Can We Stop Labeling Animal Activists as Terrorists?

This week the New York City Bar Association withdrew a resolution submitted to the American Bar Association that urged Congress to repeal the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), in addition to urging the Department of Justice to stop any further prosecutions brought under it.

Originally known as the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, the AETA was passed in 2006 following the arrests of activists associated with the group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) for doing nothing more than campaigning to shut down the notorious product testing facility Huntingdon Life Sciences.

A number of agribusinesses, including the fur industry and pharmaceutical companies that have a financial stake in the continued exploitation of animals and was intended to target violent activities, lobbied for the act.

However, numerous individuals and organizations oppose it because it’s overly broad, vaguely written, unconstitutional and has unfairly set its sights on law abiding citizens who want to speak out on behalf of animals. Under the law, if you protest peacefully or engage in other forms of civil disobedience or undercover investigations you could forever be labeled a terrorist.

While it has a provision that is supposed to protect legal activities that are covered by the First Amendment, many, including the NYC Bar Association, believe that it’s insufficient when it comes to protecting citizens who want to raise public awareness about animal suffering.

Causing damage to labs, fur farms or slaughterhouses might come to mind, but the law’s use of the term “animal enterprise” is overly vague. It covers every place that sells animals or animal products, including grocery stores, but at the same time doesn’t define illegal conduct, leaving both citizens and law enforcement confused about what people have a right to do.

According to the NYC Bar Association’s resolution, “The law raises serious constitutional concerns because by targeting conduct that also causes only economic harm, such as lost profits, it reaches protected First Amendment activity including leafleting, protesting and picketing.”

Last year five animal rights advocates filed a lawsuit claiming the AETA was unconstitutional and had a chilling effect on their ability to advocate for animals. Unfortunately, the case was dismissed with a ruling that the plaintiffs “have not alleged any specific, actual harm suffered.”

Sarahjane Blum, one of the plaintiffs, disagrees and believes she has been harmed by this law.

“The AETA explicitly punishes causing an “animal enterprise” to lose profits, and I have spent years living in fear that the more persuasively I tell the truth about the animal suffering that underpins so much of our daily lives, the more likely I am to get thrown in jail,” she recently wrote in Truthout.

While the AETA is supposed to target violent activities, it’s already been pointed out that we have laws on the books to protect individuals and businesses from harassment, trespassing and damage.

This law doesn’t do much but make advocates afraid to bring attention to the atrocities animals are forced to endure for fear of being arrested and silence those who may otherwise spread information and start a dialogue with the public that might change minds and behaviors, while allowing the industries that continue to profit from their use hide behind the war on terror.

The next time the NYC Bar Association will have the opportunity to raise issues about problems with the AETA is at the next ABA meeting in February. Hopefully the resolution will be reintroduced.

Ultimately, animals feel the repercussions of such actions the most. Sign this petition to be an advocate for wild turtles to keep them out of turtle races and in their natural habitat.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven10 months ago

thanks for the article.

frank Kerry
frank Kerry1 years ago

Has anyone thought about The undercover people that actually see the sadistic Torture that these so called scientist do to these inocent animals in the name of science ? Dont you think that this is a kind of Terrorism, We then see these DREADFULL vidios and after years of trying to get through to the goverment how wronge this is !!! A Great deal of Anger , frustraition & stong emotions are very hard to cope with at times, but not knowing what is happening is worse !!!! If only the Goverment & Animal Rights could get together to discuse these issues BUT the goverment will not so more frustration biulds up ! So is their is too much money in this for the Goverment to want to stop this ,!!!!! I fear so !!!!! Also its not nessersery to test on Animals today ! when we know there are other ways to test without the torture of Animals ! Please stop & think of the millions of Animals that are killed every year in dreadfull ways ? Its Barbaric in this day & age Don,t you think ???????

Carla van der Meer

As a response to an earlier post, I believe that in some instances animals are indeed murdered. They do not deserve to be treated cruelly, abused or misused for the entertainment or 'gratification' of human and should not be subjected to torturous testing. In some instances the ends do justify the means. If one can save animals from barbaric and vile abuse and torture, even, yes, murder, should one not take whatever actions possible to save them? Don't get me wrong, I do not advocate harming humans either, although some of them deserve a sound beating for their gross negligence or outright cruelty and sadism. Saving a life is an act of heroism, not terrorism. The language of laws like this and the so called 'ag gag' laws are couched in terms which turn good people into criminals at the behest of protecting the interests of cruel and vicious corporations.

Janet Groves
Janet Groves2 years ago

All right then... I'm going to have to make this reply brief, as my rabbits are currently awaiting their evening meal.

