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What's in a Name? The 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

by Ardeth Baxter (photo courtesy

Neurologist Charles L. Dana wrote condescendingly in 1909 that anti-vivisectionists—those who were against using animals in scientific research—suffered from zoophil-psychosis, the psychotic love of animals. Almost a century later, the federal government is prosecuting animal advocates for something far worse: terrorism.

On November 13, 2006, the House quietly passed the latest incarnation of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) with only six members voting—Dennis Kucinich casting the only vote against it—after it had passed the Senate in September virtually unopposed. Although almost 200 animal advocacy, environmental, and constitutional law groups as well as thousands of concerned citizens had contacted Congressional representatives about their opposition to this bill, it was to no avail. AETA was quickly signed into law by President Bush.

Originally called The Animal Enterprise Protection Act, when it was first passed in 1992 at the urging of the National Association of Biomedical Research, a pro-vivisection lobbying group, the 2006 version of AETA had been amended in 1994 and 2002, each time with more draconian penalties and questionable provisions. A new crime, “animal enterprise terrorism”, was created for anyone who travels in “interstate or foreign commerce” or uses any interstate or foreign facility (such as phone or mail), and “intentionally causes physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise” by stealing, damaging, or causing property loss over $10,000. The latest version extends legal protections to animal industry workers, their immediate families, and anyone connected with an animal enterprise, and protects these enterprises from loss of profit or property through even peaceful protests and boycotts. In addition, the law has been expanded to include any business or institution that “uses or sells” animals or animal products, such as zoos, circuses, rodeos, aquariums, factory farms, fur farms, puppy mills, animal shelters, universities, and pet stores—but even your local Albertson’s or Walmart can be included in this vague definition.

What’s going on here? In 2004 Congressional hearings chaired by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), FBI Deputy Assistant Director John Lewis declared that animal liberation and environmental movements were the biggest domestic terrorism threats in the U.S. Senator Inhofe suggested that since underground activists were so hard to find, it was time for the government to go after the “above-ground” activists. Inhofe and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) co-sponsored the Senate AETA bill. Unlike Inhofe, Feinstein has a good voting record for pro-animal legislation, but she is also a staunch supporter of using animals in biomedical research, a profitable business in her home state.

                    Product testing on rabbits

AETA was first used in 1998 in a case involving two men who released thousands of mink from Wisconsin fur farms and were sentenced to two years in prison and a fine. The second case, in 2006, involved the prosecution of the “SHAC 7” (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty). The defendants included five individuals and the SHAC USA corporate website they managed, which posted news about the campaign to close Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a controversial contract biomedical research company. The seventh defendant was a young man who belonged to a Long Island animal rights group that peacefully protested in front of Deloitte and Touche, the accounting company for HLS. He was accused of losing HLS over $10,000 in business because the company severed ties with HLS. While they did not participate directly in the legal and illegal actions posted on their website by others, the SHAC USA defendants openly supported them (the prosecution argued that the Internet was a facility of interstate commerce). Thus the government was able to convict them using AETA on the basis of their indirect participation in a campaign of harassment, intimidation and terrorism, and send them to prison for over 21 years.

The Equal Justice Alliance and other groups believe that AETA is undemocratic. They say it is too broad and vague, allowing almost any interference with any enterprise to be charged, even in the absence of economic damage or bodily injury. Its punishments are disproportionately harsh (from one year to a life term, along with hefty fines), and include penalties for nonviolent illegal activities such as civil disobedience. It endangers free speech and assembly for all forms of protest, even media campaigning and whistle blowing, if it can be shown that they result in loss of profit for an animal enterprise. It allows repeat violators of animal welfare laws to get away with animal abuse because it outlaws undercover investigations. It forces government agencies to waste time prosecuting animal advocates and ignore real terrorists and may lead to unwarranted wiretapping. And it may lead to future prosecution of environmental and social justice groups.

I advocate non-violence. Firebombing businesses or stalking employees will not win the hearts and minds of the animal exploitation industry, nor of the general public. But laws are already on the books to prosecute people who employ these tactics. The issue is that AETA regards as potential criminals even law-abiding citizens who peacefully demonstrate against wearing fur, or who protest a non-animal related issue in front of a so-called animal enterprise.

Some members of Congress take issue with labeling animal advocates as terrorists. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), objected to the Inhofe hearing, commenting: “ . . . most Americans would not consider the harassment of animal testing facilities to be ‘terrorism,’ any more than they would consider anti-globalization protestors or anti-war protestors or women’s health activists to be terrorists.”

Not everyone in the advocacy community is worried about AETA. Steve Hindi, president of SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), feels “it is more window dressing than a real threat, at least to legitimate activists as opposed to those who endorse violence, threats and intimidation, . . . ”

Only time will tell how often the newly amended AETA will be used by the federal government. Read AETA at and if you believe, as I do, that this controversial law should be repealed, please write to your Congressional representatives at and For more on the SHAC 7 case go to

Ardeth Baxter is a writer, animal rights advocate and ethical vegan, and the guardian of four dogs and five cats. For more of her writing, visit: Associated Content

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