CHARLOTTE LAWS - DREAM AND ACHIEVE TOGETHER
Are you the terrorist next door?
By Charlotte Laws
was an ordinary American until November 27, 2006 when I became a terrorist or
more accurately what I call a “stand-by terrorist.” Perhaps I cannot truly
own this newfound nickname until the government decides to prosecute me for word
crimes, if that day ever arrives. Until then, I just think of myself as being on
stand-by, just as are most--if not all--Americans, whether they realize it or
may wonder how words can amount to a terrorist act in the land of the free and
home of the outspoken. It is not widely known, but Congress recently passed
legislation called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which can be used
to prosecute civil disobedience and speech as “domestic terrorism” when an
animal-related business loses profits and property. The Act also protects
corporations that pollute and destroy the environment.
may ask, what does this have to do with me because I’m no nature fan or animal
lover? Well, it could eventually have very much to do with you because the AETA—a
natural child of the Patriot Act—is likely to be the first of many assaults on
the social justice movement in favor of corporations and other moneyed
interests. If you think you may want to use your free speech someday to
criticize something, anything, then you had better be very concerned.
should also be concerned about whether law enforcement protects you from the Bin
Ladens of the world or fritters away your hard-earned tax dollars investigating
pacifists. The American Civil Liberties Union says the FBI uses
“counterterrorism resources to monitor and infiltrate (nonviolent) domestic
political organizations that criticize business interests and government
policies.” An FBI special agent recently told me that planting undercover
agents at legal, peaceful events—with hopes that they will somehow learn about
illegal activities--is a favored tactic of the bureau.
are the parameters of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and who could be
tangled in its web, slapped with prison time and branded a terrorist? Could
Oprah Winfrey--the beloved and successful talk show host—and her former
vegetarian guest, Howard Lyman, be prosecuted as terrorists if they were to
repeat anti-beef comments made to Winfrey’s 15 million viewers in 1996?
is indeed possible because the AETA is overbroad, vague and subject to the whims
of law enforcement, as evidenced last year when six young, New Jersey website
operators became the first individuals convicted on “animal enterprise
terrorism” charges. The young people were part of the Stop Huntington Cruelty
(SHAC) campaign, which targeted the Huntington Life Sciences (HLS) animal
research labs. The website operators did nothing more than assert their First
Amendment rights: they posted videotape of tortured dogs inside HLS and reported
the legal and illegal handiwork of activists, which eventually caused the
corporation to lose profits and to be dropped from the New York Stock Exchange.
The FBI were unable to catch the underground activists, so they targeted the
website operators, who are serving up to six years in prison for their speech.
the government fails to catch a thief or saboteur, should it be allowed to
pursue the CNN reporter who delivers the news? Or an outspoken op-ed columnist?
Or six kids from New Jersey with a website? The AETA ignores Shakespeare’s
recommendation, “Don’t shoot the messenger,” potentially stigmatizing a
“speaker” with the most heinous, post-9/11 label in America: terrorist.
1996, Oprah Winfrey invited ex-cattle rancher Howard Lyman to talk about Mad Cow
disease on her television show. Lyman knew first-hand how cows—even diseased
ones—were fed being to other cows and how their diets were supplemented with
ground-up dogs, cats and road kill. He explained the meat production process,
and Winfrey offered that she would never eat another burger. The audience
cheered. On the following day, cattle futures plummeted, and the financial
disaster was labeled the “Oprah Crash.”
losses to the beef industry were $10 - $12 million, and a group of cattlemen
filed a lawsuit against Winfrey and Lyman under a Texas food disparagement law.
They wanted compensation for loss of profits. Winfrey and Lyman won, but only
after spending over a million dollars on legal fees. In his book, Mad Cowboy, Lyman says that those who
sued “apparently believe that the First Amendment… was not meant to be
interpreted so broadly as to allow people to say unpleasant things about
Winfrey and Lyman were to make these comments today, and viewers hit the
streets, embarking upon civil disobedience, vandalism, even breaking into
factory farms and rescuing frightened death row cows from slaughter, could the
pair be held liable as AETA conspirators? It is entirely possible.
nothing this extreme needs to occur because the penalty section of the AETA
explicitly states that a person can violate the law and go to prison even if
there is no property damage, no loss of profits, no fear to any persons, and no
injuries. In other words, if Lyman were to say to Winfrey, “Gee, I hope
someone rescues those poor tortured, cows before slaughter,” his comment could
be interpreted as a violation of the AETA, more specifically as a “conspiracy
to interfere with the operations of an animal enterprise.” Without a
transcript from the show, one cannot know what casual exchanges floated between
Winfrey and Lyman that day. It may seem far-fetched to envision the pair in
prison, branded terrorists—especially since Winfrey is affluent and
popular--but it is not far-fetched within the parameters of this poorly drafted
legislation, which leaves much open to interpretation by law enforcement and the
as the AETA chills speech, it has disturbing ramifications for those who commit
slightly illegal misdeeds. The Act can transform misdemeanors into federal
crimes, and it can turn ordinary Americans—who, for example, post illegal
signs or engage in graffiti—into domestic terrorists.
assume a high school senior enters a national science fair, and his project
involves decapitating live mice. His mother objects to the experiment as cruel
and immoral, but the son ignores her. She takes matters into her own hands by
stealing the mice and placing them in a loving home, then smashing the remainder
of the project and shoving it in the trash. Science fair projects are
specifically protected under the AETA, as are vivisection labs, factory farms,
slaughterhouses, zoos, furriers and rodeos. The mother has intentionally damaged
her son’s animal-related property, which means the U.S. government may arrest
her as a terrorist and throw her in jail.
take another case. A small boy is murdered, and his older sister is devastated.
