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Animal Rights

Boycott Angora


This post originally appeared in The Huffington Post and Alternet.

It would be dishonest of me to say that I recommend watching PETA Asia’s video exposing the barbaric methods employed by Chinese laborers in the manufacture of angora fabrics. Even by the standards of animal cruelty investigative videos, PETA Asia’s footage is hard to watch. If you’re not prepared to see it for yourself, allow this description to suffice: bunny rabbits are shown strapped to boards, having their fur torn out at the roots by hand until they’re bald, screaming throughout the entire agonizing process. Then they’re thrown into solitary cages where they live out their short, miserable lives, going through the same torture every two months until their throats are finally slit.

The good news is that if you want to take a step toward ending these horrific practices, watching the video isn’t the most important thing you can do. The important thing is to do is this: boycott angora.

I live with two pet bunny rabbits, so my sympathy for the species is personal. Here’s what I know from my experience: Rabbits are highly social creatures, with much more distinct and idiosyncratic personalities than most people would expect. They crave affection, from each other and from their human companions. They experience pain and fear. And under normal circumstances, they never, ever scream.

It’s easy enough to blame China, from which 90 percent of the world’s angora fur is sourced, for the horrors visited upon angora rabbits and other domesticated animals at their end of the industrial supply chain (and even easier to ignore what takes place at ours). As in the United States at the turn of the 20th century and England in the late 1800s, the breakneck pace of Chinese industrialization has generated both enormous wealth and massive poverty and desperation. It’s a society in a stage of anarchic capitalism. Just as there are few labor protections in China for capitalism’s human victims, there are no animal welfare rules whatsoever.

But pointing the finger solely at China elides the fact that it’s Americans whose purchasing habits are being served by this cruelty. Angora sweaters may end up on store shelves in a few high-end retail outlets in Shanghai and Hong Kong, but for the most part, they’re headed to your local J. Crew store. Angora fabrics are being made for the luxury tastes of American consumers and the profits of American retailers.

That doesn’t just put the moral responsibility back on us – it also puts us in a position to demand change.

We can no more write new Chinese laws to curtail these abuses than we can enter Chinese factories and release suffering rabbits from their cages. But we can do one thing to make a difference, right this minute: Boycott angora.

Steve King’s Farm Bill Amendment Hurts Animals — and California Farmers

Steve King

This article was first published as an op-ed in The Hill.

Iowa Congressman Steve King is an interesting kind of conservative.

Last year, when a seemingly non-controversial amendment was attached to the 2012 Farm Bill making it a federal crime to attend or to bring a minor to an organized animal fighting event, King strenuously objected, lashing out at those who seek to “elevate animals above humans.” Later, in the face of criticism for his apparent support of criminal dogfighting and cockfighting rings, he tried to explain himself by arguing that enactment and enforcement of laws against such activities should be left to the states, not the federal government.

King’s backpedalled explanation may just sound like good old-fashioned conservative common sense. But this year, the congressman has a curiously different attitude about the federal government intruding on state prerogatives — specifically, the state of California’s prerogatives. When it comes to Congress trampling on the decision of California voters to reduce the suffering of animals instead of upon the attempts of criminals to profit from it, King, it would seem, is all about Big Government.

In May, King introduced an amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill that specifically seeks to neutralize California’s Proposition 2, which was passed by voters in 2008 by 63 percent to 37 percent. In case you’re unfamiliar with Prop 2, it’s the measure that “(r)equires that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.”

Two years after Prop 2′s passage, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law requiring that as of January 1, 2015, all eggs sold in California be produced under Prop 2′s standards, no matter where they originate. Such a law was necessary, the governor reasoned, to prevent out-of-state farmers — who, after Prop 2′s rule change goes into effect a year and a half from now, will be subject to lower legal standards of animal welfare and, consequently, enjoy lower production costs — from taking advantage of the compassion of California voters by undercutting California egg farmers with a flood of cheap, battery cage eggs.

The new rule was about basic fairness for California farmers: voters had chosen to establish minimal animal welfare standards for farmers operating within the state, and California lawmakers were helping to level the playing field to prevent egg farmers from being driven out of business by complying with the new law. “This bill is good for both California egg producers and animal welfare,” Schwarzenegger wrote in a statement accompanying his signature.

But where Californians see common sense and compassion, King claims to see constitutional peril — and constitutional redemption by way of his amendment. The “Protect Interstate Commerce Act,” which survived passage of the overall bill in the House this summer, makes it illegal for a state (such as California) to prohibit or restrict the sale of an agricultural product (such as eggs) produced in another state (such as Iowa) based upon its method of production (such as highly constrictive battery cages).

“Current California law and referendum unconstitutionally regulates dramatically impacts (sic) producers from all over the nation,” King wrote to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association after his amendment was passed by the House Agriculture Committee. “…(PICA) will ensure the federal government is able to put a halt to this unconstitutional activity by states and other political subdivisions.”

Important-sounding words. But lurking behind King’s lofty rhetoric about government jurisdictions is a crass and self-serving interest. By overriding the 2010 law prohibiting the sale in California of out-of-state eggs produced under conditions that fall short of Prop 2′s standards, his amendment would create exactly the situation that state lawmakers and Governor Schwarzenegger sought to prevent: a flooding of the state’s consumer market with cheap, inhumanely produced eggs that put California producers at a major competitive disadvantage to out-of-state agribusiness operations, many of them based in King’s home state of Iowa.

In other words, the King Amendment is all about profits for Iowa Big Ag, at the tragic expense of hens, veal calves, sows, and California farmers. With huge corporate profits on the table, it appears that a politician like King isn’t going to let conservative principles about defending state autonomy from federal overreach stand in the way.

Photo: isafmedia, Creative Commons License

Criminalizing Compassion

Ag Gag map

This article was originally published in The Nation.

On February 8, a 25-year-old animal rescue worker named Amy Meyer and a colleague pulled into a parking lot across the street from the Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing Company in Draper, Utah, a suburb south of Salt Lake City. They crossed the street and stepped onto a strip of public land on the roadside, stopping short of a barbed wire fence that demarcated the boundary of the property of the slaughterhouse.

Across a small field, the building housing the killing floor stood in plain sight. Through two large open doors facing the road they stood on, they could see cows being led onto the plant’s disassembly line. Outside the building, a forklift was pushing a live cow—possibly a sick, “downer” cow, which are illegal to slaughter. Despite the fact that she stood firmly on public property and was not an employee of the slaughterhouse, when Meyer took out her camera and began to film, she set herself up to become the agricultural industry’s first-ever “Ag Gag” criminal.

“Ag Gag” laws are a species of state-level legislation that has been vigorously pushed by lobbyists over the last several years to criminalize and suppress the exposure of inhumane practices in animal agricultural operations. In essence, the laws protect the industry by making whistleblowers into outlaws.

Ag Gag laws take aim at camera-wielding undercover whistleblowers, whose videos have provided some of the few unvarnished glimpses the public has seen of where their food comes from—and it’s not a pretty sight. Over the last half century, intensive, mechanized, indoor factory-style animal feeding operations have almost entirely supplanted the grazing pastures of traditional livestock farms. In processing plants, ever-increasing disassembly line speeds have increased the risks of injury to knife-wielding slaughterhouse workers, who tend to be poor, often undocumented migrants from Mexico and Central America, while compounding the risk of some animals being skinned and dismembered while still alive.

Undercover videos have exposed the ugly realities concealed behind the walls and locked gates of animal agriculture facilities and put them on the evening news. The footage is graphic; the impressions they leave are haunting and indelible. Images from past undercover investigations include unwanted male chicks on an egg farm being casually tossed into a grinder alive, workers swinging sick or runty piglets by their legs and smashing their heads on concrete, and cows and calves being beaten in the head with crowbars (the first two abuses are standard industry practice). “Once you see them, you can’t unsee them,” says Matt Rice, Director of Investigations for Mercy For Animals, who traces his own conversion to animal advocacy to undercover videos he watched over a decade ago.

