Have you ever signed a petition in support of an
environmental or animal-rights issue? Do you belong to the Sierra Club,
the Natural Resources Defense Council, or Greenpeace? Have you publicly
protested some environmental or animal rights outrage? If legislation
crafted and promoted by the ultra-conservative American Legislative
Exchange Council (ALEC) becomes law, these fundamental rights of
American citizenship could become illegal.
Exploiting the current political climate against
terrorism, ALEC has teamed up with the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a
pro-hunting group, to create a model "Animal and Ecological Terrorism
Act." The legislation is part of an intense backlash against
increasingly effective and vocal citizen campaigns aimed at halting --
and holding corporations accountable for -- environmental, animal-rights
and public health abuses.
Forging this kind of marriage to produce
anti-progressive legislation is old hat to ALEC, now in its thirtieth
year of policy bending. With an annual budget of nearly $6 million,
ALEC's funders read like a Who's Who of the right, and include
organizations like the National Rifle Association, Family Research
Council and Heritage Foundation. It counts conservative activists and
politicians such as Jesse Helms, Jack Kemp and Henry Hyde among its
alumni. Enron, Phillip Morris (now Altria) and several oil companies
rank among ALEC's corporate sponsors. And to bring the loop full-circle,
ALEC boasts 2,400 state lawmakers representing all 50 states among its
In light of this, it's hardly shocking that ALEC is no
friend to green groups. According to a 2002 report by Defenders of
Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council, corporations and
trade associations "funnel cash through ALEC to curry favor with state
lawmakers through junkets and other largesse in the hopes of enacting
special interest legislation -- all the while keeping safely outside the
The strategy obviously works. ALEC spokesperson David
Wargin estimates that out of about 1,000 ALEC model bills introduced in
the last legislative session, 200 were enacted.
The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act may be next.
Intended for states, it criminalizes virtually all forms of
environmental or animal-rights advocacy. Versions of the proposed law
were introduced in Texas in February and in New York in March. New York
Assembly member Richard Smith (D-Blasdell), who introduced that state's
bill, says four or five other states have also expressed interest.
The Texas bill defines an "animal rights or terrorist
organization" as "two or more persons organized for the purpose of
supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or
deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals
or... natural resources." The bill adds that "'Political motivation'
means an intent to influence a government entity or the public to take a
specific political action." Language in the New York bill is similarly
Michael Ratner, a human rights lawyer and vice-president
of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has never seen such draconian
legislation in the United States.
"This is unique. Even under the definition of domestic
terrorism in the Patriot Act, you have to at least do something that
arguably threatens people's lives," he says. "The definitional sections
of this legislation are so broad that they sweep within them basically
every environmental and animal-rights organization in the country."
Sandy Liddy Bourne, director of the ALEC task force that
came up with the model bill, insists the legislation is narrowly
targeted at environmental and animal-rights extremists who blow up
buildings or destroy research facilities.
"We're certainly not attempting to interfere with
anybody's civil rights to protest or express their opinion on
environmental or animal-rights issues," she says. However, "there are
legitimate business operations across our country that are being
targeted by environmental extremists, and it's time to bring this kind
of activity to a halt."
Ratner points out that there are laws against
trespassing, vandalism, destruction of property, disorderly conduct and
disturbing the peace. The only reason for this legislation, he says, is
to eliminate all forms of dissent, including the time-honored democratic
traditions of nonviolent, peaceful protest and civil disobedience.
Civil rights advocates who thought the Patriot Act was
bad should turn their attention to this legislation. Because if ALEC is
successful, millions of people might just lose the only tool they have
left: the right to loud and public dissent.
**Karen Charman is an investigative journalist
specializing in agriculture, health and the environment.
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