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(DV) Hall: The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act May Soon Be Law -- How Could This Happen?







The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act May Soon Be Law
How Could This Happen? 

by Lee Hall
October 31, 2006

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The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (H.R. 4239) is just days away from action in the House of Representatives. The bill sets out to label a wide range of advocacy “terrorism” for damaging or disrupting an animal-use enterprise or connected businesses. Although it exempts “lawful economic disruption that results from lawful public, governmental, or business reaction to the disclosure of information” about an enterprise, it could make nonviolent acts of civil disobedience into “terrorism” where they substantially affect corporate profits. An effective campaign using mailings and demonstrations against an animal circus, for example, could be called terrorism under the Act because it disrupted the enterprise.

The bill also aims to place “force, violence and threats involving animal enterprises” inside another federal law -- one that authorizes “interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications.”

Charged advocates could face long jail terms, or at a minimum be forced to spend substantial time and resources arguing that the action was constitutionally protected expression. Win or lose, those so charged would have to live with the stigma of being associated, however fallaciously, with terrorism. Other advocates might deliberately weaken or avoid what would otherwise be effective campaigns, so as to not suffer the same fate as people unfairly targeted under such a law. That is what’s known as the “chilling effect” on First Amendment rights.

The bill is redundant, as federal laws already provide penalties for violent activities targeting animal enterprises. If it becomes law, its ill-defined terms will vex potential whistleblowers and capable advocates alike.  Its enactment will add to the current anxiety surrounding rights of association and expression -- rights essential to any society in which people’s opinions matter.   

The AETA has already passed the Senate -- by unanimous consent. It’s now pending in the House. Industry groups eagerly await a Congressional stamp of approval when lawmakers return from recess on the 13th of November.

And it’s not just AETA. At the state level as well as the federal level, and indeed internationally, the proliferation of terror-themed laws with vague applications and crushing consequences seems unstoppable. To effectively address this runaway legislative train, we need to understand how its components came together in the first place, and what fuel drives it today. How has the concept of “eco-terrorism” found its way into daily conversation, newspapers, laws, and the way people now think about traditionally respected activism?

Behold Ron Arnold, who, nearly a decade ago, through Free Enterprise Press, published the book Ecoterror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature.

Once upon a time, this same Ron Arnold worked for the Sierra Club in Washington. One commentator describes Arnold as a “political entrepreneur” who swiftly changed course after meeting up with Alan Gottlieb, a “professional fundraiser who has generated millions for various right-wing causes.” [1] In the 1980s, Ron Arnold picked up the term “wise use” and applied it to a mission to privatize all parks and public wildlands. The forest products company Boise Cascade lent its support for the 1988 national conference that launched the Wise Use movement, which, Arnold was soon telling interviewers, would destroy the Green movement. [2] Today, Arnold and Gottlieb work through the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, a non-profit that promotes profit.

“After the events of September 11, 2001,” says their website, “our vision has taken on even greater meaning.”

In the book Divine Destruction, Stephenie Hendricks observes that, in some western states, members of militias have felt at home with Arnold’s “vision.” [3] Since the infamous 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, however, the movement’s corporate backers have increasingly distanced themselves from forcible tactics, death threats, and the like.  As lawmakers found their calling in anti-terrorism, Arnold took note, and toned down the rhetoric, casting the comments about wanting to “destroy” and “kill” as figures of speech. [4] Yes, the anti-greens mean to destroy -- not people, though. They just want to wreck the environmental movement. So far, they’re having substantial success encouraging industrial use of what’s left of the wilderness. At the Wise Use movement’s Fly-In for Freedom 2001, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute gushed that “Bush’s election was a great Wise Use victory, a victory for our way of life.”The Competitive Enterprise Institute has received over a million dollars from ExxonMobil, and is “adamantly opposed” to the Endangered Species Act.

Meanwhile, Arnold and the anti-greens have essentially turned the tables on progressives. Now they insist that animal advocates and environmentalists are haters, potentially even homicidal. Arnold’s website tells the public to send “evidence, information or tips” about environmentalists who may have acted illegally to the EcoTerror Response Network, which will pass it to law enforcement agents. The site objects to the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front, and some “bullies” working at a county branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Arnold paints with a broad brush.

