The Law: US & Britain
Snappy Page Essence
When doing animal rights you may wish to know a bit about which law enforcement agents might come down on you. However, virtually all animal rights activists have nothing to worry about.
Might you run foul of the law? When doing practical animal rights you would do well to know a bit about what you may be up against.
One of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) ten top priorities is to "protect the United States from terrorist attack." You would think this applies to Al Qa'eda, Hamas and Hezbollah. It does, but the FBI apply it equally to investigating and preventing animal rights extremists and 'eco-terrorists' from operating in the US.
"...one of today's most serious domestic terrorism threats" are animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists, said the deputy assistant director of the Counter Terrorism Division of the FBI in testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in 2005 (1). A threat is posed in particular, the FBI say, by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). The FBI sees these groups as 'special interest extremist movements'. The FBI say that from January 1990 to June 2004 these extremists claimed over 1,200 events causing the loss of millions of dollars.
You might, however, be sceptical about the FBI matching animal rights and eco extremists with callous and fanatical international terrorist killers. But the FBI say that extremists such as these use direct action against individuals and companies and define direct action as "often criminal activity" that damages property or causes economic loss to business interests or other concerns (see Chapter 3: Direct Action). The FBI say they only get involved when "volatile talk turns into criminal activity" and have no interest in activists who debate issues and labour to change policies by peaceful means. The FBI stand alone, however, as the only US law enforcing agency to classify animal activists as terrorists.
FBI vs Extremists
The following is how the FBI sees animal rights extremists. Animal rights extremists are organised as small groups of one or more individuals who carry out actions. They keep rigid security procedures and generally act entirely independently and separately from each other so that discovering them and planting informers is difficult. Common targets of extremists range from fur farms to restaurants and include research institutions and the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Their methods of attack include animal releases, phone call harassment, making personal threats to individuals, paint spraying and damaging property, theft, arson, bomb attacks and occupation of premises. They incite illegal activities on their web sites and post targets and instructions for making incendiaries on the Internet. None of this has endangered human life, but the FBI believes this may change and their web site quotes a threat from an extremist threatening to kill people.
The FBI try to "detect, disrupt and dismantle" animal rights and eco activists engaged in illegal pursuits. They bring together intelligence analysts, program managers, agents in the field, locally and federally, engage over a hundred 'Joint Terrorism Task Forces' and liaise with law enforcement agencies internationally. The FBI offered a reward of up to $30,000 for information leading to the arrest of animal rights extremists for attempted arson in Los Angeles. Some prosecutions of extremists in recent years have been for releasing fur farm animals, attempted firebombing and arson. The FBI arrested a number of SHAC activists for attacking the New Jersey branch of Huntingdon Life Sciences and in 2006 a federal judge sentenced six activists from four to six years imprisonment. (See Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, Chapter 3: Direct Action.)
Why has the FBI come down so heavily on animal rights and eco extremists? Part of the reason is because the Bush administration strengthened American law with various Acts relating to domestic extremism (ie 'terrorism'). One law in particular is the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act became law in 2001 and provides US law enforcement agencies with greatly strengthened powers for countering terrorism. By broadening the official interpretation of terrorism to include 'domestic terrorism' the Act managed to ensnare animal rights extremists. For such an important Act, it was rushed through the normal law making procedures in record time in the wake of the 9/11 attack on America and an increasing number of people are criticising it as an attack on American civil liberties.
The National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) was set up by the British Government in 2004 and is staffed by police officers to deal with domestic extremism, specifically to protect research and business. NETCU define extremists as the "small minority of campaigners who seek to further their cause by committing criminal offences" and are often associated with single issue campaigns, like animal rights, anti-war protestation, anti-globalisation and anti-genetically modified crop production.
NETCU essentially focus on animal rights extremists and define this extremism as "Any unlawful or, if not actually unlawful, recognisably anti-social act, motivated by an intention to disrupt lawful business or to intimidate, perceived by any party involved to be rooted in opposition to the perceived exploitation of animals." Examples include abusive language, threatening behaviour, mass trespass, and damage to property. (2)
Domestic extremism: arrest of a suffragette. Hundreds of suffragettes in Britain were sent to prison because of their violent and damaging behaviour pursuing rights for women. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.)
NETCU is headed by a National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism and is one of a number of bodies policing domestic extremism in Britain. The organisation advises and operates with other national law enforcement bodies and with counterparts in Europe and the US (especially the FBI), working with them on investigations and exchanging intelligence and expertise. NETCU also liaise with industry, business companies, academic institutions and the Government, providing them with advice and information about countering domestic extremism and associated illegal activities.
NETCU say there is a pattern of animal rights extremist tactics that intensifies over time. The tactics themselves reach out beyond their 'primary targets', such as animal experimenters and their institutions, to strike at confederate companies or 'secondary targets', such as their suppliers, industry contractors and other service providers, and even shareholders of these companies. They also picket the employees and families of confederate companies, even their friends and neighbours.
Extremists may politely write, phone and visit their primary targets asking them to stop their activity. They do the same with their secondary targets, asking them to stop trading with the primary target. They may also publish the names of their targets on the Web and demonstrate outside their homes.
Contact is the same but this time abusive or threatening. Extremists trespass on the company's property to disrupt the company's work. They gather information about the company's clients (such as by bribing staff or stealing documents) to identify secondary targets. They photograph the company's staff and staff cars, demonstrate outside staff homes and make threats against staff on their web site.
Extremists damage and vandalise property at their target company's staff homes. They harass and are abusive to staff members, their families, friends and neighbours. And they try to harm the reputation of individual members of staff.
Establishment Fights Back
One of the primary weapons directed against animal rights extremists in Britain is judicial injunctions or anti-social behaviour orders issued by a court of law. These state specific places activists must not enter or defined activities that individuals or groups must not do. Activists breaching an injunction served on them may be arrested and land up in prison.
At times in their zeal the police have over-acted. A case in point was in 2006 when the Law Lords ruled that the police had violated the right of citizens the freedom to protest when they blocked a group of people from travelling by coach to an anti-war demonstration. But most often it is not the police but activists who get into trouble. Through 2006 and 2007 a number of animal rights activists were:
- Found guilty of mailing indecent articles by post.
- Convicted of sending dead animals to companies.
- Jailed for conspiring to damage an animal research company.
- Jailed for trying to firebomb a house.
- Charged relating to improvised postal bombs.
- Charged with blackmail.
- Jailed for intimidation.
- Jailed for sending threatening letters.
- Sentenced for burglary.
- Fined for breaching an injunction.
- Jailed for breaching an anti-social behaviour order.
- Sentenced after an activist's DNA matched threatening letters sent more than two years earlier.
- Jailed (three activists) from four to twelve year for desecrating a grave and kidnapping its corpse.
Thus the law does not favour illegal (or even 'anti-social') animal rights activists. But nor does it favour anti
-animal rights activists. In 2006 the police cautioned an Oxford University student for sending a malicious email to animal rights activists.
For a discussion about breaking the law see the entry Violence or Nonviolence?
(1) Federal Bureau of Investigation. www.fbi.gov. (Accessed May 2007.)
(2) NETCU. www.nectu.org.uk. (Accessed May 2007.)
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