ACTION ALERT: Repeal the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act
May 27, 2009
Center for Constitutional Rights &
Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Civil Liberties Defense Center and civil rights attorneys moved to dismiss the federal indictment against animal rights activists for "conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism." Charges against the "AETA 4" include protesting, chalking the sidewalk, chanting and leafleting, and the alleged use of "the Internet to find information on bio-medical researchers." These actions are clearly protected by the First Amendment.
ACTION ALERT: Repeal the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act
Center for Constitutional Rights
(May 27, 2009) — Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) and civil rights attorneys moved to dismiss the federal indictment against animal rights activists Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope and Adriana Stumpo (the AETA 4), for conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism. Charges against the AETA 4 include protesting, chalking the sidewalk, chanting and leafleting, and the alleged use of "the Internet to find information on bio-medical researchers." These actions are clearly and traditionally protected by the First Amendment.
The Department of Justice brazenly calls these young activists "terrorists" under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). Passed by Congress near the end of the Bush administration, the AETA aims to suppress speech and advocacy by criminalizing activities protected by the First Amendment, including protests, boycotts, picketing and whistleblowing.
While the AETA targets animal rights activists, its language is so broad and vague that it could be easily be used to prosecute labor activists who might engage in peaceful activities such as picketing or organizing a successful boycott of a large, corporate supermarket that exploits its workers. The AETA criminalizes a broad swath of protected First Amendment activities — and CCR and the defense team have asked the Court to strike down the AETA as unconstitutional.
The case of the AETA 4 is the first application of this dangerous, Sedition Act like law. It is clear that the law can and will be used both to criminalize lawful protests and to overcharge pretty offenses. It is of critical importance that the case against the AETA 4 be dropped in order to protect our Constitutional right to dissent.
Take action today in solidarity with the AETA 4 by doing the following:
1. Call the Department of Justice at (202) 514-1057 and ask Assistant Attorney General David Kris to stop using counter-terrorism resources to criminalize animal rights activism.
2. Write your senator and representative and demand that they repeal the AETA which will only lead to violations of our Constitutional rights; and,
3. Join the Coalition to Abolish the AETA and work with us to protect everyone's Constitutional right to dissent.
Stand with us today and call for justice for the AETA 4.
Annette Dickerson is the CCR’s Director of Education and Outreach
• Sign the Petition to Repeal the AETA
Dear Senator or Representative,
I am writing today to ask that you repeal Section 43 of title 18, United States Code, entitled the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).
The AETA was passed by Congress in 2006. It is unconstitutional because it is so vague as to fail to give a reasonable person notice of the activity it criminalizes. Its overbroad reach will chill a substantial amount of First Amendment activity such as protests, boycotts, picketing, and whistleblowing.
While Congress attempted to include First Amendment protections in the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of California has indicted four young animal rights activists, Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope and Adriana Stumpo, for conspiracy to commit terrorism based on alleged actions which constitute protected speech or minor civil disobedience, namely protesting, chalking the sidewalk, chanting, leafleting and looking up information on the internet about bio-medical researchers.
The indictment of the AETA 4—the first application of the AETA—clearly demonstrates what civil liberties experts warned Congress about: that this law could and would be used to suppress free speech activities and criminalize protest and dissent. The AETA is being used to suppress free speech activity, not to prevent, reduce or stop terrorism. It also siphons resources and attention away from the investigation of terrorism.
I urge you to repeal Section 43 of title 18 of the United States Code immediately.
The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act
WASHINGTON (September 26, 2008) — The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 27, 2006. The law was pushed through Congress by wealthy biomedical & agri-business industry groups such as the Animal Enterprise Protection Coalition (AEPC), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), with bipartisan support from legislators like Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative James Sensenbrenner. The new law replaced its predecessor, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA), which had become law in 1992.
The AEPA was put on the books in 1992 by well-funded industries that exploit animals. Proponents of the AEPA argued that the number of violent attacks committed by so-called animal rights extremists on farming and research facilities was escalating, and that the AEPA was necessary to protect these facilities. They claimed that (1) existing state & federal laws had failed to curtail such acts, and (2) these attacks disrupted vital services relied on by millions of Americans.
Despite these assertions, the language of the AEPA swept up constitutionally-protected free speech activities, even though legislators believed they had struck a balance between the right to protest and the need to provide additional criminal penalties for violent acts. Despite the claims of the corporate interests that this law was vital, the law has only been used twice during the last 16 years.
