In California, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced the arrest of four animal rights “extremists” last week. The FBI is charging the activists–who are part of an ongoing campaign to stop animal research at the University of California system–with the “use of force, violence, or threats to interfere with the operation of the University of California in violation of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.”
The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is a piece of legislation that was passed in 2006 that allows the federal government unprecedented power to stifle political speech and charge activists engaging in legal behavior with terrorism.
This is certainly what is happening in this case, with the four activists being arrested for four actions that are either protected by the First Amendment, or in the worst case, misdemeanors. The FBI says the four:
- Held a protest at the home of a UC researcher: “The group, some wearing bandanas to hide their faces, trespassed on his front yard, chanted slogans, and accused him of being a murderer because of his use of animals in research. The professor told police he was afraid, and felt harassed and intimidated by the extremists.”
- Held a series of protests at the homes of UC researchers: “At each residence, extremists dressed generally in all black clothing and wearing bandanas to hide their faces marched, chanted, and chalked defamatory comments on the public sidewalks in front of the residences. One of the researchers informed authorities he had been previously harassed and the incident had caused him to fear for his health and safety.”
- Scuffled with a researcher’s spouse at the researcher’s home: Details of what exactly happened at this event are sketchy, but there appears to have been a minor scuffle between activists and the spouse of a targeted researcher. The FBI is hyping the action as a “home invasion” with “forced entry.”
- Distributed fliers: According to the FBI, the four activists were tied to the “production and distribution” of fliers that criticized animal research at UC and listed the home addresses of researchers. The FBI is says this preceded two unrelated firebombing attacks.
The events described above–at worse misdemeanors–are far from being “terrorism.” However, the arrests reflect how animal researchers, corporations, and the federal government plan to use the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act–which bans a broad range of activity–to disrupt activism and criminalize First Amendment activity.