Their impact on a political level can be just as powerful as on a personal one: in the last decade, videos shot by undercover investigators and broadcast on national TV news stations have contributed to the phasing-out of the use of immobilizing “gestation crates” for pregnant sows in the supply chains of several major restaurants and retailers and their outright ban in nine states; the passage of a ballot initiative outlawing the use of highly constrictive battery cages for egg-laying hens in California; the passage of a separate California law banning the force-feeding of ducks to produce foie gras; a ban on veal crates in Arizona and moves toward their elimination in Ohio; and the exposure of the routine slaughter and processing of sick cows for beef, which led to the largest meat recall in US history.

The agricultural industry’s response to this intractable public relations threat couldn’t be more straightforward: make it illegal.

The first generation of what would later be known as Ag Gag laws emerged in the early 1990s in response to a much different threat posed by underground activists with the Animal Liberation Front movement. In Kansas, Montana and North Dakota, state legislators made it a crime to take pictures or shoot video in an animal facility without the consent of the facility’s owner.

In 2002, the American Legislative Exchange Council—the conservative law-drafting organization behind Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law and Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB1070—took the approach one step further. ALEC drafted a piece of “model legislation” for distribution to lobbyists and state lawmakers across the country in an effort to make Ag Gag into a national phenomenon. The model bill, called The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, proposed prohibiting activists from, among other things, “entering an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner.” It also proposed the creation of a “terrorist registry” that would contain the names, addresses and photographs of those convicted under the proposed law.

In the last year and a half, at the behest of animal agriculture interests, ALEC’s model bill—minus the registry—has been taken up as a template and passed in various iterations in Iowa, Utah, Missouri, Arkansas and South Carolina.

“The animal agriculture industry has nothing to hide,” says Emily Meredith, Communications Director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, an industry group that refers to organizations like the Humane Society as “extreme animal rights organizations.” “But there’s a difference between having nothing to hide and allowing activists—with a blatant agenda to put an end to the consumption of meat, milk and eggs—to gain access to family farms in illicit and fraudulent ways, take video, and then cut and run to later release that video under a big donate now button.”

Some versions of ALEC’s bill criminalize documenting abuses outright. Some make it a crime to lie about one’s associations with animal advocacy groups on job applications for farm employment. Others require those who document abuses to turn any evidence over to law enforcement within 24-48 hours of recording it—a clever way of preventing activists from engaging in the weeks- or months-long investigations required to demonstrate systemic abuses.

Though the rules target animal advocates, the potential ramifications for civil liberties are broader. Ag Gag rules can as easily be used to inhibit agricultural employees from exposing unsafe or illegal working conditions as it can to silence animal advocates. And other industries are likely to lobby for similar protections against their own whistleblowers-in-the-making. Already, North Carolina’s bill makes the falsification of employment application information for the purposes of whistle blowing a crime in any industry.

“Union members know firsthand how important it is for these workers to be able to document unsafe working conditions and other threats to workplace and food safety,” says Mark Lauritsen, International Vice President and Director of the Packing Division for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents many slaughterhouse employees. ”We are opposed to any government intervention that seeks to intimidate workers and investigators from shining a spotlight on the true conditions of America’s food manufacturing facilities.”

“The laws are clearly directed at animal rights activists who threaten the profitability of factory farms and slaughterhouses, but their reach doesn’t stop there,” says Rachel Meeropol, Senior Staff Attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights. For example, the North Carolina bill, she notes, “would criminalize not only animal rights investigations, but also an undercover journalist who applies for a job at a suspect plant in order to expose human trafficking or work safety violations.”

As its public profile has increased, public opposition to Ag Gag legislation has grown, and the agricultural industry’s path to enacting Ag Gag rules throughout the country has become more daunting. A February 2012 national poll commissioned by the ASPCA showed public opposition to the criminalization of animal abuse whistleblowers standing at almost two in three Americans. Ag Gag bills have been rejected or failed to gain traction in a raft of states in every region of the country from California to Wyoming to Tennessee. The term “overreach” comes to mind.

Amy Meyer’s experience has become something of a symbol of that overreach, and an indicator of the limits of the agricultural industry’s ability to suppress free speech. A few minutes after Meyer hit “record” on her camera, a truck pulled up in front of her. Meyer’s colleague hastily departed. Bret Smith, the facility’s operator and brother of Darrell Smith, the slaughterhouse owner who is also Draper’s mayor, leaned over from the driver’s seat, filming her with a phone camera as she filmed him back. At first, he accused Meyer of trespassing, though she was plainly standing on the outside of the plant’s fence. Then he shifted tactics. “You cannot videotape my property from public property,” he said (this is in fact not what the law says). “If you read the rights here and the laws of Utah, you can’t film an agricultural property without my consent,” he continued. Smith called the police.

Within just a few minutes, seven squad cars pulled up. “The officers would all go to Brett Smith first and shake his hand,” Meyer recounts. “And then they would come over to me and treat me like a criminal.”

An officer questioned Meyer about her identity and what she was doing there, even after affirming that she was not being detained and after she told him she did not wish to answer his questions. After some arguing over the legal basis for his questioning, according to Meyer, the officer claimed that a worker at the slaughterhouse had reported witnessing her and her colleague crossing over the fence, trespassing onto private property—a description at odds with the footage she shot that day. The officer told her she was free to leave, but that he would “screen charges of criminal trespass” on her.

Eleven days later, prosecutors filed charges against her for “agricultural operation interference,” a Class B misdemeanor that carries a maximum six-month jail term.

At the end of April, Will Potter, a journalist who tracks government suppression of environmental and animal rights activists, broke the story of “the first prosecution in the country” under an Ag Gag law. The story was picked up by local and national media outlets, bringing just the kind of public attention to the agricultural industry that ALEC’s model legislation was designed to prevent. Within 24 hours, the charges were dropped.

Without the media attention the story garnered, Meyer may have been forced to defend herself in court. Had prosecutors pressed the case, the video footage, which is clearly shot from outside of the property line, may well have exonerated her. But future cases may have different, less favorable conditions.

On July 22, Meyer, Potter and several other groups and individuals filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Utah’s Ag Gag law, which Meyer calls “a blatant violation of free speech and freedom of the press.”

In implementing Ag Gag laws, the agricultural industry has set a highly restrictive example that other industries may soon follow. With the precedent already set, lawmakers will see little reason to extend favorable treatment to one sector and not to every other. By then, prosecuting whistleblowers on behalf of corporations will be business as usual.

ELF Activist Daniel McGowan Released After 7 Years in “Little Guantanamo”


Daniel McGowan is not a household name. Even among people who have devoted years of their lives fighting to protect the natural world from the predations of capitalism, his role in the history of the environmental movement is marginal and obscure.

It shouldn’t be. McGowan’s story tells us too much about the desperate situation we’re in — politically as well as ecologically — to be dismissed as a sideshow in the struggle to curb the excesses of human consumption before they destroy us.

Outside of radical circles, McGowan’s story is best known from its telling in last year’s Oscar-nominated documentary “If A Tree Falls.” McGowan was one of a dozen underground environmental and animal rights activists with the Earth Liberation Front and its sister movement, the Animal Liberation Front, who were swept up in a two year, multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional investigation called ‘Operation Backfire,’ which culminated in a series of high-profile arrests and prosecutions at the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006. (Two weeks ago, Rebecca Rubin, one of the three remaining fugitives in the investigation, turned herself in at the U.S.-Canada border.) The activists were charged with committing a series of arsons and other property crimes against numerous targets that they deemed to be agents of environmental destruction and animal exploitation, including U.S. Forest Service ranger stations, a horse slaughterhouse, a dairy farm, lumber company facilities, SUV dealerships, wild horse corrals, a university horticultural research center, a meat company, and, most famously, the Vail Ski Resort.

Though none of the crimes targeted people nor resulted in human death or injury, the Justice Department wasted little time in publicly declaring the arrestees “terrorists.” At a 2006 press conference announcing the defendants’ indictments, FBI Director Robert Mueller referred to perpetrators of environmental and animal rights-related crimes as one of the agency’s “highest domestic terrorism priorities.” Congress passed legislation later that year specifically singling out animal rights activists for enhanced criminal penalties, classifying property crimes against industries that exploit animals and even, in some contexts, First Amendment activities directed at agents of those industries, as “terrorism.” No such special legislation has ever been passed to selectively brand white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists, anti-immigrant vigilantes and right-wing militias — all of which have targeted, injured and killed humans — as terrorists.