Fast forward to 2006, the proponents of the AETA repeated these same arguments again in support of this new law. Citing some recent activities, the proponents asserted that existing law had not provided a sufficient deterrent, and that animal rights extremists were using new tactics such as making threats and targeting anyone affiliated with animal enterprises. Therefore, the federal law had to be expanded to address such acts.
Yet in actuality, the language of the AETA covers many First Amendment activities, such as picketing, boycotts and undercover investigations if they “interfere” with an animal enterprise by causing a loss of profits. So in effect, The AETA silences the peaceful and lawful protest activities of animal and environmental advocates.
AETA supporters claim the bill contains language to protect free speech activities. In fact, some Democratic legislators mistakenly came out in favor of the AETA because of its supposed First Amendment protections. For example, Senator Leahy, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported the bill because he believed it had been amended to remove penalties for nonviolent activities as well as actions that might cause a loss of profits.
Representative Scott, the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, asserted that the AETA excluded First Amendment activity and acts of peaceful civil disobedience in announcing his support of the bill.
In late September 2006, the bill was introduced and amended in the Senate by Senators Feinstein and Inhofe, and was passed out of the Senate by Unanimous Consent. Once on the House side, Representative Sensenbrenner placed the bill on suspension calendar, propelling the bill to the House Floor. Representative Dennis Kucinich was the only member who opposed the AETA in the room, arguing that it was inappropriate to vote out the bill in this manner. Speaking out against the bill on its merits, he emphasized that:
• Existing federal laws are adequate;
• The bill created a special class of crimes for a specific type of protest, and;
• Such a broad terrorist label will chill free speech. He also urged Congress to pay more attention to the issues raised by the millions of Americans concerned about the humane treatment of animals, and to consider legislation in response to those concerns.
Yet the bill was pushed through late at night, with inadequate notice, and with only a fraction of Congresspersons present to vote on it.
For more information, check out:
• Animal Enterprise 101 by independent journalist Will Potter
• A step-by-step analysis of the AETA by Will Potter
• AETA vs. AEPA: A side-by-side comparison
• The full text of the AETA
10 Things You Can Do to Abolish the AETA
(September 26, 2008) — The AETA was passed and signed into law because powerful lobbyists—representing companies, universities and research agencies in every state—were pressuring Congress to act in their favor. The only way to undo the AETA is to build vibrant and active movements in every state and for citizens, workers and consumers to pressure their elected officials, employers and the companies from which they buy things.
Here’s what you can do today:
1. Educate the people around you. Download our resources about the AETA and share with your community. Contact us if you would like us to send you a packet of materials or for more information.
• 2. Organize an event in your community. Host a teach-in, house party, film screening or discussion to build support and a movement in your community. Contact us if you are looking for a speaker or materials for your event.
• 3. Contact your two U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative demanding they repeal the AETA. Write a letter to them. Start a letter writing campaign. Download a petition to circulate and send to your elected officials. Click here to find contact information for your Senators and Representative.
• 4. Organize a delegation to meet with your two U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative at their district offices in your community to educate them about the AETA and demand they repeal it. Click here for tips on having an effective meeting.
• 5. Organize a creative action or street theater to draw attention to the AETA and its impact.
• 6. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about the AETA and why you think it should be abolished.
• 7. Dispel the myth of eco-terrorism. Next time you see your local newspaper, news station or elected official comment on the threat of “eco-terrorism” and the need for increased penalties, respond!
• 8. Target a local supporter of the AETA. Do you attend a university, buy (or boycott) animal products, work at or own stock in any company? Click here to see a list of companies and lobbying firms that supported the AETA. Chances are your school or target company was involved in the AETA’s passage. Write a letter to the CEO or Director of the institution, gather petition signatures, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about the institution, or organize a rally or creative action against the institution.
• 9. Join the Coalition to Abolish the AETA. We need you to help with research, outreach, and media making. We are a national network of grassroots activists, concerned citizens and lawyers working to raise awareness about the AETA and build public pressure to abolish the AETA. Join us and sign up for a working group.
• 10. Continue working for animal protections and furthering the movement. Click here to learn about your rights. Need to talk to a lawyer now? Call (800) ECO-LAW, the National Lawyers Guild’s green scare hotline.