Because law enforcement officers fail to read the killer his rights and bungle
other aspects of the case, he goes free. A year later, the sister discovers the
killer owns a horse boarding facility in a neighboring state. She drives to the
location and paints his fence with the words, “He murdered my little brother.
Don’t board your horses here” in attempt to ruin his business and warn
customers about the danger. The girl has intentionally caused damage to an
animal enterprise. Under the AETA, her graffiti can be prosecuted as a terrorist
a final example, a journalist writes an article about combating the AETA. He
suggests peppering the country with signs that read “ALF.” “ALF” is an
acronym for the Animal Liberation Front, a group that has vandalized companies
that use and kill animals. When “ALF” is scribbled on a fence, building or
sign, the FBI is automatically called to investigate. This is routine because
the bureau considers the group the number one domestic terrorist threat, even
though the ALF has never injured a human or animal.
the acronym “ALF” would be a laborious task if thousands of signs throughout
the country had to be checked. The sign placement strategy would run law
enforcement ragged, educate the public about the absurdity of the AETA, and
further water down the word “terrorist” so that all Americans could come to
realize how they themselves qualify as “terrorists on stand-by.”
some point, it is likely an animal enterprise owner or employee would play
“the fear card.” A butcher, for example, could claim to be frightened by an
“ALF” placard adjacent to his shop, alleging an impending attack by angry
animal rights activists.
is a violation of the AETA to intentionally induce fear (of bodily harm) in
those associated with an animal enterprise, even when no property is damaged.
The “victim”—or the butcher, in this case--would determine what
constitutes fear, and it would be easy for him to prove nefarious intentions
since everyone knows animal advocates would like to see butchers out of
business. Posting illegal signs is common in most neighborhoods, such as when
advertising garage sales and political candidates, yet fines are rarely imposed.
In the case of “ALF” placards, the “graphic artists” could be arrested
as terrorists; the journalist who originated the idea could also be at risk.
is important to know that AETA terrorism charges cannot be brought against
someone when the “target” is unaffiliated with an animal enterprise. If the
son’s science project had involved no animals, if the murderer had owned a
bicycle shop instead of a horse ranch, and if the illegally posted signs had
advertised an estate sale, the FBI would not be called. This demonstrates how
the AETA violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution, which states
that all people must have equal protection under the law.
should biomedical corporations and their executives--as well as other animal
industries that bestow hefty campaign donations upon Washington politicos--be
provided with a special law? Aren’t there more (or equally) deserving
“targets” in need of activist protection, such as abortion clinics,
anti-union employers, gay-run businesses and houses of worship? Should there be
an Abortion Clinic Terrorism Act, a Union Employer Terrorism Act, and a Gay
Community Terrorism Act, among others? Or would these niche laws further impede
efforts to identify real terrorism, as the AETA does?
have been over 13,000 incidents against abortion clinics and doctors since 1977,
including seven murders. There have been over 2,100 acts of union violence
between 1991 and 2001, including bombings, shootings and near fatal injuries.
2004 alone, there were over 4,500 racially motivated incidents in America, while
there were another 1,480 based on religious bias and another 1,460 based on
sexual orientation. Animal and environmental groups have committed far fewer
acts, yet they are pinned with the “terrorist” tag, while those who shoot
abortion doctors or burn down synagogues are perceived only as felons.
the same token, it is unfair to drag a mother off to prison as a terrorist due
to bad luck, in that her son decides to embark upon an animal project. If she
had destroyed his chemistry vials, she would not be facing terrorism charges.
Her compassionate response to animal abuse should make her a hero, not an
Al-Qaeda operative. It is dangerous to dilute the word “terrorism” so it
loses all meaning, so it describes the most caring and justice-loving members of
our society, and so it theoretically applies to the entire citizenry, many who
sweat nervously in “standby” waiting rooms.
AETA may lead to consequences its originators did not foresee. It may embolden
aboveground activists who no longer need to limit their activities to that which
is legal. After all, they are viewed as terrorists either way. Why should they
cheer from the sidelines when they can run with the ball?
and oppressive laws can propel pacifists into action, as depicted in the movie, Catch
A Fire. The film relates a true story about an apolitical black man who is
wrongly accused of being a terrorist by South African authorities in 1980. After
enduring arrest and interrogation, he comes to the realization that it is only
right to be a “terrorist,” so as to combat the entrenched apartheid of the
day. He becomes a rebel fighter, planting an incendiary device at an oil
refinery. Ironically, the government—convinced it is keeping him under control
by choking him with the heavy hand of the law—wakes him up to injustice and
ignites him into action. Animal liberation is no less a noble cause, and a
similar result could be expected. Who could be next to catch a fire?
is about nothing if it is not about fairness and free speech. The AETA does not
comport with this image. It is unjust and unconstitutional, and it interferes
with the prosecution of real terrorism against the American people.
we faced a “red scare”; now we are bombarded with a “green scare.” The
time has come to ask yourself: Do you really want to be on stand-by or do you
want to take a stand?
And are you now, or could you someday be, the terrorist next door?
Published in the Los Angeles Daily News on April 1, 2007. Link to the article in the publication.
Published in Counterpunch on January 26, 2007
Published in the Tolucan Times on March 21, 2007
Published in Counter Currents Magazine on January 31, 2007
Published in Opinion Editorials on January 28, 2007
Published in OpEd News on January 28, 2007
Published in the American Chronicle on January 29, 2007
Published in Buzzle on January 28, 2007.
Published in Human Beams on February 1, 2007
LA Wire on January 28, 2007
Bay Area Wire on January 28, 2007
Outlaw News on January 27, 2007
Terrorstorm on January 26, 2007
All Creatures on January 30, 20
Outlaw News on January 26, 2007
Daily Scare in January 2007