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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 22 March 2007 Issue

How Did AETA Happen?

By Judith Marie Gansen

Article 46 - The 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act


When I first heard about this latest 2006 version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (the first bill, the Animal Enterprise PROTECTION Act was passed in 1992 and amended in 2002), I initially felt it was an attempt to silence those who speak up for animals by spreading fear. To learn more about why our political process needs reform--check out the great book Selling Out--How Big Corporate Money Buys Elections, Rams Through Legislation, and Betrays Our Democracy by Mark Green. In spite of the fact that over 100 animal groups were against this law and even though there are already laws on the books available to prosecute anyone convicted of violence against people, bombings or destruction of property, President Bush still signed AETA into law in December 2006.

I spoke to my Senator's office and was told that the bill was "fast-tracked" through the Senate and passed by a voice vote on a Saturday morning when they know few senators would be there. It's sort of a way of legally cheating democracy. This is done all the time in politics by all sides, some legislation pushers having far nobler reasons than others. If this law was truly needed to clamp down on lawbreakers, why was it necessary to rush it through in this manner without the usual debate?

The irony here is that most animal advocates are so honest and decent, they would never dream of committing a violent act or breaking the law in any way. Think about it--people who believe in peaceful coexistence with other living beings logically would not use violence as a means to an end because it betrays everything we believe in. Those few who do break the law may be frustrated from years of doing things legally and don't feel enough has been accomplished. While progress has been made, animal research labs, hunting ranches, and puppy mills still exist. But of the alleged animal people who do break the law--how many of them are actually real animal people? What percent of them compared to law abiding activists break the law? It's still a very tiny fraction when you consider how large our worldwide movement has become. Joining us now are legislators, celebrities, and many religions--please check out this website:

ReligionLink - The new animal spirituality: Do all dogs go to heaven?

While many religions have preached vegetarianism (like Seventh Day Adventists for example), much of this part of the movement is new. However, any movement can attract people who take it to the extreme and commit violent acts.

Some of these ideas I have mentioned before bear repeating now--there have been "plants" from the opposition known to get involved with animal campaigns to disrupt and discredit the campaign. There are also those who just plain enjoy breaking the law--they like to blow things up or harass and if it wouldn't be animal rights, they would just pick another cause. My husband read a book several years ago (neither of us recall the title unfortunately) about fringe groups who use violence as a means to an end. The credible author indicated that some of the violence lovers were originally far LEFT wing fringe members who switched to the far RIGHT wing fringe because it was currently more popular to be far right than far left. It seems the cause really didn't matter, just the desire to be violent about something.

What Do Law-Abiding Animal Advocates Have to Fear Now?

Many sent out alerts about this law with such passion and urgency--to convince legislators not to pass it. But upon reflection, isn't that exactly what the opposition expected us to do? Maybe they didn't have to scare animal advocates because we helped do the work for them. Fear being spread can take on a life of its own. Don't allow this to happen--the animals still need us!

I contacted an excellent animal lawyer who read the bill and said if we don't break the law we have nothing to worry about. Another animal lawyer said there was a grey area that could be of concern. Of course, lawyers can differ in interpreting the law but hearing this for the most part was a big sigh of relief. The first time someone is charged under AETA the courts will have to decide the different aspects of this law and how constitutional it is. These will be test cases.

Someone said to me recently the purpose of this law is to stop people from "interfering with business." I guess with that mindset we shouldn't have interfered with the "business" of slavery or the "business" of child labor sweat shops or the "business" of black market babies or the "business" of white slavery. Just because something is currently legal doesn't make it humane, just or ethical. Yet most corporations have highly paid lobbyists that can push through just about any law which benefits their business because they have the money to do it and that is legal--might makes right and the old saying "follow the money" applies.

This law seems to have been created so that the first time someone illegally trespasses on land to obtain a videotape of animal abuse or infiltrates a factory farm or research lab to document things, the federal government can come at them with the "big guns" of this bill and make an example of them. The opposition probably reasons that will scare the crap out of all of us. Of course, animal advocates know that doing things the proper legal way will ensure a higher rate of successful prosecution for those who harm animals. Trying to get a search warrant because a crime is suspected would be the way to go but you need to know if abuses are taking place first. As with child abuse, animal abuse is rarely done in public.

