The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

Manning Files Appeal
April 6, 2014
“Pretrial Punishment” Leads to Plea Deal in Barrett Brown Case
April 8, 2014

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) is a federal law that criminalizes a broad range of organizing and protest activity, and brands it as ‘terrorism’.  The law is intended to muzzle animal rights advocates, but it’s so broad that it could be used against virtually anyone who uses the internet to research or provide information about an issue, or who organizes a protest or boycott.

Yes, it is that bad!  That’s why we call it the Activism Equals Terrorism Act. It all started with the AEPA – the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992.  The brilliant lobbyists for Agribusinesses were able to convince congress that animal enterprises – mink farms, slaughterhouses, factory farms and the like – were under siege and in need of special protections.  The bill created enhanced penalties for criminal activity aimed at animal enterprises.  The next step was to label it “animal enterprise terrorism,” and to measure terrorism not by people maimed or killed, but by profits lost.

But that wasn’t enough and in 2006 a new bill was introduced, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and became law, making penalties more severe, expanding the range of protected businesses and criminalizing even non-violent civil disobedience and other classic protest activity. AETA denies equal protection to social justice activists and restricts our freedom of speech and assembly. It unfairly brands as terrorism any activities that cross a state line and interferes with the operation of an animal enterprise or of any entity that deals with one. Such activities may include website posts, peaceful vigils, nonviolent civil disobedience, undercover investigations, and whistle-blowing.

AETA is excessively broad and vague by covering nearly all enterprises and by implicating individuals who merely attempt or discuss “interference” with their operation. It imposes excessively harsh penalties when compared with other similar federal offenses. It has a chilling effect on social justice advocacy. It deters investigation of federal law violations committed by animal enterprises. It detracts from prosecution of real terrorism against the American people.

Spawn of AETA: Ag-Gag and Secrecy

State Legislation With the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Chamber of Commerce, these animal enterprises have found fertile ground in the states for legislation we call “Ag-gag” or anti-whistleblower bills.  Anti-whistleblower bills effectively block anyone from exposing animal cruelty, food-safety issues, poor working conditions, and more, by way of the following: 1. Banning taking a photo or video at a factory farm without permission 2. Essentially making it a crime for an investigator to get work at a factory farm, or 3. Requiring mandatory reporting with impossibly short timelines so that no pattern of abuse can be documented. Bills have been introduced in at least 11 states as of June 1, 2013.

It should come as no surprise that other industries look at these bills and want in on the action, so in a number of states the protected enterprises include timber, fracking, mining and other industries.  A bill is moving through the North Carolina state legislature would criminalize whistle-blowing across all industries in the state, from factory farms to nursing homes and day care centers.

A pair of bills has been introduced in Oregon to specifically protect the timber industry by creating excessive penalties for actions like tree-sitting or chaining ones-self to a back hoe, and allowing timber companies to sue for lost profits (again, it’s all about profit).  The rhetoric surrounding these bills generally includes a healthy dose of the word ‘terrorist.’  Although DDF rarely works on state legislation, we have worked to defeat these measures in general and in North Carolina in particular.