In 1970, Congress enacted the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1961, ostensibly to curtail the criminal activities of the mafia. In the forty years since RICO was enacted, the application of the law has extended far beyond the activities of loansharks and the "Don," and into Constitutionally protected protest activities. Over time, the federal courts have gradually made the original intent of RICO — i.e. stopping the criminal activities of the mafia — less and less significant. Instead, the courts have issued interpretations of RICO that consistently ignore this intent and allow the law to be used as a way to silence advocates for social change. Animal welfare organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), as well as many others have been victims of RICO prosecutions.
MYTH: Senators Feinstein and Inhofe claim on their website that "AETA gives law enforcement the tools they need to adequately combat radical animal rights extremists who commit violent acts against innocent people because they work with animals. This is terrorism and cannot be tolerated.
In 1964, in New York Times v. Sullivan, the United States Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects individuals who make defamatory statements related to matters of public concern, so long as such statements are not made with actual malicious or in reckless disregard of the truth. The Court reached this decision "against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open." (1) Their decision set the precedent for a heightened burden of proof in defamation cases that involve matters of public concern.(2)