Mar 19th, 2009 by Will Potter
When four animal rights activists were arrested under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, it was unclear how prosecutors would proceed, and what specific accusations the activists would face. Now, thegovernment indictment,available here for the first time, makes it strikingly clear that prosecutors intend to use terrorism laws to target First Amendment activity.
The “AETA 4,”—Joseph Buddenburg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope, and Adriana Stumpo—have been indicted for conspiracy” to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. As justification of the charge, the indictment lists three specific acts:
- A protest on October 21, 2007, at an animal researcher’s home. The government says this amounts to “threats, criminal trespass, harassment and intimidation.” In the criminal complaint, the FBI said that on this date “protesters trespassed onto Professor Number One’s front yard and rang his doorbell several times. The group was making a lot of noise and chanting animal rights slogans (“1, 2, 3, 4 open up the cage door; 5, 6, 7, 8, smash the locks and liberate; 9, 10, 11, 12, vivisectors go to hell”)…”
- A protest on January 27, 2008, at an animal researcher’s home. The government says this amounts to “threats, harassment, and intimidation.” In the criminal complaint, the FBI said that on this date approximately 11 individuals demonstrated at the homes of multiple researchers. “At each residence, the individuals, dressed generally in all black clothing and wearing bandanas over their nose and mouth, marched, chanted, and chalked defamatory comments on the public sidewalks…”
- Use of the Internet. They allegedly “used the Internet to find information on bio-medical researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz.”
Even more telling, though, is what is not listed in the indictment. In thecriminal complaint and the FBI press release, the government mentioned the above allegations along with two other incidents—the only two incidents even approaching a “gray area” between protected speech and illegal conduct.
- At one protest attended by the defendants, a researcher “struggled with one individual and was hit with a dark, firm object,” according to the FBI. (February 24, 2008)
- A stack of fliers titled “Murderers and torturers alive & well in Santa Cruz July 2008 edition” was found at a local coffee shop, Café Pergolesi. The fliers said “we know where you live we know where you work we will never back down until you end your abuse” and listed home addresses and telephone numbers. The FBI used video surveillance to allegedly link the flier distribution to the defendants. (July 29, 2008)
Now, to be very clear, the details in an indictment aren’t the final word in any criminal case. They never reveal too much of the prosecution’s hand. They do, however, lay the backbone of the government’s case and put the prosecution’s best foot forward.
Omitting the most controversial, potentially-illegal activity, and instead focusing on protests that involved chalking slogans and chanting, sends a very clear message of where this is all heading. This case and others like it are not about underground groups like the Animal Liberation Front, they are not about “violence,” they are not about the real potential for violence.
They are about using the “War on Terrorism” to chip away at basic First Amendment rights and criminalize dissent.