First - The "You're Like Hitler!!!" Comment? That is so very very lame. And old. And just about the biggest joke going. Because, you know what? Comparing ANY of this to the Holocaust and the systematic slaughter of millions of people, is just insulting to yourself and those people. And, if you'd actually read my reply, I am not advocating the abuse or murder of any people.

Also, I'm not entirely sure of what "insane law" you're suggesting I have... You mean the actual legal laws that I feel people should follow because killing people, threatening people and burning things down is wrong? Or is it the "to each their own" philosophy I've adopted for my own personal beliefs?

I also don't recall insulting animals... Unless it was when I said they aren't people. Which they aren't.

As far as it goes, you know nothing about me, so do not presume to judge me, or think that you know what I do or do not do for animals and the environment.

For my last trick, I'd like to point out how the ARA has resorted to name calling, insults and veiled threats... I believe he is using threats and intimidation to try and terrorize me into silence...

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Added point, I'm certain you're fully aware of how humanity is harming the animal kingdom and all earth's life in the name of psychotic greed, and that includes agribusiness farmers, labs, corporations, etc. there is no animal that has ever walked the face of the earth that could even approach the massive environmental and animal cruelty crimes humans are perpetrating daily.

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Your insane law is like the "law" of Hitler, as long as your beloved leader says the "law" is to gas the Jewish people, apparently you would bow down to that. And you are not a friend if like Hitler you try to excuse your crimes against animals by insulting them, which animals are by the way are far superior to you, and that is no exaggeration. When have you ever done ANYTHING like an animal or a plant does to share in an ecosystem and contribute constructively in a dynamic exchange for the survival of that ecosystem. You can only insult the animals in an false view of your human "superiority" when nothing could be further from the truth. The overpopulated human monstrosity, the most unintelligent, least deserving alien thing this planet has every experienced is a nightmarish virus on earth's life that earth would be relieved to get rid of.

Janet Groves
Janet Groves2 years ago

Mark - What crimes, exactly? What crimes are zoos committing, or circuses, or breeders, or farmers committing? Did I ever, at all, imply that people should be given free reign? Did I ever imply that I feel abuse is ever justified or okay?

Also, animals? They're not humans. Murder? That's killing a human, and as we've just covered, animals are not humans. Eating animals? That's how we're built. That's what our digestive tract has evolved to digest, it's what our teeth are made for.

Do two wrongs make a right? No. Is an animal right advocate justified if they set fire to a corporate building that they feel is evil? Do the ends justify the means, even if it involves death threats and wishing cancer on people? Not in the least. If I started burning down farmers' fields, and said it was in the name of carnivorism, would I be outside the law? Or if I started protesting farmers' markets with images of all the field mice and other small animals that are killed by harvesting grains for human consumption, and screaming at people because of their vegetarian or vegan choices, is that forgiven, since I am trying to promote my ideals? No, it's inappropriate action, no matter what.

"It's for the animals!" is not a catch phrase that excuses illegal and inappropriate action. Animal rights activists feel they are above the law, and that, my friend, makes them terrorists.

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Janet G. Nice "politically correct" logic so everybody has a "choice" whether to be involved in the most hideous crimes imaginable against the world environment or animals.. or not? But never condemn terrorists who commit such crimes.. as long as they're corporations sanctioned by government terrorists. If I lost my mind completely and went down your path I'd just let Ted Bundy do his thing as long as he has enough lawyers to get him off.. cleared by the system to do more murder sprees but I'm fine since I'm not involved in any of his murders so my conscience is clear. typical psychotic human logic. Not doing anything about such crimes is not much different than doing the crime itself.

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

As for the comment disapproving of SHAC's activism to shut down Hutingdon, terrorist groups often hide behind a corporate label while committing extreme crimes, and Huntingdon Life Sciences , like other criminals calling themselves "corporations" for instance Monsanto are by definition vicious terrorist groups, so anything that was done to them as far as I'm concerned gets a pass.

Janet Groves
Janet Groves2 years ago

Mark D. - first, allow me to ensure you are aware of what terrorism is.

ter·ror·ism [ter-uh-riz-uhm]
1. systematic use of violence and intimidation to achieve some goal

Radical animal rights advocates indeed are terrorists by this definition. They use scare tactics, they show inappropriate images to children, they release non-native species to either die horrible deaths or decimate the local wildlife populations. They've been known to break into private property to gain access to animals, they've been known to steal animals, to threaten violence, to burn buildings, to throw paint on people. They harass and stalk people who do things they don't care for. Shall I continue?

By the very definition of Terrorism, Radical Animal Rights Activists are, indeed, terrorists. I, on the other hand, am not. I believe that everyone is free to make their own choices as to if they buy from a breeder, a pet store, or a shelter. I think that if someone wants to be vegan, or vegetarian, or eat only cruelty free products, then that is good for them. I do not force my beliefs on others, and I do not condemn those who do not share my beliefs.

Can you say the same?