In an interview with the Eugene Weekly in 2007, David Iglesias, the former federal prosecutor for New Mexico who was terminated by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the 2006 U.S. Attorney firing scandal, called the terrorism charges “political” and “overreaching.” “It seems to me what happened here should not fit my traditional definition of what terrorism is,” Iglesias explained.

McGowan was detained in two different prisons, both of them belonging to a category of new experimental facilities called “Communications Management Units,” or CMUs (he also spent a brief period of his incarceration in general population). CMUs were built to contain low-level terrorists rounded up in the War on Terror; most of their inmates are alleged to be connected to Islamic networks. They are designed to severely restrict and control the amount and nature of prisoners’ communications with the outside world, earning them the nickname among inmates and prison staff of “Little Guantanamo,” according to journalist Will Potter. For several years, their existence was kept secret. There are only two CMUs in the United States, in Illinois and Indiana; McGowan served time in both.

This week, after seven years in federal prison, McGowan was released. For the next six months, he will be living in a halfway house in New York City, and then be under supervised release for three years before he is finally free from the terms of his sentence.

It’s easy to ignore McGowan’s story, to write it off as a criminal psychodrama a world away from the mainstream currents of today’s environmental movement. At the time when McGowan’s ELF cell was still operational, many advocacy groups were subjected to enormous pressure to make that chasm as wide as possible, or risk being marginalized themselves. To help discredit the political content of their crimes, prosecutors, politicians, law enforcement officers and the media have demonized ELF and ALF activists as terrorists, sociopaths, ordinary criminals hiding behind an ideology or, at best, naïve kids with overly romantic notions of what it means to fight for a cause.

A more disinterested, less agenda-driven observer, however, might recognize the near inevitability of the ELF movement’s dialectical emergence out of a prevailing political culture that has stubbornly refused to even begin to address some of the most dire and vexing problems facing every living thing on the planet. When mainstream political institutions fail to rise to the scale and urgency of epochal crises like global warming, deforestation or massive species extinction — in some cases, even failing to acknowledge their reality — among those who understand what’s at stake, there will be some who are driven to desperate acts.

The ELF and ALF could never be the solution to the problems they point to, but neither are they merely incidental to them: radical movements tend to be harbingers of the struggles to come when ossified political systems bury their heads in the sand instead of measuring up to the profound challenges they face and to their own internal contradictions. Rather than vilify McGowan as a terrorist or mythologize him as a martyr for the earth, we should consider his story for what it tells us about a civilization so blind to its circumstances that it provokes individuals to engage in extreme political acts and risk serving years in Little Guantanamos in order to do something to stem an unfolding catastrophe.

Photos: NYC Anarchist Black Cross (with permission)

Undercover videos are fine, except when they’re about animal abuse. Then they’re terrorism.

Spy camera

Think Progress reports that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that police can secretly videotape the inside of your home without a warrant.

The case involves an undercover officer who entered a suspect’s home under false pretenses (claiming to be an interested buyer of contraband bald eagle feathers and pelts), carrying a concealed video camera. The footage from that camera was used as evidence in the suspect’s prosecution.

The suspect claimed that the method for gathering the footage constituted a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights and that the evidence should have been suppressed. The court ruled that because what was revealed to the undercover officer during his visit was in plain sight, the fact that he was secretly recording it is irrelevant.

Earlier this year, Iowa and Utah became the latest states to approve “Ag Gag laws” that criminalize undercover investigations of animal abuse on factory farms. When activists enter a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation under false pretenses (usually by getting hired) for the purpose of secretly videotaping the daily gratuitous atrocities committed against pigs, cows, chickens and other livestock, their conduct in states with Ag Gag laws is criminal. The FBI has recommended they be prosecuted as terrorists.


Cops lying about their identities and shooting undercover videos in your house = no problem.

Animal rights activists lying about their identities and shooting undercover videos of animal abuse on factory farms = terrorism.

That is all.

Activists Protest Juicy Couture Founders for Use of Fur in New ‘Skaist Taylor’ line

skaist-6622 620px

Juicy Couture, the brand that built a fashion empire out of rhinestone-studded velour track suits with “Juicy” emblazoned across the ass, became a darling of animal lovers in 2008 when it pledged to go fur-free.

But on Saturday, Juicy Couture co-founder Pamela Skaist-Levy found the street outside her Beverly Hills home the site of a demonstration by dozens of animal rights protesters shaming her and her business partner Gela Nash-Taylor for trading in the pelts of foxes, raccoons and other animals that were raised in confinement and brutally killed for fashion industry profits.

Juicy Couture is still listed on the Humane Society’s website as a fur-free designer. But now Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor, who left the company two years ago, have a new fashion line out called Skaist Taylor which embraces fur with the same ostentatious aplomb with which Juicy showcases costume jewelry and the color pink.

The fur trade has been the object of protests and boycotts for decades for its horrific treatment of animals.

“Animals including fox, rabbits, mink, cheetah, and even dogs and cats are gassed, beaten, have their necks broken, are caught in steel-jaw leg hold traps and vaginally and anally electrocuted for their fur,” said animal rights attorney Shannon Keith, who produced a documentary on the fur industry called “Skin Trade” and was one of the campaigners behind West Hollywood’s ban on fur retail a year ago. “If someone were caught anally electrocuting a dog, they would be arrested and sent to prison for felony animal cruelty; however, because the fur industry is completely unregulated, those who control it get away with it.”

The demonstration Saturday was organized by two longtime anti-fur activists, Ellen Lavinthal and Jessica Schlueter. Lavinthal was one of the primary organizers behind the West Hollywood fur ban, and Schlueter helped launch a boycott of a major fur retailer.

At one time, Lavinthal, who lives in the neighborhood, was friends with Skaist-Levy. That relationship had already grown distant, but ultimately soured over Skaist-Levy’s decision to use fur as a centerpiece in her new Skaist Taylor line.

“I approached Pamela when she appeared on the front page of the L.A. Times wearing fur to promote her new line,” said Lavinthal. “The next day, my daughter and I reached out to her and dropped off a letter from my daughter asking her to stop using fur, as well as a copy of ‘Skin Trade and some literature about the fur industry. I told her that I and the rest of the animal rights community would be glad to help promote her new line if she changed her mind about fur. A few weeks later, we gave her a petition with 33,000 names on it. When she didn’t do anything about it, we were left with no choice but to protest.”

Skaist Taylor’s press agent did not respond to repeated attempts to contact the company for comment.

Schlueter also had a falling out — not with the designer herself, but with the Juicy Couture brand. Like countless other young women around the world, in high school and college, Schlueter spent “hundreds, if not thousands of dollars” on Juicy clothes. The company’s image appealed to her: the story of two women with practically no resources starting a global brand out of their small L.A. apartment was irresistible. Juicy Couture’s pledge to go fur-free sealed her brand loyalty.

Now, Schlueter feels disappointed and betrayed, dismayed that all the money she spent on Juicy Couture clothes over the years had only helped further the careers of two fashion industry giants who then went on to become part of the multibillion dollar fur industry.

“I don’t think they are horrible people, I think they have spent years in a community that glamorizes fur and that mocks people who stand up against its inherent cruelty,” Schlueter explained.

Skaist Taylor has no physical stores, so the activists chose Skaist-Levy’s home residence as the site for their demonstration. Especially given its residential setting, the protest was conceived from the start as a calm, peaceful, educational action — no screaming in people’s faces or mixing it up with the cops.

But demonstrations in front of private homes are an inherently risky tactic for animal rights activists. Federal prosecutors have shown a willingness to classify “home demos” as acts of terrorism under the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a law that the fur trade and other animal-based industries lobbied for and which was written explicitly to criminalize certain protest tactics in animal rights campaigns that are Constitutionally protected in every other context. In 2009, the government indicted four Santa Cruz animal rights activists on terrorism charges for engaging in First Amendment activities, including protests in front of the homes of UC Santa Cruz vivisectors, claiming a connection between those actions and two 2008 firebombings of the car and the home of two UCSC scientists, crimes which remain unsolved. A federal judge threw out the indictments the following year for lack of specificity.

