The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (H.R. 4239) is just days away from action in the House of Representatives. The bill sets out to label a wide range of advocacy “terrorism” for damaging or disrupting an animal-use enterprise or connected businesses. Although it exempts “lawful economic disruption that results from lawful public, governmental, or business reaction to the disclosure of information” about an enterprise, it could make nonviolent acts of civil disobedience into “terrorism” where they substantially affect corporate profits. An effective campaign using mailings and demonstrations against an animal circus, for example, could be called terrorism under the Act because it disrupted the enterprise.
The bill also aims to place “force, violence and threats involving animal enterprises” inside another federal law — one that authorizes “interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications.”
Charged advocates could face long jail terms, or at a minimum be forced to spend substantial time and resources arguing that the action was constitutionally protected expression. Win or lose, those so charged would have to live with the stigma of being associated, however fallaciously, with terrorism. Other advocates might deliberately weaken or avoid what would otherwise be effective campaigns, so as to not suffer the same fate as people unfairly targeted under such a law. That is what’s known as the “chilling effect” on First Amendment rights.
The bill is redundant, as federal laws already provide penalties for violent activities targeting animal enterprises. If it becomes law, its ill-defined terms will vex potential whistleblowers and capable advocates alike. Its enactment will add to the current anxiety surrounding rights of association and expression — rights essential to any society in which people’s opinions matter.
The AETA has already passed the Senate — by unanimous consent. It’s now pending in the House. Industry groups eagerly await a Congressional stamp of approval when lawmakers return from recess on the 13th of November.
In the coming days, it’s imperative that we energetically oppose this bill. Any U.S. resident is urged to find your representative in Congress at this site. Ring them up at 202.224.3121, and explain that real safety means questioning the influence of corporate profit-seekers over their lawmaking. Tell them you strongly oppose the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and you expect them to do the same.
Lee Hall, legal director, Friends of Animals.
For in-depth analysis, we invite you to see “The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act May Soon Be Law – How Could This Happen?” by Lee Hall, published by Dissident Voice.