Monday, July 21, 2008
This is the second of a three-part series called "The Green Scare."
In 1992 Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. Groups that profited from animal suffering -- like the National Association for Biomedical Research -- supported the law, which made it a crime for anyone who "intentionally damages or causes the loss of any property (including animals or records) used by the animal enterprise, or conspires to do so.”
Civil rights groups charged that the vague language could be used to arrest non-violent activists. After all, the purpose of a protest or boycott (legal under the First Amendment) is to cause an entity to lose money.
Go here for a more in-depth look at this law.
The Animal Enterprise Protection Act wasn't good enough for the groups that profited from animal suffering, so they began to push Congress to pass the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
The biggest difference in this law is that it also seeks to protect "tertiary targets" of the animal-cruelty industry. For example, activists opposed to Huntingdon Life Sciences targeted the company that provided insurance to HLS, eventually getting them to drop HLS as a client. If the AETA had been law at the time, activists may have been charged for targeting a tertiary company.
The biggest irony of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act occurred the day Congress passed it into law. The Senate had already passed it, and when it went to the House, only six legislators were there to vote on it. It passed via a fast-track process used for noncontroversial issues. So where were the other House members? They were attending a groundbreaking on the Mall to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
Congress passed legislation that called those who participated in civil disobience terrorists at the same time that they were honoring a man who used civil disobience to effect change.
You can read a more detailed account of that day -- Nov. 13, 2006 -- here.
(Photo of MLK standing in front of Gandhi's picture courtesy of mlkonline.net. Gandhi had also practiced civil disobedience.)