More troubling still, as if on cue, environmental and animal advocates themselves have bolstered the anti-Green movement’s credibility. In recent years, people speaking as animal advocates have openly recommended effigies, arsons, brick-throwing and intimidating people where they live, study, or worship, thus reinforcing precisely what their detractors have told the lawmakers. So today’s anti-Greens don't need desperate phrases like “Kill the bastards.” [5] These days, it's far more effective to imply that those environmentalist "bastards" could one day be doing the killing.

As one commentator said of the anti-Greens and their lawmaking allies, “If acts of property damage in the name of environmentalism and animal rights didn’t exist, they would have been wise to invent them.”

Working for the Clampdown

Legal provisions recently unveiled on both sides of the Atlantic have augmented protections for pharmaceutical interests and other institutions that use animals. This year, six anti-vivisection activists were found guilty of federal charges over an interstate campaign -- encompassing arson threats, and vandalism by the Animal Liberation Front’s “Commando Division” -- that violated the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. That law, originally passed in 1992, was strengthened after the events of September 11, 2001 in response to heavy lobbying from animal-testing firms and pharmaceutical companies. In some cases, the changes trebled mandatory jail sentences. High-profile arrests have also occurred in Britain, involving the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in an international enforcement effort under the USA-PATRIOT Act

Animal advocacy groups are ill-equipped to counter the political trend of burgeoning anti-terror laws and the prosecutorial mood these laws stir. The Humane Society of the United States -- the wealthiest of animal-protection groups -- routinely campaigns for Republicans in close races to make its point about the treatment of puppies or roosters. Some of these same Republicans are the driving force behind laws such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.  

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Tom Petri -- a lawmaker who hopes to make the USA-PATRIOT Act permanent and the very person who introduced the House version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act -- was endorsed in 2004 by the Humane USA PAC. Humane USA has been formed by leaders of major animal protection organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, the ASPCA, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. Its directors and advisors are, according to its website, “top grassroots and national animal protection leaders.” Apparently these individuals could stomach Petri’s vote to approve $77.9 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations in fiscal 2003, including $62.5 billion for military operations in Iraq and the Bush administration’s war on terrorism, and $4.2 billion for homeland security. Evidently they heard no alarm bells when, at the end of 2002, Petri received a 13% rating by the American Civil Liberties Union. At the same time, Petri’s rating from the CATO Institute was 78%, indicating a zest for free trade agreements; and in November 2003, Petri voted “yes” to hasten approval of -- ahem -- forest thinning projects. Petri receives consistently high marks from the NRA and from immigration restrictionists.

A word on the immigration restrictionists. Non-citizens have borne the brunt of the harshness of anti-terrorism law for years, while the animal-advocacy movement has not only ignored the government’s treatment of such people, but has actually supported restrictionist immigration policies in a bid to attract allies and gain a majority for their cause on the Sierra Club’s board.  

Gruesome deaths of overheating or exposure happen frequently along the Mexican border -- the dead numbered 472 in 2005 -- because enforcement policy since 1994 has pushed people into the most rugged and remote stretches of desert land. We might suppose that any “anti-cruelty” group worth its salt would take notice. But animal advocates were virtually silent on the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (authorizing a 700-mile fence construction project along the U.S.-Mexican border that will threaten the environment, rare plants, bats, jaguars, pronghorn, and human beings). A release at the Defenders of Wildlife website recommended “high-tech surveillance and communications equipment, enforcement and conservation training for border security and land management personnel, and strategically placed vehicle barriers and fencing where it will be more effective” -- but not where it would imperil jaguars and desert bighorn sheep. The release concluded by identifying Defenders of Wildlife as “one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat.” If that group, and other law-focused groups like it, were able to define “progressive” less narrowly, the Secure Fence Act might not have been so easily enacted, and more allies from outside the animal-advocacy movement might be available today to oppose the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

As it is, scores of corporate, nonprofit, and educational groups have endorsed the Act -- everyone from the editor of Nature Neuroscience to the Collie Club of America.  In September, the president of the University of California endorsed it. Did the major legislation-oriented animal groups hold back from waging a vigorous public counter-campaign to avoid upsetting their conservative friends in Congress? If so, progressives should think hard before believing that wealthy and politically influential groups such as HSUS stand in real opposition to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

To some extent, the overwhelming Senate vote for the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act reflects the isolation of animal activists from the broader progressive community. While, on one hand, mainstream groups romance conservative politicians, on the other hand, the rhetoric of militant activism invites nemesis. Together, these two segments of advocacy pave the way for reactionary laws like the AETA.