With about one bike cop for every three protesters, however, no tension was visible between law enforcement and activists at the demonstration on Saturday. Protesters restrained their passion with civility, aiming to reach the public instead of alienating it. A few Star Tours vans passing by slowed down for tourists to take pictures.

The organizers were pleased. “I’m beyond thrilled that this was one of the largest home demos ever in the United States,” said Leventhal. “The fact that so many people would give up their Saturdays and choose to be there really made a statement of how strongly they feel about the use of fur in fashion.”

Jessica Schlueter and Ellen Lavinthal

Photos: Dominic Greco

Charges That Santa Cruz Activist Cooperated with Grand Jury are “Misleading” and “Divisive,” Writes Attorney


A week ago, I wrote that ”the government has secured the cooperation of a reluctant witness in a grand jury investigation of two 2008 arsons targeting faculty members at UC Santa Cruz, according to”

A new post on Indybay takes issue with the characterization of earlier reports of activist Ariana Tanabe’s conduct as “cooperation.” Written by “Ben Rosenfeld, Attorney,” the post says:

I am not Ariana’s attorney, but I have knowledge that the characterization that she cooperated with a grand jury is misleading and unnecessarily divisive. While testifying does not constitute resistance, it does not automatically constitute cooperation. After Ariana and her attorney vigorously challenged a series of subpoenas over a four year period, she appeared before a grand jury and answered a limited set of questions which the government previewed to her attorney, rather than go to jail. She did so because (a) she had no information regarding the incidents the government was investigating, and (b) she knew in advance the questions they would ask her.

As I argued last week, grand juries are used by prosecutors and investigators to repress political dissent by coercing activists who have not been charged with any crimes to become informants on their social movements on pain of imprisonment. Accordingly, radical activists in the anarchist, environmental and animal rights communities have developed a culture of resistance to grand jury subpoenas, which often leads to jail time. The charge of “cooperation” is understandably a highly sensitive one.

The grand jury to which Tanabe was subpoenaed centers on two 2008 firebombing attacks that targeted two UCSC scientists. Though the FBI and the university hastily blamed animal rights activists for the crimes, no underground animal rights group claimed responsibility, as is typically their practice, the bombings do not conform to well-known guidelines of Animal Liberation Front activists that explicitly prohibit attacks on human targets, and federal prosecutors have thus far made no convictions and publicized no suspects, though they did secure indictments in 2009 of four activists who were not charged with direct participation in the arsons and whose “crimes” included chalking sidewalks, chanting, and printing the home addresses of vivisectors on a leaflet that was found in a nearby café. All four indictments were thrown out by a federal judge the following year.

A separate grand jury hearing that has received a great deal of media attention was convened in Seattle earlier this fall, ostensibly related to an investigation into vandalism at a May Day rally. Two activists have been locked up for about six weeks now for refusing to participate (another activist was also recently subpoenaed, and pled the Fifth). A third activist, Leah-Lynne Plante, was released in less than a week and refused to answer questions as to why, and then left town, provoking widespread suspicions that she had cooperated with the investigation, as well as criticism of such speculation as unfair, divisive, and playing into the government’s hands.

Of grand jury resistance, Rosenfeld writes:

Nevertheless, the issues are complex and the solutions scarce, as they often are in the face of powerful state repression. Real support has to entail something more than lionizing those who resist and vilifying those who testify.

Rosenfeld’s post is worth reading in its entirety.

Photo: Occupied Tuson Citizen

The Grand Jury as a Tool of State Repression: An Interview with Jonathan Paul


It’s been about six weeks since two anarchist activists were thrown in a Seattle jail to force their testimony in a grand jury hearing ostensibly convened as part of an investigation into vandalism at a May Day rally. Neither activist has been charged with any crime, nor are they suspects in the case. They are simply people who may or may not have knowledge that could potentially help the FBI with its investigation.

Since their testimony could tend to incriminate themselves, their fellow activists and the causes they stand for (that’s the whole point of the exercise, after all), the two activists have refused on principle to participate. Now they could be locked up for as long as 18 months without a single charge being filed against them for doing nothing but refusing to help the government crack down on their movement.

In California, a separate grand jury was recently convened as part of another investigation, this one into two 2008 firebombings at U.C. Santa Cruz that the FBI has publicly blamed on animal rights activists. In 2009, federal prosecutors secured indictments under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act against four local activists for activities such as marching, chanting, chalking sidewalks and creating leaflets with the names and addresses of vivisectors on them (under the AETA, First Amendment activities can be considered “terrorism” when aimed at animal exploitation-based industries). A year and a half later, a federal judge threw out the indictments for lack of specificity. Back at square one again, the U.S. Attorney’s office turned to its old stand-by tool of state repression: the grand jury.

Grand juries are routinely used by prosecutors and investigators to break social movements by turning activists into informants on one another. Grand jury hearings are conducted in secret; the proceedings are controlled by the prosecutor (there is no judge in a grand jury hearing as the process precedes an indictment so there is no ‘defendant,’ per se); and typically attorneys (other than government prosecutors) are not allowed. The process seems practically designed to enable government fishing expeditions, and as one might imagine, grand jury subpoenas have a profound chilling effect on political speech.

Jonathan Paul is a former Animal Liberation Front activist who spent 51 months in prison for his participation in the 1998 arson of a horse slaughterhouse in Oregon. Prior to that arrest, he spent five months in jail in the early 1990s after refusing to participate in a grand jury proceeding. He was the second animal rights activist ever to be locked up to coerce grand jury testimony, and his imprisonment was the longest at that time in the history of the American animal rights movement.

I asked Paul to recount his experience and shed light on the coercive process that is now being used against the Northwest Grand Jury resisters.

Describe your experience with the grand jury subpoena. Why did they target you? What were they after?

The reason why they targeted me was quite simple: foremost, I was an eco-animal activist, and second, at that time the grand jury was focused on Rod Coronado, who was on the run and was suspected of a number of ALF actions around the country. Rod and I were friends and roommates at the time. Also, in 1990, I was arrested for the 1987 liberation of 287 animals from University of Oregon, although the charges were dropped with some very well done legal wrangling. Although the grand jury was focused on Rod, in many ways they also were looking into others and would take any information they could on anyone else.

Did you consider cooperating, or did you know from the start that you would not comply?

I never considered cooperating and I knew the moment I was served with the subpoena from the two most stereotypical looking FBI agents I had ever seen. Really, it was almost comical. I knew from the start that I would never comply. Quite simply I am not a snitch and never will be.

Besides threatening (and carrying out) your imprisonment, what else did prosecutors do to try to compel you to testify?

All they did was tell me I had to testify under law. I replied that under the Constitution that with my freedom of speech I also had the freedom not to speak. The judge did not like that and threw me in jail. In the first hours I was thrown in a holding cell stripped naked and was approached by the federal prosecuter and told that this was my last chance to testify. I guess he was trying to humiliate me while I stood naked in the cell but I in fact he did not. In our history, all over the world people and political activists are tortured and even killed for their beliefs while I was just fine, other than behind bars. To turn would be weak and narcissistic at best.

What kind of a support network did you have within the activist community? Did it make a difference in your resolve?

Being put in a cell and all alone is a tactic used to make people feel alone and scared and compelled to testify. I felt empowered. I knew of all the suffering happening to the animal nations and even other humans. I knew I had a good life and turning on those who suffer because I was in a cell was simply unacceptable. Having said that, however, it is imperative to have support because we all need support and to know we are not alone. Even those who stand firm and are strong still need the support.

You became sort of a quasi-celebrity from your decision to refuse to cooperate. How did you turn state coercion into a public relations coup? Do you think the symbolism of your act helped the animal rights movement?

In the animal and environmental movement I was the second after Henry Hutto to be imprisoned for not testifying. Part of the resistance to the grand jury process is public outreach as this unconstitutional and fascist process spans to all walks of life, not just activists like me. Those who worked on freeing Henry after 45 days of not talking worked on my case so we knew the process better.