Places where animals are housed are secretive for many reasons especially if it is a corporate or government owned facility. Law enforcement knows that by the time you get a search warrant sometimes the evidence dries up too. In addition, our justice system is still guilty unfortunately of not always taking animal issues seriously although that is thankfully beginning to change. In animal abuse or neglect cases, a video is worth a thousand words. Last Chance for Animal's and the very courageous undercover investigator "Pete" did excellent work to produce Dealing Dogs--the Betrayal of Man's Best Friend. This appeared on HBO and has had such a profound impact on the welfare of dogs and the issue of Class B dealers. If they had asked permission to tour the property first, I doubt they would have found much to document.

Undercover work is needed in law enforcement to protect people as well as in animal protection to protect animals because the bad guys usually know how to hide under the rocks of the system for protection. You have to find sneaky ways to catch murderers and child and animal abusers sometimes because they know what they do is illegal or in the eyes of most people just plain wrong.

The leader of one animal group not long ago admitted in an interview that committing trespassing was the only way to get videos in some instances where there are cases of animal abuse. How else can they get the evidence needed? He had been arrested several times for trespassing and received minor sentences. Now people who bravely do this important work, if caught, can expect the full force of the federal government coming down on them. Where is the justice here? Where is the fairness? These people aren't doing this for their own benefit and risking their personal lives and safety sometimes--and that is the key difference and that which separates them from real "criminals." It's about protecting those who can't speak for themselves. In crimes as horrific as child abuse, at least usually the older kids can talk and tell an adult what happened. An animal can't call 911.

Are Real Animal Activists Committing Acts of Terror?

A thought-provoking book called Capers in The Churchyard--Animal Rights Advocacy in The Age of Terror by Lee Hall, Lawyer, Teacher and Legal Director for Friends of Animals (July, 2006), sheds light on alleged animal activists and terrorism. While I have not completed it yet, what I saw disturbed me enough to make me look at this whole issue again as well as do more research on the very small minority of people claiming to be animal activists who have gone too far.

We have all read about the Huntingdon issue--it made headlines. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) was originally formed to educate people on this issue and there were many other animal rights and animal welfare groups as well as just people who did not officially belong to any group who sent out alerts to their members or friends encouraging a non-violent, petition and letter-writing campaign. This peaceful campaign for change was supported by Animals in Print. The vast majority who responded to the campaign did things in an appropriate manner. I don't want to get into the details of what did or didn't happen in that campaign--that is not the purpose of this article. I want to get this article out there so that hopefully we can think of ways to fix the "fallout" from documented incidents I have learned about in other situations. Keep in mind that the worst incidents from those claiming to be animal activists did not happen inside the U.S. and these incidents are not part of the legitimate animal rights movement.

On P. 18 of her book, Lee Hall says "The directors of Leapfrog Day Nurseries, Britain's biggest childcare provider, received letters warning them to stop offering services to Huntingdon employees. They stopped. A spokesperson for the nursery firm responded, 'Our business is childcare and we have to take every precaution when it comes to the security and safety of those children and our employees.' " Imagine the impact of this situation. What reasonable person could support a cause that thinks it's ok to threaten a place where parents put their children for safety? It goes on to give the text of the letter they received which mentions "....Not only you but your family is a target." ........ "Sever your links with HLS within two weeks or get ready for your life and the lives of those you love to become a living hell."

The letter, according to Ms. Hall (P. 19), "claimed to come from" a "military-style tactics" group that she mentions that I have never heard of (she was not referring to SHAC, by the way). The key word in my opinion here is "claimed," however, this was still chilling to read regardless if it was this group or someone in the opposition attempting to subvert the legitimate campaign. Yet if someone claims responsibility for an incident and it is publicized and it is really not true that this group did this, I would think the group mentioned would publicly deny it to straighten out the record. The other question needing to be answered is when a member of a group commits an unlawful act did they act on their own or from official direction of the group?

I wonder what the parents of those kids will do the next time an animal rights publication comes in the mail to educate them--it will likely end up in the trash. My problem is while I do believe there are groups who believe violence solves everything, why does the public at times automatically connect incidents like this to peaceful activists in any campaign, lumping us all together? Was it proven in a court of law that any legitimate animal rights group is responsible when an incident happens? Too many of us believe if it's on the news it must be the truth but the media can be easily manipulated sadly.

Shows have been known to put fake "plants" in audiences before. Interview questions are now discussed ahead of time with politicians so it is more "staged" for their benefit. Most of the news is now owned by big corporations. What I am saying is that what seems obvious may not always be the truth because of covert activity by someone who does not want their identity known. That person or group may have ulterior motives and not truly be for the cause of humane treatment for animals. It could be someone out to garner sympathy for those people the animal group is campaigning against.