There’s a growing discomfort among the global public, including progressives, with militant tactics: In California, a firebomb appeared on the doorstep of a seventy-year-old whose home was thought to be occupied by a primate researcher; in England, activists against the building of a lab at Oxford have reportedly followed construction workers home after work, and human remains were dug up from a village cemetery to pressure a local farm to stop breeding guinea pigs. In the accounts of such campaigns, the moral questions surrounding vivisection have, unsurprisingly and most unfortunately, been lost. Even support for the campaigners’ freedom of speech has been lost.

One of Britain’s most respected progressives, George Monbiot, explains the way in which this has played out:

The demonstrators who have halted the construction of the new animal testing labs in Oxford command little public sympathy. Their arguments are often woolly and poorly presented. Among them is a small number of dangerous and deeply unpleasant characters, who appear to respect the rights of every mammal except Homo sapiens. This unpopularity is a gift to the state. For fear of being seen to sympathize with dangerous nutters, hardly anyone dares to speak out against the repressive laws with which the government intends to restrain them.

As Monbiot points out, government seizes the opportunities provided by apparently dangerous activists to begin treating all kinds of dissenters as terrorists. A similar clampdown, as Monbiot observes, is taking place all over the world.

Leading up to the introduction of the current anti-terrorism proposal was last year’s invitation from Senator James Inhofe to John Lewis of the FBI to speak on animal advocacy and eco-militancy. “There is nothing else going on in this country over the last several years,” Lewis declared, “that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions.” The essence of Lewis’s claim received an eerie confirmation when a physician named Jerry Vlasak, introduced as an animal advocate, proceeded to tell a Congressional committee that deadly force “would be a morally justifiable solution” against scientists who test on animals. Not exactly a marginal figure, Dr. Vlasak happened to be a board member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society -- an organization that boasts a number of high-profile environmentalists and animal-protectionists, and has a celebrity-spangled advisory board.

"I'm deeply shocked," said Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada. "I don't care what somebody is doing, murder is murder. That is crossing a line that is not only irresponsible and illegal but immoral. And I don't want any part of that."

And it goes without saying that Vlasak’s statement is extremely useful to those who wish to silence dissent. Yet only the public pressure that followed May’s threat to resign from an advisory role with Sea Shepherd could influence Paul Watson, the group’s president, to finally dismiss Dr. Vlasak.  Initially, Watson had rebuffed Elizabeth May and backed Jerry Vlasak.

The activist community might do well to take note of Virginia Woolf’s apt observation that “to enjoy freedom, if the platitude is pardonable, then we have to control ourselves.”

Animal advocates who seem unpredictable and dangerous are disengaging themselves from the movement’s ethical platform, and from any moral framework that most people could recognize, allowing an oddly effective sort of anti-activism to emerge. Detractors take advantage of the activists’ unpopularity, simultaneously fashioning themselves as stars on the moral stage which the activists have evacuated. One personification of this new anti-activism is 16-year-old Laurie Pycroft who, early this year, finished shopping in Oxford and ran into some activists protesting the lab. Pycroft and two friends quickly made up their own sign, protesting the protestors: “Support Progress, Support the Oxford Lab." Pycroft, who hopes to become a neurosurgeon, gained widespread media attention for founding a group called Pro-Test.

Iain Murray, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, points to Pro-Test as a model of “grass roots” organizing for the U.S. to follow.

The Rise of Corporate Front Groups

The silencing of activism is not good for public policy. It strengthens people and groups who want us to believe that exploitation is a moral good. Again, behold Ron Arnold, who insists that “[o]ur limitless imaginations can break through natural limits to make earthly goods and carrying capacity virtually infinite.” With this unscientific, quasi-religious appeal, Wise Use advocates have gone forth and avidly proselytized their message of corporate dominion. [6]

Indeed, as early as 1979, Arnold told Logging Management magazine, “Citizen activist groups, allied to the forest industry, are vital to our future survival. …. They are not limited by liability, contract law or ethical codes. . . . [I]ndustry must come to support citizen activist groups, providing funds, materials, transportation, and most of all, hard facts.” [7] Arnold would later exhort Canadian logging industrialists: “Give them the money. You stop defending yourselves, let them do it, and you get the hell out of the way. Because citizens’ groups have credibility and industries don’t.” So industry, guided by public relations experts, successfully funds the pious “citizen activist groups” whose representatives are welcomed as experts by many federal and state lawmakers. The “citizen activists” know that legislatures will protect property rights, and, when the time is right, manage dissent. Laws such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act validate their perspective.

