Two men, Kevin Johnson and Tyler Lang, are being brought up on charges that would forever stamp them as terrorists while they are simply exercising their rights. Kevin and Tyler will appear in federal district court in Chicago. The law they are being charged under is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).
The AETA was passed in 2006 because of lobbying by pharmaceutical companies, fur and farming industries. Senator James Inhofe created the bill in October of 2005. According to the NABR there was originally a death penalty clause but in order to pass the bill the death penalty clause was removed. In February 2006 the NABR created the Animal Enterprise Protection Coalition (AEPC) to get the biomedical research community in a grassroots campaign that was needed to receive public support for this legislation. When the bill reached the floors of Congress, the Coalition sent out many letters and made phone calls to each member of Congress to receive their support. According to the NABR this “grassroots effort generated an unprecedented 11,000 letters and phone calls to Capitol Hill from individuals supporting biomedical research.” On November 27, 2006 President George H.W. Bush signed the bill into law.
The Guardian described the law as, “anyone who damages the property or the profit line of an animal business and who uses ‘interstate commerce’ such as a cellphone or the internet to carry out the action can be convicted of terrorism even though no violence is involved.” The law prohibits any person from damaging or interfering with an animal enterprise. The statute also covers anything that damages or causes loss of real or personal property or places a person in reasonable fear of injury.
This definition goes against what society deems as “terrorism.” This definition of terrorism does not require a violent action. The FBI defines terrorism as having to, “involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law.” They also say terrorism is used to coerce the government. This does not define what these two men did. They were not trying to coerce the government they were simply trying to exercise their First Amendment rights. While the two men did plead guilty to having bolt and wire cutters, ski masks, and camouflage clothing in their car, they did not commit a violent crime.
In discussing this law, Activist Odette Wilken’s said: One, it is unconstitutional; Two, animal enterprises may not be lawful to be protected under the law; three, penalties are excessive and don’t fit the crime; four, it infringes on state sovereignty because state laws already exist that cover any valid offenses under AETA; and five animal activists are being singled out.
Based upon an interview with Wilkens, it is clear that all that these men did was release mink, which is a state violation, not a federal one. Therefore, they should not be prosecuted under federal law for a state crime. Rachel Meeropol at the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is a poorly disguised attempt to chill legitimate advocacy by an unpopular group of activists.” The federal government should not be intruding on state laws. The federal government does not have this authority to stop on our First Amendment rights and to overrule state laws.