I think my resistance showed that anyone could resist the grand jury. I am no superman as I am just another person no different than anyone else in many ways. Really it is all about commitment in your beliefs. Are you really a true activist for your cause? Are you a government informant or are you an activist? If you feel that you cannot stand up for your beliefs you really should reconsider whether being an activist is for you.

Describe how grand jury subpoenas are used as a tactic by law enforcement to break social movements.

This is quite simple to answer. The grand jury process is an information gathering process that includes forcing people to appear and testify under the fear of having your freedom taken out from under you and at the same time not knowing when you can get out especially if you choose not to testify. With the process super secret it instills fear into people and disrupts from the inside. A sort of mild COINTELPRO process.

What message or advice would you convey to the Northwest Grand Jury resisters, based on your own experience?

All I can tell you is that from my own experience I see the world in a very dark place. Species extinction, the climate crisis, massive deforestation, dying oceans, human overpopulation, human suffering, and the systematic and continual torture, murder, and suffering of animals were at that time for me very compelling reasons to not testify and turn on my movement and my fellow activists let alone the animals and the planet. I saw the grand jury as a strong arm of the government and corporations whose continual behavior will destroy life as we know it on this planet. So for me to compromise my beliefs so I could be free while others suffer in ways I have never or never want to experience is narcissism at the highest level. I would never be able to live with myself.

Resister Turns Cooperating Witness in Grand Jury Investigation of 2008 UCSC Firebombings, According to Report


The government has secured the cooperation of a reluctant witness in a grand jury investigation of two 2008 arsons targeting faculty members at UC Santa Cruz, according to The witness had earlier invoked her Fifth Amendment rights, but agreed to testify after being threatened with contempt charges, according to the report.

Early in the morning of August 2, 2008, a firebomb exploded on the front porch of the home of UC Santa Cruz molecular biologist David Feldheim, forcing his family to escape by ladder out of a second story window. Around the same time, a Volvo station wagon belonging to another UCSC scientist was firebombed on a campus driveway.

Federal investigators and university administrators immediately pointed to animal rights activists as suspects in the crimes. Feldheim conducted experiments on live mice as part of his research on brain development, and was one of 13 vivisectors whose pictures, names and addresses appeared in a leaflet created by a local animal rights group shortly before the attacks, accompanied by a message that read, “Animal abusers everywhere beware; we know where you live; we know where you work; we will never back down until you end your abuse.” The leaflet was posted on the bulletin board of a local café.

But neither the Animal Liberation Front nor any other animal rights group issued a communiqué claiming responsibility for the arsons, as is their usual method.

The ALF engages in illegal property destruction to protest animal abuse and to rescue animals from vivisection, slaughter, fur farming and other forms of industrial animal exploitation. However, historically ALF activists in the United States have followed guidelines requiring them “to take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human,” and no ALF member has ever been prosecuted in the U.S. for attacking a human being.

The owner of the bombed vehicle was not among the 13 vivisectors that appeared on the leaflet, and may not have even been an animal researcher, according to an ALF news site, further complicating the FBI’s theory of a connection between the arsons and the animal rights movement.

Having failed to identify and arrest any direct participant in the crimes, federal prosecutors brought indictments in 2009 against four local animal rights activists for violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which classifies hitherto constitutionally-protected speech activities as “terrorism” when used in campaigns against animal exploitation-based industries (the constitutionality of the law is currently being challenged in court). The four indictees were charged as terrorists for engaging in First Amendment activities such as chanting, marching, chalking sidewalks, and creating and distributing the leaflet with Feldheim’s personal information on it. (more…)

Animal Liberation Is Not Terrorism


On January 16, 2006, two federal agents pulled off of Oregon’s Route 66 and onto a dirt road in the Southern Cascades, about nineteen miles northeast of downtown Ashland. They didn’t get far. There was a blizzard, and the road was buried in snow. The agents were forced to stop just a couple miles short of their destination.

On most winter mornings, the road that forced the agents’ retreat was plowed by Jonathan Paul, a tall, broad-shouldered, 39 year-old volunteer firefighter with a shaved head and a soul patch. Paul had gotten off to a late start that day; it was nearly time for lunch. While the FBI agents sat in their stalled vehicle, Paul climbed into his snow plow, which he kept parked beside his fire truck in the garage next to the solar-powered house where he lived with his wife and three dogs. At the intersection with Route 66, the agents watched as Paul pulled up the road and drove past them. They turned their car around and followed him onto the mountain highway.

Five minutes later, Paul pulled into the parking lot of the Green Springs Inn to order one of the few vegan items on the menu of the only restaurant in the area. The FBI vehicle pulled in behind him, and the agents followed Paul inside. One of them flashed his badge, and Paul knew at once that a nearly nine year-old crime had finally and inevitably caught up to him.

RESCUED: Animal Liberation (featuring Jonathan Paul) from Dog Park on Vimeo.

On July 21, 1997, the Cavel West Horse Rendering Plant, in Redmond, Oregon, was burned to the ground. It was never rebuilt. While in operation, the Belgian-owned slaughterhouse killed and dismembered as many as 500 horses per week, according to Paul, many of them formerly wild animals rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management and adopted out to private individuals who then sold them to the plant to be butchered. The meat was packaged and shipped to Europe and Japan for human consumption.

For over a decade, neighbors had petitioned and protested in a seemingly endless campaign to shut the plant down. In addition to the ethical concerns, Redmond locals complained about the stench, the constant screams of the horses, and the blood overflowing the local sewage system, backing up into neighbors’ bathtubs and knocking out the city’s water treatment plant.

An incendiary device consisting of a mixture of glycerin soap and diesel fuel nicknamed “vegan jello” accomplished what a decade of legal means had failed to achieve. Paul, along with an activist he had recruited named Jennifer Kolar, had mixed the fuel. The other three participants in the arson were Kevin Tubbs, a Nebraskan transplant who had moved to Eugene to work for the Earth First! Journal, Joseph Dibee, a software engineer at Microsoft, and Jacob Ferguson, who later turned into an FBI informant. Tubbs served as driver and lookout. Ferguson carried the fuel, and Dibbee planted the devices. After the ignition timers were set, the perpetrators fled the scene in Tubbs’ van. They stopped at a pre-determined location to dispose of their clothes, gloves and masks and destroy them with muriatic acid. A few days later, the “Animal Liberation Front – Equine and Zebra Liberation Network” faxed a communiqué to Craig Rosebraugh, ALF spokesperson, detailing the steps taken in the action and claiming responsibility for it.

Paul was prepared for his arrest; he had been expecting it. Over the last four years, the government had conducted a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional investigation into a string of arsons and other property crimes by radical animal rights and environmental activists with the Animal Liberation Front and its sister organization, the Earth Liberation Front. The investigation was called “Operation Backfire.” The month before, based on information provided by Ferguson, who had worn a wire and recorded conversations with his former colleagues, the FBI had arrested Tubbs, along with six other underground activists (Ferguson had once tried to record Paul implicating himself as well, but Paul had refused to discuss his past with him). Paul had known and worked alongside some of the arrestees; others were strangers.

Paul could not have known it, but his fellow activists’ long-standing pledges to refuse to assist prosecutors in the event of arrest broke down almost immediately. All of the defendants except for two — William Rodgers and Daniel McGowan — had hastily signed plea bargains and agreed to cooperate with the investigation (McGowan’s case was the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary, “If a Tree Falls”). Rodgers was so shaken by the government’s success in turning his co-defendants that he committed suicide in his cell.

Information provided by the cooperating defendants led to the arrests of Paul and six other activists. Three of them chose to cooperate with the FBI, while four, including Paul, refused. (Three more suspects remain fugitives, Dibbee among them.)

Four days after his arrest, the Department of Justice issued a press release referring to Paul and the other defendants as terrorists. At a press conference announcing the activists’ indictment, FBI Director Robert Mueller, standing alongside Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, cited the pursuit of environmental and animal rights-related criminal perpetrators as among the agency’s “highest domestic terrorism priorities.”

The Green Scare

Of the twenty criminal events investigated under Operation Backfire, none had targeted human beings or resulted in the death or injury of a single person. No action by the ELF or the ALF in the United States has, in fact, ever killed or injured anyone. Both groups’ crimes are, by design, restricted to property.

