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November 2006
Guest Editorial: It’s Time to Stop the AETA
By Will Potter


Animal industry groups, corporations and the politicians representing them have been pushing federal legislation to label activists as “terrorists” since the 1990s. Typically this legislation stalls out at the committee level, only to be repackaged and reintroduced the next session. This fall, however, bolstered by the recent conviction of six SHAC activists on “animal enterprise terrorism” charges—and the resulting eerie silence of animal protection groups—they may finally get their way, especially with a Republican controlled House, Senate and White House.

They’re right on track. In September, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act languished in committee. It was not even on the radar of lawmakers wrapping up business before adjourning for political campaigns. Then on September 30th, in the final hours before Congressional recess, it passed in the Senate. Unanimously.
It didn’t move in the House but when lawmakers return this month industry groups will put even more money into greasing those wheels. AETA is ostensibly meant to target underground, illegal actions committed in the name of animal rights. It’s been in the works, in various forms, since the passage of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act in 1992. Proponents say AEPA didn’t go far enough, and they need more sweeping legislation.

But legal, above-ground activists are the ones who should be most concerned about this vague and overly broad legislation. It spells out penalties for “non-violent physical obstruction of an animal enterprise” and actions that “may result in loss of profits but does not result in bodily injury or death or property damage or loss.” All wrapped up in a terrorism bill.

Even if we buy the rhetoric of industry groups and lawmakers that this legislation won’t target First Amendment activity—which we shouldn’t—the damage will still be done. It will impact all activists, even if they never enter the courtroom. It will add to the Green Scare already in existence due to “eco-terrorism” rhetoric recklessly batted around against the enemy of the hour.

This legislation will add to the fear and distrust and will force Americans to decide if speaking up for animals is really worth the risk of being labeled a “terrorist.” That’s not a choice anyone should have to make.

Get ready for it. Come November 13, the New McCarthyists will likely throw everything they’ve got into pushing AETA through the House. And they’ve got a lot to throw. Supporters include the usual suspects like the National Association for Biomedical Research and Fur Commission USA. But they’ve also brought on corporate big shots like GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Wyeth. Animal agri-businesses including the United Egg Producers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other organizations representing livestock producers have all added their support. Even the University of California has joined the scare-mongering.

Right now lawmakers are back home baby kissin’ and getting ready for the November 7 general elections. They’ll come back on November 13, but depending on the election results, some will be coming back with their tails between their legs. That could be bad news for industry groups hoping to get their “eco-terrorism” wish list in time for the holidays. Iraq, the Foley scandal, domestic spying, and a host of other issues have put Republicans on the defensive.

If the Democrats regain control of the House, it might help some of them find the courage to stand up to these corporate lobbyists and reject the labeling of activists as “terrorists.” I wouldn’t put too much faith in the Democrats, though. Not one spoke up against AETA in the Senate, and Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein of California co-sponsored the bill. The prospects of defeating this bill in a Republican-controlled Congress, however, are even more grim.

If the Dems take it, industry groups will have to kick the scare-mongering into overdrive: they’ll have the week of the 13th to push this legislation through, then Congress has two weeks off for Thanksgiving, and then lawmakers will have only a few weeks to wrap up remaining business. Newly elected officials would take office in January.

Get Active!
At this point the best strategy for defeating this legislation is not defeating it—it’s stalling it. Activists generally have little faith in elected officials, perhaps with good reason. Phone calls, emails and letters from individuals, organizations and coalitions might never win over lawmakers, but they could at least make them hesitate. That’s enough.

Starting November 13, please contact your House Representative and urge them to vote against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (H.R. 4239).

Lawmakers have enough bills on their plates in these last few weeks of the session. Labeling activists as “terrorists” to protect corporate profits and win cheap political points shouldn’t be one of them.

Will Potter is an award-winning reporter based in Washington, DC, who testified before the U.S. Congress on the civil liberties implications of AETA. He is the creator of, where he blogs about the Green Scare and history repeating itself.