Then there are the bizarre excrescences of Rick Berman, who has made a career out of heckling the “nanny culture” of environmentalists and health care activists. [8] John Stauber, founder of the Center for Media and Democracy, has likened Berman’s Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) to “a tax advantage for paying your lobbyist.” With non-profit status, CCF has ardently campaigned to wave off concerns about mercury in fish; notably, CCF has accepted contributions from Coldwater Seafood. Last year it spent $600,000 to advertise in papers, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and USA Today, that the government’s concern with obesity studies is "hype." The CCF’s advisory panel has included people connected with National Steak & Poultry, Outback Steakhouse, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Cargill Processed Meat Products, and Armour Swift-Eckrich. Financial support has been traced to Coca-Cola, Tyson Foods, Applebee's, White Castle and Wendy's restaurant chains, the rest stop caterer HMS Host Corporation, Perdue Farms, the Michigan Turkey Producers Cooperative, and the makers of several brands of dairy desserts. [9]

Also promoting unfettered business are influential think tanks. In 1988, President Reagan declared that “the most important American scholarship comes out of our think tanks -- and none has been more influential than the American Enterprise Institute."  Founded in 1943, the group counts among its alumni James Buchanan, Dick Cheney, former President Gerald R. Ford, Alan Keyes and Justice Antonin Scalia. AEI is connected with the Heritage Foundation, and has received financial support from the Scaife Family Foundations, the Kraft Foundation, the Procter & Gamble Fund, Philip Morris, Amoco and ExxonMobil. It leases office space to the Project for the New American Century, a propeller of the Bush administration's crusade for regime change in Iraq. With the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, AEI runs NGOwatch, a “monitoring tool” critical of organized attempts to provide public services contrary to the desires of global multinationals.

A recent window to the group’s priorities comes from AEI visiting fellow Kenneth P. Green. In a piece published in May in the National Review (and since toned down a few decibels from its original), Kenneth Green dismissed “[t]emperance fiends of all stripes...[o]ne-worlders and other socialist sorts” who argue for emissions controls to counter the effects of global warming.  U.N. scientists included.

In a June opinion piece, which ran in the Arizona Star and the Charleston Gazette, Green waved off “vegetarian researchers” Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, the pair whose high-profile article, published through the University of Chicago, estimates that the typical U.S. resident puts out 1.5 tons more carbon dioxide each year than do complete vegetarians. Green points out that the savings adds up to only 1.6% of worldwide emissions. Actually, given that U.S. residents make up just about 5% of the world’s people, that figure suggests that the spread of vegetarianism would make a substantial impact. Green also argues that organic foods are no more nutritious than conventional offerings -- without mentioning worker health or the ecological impact of pesticides. Green concludes glibly: “Waiter? I'll have the steak, please.” 

Green has kindred spirits, of course. In 2003, the New York Times reported that the White House Council had severely diluted the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment -- a report which combined years of work of hundreds of the world’s scientists, and warned that early impacts of climate change are already apparent in the Arctic, threatening drastic losses of marine habitat for polar bears, seals, and seabirds.

The scientific report was duly pooh-poohed in the Washington Times and on Fox News by the Cato Institute’s Steven Milloy -- who happens to run two organizations that receive money from ExxonMobil, and who, through the Free Enterprise Education Institute, regularly attacks corporate social responsibility concepts. [10] Senator Inhofe, whose 2002 election campaign was boosted by oil money, said people who are concerned about climate change “love hysteria.” Inhofe was also the primary Senate sponsor of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

The AETA is close to becoming law because militant tactics have given oppressive forces the ability to rationalize a need for it; because the dominant paradigm in animal advocacy is isolation from compatible progressive causes; and because corporate front groups have organized around portraying environmentalists and animal advocates in an extremely negative light, then tapped into the current drive for anti-terror legislation. From this convergence of dynamics, H.R. 4239 has arisen.

