by Robert Meeropol / May 28th, 2011 Dissident Voice
Aside from my parents’ case, United States v. Dennis is perhaps the most
famous McCarthy Era Red Scare legal action. In that case the government
convicted the leaders of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA)
of conspiring to organize a revolutionary movement. Once the hysteria
abated, the Supreme Court decision upholding that conviction became one of
the more embarrassing episodes of our judicial history. CPUSA leaders went
to prison for coordinating the teaching of the principles of
Marxist-Leninism, despite the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of
assembly and speech.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Today we have the Animal Enterprise
Terrorism Act (AETA) passed in 2006. AETA is a beefed up version of the
Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA) that was passed in 1992.
Under AETA, “Whoever travels in interstate commerce…. for the purpose … of
interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise, intentionally…
causes the loss of any … personal property [or] intentionally places a
person in reasonable fear … of serious bodily injury … by a course of
conduct involving … harassment or intimidation or conspires or attempts to
do so” shall be subject to massive fines and many years in prison. In
plain English, if you organize a group of people to take action that
results in a financial loss to an animal enterprise or scares the
employees of that company then you can go to prison for a very long time.
That’s today’s law, and so far, the one prosecution I’m aware of that the
government initiated under it, was dismissed without its constitutionality
However, seven people went to prison for organizing against Huntingdon
Life Sciences under the AEPA, the older, “gentler” version. AEPA created
the new crime of “animal enterprise terrorism,” but you had to cause
physical disruption to violate this law. It was designed to counter the
growing underground movement of animal rights and environmental activists
who damaged property to disrupt the activities of corporations that
tormented animals and despoiled the environment.
But the young people who organized Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC),
and have become known as the SHAC 7 were not part of an illegal
underground campaign. Instead they organized a very public and successful
effort to shame and harass a large corporation, Huntingdon Life Sciences.
In post-9/11 America, prosecutors developed a new legal theory by
expanding the “physical disruption” language in AEPA to include loss of
profits. The SHAC 7 were convicted of being animal enterprise terrorists
under that interpretation of physical disruption. In 2006 the judge
sentenced the “conspirators” to up to six years in prison.
This movement isn’t about being nice to kittens and puppies. It’s about
torture of animals on a massive scale, in pursuit of corporate profit.
Huntingdon Life Sciences kills at least 71,000 and possibly as many as
181,000 animals annually to test cleaners, cosmetics, drugs, pesticides
and other ingredients. Hidden camera videos have recorded employees
beating animals and dissecting live monkeys.
Will Potter, in his new book Green is the New Red, describes a
particularly horrific experiment at another laboratory: “[O]ne infant
primate [was] named Britches. Experimenters had taken Britches from his
mother on the night of his birth and sewn his eyes shut with thick black
sutures. They attached a sonar device to his head that let off a
screeching sound and placed him in a steel cage, alone; the isolation and
sensory deprivation caused neurological disorders. Britches would lurch
and shake, shrieking.”
What’s this got to do with United States v. Dennis? Just as in Dennis, the
courts in the SHAC 7 case have criminalized organizing. And if that can be
done under AEPA, you can imagine the result under AETA, which could be
considered as AEPA on steroids!
I know there are RFC supporters who feel that fighting for animal rights
is a somewhat trivial pursuit compared to trying to prevent the horrific
crimes against humanity carried out by multi-national corporations and the
many governments they influence or control. But the behavior against which
these activists are organizing, is part of the same culture that permeates
the military industrial complex, the energy companies, the private prison
corporations, and so on. These are the same foes we all face every day.
The rights the corporations and their political flunkies seek to curtail
belong to us all. And the sensibilities these heroic young militants seek
to spread are the same values to which other progressives aspire.
Let’s not look down our noses at a new generation of activists whose
causes vary from our own and who are doing things a little differently
from what our generation did. Instead, let’s emphasize our points of
convergence. We need as much solidarity as we can get in taking on the
Robert Meeropol is an activist, author, and attorney, and the younger son
of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. In 1990 Robert started the Rosenberg Fund
for Children, a public foundation that helps children in the U.S. whose
parents are targeted, progressive activists, and also youth who themselves
have been targeted because of their own activism. Read other articles by