The same cannot be said of anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists and right-wing militias, none of which have been subject to special federal legislation singling them out as terrorists as ALF and ELF activists have. Indeed, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a mundane intelligence assessment in 2009 outlining the threat of terrorism from right wing extremists, conservative outrage forced Secretary Napolitano to withdraw it (just three months earlier, DHS’s release of a similar report detailing cyberterrorism threats from animal rights and environmental activists and anarchists went more or less unnoticed by the media).

Though what the FBI now calls “eco-terrorism” predates September 11, 2001 by at least two decades, since the events of that date, both the laws on the books pertaining to political activism and the implementation of those laws by police and federal investigators have shifted dramatically in the direction of repression. In a time of perpetual national emergency, freewheeling use of the “terrorist” label enabled Congress to pass the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in 2006, a law that substantially broadened the powers of the Justice Department to pursue animal rights activists — including those who engage strictly in First Amendment activities — as terrorists. Likewise, this year, the label helped two state legislatures pass “Ag Gag” laws that criminalize undercover video investigations of animal abuses in the agriculture industry.

On the enforcement side, police and federal investigators have pursued perpetrators of arson, vandalism and even highly charged political speech as terrorists, and applied investigative techniques commensurate to the threat of Al Qaeda sleeper cells to disrupt their networks, including surveillance, infiltration, raids on homes and offices, and the use of grand juries to force innocent people to inform on their friends and colleagues. Currently, two self-described anarchists are in jail in Seattle merely for refusing to provide information on other activists in a grand jury proceeding. Neither is regarded as a suspect in the vandalism under investigation or have been charged with any other crime.

Describing the charges brought against the defendants in Operation Backfire, David Iglesias, the former federal prosecutor for New Mexico who was terminated by Attorney General Gonzales in the 2006 U.S. Attorney firing scandal, told the Eugene Weekly in 2007, “It seems to me what happened here should not fit my traditional definition of what terrorism is.” Iglesias described the terrorism label as “political” and “overreaching.”

In environmental circles, the terrorism charges brought against the Operation Backfire defendants marked the culmination of what became known as “the Green Scare”: the post-9/11 period in which widespread anxiety about a very real threat to American security was marshaled by federal law enforcement and then redirected to discredit a movement. While the legal targets of the dragnet were underground activists who engaged in illicit activity, the political targets, many activists believe, were lawful, mainstream environmental and animal rights groups and the causes they stood for.

The FBI denies this. In a statement provided for this article, a spokeperson wrote, “The FBI does not investigate individuals based on their beliefs or other first amendment protected activity like free speech. It is when the individual exhibits intent to or crosses the line to commit a crime that we have an obligation to act. Working within our legal authorities, the prevention and detection of these criminal acts prior to their fruition is our objective.” (The spokesperson went on to note that domestic terrorism is the agency’s “top investigative priority,” and pointed to “evidence of an ongoing conspiracy by members of the ELF and ALF” that caused “over $40 million in economic damages.”)

Activists who have been in the FBI’s sights tend to disagree. “The FBI’s pursuit of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, including Jonathan Paul, was the largest domestic terrorism investigation in history,” says Will Potter, author of Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege. Potter, who has himself been questioned by the FBI in the past for legal protest activity, discerns in the terrorism label a campaign of pressure by law enforcement agencies, at the behest of animal enterprise and resource extraction industries, upon licit groups to curtail their Constitutionally protected advocacy activity. Potter sees a continuity of this pressure campaign in both the government’s recent aggressive prosecution of climate activist Tim DeChristopher and in the passage of laws this year in Utah and Iowa criminalizing undercover investigations of animal abuse on factory farms. “Now, the same corporate and political interests who were calling for a crackdown on the ELF are calling for a crackdown on undercover investigators and on people like Tim DeChristopher who is in prison for non-violent civil disobedience,” Potter continues. “This is how political repression operates. It always begins on the fringes and, if allowed, creeps steadily towards all forms of dissent.”

The Making of an Activist

Cavel West was Paul’s last arson, but it was neither his first nor his last act of physical intervention in defense of animals. Paul undertook his first animal liberation action when he was eight years old. Paul’s father, a manager at Morgan Stanley, took his son to Africa, where for the first time in his life, Paul viewed cheetahs in the wild. When he returned home to Western Massachusetts, he visited the zoo and was traumatized by the sight of cheetahs in captivity, pacing around in their cages. When he got to school, he went around and set off as many mousetraps as he could find.

Despite his childhood ethical revelation, until his early adolescence, Paul continued to hunt for sport. One day, when he was a freshman in high school, Paul and his friends were out shooting birds. Paul hit one in the wing, and it fell to the ground on its back. It was suffering, and Paul was able to connect to that suffering in a way that was new to him. It was something of an epiphany. He picked up a rock and smashed the injured bird, putting it out of its misery. He never hunted again.

Paul soon gave up eating meat, then all animal products. In his early twenties, he moved to California. “A lot of the people that I was hanging around with were very smart people who were very educated,” Paul says. “And I listened and learned from them, and I started understanding what was really going on, and understanding more about ecosystems and how important things were, and this and that. And as I started to understand that, I started putting it all together like a puzzle. I was able to complete the puzzle and I saw this very dark world that to me was very disturbing.”

He undertook his first major animal liberation action in 1986 at the University of Oregon, where, according to Paul, researchers were conducting experiments on perception that included taking pregnant cats, opening them up, extracting their fetuses, sewing the eyes of the fetuses shut, and putting them back into their mothers so they would be born blind. Then lab technicians would conduct tests on the blind kittens. After months of reconnaissance, Paul and some fellow activists broke into the lab, destroyed computers and equipment and released close to 300 animals, including cats, mice and rabbits. They were unable to get the monkeys out because they had not secured new homes for them; all they could do was give them bananas and take a sledgehammer to the device used for their vivisection.

Following the University of Oregon raid, Paul’s life became animal liberation. He got a rush out of the action. He quickly became one of the most prolific underground animal rights activists alive. In 1987, he participated in the first ALF arson in the United States, at an animal research laboratory under construction at the University of California at Davis. The next month, he cut a section of a wooden fence at a wild horse corral run by the Bureau of Land Management in California, freeing the captured horses. That same year, he broke into a research facility at Loma Linda University in Southern California, removing dogs and research documents. In 1989, Paul and another activist executed the largest raid in the ALF’s history at the University of Arizona at Tucson, freeing and re-housing about 1,200 animals. In the ’90s, he helped shoot undercover video footage of the brutal killing of minks on fur farms, and derailed shark hunts off the coast of Santa Cruz. The project he made the most enduring commitment to was founding the American version of the Hunt Saboteurs, an organization that had been physically disrupting fox and deer hunts in England since the ’60s and which was a precursor to the original Animal Liberation Front in the United Kingdom. In the U.S., Paul and other activists focused on Big Horn Sheep hunts in the Mojave Desert. They would follow hunters for miles, blaring noisemakers to keep their prey moving and putting out false scents to throw off the dogs. If necessary, they would put their bodies between the rifles and their intended targets. (Forty-four states now have “hunter harassment laws” that criminalize this kind of activity.)

“There’s a despair that we all hold in us,” says Paul. “I think that for myself I can say that somewhere I tend to channel the suffering and the pain and the destruction in me, and it’s a pretty intense experience to always have that in you. I will say that in a lot of ways I prefer to [be] aware and be in touch with my despair [rather] than to be unaware and not in touch with what’s going on. I don’t want to live in bliss, I want to live in reality. And a lot of times the reality of what’s going on is very disturbing and scary. And so the only way I could channel that is to do something about it.”

The type of direct action-style activism that Paul practiced was extraordinary, but in the 1990s it was hardly unique. Throughout the ’80s, Animal Liberation Front cells and other animal rights groups had racked up scores of successful lab break-ins, arsons and rescues, some of them accompanied by major public relations victories. In 1984, ALF activists broke into the University of Pennsylvania’s Head Trauma Research Center, where scientists were conducting experiments on live baboons funded by the National Institutes of Health. The activists stole sixty hours worth of audio and videotapes shot by the vivisectors themselves that showed them laughing and joking as they inflicted brain damage on inadequately anesthetized baboons with a hydraulic device that simulated whiplash, and posing the severely injured primates in front of the camera, Abu Ghraib-style, for fun. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a 26-minute edited film from the footage that received media attention all over the world. The following year, NIH cut off funding for the center and the lab was closed. Soon after, Congress passed new legislation improving standards of oversight and care of laboratory animals.

