Efforts to weaken animal terrorism law abandoned for now

Efforts to weaken animal terrorism law abandoned for now

Resolution called on DOJ and FBI to stop upholding law.

IN an attempt to weaken the government's ability to go after animal liberation and ecoterrorists, the New York City Bar Assn. submitted a resolution to the American Bar Assn.'s (ABA) House of Delegates at the ABA annual meeting Aug. 12 calling on ABA to endorse Congress to repeal the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), and in the meantime push the U.S. Department of Justice to cease enforcing the law.

Steve Kopperud, executive vice president, Policy Directions Inc., a Washington, D.C., government relations firm and coordinator of the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition (FAWC), explained a "coordinated opposition from ag, biomed, entertainment/education users of animals convinced the NYC Bar, in the face of likely defeat, to withdraw the resolution from the ABA House of Delegates." FAWC membership includes major national farm, feed and animal agriculture associations, and coordinated agriculture's push for the AETA in 2006.

Kopperud explained the law has been carefully drafted and amended to still allow for free speech rights, including advisement from the American Civil Liberties Union to Congress in the writing of the law in order to not override existing case law.

Will Coggin, senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, said the original resolution was very aggressive in that it would have called on Congress to repeal the entire section of the law relating to AETA. Also, until the repeal happened, the resolution called on DOJ and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to stop upholding the law.

"This would have had serious consequences in the agriculture, pet store, biomedical and fur trade industries," Coggin said. "If the FBI stopped enforcing AETA, it would embolden animal activists to do more illegal acts."

Coggin said he expects that another resolution will come up at the next ABA meeting scheduled for February, but possibly with a more narrowly tailored approach. Kopperud said it's likely the NYC Bar realized going for a full repeal was "unrealistic" and now will draft amendments to the statute and bring them back in February at the ABA's midyear meeting in Chicago for House of Delegates' endorsement.

Originally known as the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, it was upgraded in 2006 when Congress passed AETA, which followed the arrests of animal activists with New Jersey-based Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, a group opposed to necessary research involving animals.

According to the FBI, Stop Huntingdon's tactics included death threats and computer attacks to target not just Huntingdon Life Sciences, a pharmaceutical research company, but affiliate companies, their employees and family members. AETA gives federal law enforcement authorities more power to go after animal liberation terrorists and other radical activists who resort to violence.

The Center for Consumer Freedom noted that, in 2013 alone, animal rights terrorists have attempted firebombing a police car in Vancouver, Wash.; hacked a business in New York; vandalized a fur store in San Diego, Cal.; burglarized a mink farm in Idaho, and freed pheasants from a farm in Riverside, Cal., an action that resulted in the deaths of several animals.

Coggin said the resolution is "misguided" and "reckless" because animal rights groups claim that AETA limits their right to free speech. He noted that the law strikes the right balance of allowing groups to express their views via lawful means while still giving law enforcement authorities the tools to protect.

For example, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is still doing street protests, and The Humane Society of the United States has not stopped trying to reduce meat consumption by targeting specific businesses.

AETA simply holds people responsible for performing acts that unlawfully intimidate or interfere with the legitimate businesses of farmers, retailers and researchers.

"Activists can practically shout 'fire!' in a pet store, but they can't burn it down," Coggin explained. "Repealing AETA would only encourage intimidation campaigns from animal rights groups while taking tools away from law enforcement."

In a follow-up statement to Feedstuffs, Christine Mott, chair, animal law committee, New York City Bar Association, and Sebastian Ricciardi, chair, civil rights Committee, New York City Bar Association, reiterated that the New York City Bar Association believes that the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), as drafted, impinges upon First Amendment rights.

"The City Bar does not condone acts of violence, or threats of violence, or the other actions that harm those who are involved in research and testing involving animals. However, the AETA can be used to prosecute conduct well beyond those acts. Protection against dangerous conduct can be provided under other federal or state laws, or if need be under an appropriately tailored federal law. However, as written, the AETA punishes pure speech.

"As such, we supported the American Bar Association Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities’ resolution to repeal AETA, a resolution that has since been withdrawn to allow more time to consider the issue," the statement said.

Updated August 22, 2012

Volume:85 Issue:33

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