One bad thing about using violence to obtain social change is that while you may get some quick results, the opposition will often find ways to go around you later. Even though we fought the Civil War and freed the slaves and saved our union, racism still exists because the violence of the war did not change some people's hearts even though it stopped slavery. Racial violence still happens sadly.

So the effect of some alleged "animal terrorists" in recent years is that laws are now on the books that may be used against people who trespass on land to get real evidence that is needed to put somone in jail. The point being made again is that if you don't change what is inside of people, while you can obtain some results, it's not an effective permanent change and it can also do harm to our movement. Unfortunately, the bad press that our movement gets from any alleged "animal terrorist" does us damage, whether the facts are true or not.

What If You Do Think It is Okay to Break the Law?

I would never break the law myself. It is NEVER okay to commit a violent act against a person or animal for the cause of animal rights. It is NEVER okay to set a fire because a firefighter can be hurt. It is NEVER okay to do anything that can cause a person or animal to be harmed. I remember reading about non-violent, civil disobedient acts throughout history like the Boston Tea Party but those people were working on a different kind of cause. I also know that interfering with any legal situation when you are not law enforcement can really mess up a case that could otherwise be prosecuted--like removing a pet from a yard that is being starved without proper law enforcement procedure done first. These are tough calls sometimes when there is an animal hurting but we want to catch the bad guys. I believe we should ALWAYS go through law enforcement in spite of what you hear sometimes that they "don't care." Learn more about law enforcement so you realize what they have to deal with every day. If they take a long time to respond it could be because they just responded to a homicide or child abuse case. A reasonable person expects us to contact law enforcement and this gives us more credibility especially if things go wrong later. If you don't get proper response from the authorities contact the press. Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine has successfully convinced most of the medical colleges to stop using live animals and they didn't use one violent act to get the job done.

When I hear an account of another animal person's problems with the law or complaints about law enforcement "not caring", I never automatically assume the animal person is completely honest and trustworthy or that the story the officer told was necessarily correct either. Some people pass this information around on the net before the truth is found. Jumping to conclusions can be our own worst enemy too. Find the truth in these situations. Truth is harder to find these days--anyone is capable of lying to make themselves look good.

Ask yourself why you feel the need to break the law to obtain your goal. My beloved Mother used to say to me: "Think before you speak" and "Think before you act." Think it through--won't your important work be hampered if you end up in jail? How will this play in the press--will the publicity help or harm the movement now that large corporations own most of our media? Are you allowing someone who is very extreme talk you into breaking the law? Now that a law has been passed linking the word "terrorism" and intended it to be used towards some animal rights activists, what does it mean? Can they bring animal rights lawbreakers under the same umbrella and include them in the suspension of rights that have been changed for alleged terrorists since 9/11 if an animal person is arrested and now can be considered a "terrorist?" Another chilling thought.

Imagine how stronger our movement would be if those who really are animal people but who may also condone violence would have a change of heart and join those of us who do not condone violence. Wouldn't their added brainpower, creativity, passion and talent make us that much stronger and therefore change come that much quicker? The increasing amount of people willing to lobby for animals has legislators taking notice. They don't want to lose votes. More humane laws are being passed every day.

Many movements throughout history have included violence to produce change. The Revolutionary War gave us freedom from England--people suffered and died on both sides. But is it appropriate for our movement? I share the anger and frustration that change is not happening fast enough when we know animals are suffering and dying horribly. Certainly the opposition has more money and power than we do which makes our work at times seem impossible especially given how powerful and rich corporations are now--something that didn't exist during the other social movements throughout history. I don't mean to paint a picture here that corporations are evil of course but anytime there is a lot of power there is the potential for its abuse.

While our movement has similarities to other movements for change, I believe there is one important difference. We are striving to raise awareness and empathy for other species and some people just can't relate to that as long as they think animals are disposable commodities. With the anti-slavery movement, some white people could better relate to being a slave because it was their own species that was being abused--that was probably one reason why so many white people got involved in the Underground Railroad to help slaves get to freedom. We need to get people to care for species who are so unlike ourselves in some ways, so I think we have the bigger challenge than in other movements and therefore the bigger responsibility to act responsible. A violent message says to people "believe the way we believe or you will be sorry." That teaches nothing except to teach people to fear us.