In the environmental movement, radical activists were adopting equally confrontational tactics in the ’80s and ’90s, most famously under the banner of Earth First!. Begun out of a conscious and explicit rejection of the inevitable compromises of mainstream environmental groups, Earth First! championed the use of direct action and sabotage (nicknamed “monkey wrenching”) to halt environmental destruction at its source. Earth First! activists destroyed logging equipment, established blockades of logging roads into old growth forests, and in 1985, developed the tactic of climbing and physically occupying trees for days, weeks or months on end to protect them from loggers’ chainsaws.

Soon after founding the Hunt Sabs, Paul and other animal liberationists found themselves accompanied on their expeditions by Earth First! activists. Earth First!ers were not all animal rights devotees, and at that time, their political persuasion was, collectively, as libertarian as it was anarchist. The original founders of Earth First! proudly embraced a redneck cultural sensibility, fusing it with a back-to-the-Earth, Mother Gaia spirituality. Many Earth First! ‘eco-warriors’ ate meat, wore leather, and even hunted. But they all opposed big game trophy hunting as a crime against conservation if not against the animals themselves.

Surrounded by environmental radicals, Paul’s perspective on his own activism began to expand, incorporating elements of Earth First!’s biocentric ‘Deep Ecology’ philosophy, which emphasizes the innate interconnectedness of life, into his perspectives on animal exploitation. “There’s always a bigger picture involved with the whole thing,” says Paul. “I always feel that if you’re a person that is going to have the heart to go out and defend an individual animal how can you not have the heart to see the whole picture of what’s really going on in this world? We’re in the sixth mass extinction right now. We’ve got ecosystems collapsing everywhere, species dying out. And animal liberation is tied to that, directly.” As the radical environmental worldview shaped the ideology of Paul and his colleagues, the animal rights crowd began to participate in Earth First! forest defense actions. The two movements were merging.

Like many social movements before it, Earth First!’s uncompromising tactics had earned it a place on the FBI’s list of public enemies. At 5 a.m. on May 30, 1989, following three years of infiltration, armed federal agents stormed the Tucson home of one of Earth First!’s founders, Dave Foreman, and arrested him (seven years later, the FBI’s case against Foreman resulted in a $250 fine). Then, almost exactly a year later, Earth First! organizer (and friend of Paul’s) Judi Bari was crippled for life and nearly killed in a car bomb explosion. Within hours of the blast, the FBI accused Bari and the other passenger, Earth First! activist Darryl Cherney, of harboring the bomb themselves, claiming it was set off accidentally. Agents were at Jonathan Paul’s home in Santa Cruz almost immediately, asking questions. Seven weeks later, the Oakland District Attorney announced that he had insufficient evidence to charge the pair with any crime. Many believe that the bomb was in fact planted by the FBI and the Oakland Police.

The animal rights movement was likewise commanding increased attention from federal investigators. While Paul was busy leading the Hunt Sabs, his friend and former Santa Cruz housemate, Rod Coronado, carried out a string of high-profile ALF arsons, which he dubbed “Operation Biteback,” that targeted the physical infrastructure of the fur industry. Paul didn’t participate in the campaign and wasn’t a suspect in the investigation into it, but in 1993, federal prosecutors hauled him in front of a grand jury in Spokane to compel testimony that might lead to the perpetrator’s capture. Paul refused to cooperate, and was locked up for five months. At the time, it was the longest jail term ever meted out for animal rights activism.


It was around this time that Paul first started hearing the term “eco-terrorism.” Paul attributes its genesis to the Wise Use movement, an anti-environmental grassroots coalition and corporate public relations campaign founded by Ron Arnold, who claims credit for the word’s coinage. The neologism had already gained currency in Washington, D.C. Following the 1987 arson at the University of California at Davis in which Paul acted as driver, for the first time, the FBI labeled a crime carried out by animal rights activists as “domestic terrorism.” The following year, referring to Earth First! activities, Idaho’s Republican Senator James McClure introduced that phrase’s specific sub-variant, “eco-terrorism,” into the Congressional record.

Then, in 1992, in response to the Operation Biteback arsons, Congress took another step in transforming such activists into terrorists by quietly passing the “Animal Enterprise Protection Act.” A gift to the pharmaceutical lobby (principally the National Association for Biomedical Research), the new law carved out special protections for animal-based industries by creating a brand new category of criminal activity, called “animal enterprise terrorism,” with special sentencing enhancements specifically aimed at underground animal rights groups. From now on, rescuing or assisting in the rescue of animals from death or torture at the hands of a profit-seeking venture, or assisting in the destruction of the equipment used to inflict pain or death on those animals, were not merely felonies to federal prosecutors, they were acts in the same legal class as the crimes perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski or Osama bin Laden.

It wasn’t until 1998, however, that the “eco-terrorism” term really gained traction. In October of that year, one year and three months after Paul had helped burn down the Cavel West plant, a massive fire at the Vail ski resort in Colorado resulted in $12 million in damages and prime time news coverage across the country. The arson, whose stated purpose was to halt the resort’s planned expansion into delicate lynx habitat, was carried out in the name of the Earth Liberation Front, an offspring of the Animal Liberation Front that had started in the United Kingdom and had been active in the U.S. for several years. (Years later, the FBI arrested William Rodgers, also known as “Avalon,” for the crime.)

Until Vail, crimes carried out by radical environmental and animal rights groups were a persistent but secondary issue for the FBI. With the Vail fire on the front page of newspapers coast to coast, the FBI’s priorities changed overnight. FBI Director Louis Freeh, who had told a group of animal and resource extraction industry representatives in Europe less than a year earlier that ALF, ELF and Earth First! activities were not even on the agency’s ‘radar screen,’ told the Senate Appropriations Committee in February 1999 that animal rights and environmental activists were now among “the most recognizable single issue terrorists at the present time.”

The FBI’s about-face was a coup for the animal enterprise and resource extraction industries, whose lobbyists had already been pressuring politicians to put Earth First!, ALF and ELF into the same threat category as assassins, airline hijackers, and international mass murderers. Bragging about Freeh’s change of perspective, the Fur Commission USA wrote in its March 1999 newsletter: “Over the last year, the people of the fur trade have been key players with other animal and resource based industries in a concerted effort to push eco and animal rights terrorism up the government’s priority pole. These efforts have resulted in a strong statement of commitment from the FBI.” The government had not yet gone far enough, the newsletter cautioned, “But what a difference a few months can make!”

An even bigger sea change came on September 11, 2001. It took only a few hours after planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon before the animal enterprise and resource extraction industries and their allies in Congress sought to capitalize on the opportunity to shine the spotlight on “eco-terrorists.” On the day of the attacks, Alaska Congressman Don Young speculated that the act of mass murder could be the work of environmental extremists. One day later, Oregon Congressman Greg Walden declared “eco-terrorists” to be a threat “no less heinous than what we saw occur yesterday here in Washington and in New York.”

The gambit failed in the short run. During the months and years that followed 9/11, the Bush administration was too preoccupied with the real threat of the moment, Al Qaeda, to make a top priority of a loose network of arsonists, saboteurs and civil disobeyers focused on the destruction of property and not on the taking of human life. Moreover, in the wake of the attacks, ALF and ELF activity abruptly dwindled to almost nothing, as did most other political protest and dissent in the United States at that time. Out of the twenty separate criminal acts committed by the activists rounded up in Operation Backfire, only one of them took place after 9/11 — an arson at the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse Corrals in Litchfield, California, one month and four days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. According to the ALF Press Office, crimes by ALF and ELF activists declined by nearly half following September 11th.

