While many on the ostensible Left continue to point and laugh at animal rights activism, the US government continues to regard it with deadly seriousness.
Yesterday the FBI arrested Joseph Buddenburg, and Nicole Kissane, for allegedly releasing minks from mink farms and vandalizing fur retailers. The pair are charged with conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a 2006 law that reclassifies crimes such as theft and property destruction as “terrorism” if done in the name of harming the profits of animal enterprises. Buddenburg and Kissane face up to ten years in prison.
Almost exactly a year ago, the FBI arrested activists Tyler Lang and Kevin Oliff, and charged them under the AETA, also for releasing minks from farms. An account of their arrest by Will Potter in Vice suggests coordination between the FBI and local cops who pulled their car over and searched it on suspiciously flimsy grounds. As in yesterday’s arrests, the FBI arrested Lang and Oliff only weeks before the annual Animal Rights National Conference. Lang and Oliff claim that the FBI timed their arrest this way “to scare activists, create divisiveness” and deter even above-ground activism.
The only evidence the FBI presented in the earlier case were tools and items of clothing in the activists’ car. Lang made a plea deal. Olliff was sentenced to thirty months in jail for possession of wire and bolt cutters, which become instruments of terror under the AETA. According to Potter, Lang claims he is now routinely searched by the TSA and Homeland Security.
If you’re foolish enough to think the ACLU is more dedicated to civil liberties than it is to property rights and corporate interests, you might think the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act would send the organization into opposition overdrive. After all, the AETA is a law that enhances penalties for crimes on the basis of their political motivation. This is undoubtedly a First Amendment no-no for an organization that insists burning a cross on a Black family’s lawn is simply vandalism. But, in fact, the ACLU only agonized over parts of the bill, while explicitly not opposing it. Indeed animal abusers have a friend in the ACLU, which has gone to bat on behalf of animal torture pornographers and religious groups that ritually abuse and kill animals.
The FBI’s priorities are remarkably similar. While the Bureau acknowledges that “white supremacy extremism” is a form of domestic terrorism that has been rising since the 90s, John Lewis, the Bureau’s top domestic terrorism official in 2oo5 said, “The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement.” The Bureau takes this position while acknowledging that these groups emphasize property destruction, and that none of them has ever killed anyone.
The FBI’s list of Most Wanted domestic terrorists bears this emphasis out. The only people included on the list whose alleged crimes took place after 1981 are Joseph Mahmoud Dibee and Josephine Sunshine Overaker, members of The Family, an “eco-terror” group said to be associated with the the Earth Liberation Front and The Animal Liberation Front. According to the FBI, The Family is responsible for at least 25 domestic terrorism criminal actions totaling over $48 million in damages. The rest of the list consists mostly of leftists from the 60s and 70s. There are no white supremacists or right-wing extremists of any kind on the list.
On The Bureau’s list of 30 Most Wanted worldwide terrorists, animal liberationist Daniel Andreas San Diego is one of only two inclusions who are not Muslim extremists. Andreas is charged with the 2003 bombings of two corporate offices in California. Former Black Panther Assata Shakur, charged with shooting a New Jersey State Trooper in 1971, is the other list inclusion who is not a Muslim extremist. As with the domestic terror Most Wanted, there are no white supremacists or right-wing extremists of any kind on this list.
This emphasis is, of course, entirely consistent with white supremacy’s historic relationship with the state, particularly where the FBI is concerned. As I discussed here, it is completely misleading, even pernicious, to lump white supremacists in with the so-called political fringe. They are reactionaries, not radicals, and as such, they are the most extreme expression of hegemony. This makes them useful to the state and the ruling class it serves. In the 60s, they became a paramilitary for the state in the suppression of Black civil rights activism. This could certainly happen again. Last month, the Guardian reported that white supremacists sign up for the military in preparation for race war, with “very little pushback from the Pentagon.”
For whatever reason, a preference for white supremacy over animal and environmental activism seems to inform liberal and libertarian political priorities as well. Every public liberal must surely know who Pam Gellar is, and several of them have made pitches on behalf of her inalienable right to libel Muslims via bus signs and cartoon contests. But how many of them have heard of Amy Meyer, the first person charged under one of the many ag-gag laws that criminalize video recording and photography on farms? Like The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, ag-gag laws attempt to make serious crimes or actionable offences out of deeds that would be penalized less or not at all, were they performed in any context other than defending animals. This penalty enhancement raises the same First Amendment issues as the AETA.
Considering the obsessive romanticizing of whistleblowing in other areas, and the immediate threat ag-gag laws pose to free speech, it is remarkable how little most liberal and libertarian opinion havers say about the proliferation of these laws, which have passed in a dozen states. Of course they make the occasional gesture, but nowhere near in proportion to the problem. While the ACLU has signed on to suits against these laws, animal rights groups are doing the heavy lifting of mobilizing opposition.
The ACLU’s stronger stance on ag-gag laws vs. its passive support for the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, may owe to its customary preoccupation with legality — ag-gag laws penalize lawful behavior — and fears of a steep slippery slope toward more sweeping legislation. Fear of a slippery slope is entirely justified, since we’re already on it, with some states attempting expansion of these laws to cover other specific industries such as fracking, or even commercial enterprise as a whole. The campaign to pass these laws has gone global, with Australia now taking them up.
Surely a strong indicator of what most afflicts power is that which power is most intent on crushing. Capital has robustly hated the animal rights movement for over a decade now, and justifiably so. The animal rights movement challenges profitable exploitation at its most basic level, aims to change habits that subsidize this exploitation, and attempts to significantly raise the cost of this exploitation. It’s extremely well-organized and aggressive. All of this should garner ardent defense from the Left, particularly now that it is classified as terrorism. However in a sphere where billionaires capitalize dissent and winning an Oscar is widely considered subversive, the wacky idea that one can easily infer capital’s worries from its actions is a tough sell. Hence, we can no doubt anticipate more indifference and even outright contempt, as more animal advocates end up on Most Wanted lists, and others go to jail.
In writing this post, I made ample use of Green is the New Red, an indispensable blog for anyone interested in attempts to crush activism on behalf of animals and the environment.