We need to show people that caring and being humane to animals is superior to harming them and that will not be accomplished through violent acts. How can we preach to be kind to animals if we sanction a violent act against another human, who, by the way, is also another animal? Imagine for a minute someone trying to change your mind about some issue you believe in (right to bear arms, gay rights, changing a law) and then you hear they committed violence against someone who held your views? Would that result in your mind being changed? If you spank a child because he hit his sister, have you really taught him anything or did you teach him that hitting solves problems and so you may create a future adult who uses violence? A time out is the better choice for children because it teaches him or her something--that there are consequences for violence. We want those rules in a civilized society.

As I have said before, please remember to read about all the good accomplishments we have done so that your mind stays balanced. Take a break from reading about the documented evidence of horrors so that it doesn't consume and destroy you. This work is tough on all of us who care. Remember--we are making progress or the opposition would not be fighting so hard to stop us. Every veggie burger sold is a threat to cattle ranchers. Every pet adopted from rescue is a threat to the puppy millers. Every faux fur coat sold is a threat to trappers. Every new book sold about animal rights and advocacy sends chills through the animal exploiting world and there are more books out there than ever before! The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Imagine the accomplishment we will have if they passed this AETA law and no one violated it but our work continued to produce change. I don't want to see any genuine caring animal person in prison--it's tough to get a job with a record. If you can't support yourself, how will you be able to help animals?

Make no mistake--we will win this with love, education, patience and perseverance and doing things the right way!

What Does It All Mean To Us?

I will leave it up to the animal lawyers who I admire so much and who have the expertise to decide what the impact will be of AETA.

Our work involves educating people about those who harm and exploit animals and get MONEY for doing this and who do not want these facts exposed to the public. Our work can affect what is put down at the dinner table and what is even considered "food". Our work affects what is sold in stores and fast food places. Our work affects themes of movies (check out The Shaggy Dog with Tim Allen) and books. Our work has given birth to animal law lawyers and college classes about animals. Our work has caused businesses to be fined and people to go to jail.

If the opposition thinks that passing a law is going to scare all of us--they are forgetting several important facts. Our LOVE for animals and our HEARTFELT BELIEF that they deserve better treatment is stronger than anything they can throw at us. While their motives are usually based on greed or ignorance, our motives come from our hearts, our intelligence and our compassion for both people and animals. Most of us are volunteers who have achieved a higher level of enlightenment that we hope others will also achieve some day and this is accomplished through education. Our motives are pure--because you see, we are the good guys! :)

As for myself, I will continue to respond to writing alerts I receive from my favorite, legal animal organizations. I will continue to make respectful phone calls and emails and do letters to the editor to educate people and change policy and convince lawmakers that our cause is a just cause--and this will all be done without harassing anyone. I will avoid shopping where my dollar spent will harm any animal and will participate in legal boycotts. I will strive to be a better informed animal advocate to be certain I know the limits of the law and follow them. I will live my life as cruelty-free as possible to set an example for others. My way may take a little longer, but I truly believe that the change that this brings will be the lasting change that we need, and more importantly, that animals need.

From the back of Ms. Hall's book is a great endorsement from Steve F. Sapontizis, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, California State University, Hayward and author of Morals, Reason and Animals, which says in part: "Her critique of using violence to save animals is especially thought-provoking today, in America, when the fear card of "Terrorism!" is constantly played to obstruct all sorts of social progress."

Also from the back, part of the quote from Jay Tutchton, Director, Environmental Law Clinic, Univ. Of Denver College of Law: "Lee Hall is calling forth the best in both animal and environmental activists; to recognize that the same winds blow all boats and that the use of violence rips holes in the ethical fabric of both movements."

Here are some other quotes from various famous people that I believe apply:

"The attempt to combine wisdom and power has only rarely been successful and then only for a short while."
-Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions

"The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just."
-Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

"The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire"
-Ferdinand Foch (1859-1929)

"Failure is impossible"
-Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)

Finally, one of my favorite quotes from the Bible: Proverbs Chapter 31, Verse 8:

"Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction."
This means speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

-Judy, Staff: Animals in Print
(free online animal publication) 

Pawprints, Footprints & Animal Chatter (my opinions on mostly animal issues--if you email me please indicate in the subject column it is about one of my articles so it doesn't get deleted as spam--thanks)
[email protected]

"We exist to educate and through compassion and knowledge improve the lives of all beings."

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