Where's the legal line drawn in animal-rights activism?

Reply Sat 14 Jan, 2012 11:36 am
Jan. 13, 2012
Where's the legal line drawn in animal-rights activism?
Michael Doyle | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: January 13, 2012 05:10:32 PM

WASHINGTON — A federal courthouse in Boston and a ranch in California's San Joaquin Valley present competing faces of the animal rights movement.

One side is peaceful. The other, decidedly, is not. Both can feel the weight of the law and the sting of being called a terrorist.

At the giant Harris Ranch, in western Fresno County, investigators are trying to solve the Jan. 8 arson that damaged 14 tractors and several cattle-hauling trailers. Anonymous animal-rights activists claimed responsibility for the fire.

The Harris Ranch arson was clearly a crime, however it happened. But in a new lawsuit, animal advocates with a far different tactical approach contend that Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other lawmakers went too far the last time Congress addressed animal rights activism, in 2006.

"We're not saying that one can't punish arson," attorney Rachel Meeropol said in an interview Friday, "but that's not what the (2006) law is about. The law reaches far too broadly."

Meeropol, who's with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, is representing Minneapolis resident Sarahjane Blum and four other activists in the lawsuit, filed Dec. 15. It argues that the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act violates the First Amendment rights of those who want to protest how animals are treated.

Blum, for one, founded GourmetCruelty.com, whose advocacy efforts helped persuade the California legislature in 2004 to ban traditional foie gras production. The ban, which blocks the force-feeding of ducks "for the purpose of enlarging the bird's liver beyond normal size," takes effect in July.

Under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, animal rights advocates may be prosecuted for actions that cause "the loss of any real or personal property ... used by an animal enterprise" and for interstate travel that has the "purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise."

The animal-rights advocates' lawsuit argues that the broadly worded law could be used to prosecute activities such as picketing, if companies lose business or have to pay for extra security because of it.

Blum "was stunned that the ethical, important work that she had devoted her life to had been turned overnight into terrorism," the lawsuit says, adding that she now curtails advocacy "that risks prosecution" under the law.

The Justice Department hasn't filed its response.

Lawmakers, though, say tougher laws and stricter penalties are needed to stop zealous activism that evolves into violence. Feinstein, in supporting the 2006 law, cited attempted bombings that targeted a University of California at Los Angeles primate research center and a San Francisco Bay Area pharmaceutical company.

"This legislation is crucial to respond to the expanded scope of terrorist activity," Feinstein said during Senate debate.

Feinstein was the only Democrat to join Republicans, including Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and current presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, in co-sponsoring the Senate bill. It eventually passed the House of Representatives and the Senate easily, but it hasn't yet been extensively used.

In 2009, federal prosecutors used the law to charge four activists with going too far in their protests against animal research labs at University of California campuses at Berkeley and Santa Cruz.

"The defendants are accused of chanting slogans such as '1, 2, 3, 4, open up the cage door; 5, 6, 7, 8, smash the locks and liberate; 9, 10, 11, 12, vivisectors go to hell," the Justice Department noted in a June 15, 2009, court filing.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte, whom President George H.W. Bush appointed to the bench, dismissed the case in 2010.

In another rare use of the law, Utah residents William Viehl and Alex Hall pleaded guilty and were sentenced to nearly two years in prison for releasing hundreds of minks in 2008 at a mink farm and spray-painting slogans that included, "No more mink, no more murder."

The Utah incident was less kinetic than what happened near Coalinga, Calif. on the early morning of Jan. 8, when firefighters needed 45 minutes to put out a blaze that started at the Harris Ranch truck storage area.

An anonymous statement subsequently posted on a website maintained by the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which calls itself a clearinghouse for others, said the attack showed "the enemy is still vulnerable" and signed off "until next time."

Feinstein's office has been in contact with the Harris Ranch since the incident, according to a spokesman.

Farm groups insist that animal-rights groups must help find the perpetrators.

"If they sit by silently while animal rightists attack law-abiding businesses, they are passively endorsing domestic terrorism," Paul Wenger, the president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, said this week in a statement.


Blum v. Holder animal rights lawsuit
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Reply Sat 14 Jan, 2012 11:42 am
Blum v. Holder

Blum v. Holder is a federal lawsuit challenging the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. The plaintiffs are five longtime animal rights activists whose advocacy work has been chilled due to fear of being prosecuted as a terrorist under the AETA.

On December 15, 2011 this case was filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Massachusetts.

