[San Francisco Bay Guardian - opinion]
When does passionate protest become a terrorist threat? Is it when activists choose to target someone's house, or when the subject of the protest feels scared? Why single out animal rights activists for special treatment? And if the definition of terrorism is expanded for them, what group is next in these turbulent times?
These are the questions being raised by the federal prosecution of four local animal rights activists. Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope, and Adriana Stumpo pleaded not guilty March 19 to charges of using threats and violence to interfere with University of California animal researchers, in violation of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).
A coalition of civil liberties defense groups have come to their defense, arguing that the law is unconstitutional and that the activists were merely exercising their freedoms of speech and assembly.
AETA specifically protects research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and other businesses that use animals from individuals who "interfere with" their operations.
Will Potter, a Washington, D.C. journalist who runs a Web site called Green Is The New Red, testified before Congress prior to the passage of the AETA, arguing that the law would not deter underground activists. Instead he predicts it will have a chilling effect on protests staged in broad daylight. "This legislation will ... risk painting legal activity and nonviolent civil disobedience with the same broad brush as illegal activists," he said.
That, says Rosenfeld, is precisely what's happened. "The whole underpinning of a democratic society is that it's rights-based, and government power is limited and checked by law," he says. "Here we have a complete perversion of that process. The government gives itself this over-broad, sweeping power to go after anyone it wants and then seeks to reassure people that it will only use those laws against the real bad guys."