Nevertheless, the watchword of the decade was now “terrorism.” The Justice Department had been granted unprecedented new powers by Congress through the passage of the PATRIOT Act. Careers could now be made in federal law enforcement by breaking a case that could credibly be labeled as terrorism while resources for other priorities dried up. In the private sector, demand spiked for executive and director level security personnel to protect companies from shadowy terrorist threats; more than 200 colleges and universities created new homeland security-related degree and certificate programs to fill the new slots. Many more of these newly minted corporate security officers were worried about their domestic political opposition than about Al Qaeda.

With the criminal histories of the ALF and ELF now comfortably ensconced within the rubric of “terrorism” by the Animal Enterprise Protection Act and the declarations of the FBI, the social, legal and political framework for a major government counteroffensive against animal rights and environmental activists was never stronger.

Operation Backfire

During that time, Paul was in Washington State, working alongside Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepard Conservation Society (and star of “Whale Wars” on Animal Planet), which Watson has described as “the navy of Earth First!”. He helped found Ocean Defense International, an organization dedicated to derailing whale hunts conducted by an indigenous tribe that enjoyed sovereign whaling rights. ODI used the same straightforward approach Paul had employed with the Hunt Sabs on land and that Watson had been perfecting on the water for years: they would pursue the whaling vessels with small coastal boats, and, as the Makah hunters closed in on their prey, they would steer their boats between the whales and the hunters’ high-powered rifles.

It was while working for ODI that Paul met his wife, Tami Drake. On a Saturday in May of 1999, the Coast Guard confiscated ODI’s boats. On Monday morning, the Makah harpooned a grey whale. There was nobody there to disrupt the slaughter. It took 17 minutes for the whale to die, and Drake, a paralegal at the time, watched it happen on the local news. She called in to work and said she wasn’t coming in that day. She tracked down Paul and the ODI crew and volunteered to help with the legal work to get their boats back. Paul was especially persistent in seeking her aid. “Every day he was calling me,” she says. “‘Have you gotten my boat back?’ Maybe he had a premonition that he’d need legal help in the future. But six months later, we were together.”

Drake and Paul became partners in activism as well as in life. They bought a bus, turned it into a mobile whale education center, and drove up and down the West Coast, educating children about marine mammals. They purchased their home together in the Siskiyous. Drake knew the depth of her partner’s commitment to animal rights, and she suspected that he may have engaged in some illegal animal liberations, perhaps breaking into a laboratory or two. Beyond that, Paul did not speak of his underground history, and she tried not to ask.

In 2004, seven separate investigations into an assortment of underground actions by multiple federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were merged into Operation Backfire. The investigation got its major break when a roommate of Jacob Ferguson filed charges with the Eugene Police, accusing him of stealing her truck. She later found the truck parked down the street, but by then, investigators were linking Ferguson to an SUV arson. Ferguson had become addicted to heroin and had a young son. The FBI soon ensnared him, and played on his fears of being locked up and separated from his son just as he had been separated from his imprisoned father. Ferguson agreed to wear a wire, then systematically sought out his accomplices and attempted to record each of them admitting their roles in crimes past.

The FBI came to Paul’s home with a Grand Jury subpoena on December 7, 2005. Drake took her husband out into the woods and grabbed him by the collar. She asked him if she needed to be afraid that the FBI was going to return, kick in their door and shoot their dogs. He told her no, they were just harassing him. A few weeks later, Drake flew to Seattle to visit her daughter. While she was there, she received a phone call and learned that her husband had been arrested. “I dropped to my knees,” Drake says. “I thought, whatever he’s arrested for, he didn’t do it. We got him bonded out in nine days. I asked him quietly, ‘Did you do this?’ And he got this sheepish grin on his face and he said, ‘Do you really want to know?’”

As with the other defendants, prosecutors tried to turn Paul immediately. He didn’t even entertain the idea, and nor did those closest to him. Drake told him she would stand by him throughout, as long as he didn’t snitch. His mother told him the same thing.

Federal prosecutors tried Paul on charges of arson and conspiracy, and sought sentencing enhancements for terrorism. Paul lucked out. In the midst of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping scandal, the prosecutors were on shifting and precarious political ground. Attorneys for the defendants submitted a discovery motion demanding that the government turn over any and all evidence collected through warrantless wiretaps. The government responded by agreeing to a plea bargain with a non-cooperation clause in exchange for the defense’s dropping the discovery request; a rare event in any trial, and an about-face for the government.

Paul was imprisoned in Phoenix, Arizona. He was out on bail prior to his incarceration, so he walked himself into the facility. As soon as he entered the system, he was thrown into solitary confinement for a week, then transferred to a unit. “Prison is so race-based,” he says, “The first thing is all these white guys give you your shower shoes, soap, give you what you need until you can get to the store. So you get settled up, and then have to figure your way around things. You have to be careful who you deal with. But it was not that bad of a place compared to other places.” Like other prisoners, Paul read, and he exercised. He ran his first marathon by running hundreds of laps around the prison track. He served three years, and then another six months in a halfway house.

Today, Paul lives with his wife again in his home in the Siskiyou Mountains. He gets up at 5 every morning and goes to work doing forest restoration. He has legally converted the property around his house into a wildlife sanctuary. In the summer, animals are everywhere.

Since his arrest, laws targeting activists for terrorism prosecution have become significantly more draconian. In 2006, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a bill conceived of and advanced by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-sponsored conservative think tank and lobbying group that champions pro-”free market” legislation. The new law criminalizes actions aimed at “damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise,” including First Amendment activity such as pickets and boycotts. The legislation was crafted explicitly to empower law enforcement to squelch hitherto legal, above-ground animal rights advocacy, after a group of activists called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty nearly shut down an infamous multinational animal testing corporation through purely legal means. Activists charge SHAC’s target, Huntingdon Life Sciences, with killing hundreds of animals a day through their toxicity testing business, which involves practices such as injecting puppies with pesticides. Undercover footage has shown Huntingdon technicians punching beagle puppies in the face and dissecting a live, conscious monkey. Under the AETA’s predecessor, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, six SHAC activists were convicted as terrorists for posting publicly available information on a website. They were sentenced to a combined 23 years in prison. The new law was created because the animal enterprise lobbies felt that those penalties did not go far enough.

This year, laws were passed in Iowa and Utah that make it a crime to take a job at a factory farm for the purpose of shooting clandestine video footage of animal abuse. As with the AETA, these laws were a direct response to the success of an animal advocacy group using legal means to expose industrial cruelty — in this case an undercover video by Mercy For Animals. The FBI has already recommended prosecuting undercover investigators under the AETA as terrorists.

Both the legal and the procedural underpinnings of this enforcement regime are in dispute. The constitutionality of the AETA has been challenged in court, and a recent Congressional report raised questions about the FBI’s habit of pinning the terrorist label on political activists who have never physically harmed a single person. Over the last decade, the government has assumed an aggressive and highly selective posture against radical animal rights and environmental activists that rests on precarious legal and philosophical footing. Its ability to sustain that approach is uncertain.

“The FBI’s obsession with animal rights and environmental activists is not only misguided, it’s flat-out dangerous,” says Will Potter. “The government is spending time and money on political activists, who have never harmed a human being, when violence by right-wing extremists continues to escalate. The Justice Department’s own Inspector General has warned the FBI about this, and so have members of Congress. Yet the FBI continues to focus on environmentalists who are trying to protect life, while downplaying the actions of right-wing groups seeking to take it.”

Paul is not optimistic about the future for animals, the environment and humanity. He sees himself as a realist, and he doesn’t see much reason for hope. He suspects that the world is more likely headed toward environmental collapse than renewal. He’s glad he has lived a life of activism, but he doesn’t believe it’s enough in the end.

At the moment, there’s nothing he can do about it in any case. The terms of Paul’s probation bar him from any form of advocacy work. He has tried to focus on his personal life, his finances, and building a home for himself and the animals around him that reflects his values. But insulating himself from the world is not in his nature, and the ban on activism is a significant frustration.

“There were times in my life that I felt like I needed to take some time off for myself to actually be selfish for once in my life, not as selfless as I have been,” he says. “And I did that, but it didn’t take long before I realized I had to get back into being an activist, because I just felt like I had to keep doing things. And that’s part of being an activist, is not stopping.”