By Will Potter
(about the author)
Florida Senator Jim Norman wants to stop activists from exposing factory
Earlier this year, four states were considering
"ag gag" bills to criminalize photography, or video or audio recording,
of what goes on at factory farms, animal experimentation labs, and other
facilities. They all failed, but as I have been saying for months, it will
only be a matter of time before these bills are modified and reintroduced.
In Florida, the first has just resurfaced. Senator Jim Norman, who
said undercover investigations are "almost like terrorism," has a new bill.
SB 1184 revises a few agriculture statutes that deal with stormwater
management, feedstuffs, and citrus harvesting equipment. Then it ends with a
transparent attack on the First Amendment.
SB 1184 says:
A person may not knowingly enter upon any
nonpublic area of a farm and, without the prior written consent of the
farm's owner or the owner's authorized representative, operate the audio or
video recording function of any device with the intent of recording sound or
images of the farm or farm operation.
It makes exemptions for law
enforcement and government employees but, of course, there are no exemptions
for journalists or activists. That's the point. Norman filed his original
bill at the urging of an egg farmer, Wilton Simpson, who wanted to stop
activists from gathering video footage to use in a
state ballot initiative against factory farm cruelty (similar to the
successful California initiative).
These ag gag bills created quite an uproar when they were introduced.
Most people are unaware, though, that dozens of states already have designer
laws protecting factory farms from activists.
"Eco-Terrorism" Law Put to Use
Florida already has a law
Animal Enterprise Protection Act (FL ST - 828.40 -- 43). It passed in
1993 at the request of industry, ostensibly to target groups like the Animal
Liberation Front who cause "physical disruption" or the loss of property. It
has sat on the shelf for years. That is until this month, when an animal
rights activist was charged with a felony in what seems to be the very first
use of the law.
Chris Lagergren was arrested at gunpoint by an off-duty Miami cop
outside of the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo.
So what was
he allegedly doing that prompted an armed cop, 100 miles outside of his
jurisdiction, to arrest him at gunpoint? And what was so dangerous that
Lagergren's bond was set at $30,000?
According to the police report,
he had been taking photographs and was tampering with a fence:
Lingenfelser [the president of the facility] stated he has seen Chris for
the past two weeks standing on the Hampton Inn property, video taping the
Marine Mammal property and its staff.
Lingenfelser says he saw
Lagergren and another individual attempting to dismantle a fence, and called
the police. He said the FBI had warned him that Lagergren,
a well-known activist in the area, "is
going to attempt to release any caged animals [or] mammals into their
natural habitat" as part of the Animal Liberation Front, a "domestic
This isn't the first time Lingenfelser has
had run-ins with photographers. He previously
threatened a photographer with a felony for taking photos of whales.
Lingenfelser may not be a credible source, but as Carlos Miller wrote on
the photography site
Pixiq: "That's not to say Lagergren wasn't trying to free the whales
that day" But until they catch him doing something more than just taking
photos or trespassing, they should treat him like any other suspect arrested
on misdemeanor charges."
Lagergren is facing up to five years in prison.
Bad Laws Even Worse
Many of these original state laws were
passed under the auspices on targeting the "radicals," underground groups
like the Animal Liberation Front. It is quite clear, though, that existing
laws have already gone too far, and are disproportionately targeting
non-violent activists. And while all this is occurring, industry groups are
relentlessly pushing to go even further , and transparently target First
This is the model. This is how corporations and
the politicians who represent them are chipping away at constitutional
rights. It begins with laws targeting the "terrorists" (who, at the very
worst, have damaged property) and then, bit by bit, year by year, the net
widens as it wraps up an ever-growing group of people, such as those who
photograph facilities that have sent whales to Sea World, and those who
expose animal cruelty on factory farms.
Moving forward, people like
Senator Norman, the FBI, and industry groups will do everything they can to
keep your focus on activists like Mercy for Animals, the Humane Society, and
Chris Lagergren. Instead, we need to keep our focus on them, and ask
What are they trying to hide?