, 2008, defendants POPE and STUMPO used the Internet to find information on bio-medical researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.” That’s right. Two of the defendants faced federal terrorism charges for “using the Internet.” [HYPERLINK to Green Scare timeline—AETA 4 indictment]. In July of 2010, the court dismissed the indictments against the defendants because the indictments did not specify the alleged criminal conduct at a level that satisfied the Fifth Amendment, and because the indictment did not comply with procedural rules. (Link to dismissal PDF).
The court specifically noted:
In order for an indictment to fulfill its constitutional purposes, it must allege facts that sufficiently inform each defendant of what it is that he or she is alleged to have done that constitutes a crime. This is particularly important where the species of behavior in question spans a wide spectrum from criminal conduct to constitutionally protected political protest. While “true threats” enjoy no First Amendment protection, picketing and political protest are at the very core of what is protected by the First Amendment. Where the defendants’ conduct falls on this spectrum in this case will very likely ultimately be decided by a jury. Before this case proceeds to a jury, however, the defendants are entitled to a more specific indictment setting forth their conduct alleged to be criminal.
However, the judge dismissed the indictments without prejudice, which means that the government may file new indictments at any time. The support site is http://www.aeta4.org.
Case of Viehl and Hall
On March 5, 2009, two young people, William Viehl and Alex Hall, were indicted on two counts of violating the AETA. Their indictments allege that they were involved with an August 2008 release of 300 mink from McMullin and Sons Fur Farm, a South Jordan, Utah facility that raises mink and slaughters them for their fur pelts. The indictments also allege that they were involved with spray-painted slogans that were found on the scene of the South Jordan, Utah mink release that stated “No More Mink, No More Murder” and “ALF: We Are Watching.” [HYPERLINK timeline-AETA Utah INDICTMENTS] The first charge is a felony, which could mean up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The second charge, a misdemeanor, could mean up to a year in prison. Viehl negotiated a noncooperation plea deal with federal prosecutors and appeared before a Utah federal judge to change his plea and resolve his case. The judge initially refused to accept the plea because he felt it was not enough punishment for a ‘terrorist crime.’ Ultimately, both Viehl and Hall entered into noncooperation plea deals, and were sentenced. See the CLDC Green Scare timeline for more details about their case. The support site is http://www.supportbjandalex.com
Case of Halliday
On March 12, 2009, a young Utah animal rights activist, Jordan Halliday, was jailed for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury about his political beliefs and political associations within the Utah animal rights advocacy community. Halliday attempted to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, but the federal prosecutors refused to acknowledge that right in the grand jury context. He was jailed for civil contempt after refusing to comply with a court order to snitch on his community in front of the grand jury. In grand jury proceedings, the testimony takes place before a jury, prosecutor, and judge that operate in secrecy. Defense lawyers are forbidden from being present with their clients in the grand jury room. The normal rules of evidence – which are designed to filter and balance available evidence so that jurors are not unduly misled or confused by lies, inflammatory rhetoric, or prejudicial information – do not apply. The lack of protections for witnesses at grand jury proceedings allows the government to abuse the proceedings for the purpose of gathering information about the lives of political activists.
In a clear act of retaliation, and for the first time in over 30 years, on June 29th, 2010 Jordan was officially charged with criminal contempt of court for refusing to testify before the grand jury. The Utah AETA case had already been resolved at the time the US Attorney charged him with this crime. On July 27th, 2010, he pleaded guilty to the charge and on November 3rd, 2010 he was sentenced to 10 months in prison and 3 years of probation upon release. Both Jordan and his lawyer believe that this sentence is too harsh, as he has already served time for civil contempt. They are in the process of filing an appeal. The support site is http://www.supportjordan.com
Case of Demuth and Feldman
In November 2009, federal prosecutors in Iowa subpoenaed two young people, Scott DeMuth and Carrie Feldman, to testify before a grand jury ostensibly regarding an incident five years prior in which lab rats and mice were removed from the University of Iowa’s Psychology Department, and computers were vandalized. No one was injured in the incident. The government did not provide any reason for suspecting that Demuth and Feldman were connected to the crime (Demuth was 18, Feldman was 15 at the time of the incident). When Demuth and Feldman were called to testify before the grand jury about their beliefs and affiliations with animal rights organizations, they invoked their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. After both refused to testify, the court held them in contempt of court and they were jailed.
On November 19, 2009, DeMuth was indicted under the AETA for conspiring to commit the break-in at the University of Iowa lab. [HYPERLINK Green Scare timeline—Iowa AETA--FIRST INDICTMENT]. Although the prosecutor fervently argued that DeMuth is a “domestic terrorist,” the federal magistrate judge released DeMuth from jail on November 30, 2009, pending his trial. On September 13, 2010, DeMuth pled guilty to one count of misdemeanor conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism under the AEPA for an unrelated action causing less than $10,000 in damage for his role in the April 29, 2006 ALF raid on Lakeside Ferrets, Inc., in Howard Lake, Minnesota. The plea was to a lesser included charge of the second superseding indictment. [HYPERLINK Green Scare timeline--2ND INDICTMENT]. As a condition of the plea agreement, the government will ask for a sentence of the full six months in prison, but not for the imposition of any fine. Demuth did not testify against anyone else in the process of signing his personal plea agreement. Demuth’s sentencing has been scheduled for December 15, 2010, with a surrender date likely to be set for early 2011.
After Feldman refused to testify before the grand jury, she was also jailed for contempt of court. She appealed her contempt ruling, but in a 2-1 split decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit declined to order her release (read the complete Court decision by clicking here). Feldman was kept in jail for contempt of court until her release on March 19, 2010.
The support site is http://davenportgrandjury.wordpress.com
HELP US ABOLISH THE AETA!
Advocating for social change is not terrorism
The Civil Liberties Defense Center is working with organizations across the country to abolish the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and end this assault on our constitutional rights. We are educating the public about how the AETA represses free speech and association and will continue to assist activists in the Courts who are facing AETA charges. We are striving to facilitate a more critical, aware, and active community in which people know their rights and how to protect them. Please join us in this important struggle.
What You Can Do:
- Organize a presentation;
- Distribute information in your workplace, school, or community;
- Hold fundraisers for organizations, such as the Civil Liberties Defense Center, that are working to combat AETA;
- Continue working for animal rights and other progressive social causes;
- Write a letter to your local newspaper;
- Call, write a letter, or email your Senators and Representative(s) in Washington, D.C.