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Animal Rights

Fear for the First: Is Activist Speech Terrorism?


On Monday, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a request to the U.S. Supreme Court for judicial review of Blum v. Holdera lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.The request, and the history that led up to it, provides a glimpse into the ways in which the free speech rights of political activists continue to be eroded as a result of the defining legal and constitutional framework of our era, the “War on Terror.”

The brainchild of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the AETA was crafted as a direct response to the extraordinary success of an animal rights campaign called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). SHAC had effectively employed what its members believed to be legal, constitutionally protected activity to disrupt the business practices of a notorious animal testing corporation accused of engaging routinely in horrific abuses of animals, such as dissection of a live and conscious monkey.

In March of 2006, at the height of the Bush administration’s War on Terror, six SHAC activists were charged, convicted as “terrorists” and sentenced to a combined 23 years under the AETA’s predecessor law, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. Their crime: posting information on a website about illegal underground actions carried out by activists not directly connected to SHAC. The AETA was passed in the aftermath of the convictions after biomedical and agricultural industry lobbyists and the FBI argued for the need for “more effective tools” with which to yet more vigorously pursue and prosecute activists engaged in “criminal ‘direct action.’”

The AETA criminalizes protest activity aimed at “damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise,” specifically citing activism that results in “the loss of profits.” It brands violators of the law “terrorists,” making them eligible for special sentencing enhancements and incarceration in super-maximum security prisons or, worse, Communications Management Units.

Though the law was written to single out animal rights campaigners, there is nothing in its wording to stop it from being used to prosecute other activists, such as labor organizers at slaughterhouses and university research facilities. Moreover, critics charge, in spite of a “savings clause” in the act that purports to put constitutionally protected speech outside of its reach, the broad language of the law casts a shadow over all manner of First Amendment activity whose express purpose is to cause “economic damage” and “the loss of profits” to corporations connected to an “animal enterprise” in order to force them to change their business practices. That activity could include picketing, boycotting, leafleting, occupying, civil disobedience, or undercover investigations. (For its part, in a statement provided to me for a 2012 article in The Huffington Post, an FBI spokesperson asserted, “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.”)

The result of this ominous lack of clarity, argue the plaintiffs in Blum v. Holder, is a chilling effect on free speech.

The rationale used by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in its decision in March 2014 to uphold a district court’s dismissal of Blum has only compounded concerns over the law’s implications for the right to free speech. Citing last year’s Supreme Court decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International, a case that contested the constitutional basis of the Obama administration’s infamous NSA surveillance regime, the appellate judges declared that the nation’s highest court, in rejecting the plaintiffs’ standing to challenge the FISA Amendments Act, had imposed upon the judiciary a new and “more stringent injury standard” by which to measure complainants’ standing in pre-enforcement First Amendment-based constitutional lawsuits.

In other words, the court argued that in the wake of Clapper, the AETA’s chilling effect upon free speech, no matter how evident, no longer suffices in itself to justify a challenge to the law’s constitutionality. Instead, there must be an immediate threat of injury to a potential litigant under the law, such as a criminal prosecution. Someone who seeks to muster a challenge must therefore ignore the very risks that the “chilling effect” implies, and engage in speech activities that may court prosecution as a terrorist, and then sue only when actual charges are filed. Under those conditions, of course, the cost to the plaintiff of his or her suit’s failure is, potentially, imprisonment.

With that interpretation of Clapper, the court may have raised the legal threshold for mounting challenges to laws that inhibit political speech, potentially including statutes that have yet to be written.

Should the appellate court’s novel extrapolation of Clapper stand, the plaintiffs fear, then in addition to the AETA’s explicit strictures on political expression, activists will be faced with yet another legal hindrance to their freedom of speech, this one not even authorized by an act of Congress. To the growing list of abridgements to civil liberties in the name of the War on Terror — which already includes massive electronic surveillance and draconian criminal penalties for political activism under statutes like the AETA — may be added the innovative notion that laws that serve to chill free speech are immune from constitutional challenge unless and until criminal charges are brought under them.

This judicial theory arguably sidesteps the fact that laws that chill free speech inflict damage on constitutional rights simply by existing, inertly, on the books. They do their worst work, that is, when they do not result in prosecutions, but instead inhibit the very activity that they threaten to punish.

“What the Court of Appeals said is that, despite the plain language of the AETA statute, despite my objective reading of it, despite having limited my speech and activism because of it, and despite my fears that if my speech hurts the profits of animal-use industries I could be prosecuted, I cannot even get my foot in the courtroom door unless or until I am facing years in prison—again,” says Lauren Gazzola, who served 40 months in prison as a founding member of SHAC and who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “This hardly makes me feel safe from prosecution when speaking up about violence against animals. That’s why we’re asking the Supreme Court to look at our case: so we can go back into court and actually challenge the AETA’s constitutionality.”

This post originally appeared in Capital & Main and The Huffington Post.

Boycott Angora


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.

This post originally appeared in The Huffington Post and Alternet.

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…)