Later this month, November 22nd to 28th is a National Week of Action against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The Week of Action precedes the sentencing hearings of Tyler Lang and Kevin Johnson (aka Kevin Olliff) who have plead guilty to charges under the AETA for freeing animals from fur farms; Tyler and Kevin await sentencing in 2016. As people plan events for the Week of Action and prepare to show support for Tyler and Kevin as they face sentencing, protest against the AETA must be accompanied by a discussion of how the AETA is crafted to stifle dissent—so as to prevent it from being a legislative monster-under-the-bed that actually has a chilling effect.
As many longtime CLDC supporters know, it was in 2006 that the AETA was passed into law and the CLDC began advocating and litigating to have the law found unconstitutional. The AETA was crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of corporate power players who write pieces of model legislation that suit their interests, and then ALEC passes off the legislation to members of Congress. Many members of ALEC are part of the pharmaceutical, big agriculture, and other industries that exploit and kill animals for profit—industries that have a huge interest in stopping animal liberation activists from being effective. The AETA was also pushed by the Animal Enterprise Protection Coalition, which was started by the National Association of Biomedical Researchers and is comprised of members of the animal testing, pharmaceutical, fur, ranching, animal entertainment, and other industries.
Prior to the AETA, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act had been in play since 1992, but the AETA expanded the AEPA to include secondary and tertiary targets (because of the infamous Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty—SHAC—campaign, which also targeted suppliers, financial supporters, etc. of Huntingdon Life Sciences, a notorious contract animal testing laboratory). The crafting of the AETA also exchanged the word “protection” for “terrorism”—a sign of the times in the post 9-11 era.
ALEC, AEPC, and the government are able to use their power to carry out their interests in deterring people from engaging in animal liberation activism because the government uses the label of “terrorism” with a lot of flexibility in order to be able to manipulate public fear based on its interests of the day, and this context left the label open for ALEC to apply it to the animal liberation movement. And so ALEC devised the AETA– legislation not meant so much for prosecuting activists (Tyler and Kevin are among only a handful of people who have actually been indicted under the AETA), but to conjure public fear of the animal liberation movement and deter people from even getting involved in activism, let alone have an actual impact on animal enterprises. The original draft of the AETA was actually the Animal and Environmental Terrorism Act and would have applied to environmental actions as well.
As people fight back against the AETA, the fight can’t be waged in a way that simply gives more exposure to the terrorism rhetoric and of course we should not be astonished that a resistance movement would become the target of some of the tactics of government repression. The best way to combat such repression is to engage even more strategically and effectively in your activism—fear and paralysis is exactly what the government and industries are hoping for. The U.S. government, often in coordination with corporations, has a long and continued history of targeting all those who are political threats in attempts to silence stirrings of dissent and resistance. Becoming a part of that history should mean accepting a responsibility to fight for and with all who struggle against colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and other intersecting forces that create and perpetuate the oppression of both human and non-human animals—rather than letting the State divide and destroy.
A spirit of solidarity in resistance should be the normative framework through which we view legislation such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Every inclination to be astonished by labeling people as terrorists for opening cages to free animals should be met with the reminder that it’s not about what people actually do, but how much what they do is a threat to the status quo—and being a threat to the status quo is a first spark of change. Every inclination to act like animal liberation activists are special for experiencing State repression should be met with the reminder that there are many movements and communities that have a deep history of repression that hasn’t ceased—and that unbreakable bonds can be formed out of having each other’s backs in struggle. Every inclination to consider abandoning work for animals should be met with the reminder that many don’t have the privilege of escaping that which brings attention from the State—and attention from the State should teach us how important our dedication to each other is. Every inclination to feel powerless against the government and corporations should be met with the reminder that it is their goal to make us feel like that—and so it must be our goal to not let that feeling settle inside us, to not let it stop us.
Perhaps someday a legal challenge will mean that the AETA is no longer on the books, but real pushback has to come from multiple avenues, with one of the most powerful being for political movements to show the government and corporations that their attempts to label us in ways that leaves us vulnerable to intrusions from the State won’t work to slow down movements. Even when we are fearful, we have to bring our focus and dedication back to why we are fighting. And at the times when our friends and comrades are taken from us and held far away, we have to show that will only motivate us to build our strength together. The Civil Liberties Defense Center has attempted to be both attorneys and comrades in struggle. When people are locked in jails, CLDC lawyers can provide trusting attorney visits with those incarcerated. When they are charged with unconstitutional laws, CLDC lawyers fight in the courts as well as in the public domain to demonstrate injustice. Assert your rights, we’ve got your back!