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Could you be seen as the terrorist next door?

http://www.dailynews.com/theiropinion/ci_5565610
LA Daily News - 03/31/2007
BY CHARLOTTE LAWS, Guest Columnist

I was an ordinary American until Nov. 27, 2006, when I became a terrorist, or more accurately, what I call a "stand-by terrorist."

Perhaps I cannot truly own this newfound nickname until the government decides to prosecute me for word crimes, if that day ever arrives. Until then, I just think of myself as being on stand-by, just as are most - if not all - Americans, whether they realize it or not.

You may wonder how words can amount to a terrorist act in the land of the free and home of the outspoken. It is not widely known, but Congress last year passed legislation called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which can be used to prosecute civil disobedience and speech as "domestic terrorism" when an animal-related business loses profits and property. The act also protects corporations that pollute and destroy the environment.

You may ask: What does this have to do with me because I'm no nature fan or animal lover?
Well, it could eventually have very much to do with you because the AETA - a natural child of the Patriot Act - is likely to be the first of many assaults on the social-justice movement in favor of corporations and other moneyed interests. If you think you may want to use your free speech some day to criticize something, anything, then you had better be very concerned.

You should also be concerned about whether law enforcement protects you from the bin Ladens of the world or fritters away your hard-earned tax dollars investigating pacifists. The American Civil Liberties Union says the FBI uses "counterterrorism resources to monitor and infiltrate (nonviolent) domestic political organizations that criticize business interests and government policies." An FBI special agent recently told me that planting undercover agents at legal, peaceful events - with hopes that they will somehow learn about illegal activities - is a favored tactic of the bureau.

What are the parameters of AETA and who could be tangled in its web, slapped with prison time and branded a terrorist? Could Oprah Winfrey - the beloved and successful talk show host - and her former vegetarian guest, Howard Lyman, be prosecuted as terrorists if they were to repeat anti-beef comments made to Winfrey's 15 million viewers in 1996?

It is indeed possible, because the AETA is overbroad, vague and subject to the whims of law enforcement. That much was evidenced last year when six young, New Jersey Web site operators became the first individuals convicted on "animal enterprise terrorism" charges.

The young people were part of the Stop Huntington Cruelty campaign, which targeted the Huntington Life Sciences animal research labs. The site operators did nothing more than assert their First Amendment rights: They posted videotape of tortured dogs inside HLS and reported the legal and illegal handiwork of activists, which eventually caused the corporation to lose profits and to be dropped from the New York Stock Exchange. The FBI was unable to catch the underground activists, so it targeted the Web site operators, who are serving up to six years in prison for their speech.

If the government fails to catch a thief or saboteur, should it be allowed to pursue the CNN reporter who delivers the news? Or an outspoken op-ed columnist? Or six kids from New Jersey with a Web site? The AETA ignores Shakespeare's recommendation, "Don't shoot the messenger," potentially stigmatizing a "speaker" with the most heinous, post-9-11 label in America: terrorist.

America is about nothing if it is not about fairness and free speech. The AETA does not comport with this image. It is unjust and unconstitutional, and it interferes with the prosecution of real terrorism against the American people.

Once we faced a "red scare"; now we are bombarded with a "green scare." The time has come to ask yourself: Do you really want to be on stand-by or do you want to take a stand?
And are you now, or could you someday be, the terrorist next door?

Charlotte Laws, Ph.D., is the author of a chapter of the 2006 book, "Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of Mother Earth." She is founder and president of the Los Angeles Directors of Animal Welfare and is a member of the Greater Valley Glen Council. She will be presenting at the Animal Rights 2007 National Conference in Los Angeles on July 19-23.


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