Blum v. Holder is a facial challenge to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA.) Passed by Congress in November 2006, the AETA is aimed at suppressing speech and advocacy surrounding certain industries by criminalizing First Amendment-protected activities such as protests, boycotts, picketing and whistle-blowing. The statute punishes anyone found to have caused the loss of property or profits by a business or other institution that uses or sells animals (or animal products), or has “a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.”

Pushed through Congress by a powerful lobby of pharmaceutical corporations and groups like the Fur Commission USA and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the AETA is an unconstitutional law because it criminalizes a broad swath of protected First Amendment activities and is so unclear as to fail to give people notice of whether or not their conduct is lawful.

The Blum plaintiffs are animal rights activists from across the country who are chilled from continuing their lawful and important advocacy work based on the broad reach of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Sarahjane Blum lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she runs a small business with her husband. In 2003, Sarahjane co-founded GourmetCruelty.com , a grassroots coalition dedicated to exposing the abuse of ducks and geese raised for foie gras. The following year, the group released a short film, Delicacy of Despair, Behind the Closed Doors of the Foie Gras Industry, documenting their investigation of deplorable conditions on foie gras farms, and featuring the “open rescue” of a number of ducks. Sarahjane would like to continue her anti-foie gras work in Minnesota, which has become a significant foie gras producer, without breaking the law. But she is limited in her ability to do so, as the AETA criminalizes campaigns like hers that could cause a foie gras farm to lose profit, or hire extra security.

Ryan Shapiro lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is completing a PhD at MIT. Ryan’s research focuses on disputes over animals and national security. In particular, his work explores the use of the rhetoric and apparatus of national security to marginalize animal protectionists as threats to American security from the late nineteenth century to the present. A longtime grassroots animal rights activist, Ryan co-founded GourmetCruelty.com with Sarahjane, and has focused much of his activism on factory farming issues. Ryan’s work, along with that of Sarahjane and the rest of the coalition, was instrumental in the 2004 passage of a California State law banning all foie gras production within the State. Ryan holds a degree in film and used these skills to direct Delicacy of Despair. Ryan wishes to further utilize his expertise to document and expose animal exploitation and abuse on factory farms. He is chilled from engaging in this important work, however, because documenting and distributing evidence of animal exploitation and abuse risks prosecution as a terrorist under the AETA.

Lana Lehr lives in Bethesda, Maryland. She is a licensed psychotherapist, and has been seeing patients in private practice for over 20 years. After adopting a rescued rabbit, Lana became interested in rabbit care and advocacy issues, eventually co-founding RabbitWise , a public charity devoted to preventing the irresponsible acquisition and care of companion rabbits, improving retention rates of rabbits already living in homes, educating people who live with or treat rabbits to give them the best possible care, and advocating for the broader welfare of rabbits in general. Lana used to supplement her rabbit advocacy by organizing and attending lawful, peaceful anti-fur protests in DC, but she is now afraid to attend such protests out of fear that even a lawful protest, which causes a fur store to lose money, would violate the AETA and risk prosecution as a terrorist.

Lauren Gazzola lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she works in the communications department of a non-profit legal organization. Lauren served almost three and a half years in federal prison after being convicted, along with five others, under a prior version of the AETA – The Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992. Lauren’s arrest and prosecution arose from her leadership role in Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a grassroots campaign devoted to exposing and ending horrific animal abuse at Huntington Life Sciences, a corporation made infamous after undercover investigators disclosed footage of researchers dissecting a conscious monkey, repeatedly punching beagle puppies in the face, and other abuse. Lauren and the other SHAC defendants were not prosecuted for personally damaging Huntington property but, rather, for running a website that reported on and endorsed legal and illegal protests that caused the company to lose money. Now that she is out of prison, Lauren would like to engage in lawful animal rights work, but she cannot tell what is protected by the First Amendment and what is not, due to the broad reach and vague language of the AETA.

J Johnson also lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he is an undergraduate at The New School. J moved to New York recently, from his native Chicago, where he spent close to a decade organizing protests and educating the public as a leader in the Chicago-area SHAC campaign. He left Chicago due in large part to the erosion there of long standing animal rights networks and his resulting inability to effectively organize demonstrations. Upon arriving in New York, he hoped to connect with others involved in sustainable and strategic animal rights campaigns, but has had trouble finding advocates to work with, due to a chill throughout the animal rights community as whole, based on the targeting of that community as would-be terrorists under the AETA.

CCR filed the lawsuit along with co-counsel Alexander Reinert, an associate professor at Cardozo Law School, and David Milton and Howard Friedman, at the Law Offices of Howard Friedman PC.


December 15, 2011 - Case was filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Massachusets
Attached Files

Blum v Holder Complaint.pdf
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