In the coming days, it’s imperative that we energetically oppose this bill. Find the person who claims to represent you in Congress, ring them up at 202.224.3121, and explain that real safety means questioning the influence of corporate profit-seekers over their lawmaking.  

And in the long term, it’s imperative that progressive thinkers create liaisons and learn from each other. The single-issue advocacy groups that follow the corporate paradigm are unlikely to understand the point. But let the AETA be a wake-up call to the rest of us. 

Lee Hall, a holistic practitioner of animal rights, works with Friends of Animals, an advocacy group which will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary in New York City in 2007. Lee’s new book is Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror.  

Other Articles by Lee Hall

* Salem Vegan Society: An Interview with Lee Hall
* Animal Rights, Untamed
* Sustainable, Free-Range Farms and Other Tall Tales  
* Chocolate, Unchained 
* Animal Advocates Find Religion, as Tots Take Up Arms in Bear Hunt
* Civil Rights Groups To PETA: “You Have Used Us Enough”  
* The American Way of Death Casts Its Shadow East 
* We the People, You the Rest… and the Sierra Club Part II 
* We the People, You the Rest… and the Sierra Club Part I 
* Refocus Seal Intervention Where It Belongs: Government Subsidies 
* Globalizing Homeland Security Part II: Before and After Tuesday
* Globalizing Homeland Security (Part I): Doing Time for the Towers 
* Blood on the Campaign Trail 
* Bringing Social Justice to the Table 
* People for the Exploitative Treatment of Arabs?  
* Fit To Be Tamed   

1) William Kevin Burke, in “The Wise Use Movement: Right-Wing Anti-Environmentalism,” The Public Eye (Jun. 1993). Burke traces the use of the term “Wise Use” back to Gifford Pinchot, the first head of the U.S. Forest Service.

2) Katherine Long, “His Goal: Destroy Environmentalism; Man and Group Prefer That People Exploit the Earth,” Seattle Times (2 Dec. 1991), quotes Arnold as saying, “Our goal is to destroy, to eradicate the environmental movement . . . We’re mad as hell. We’re not going to take it anymore. We’re dead serious -- we’re going to destroy them.”

3) Divine Destruction: Wise Use, Dominion Theology, and the Making of American Environmental Policy (Melville House; 2005). At page 34, the book discusses connections between Wise Use proponents in western states and the militia movement (with further references on this topic). Hendricks also discusses an interview with Robert Kennedy, Jr. on Arnold’s matchmaking between the Christian right and the industries that stand to lose money because of environmental protections.

4) Ibid. (referring to comments by Arnold in 1991 and 1993).

5) In a 1993 CNN interview, Arnold likened the Wise Use adherent to a warrior with a sword. "And that sword has two purposes: to carve out a niche for your agenda, to reshape the American law in your image -- and kill the bastards.”

6) The fundamentalist Christian worldview, which stresses the biblical prescription to “multiply” and to “subdue” the earth and have dominion over all living beings, has fit well with the views of key environmental officials, such as George W. Bush's former Interior secretary, Gale Norton, and former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman -- both of whom, reports Stephenie Hendricks, worked for Ronald Reagan's Interior Secretary James Watt at the Mountain States Legal Foundation, the self-identified "litigation arm of Wise Use."

7) Ron Arnold’s commentary in Logging Management are quoted in Divine Destruction (note 3 above).

8) Notably, Berman & Co. also sponsors the Employment Policies Institute, which works to keep the minimum wage low.

9) The Center for Media and Democracy -- a source that has been an invaluable reference throughout the writing of this article -- explains how companies meet the public demand for an objective viewpoint by producing doctors, academics, public officials, and environmentalists. They might even consider such promotions charity. This trend got an early boost in 1977, when the influential neoconservative Irving Kristol wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “corporate philanthropy should not be, and cannot be, disinterested,” but should “shape or reshape the climate of public opinion.” As quoted by Chris Mooney in “As the World Burns: Some Like It Hot,” Mother Jones (May/June 2005).

10) See “As the World Burns: Some Like It Hot” (note 9 above). The piece first appeared on Fox News as “Polar Bear Scare on Thin Ice.”