Four People Face Federal Prison for Passing Out Leaflets and Chalking Slogans
Today four Northern California animal rights activists await Federal criminal trial for ghastly crimes including leaving a stack of leaflets in a cafe, chalking slogans on pavement, and chanting. Oh, and using the internet to locate the individuals they were protesting. Yes, the world’s only superpower can’t be bothered to defend us against banksters’ usury or death from want of health care, but when it comes to leaflets in cafes, chalked slogans, and Google searches, they’re here for us. To shut us up.
Each proscribed and terrifying act of handing out leaflets, chanting, chalking, or — gasp — Googling is now a Federal crime, punishable by up to five years in Federal prison. How did the Homeland’s security police make speech a crime? They used AETA, the Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act: the law that makes America’s civil rights movement a Federal crime.
Who wrote AETA and bribed pushed it through Congress? ALEC, the American Legislative Enterprise Council: the megacorps’ mega-lobby group that includes Pharma and the drive-through diabetes junk food industry. Why do Homeland Security and ALEC want to defy our Constitution and destroy our civil rights?
Oh, the usual reason: freedom’s bad for capital. Our civil rights and our Constitution might somehow someday mean some bankster or CEO may get a smaller bonus. Now that’s worth destroying a democracy for, right?
Yesterday the Civil Liberties Defense Center and the Center For Constitutional Rights joined defense counsel for the four arrestees (the AETA 4) in petitioning the US District Court for Northern California to strike down the Animal Enterprise Act as unconstitutional.
Damn good thing, too. The San Jose Mercury News reports the AETA 4’s alleged crimes include:
Oct. 21, 2007: A group of 20 protesters demonstrated outside of a UC Berkeley professor’s home in El Cerrito. Some wore bandanas to hide their faces. They trespassed on his front yard, chanted slogans and accused him of being a murderer because of his use of animals in research.
Jan. 27, 2008: Demonstrations, including chalking, in front of the homes of several UC researchers
July 29, 2008: Fliers left at Caffe Pergolesi in Santa Cruz that contained the names, addresses and telephone numbers of several UCSC scientists. The fliers said the researchers were “murders and torturers alive and well in Santa Cruz” and stated “We know where you live. We know where you work. We will never back down until you end your abuse.”
Though taking protests to people’s homes is a tactic many folks find unacceptable, many other Americans choose to exercise their right to peaceably assemble and protest in residential neighborhoods, as well as outside of offices and factories. This form of public speech is as old as the Republic, and as recent as public protests outside of banksters’ estates.
Is trespass a crime? Yep, and under California law, it can be prosecuted. Are assault and battery and attempted forcible entry crimes under California law? Yep, and those too may be prosecuted. California’s been prosecuting people for violence before Carter marketed little pills. Nothing in AETA is required to prosecute the following alleged crime:
Feb. 20, 2008: A group of five protesters tried to forcibly enter the Westside home of a UC Santa Cruz researcher during a child’s birthday party. The researcher’s husband was hit during the demonstration.
I’ll never support violence or home invasions, but AETA isn’t about prohibiting those acts. AETA’s about prohibiting speech and public advocacy: that’s why protest and chalking and chanting and fliers are specific acts of allegedly criminal content. Because AETA sez so. And our trusty Federal minders have decided they want to enforce the corporatist law that makes speech a crime.
They have plenty of company in their corporate servitude. When ALEC wanted to make effective civil disobedience against megacorps a crime, their carefully bribed servants hired hands in Congress gave them exactly what they wanted:
Virginia Representative Bobby Scott-often called the “go-to-guy” in the House on civil liberties and civil rights issues-came out swinging in support of the “ecoterrorism” bill. Scott, a Democrat, said that existing laws have been “reasonably effective,” but “gaps and loopholes” prevent law enforcement from going after animal rights “extremists.”
Disturbingly, Scott said in passing that civil disobedience could be covered in the bill-which some other supporters of the bill have denied-but he tried to ease public fears by saying that the civil disobedience would have to cause disruption and loss of profits to qualify, and that “it must be proven that such losses were specifically intended.” The same congressman who frequently praises the achievements of the civil rights movement is suddenly standing on the House floor and advocating the inclusion of that movement’s tactics in a “terrorism” bill.
Gee, so Representative Scott now only wants America to allow protests whose organizers don’t expect to disrupt business profits…say, by sitting for hours at a lunch counter without being served. Thanks for pulling up the ladder behind you, Congressman Scott.
As they showed back when they rubber-stamped the Patriot Act and confirmed last week when they pretended the MP’s at Leavenworth couldn’t handle Gitmo detainees, the vast majority of what pass for our Congresscritters are rank cowards who piss themselves whenever opponents brand them “soft on terror”. Same thing the vast majority of their predecessors did when the corporatists’ Mighty Wurlitzer screamed “soft on commies”, and later “soft on crime”.
The only thing that can make them betray their oath to protect and uphold the Constitution faster are the bribes campaign contributions the American Legislative Exchange Council’s megacorp owners eagerly provide. Hey – thanks to their prior “donations”, it’s all tax-deductible. Shredding our Constitution for the corporatists – such a deal.
Don’t you just love those patriots at ALEC – and the one-third of ALEC’s legislative members who are Democrats? People For The American Way have more on ALEC’s mission:
ALEC’s agenda includes rolling back civil rights, challenging government restrictions on corporate pollution, limiting government regulations of commerce, privatizing public services, and representing the interests of the corporations that make up its supporters.
Who could have anticipated? Well, anyone who watched what happened after ALEC’s sponsors wrote AETA’s parent, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. The Center For Constitutional Rights watched what happened with AEPA:
The AEPA was put on the books in 1992 by well-funded industries that exploit animals. Proponents of the AEPA argued that the number of violent attacks committed by so-called animal rights extremists on farming and research facilities was escalating, and that the AEPA was necessary to protect these facilities. They claimed that (1) existing state & federal laws had failed to curtail such acts, and (2) these attacks disrupted vital services relied on by millions of Americans. Despite these assertions, the language of the AEPA swept up constitutionally-protected free speech activities, even though legislators believed they had struck a balance between the right to protest and the need to provide additional criminal penalties for violent acts. Despite the claims of the corporate interests that this law was vital, the law has only been used twice during the last 16 years.
In one of those two uses, our brave servants in Federal law enforcement prosecuted the “SHAC 7″ — six activists and a non-profit (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA Inc.) — for the crime of posting information about animal rights protests on the internet. The activists covered a global campaign against a private firm, Huntington Life Sciences, that contracts to perform hideous painful animal testing for cosmetics manufacturers, but were not direct participants in other folks’ illegal actions against HLS.
In January DOJ attorneys sword to uphold the Constitution told the Third Circuit Court of Appeals the SHAC activists convictions must be upheld. Why?
Perhaps the most disturbing element of the appeal was hearing the government speak so candidly and succinctly about what kind of conduct should be prosecuted.
For instance, Darius Fullmer was a leader of the Animal Defense League in New Jersey. He sent emails to the defendants saying that, although his group is focused on anti-fur campaigning, he will try to get people to start showing up at protests. He also forwarded a SHAC email to his members which describe “Black Fax Mondays” (electronic civil disobedience where activists fax black pieces of paper to the targeted company, in hopes of draining their toner cartridges and tying up their fax machine lines.)
“That’s his embrace,” Moramarco said. “That one document is sufficient evidence.”
Similarly, Josh Harper made two speeches in which he supported the “black fax” tactic. One was to a local group in Seattle, the other was to activists in Little Rock. Those speeches, the government said, are enough for a conviction. Two speeches. Three years in prison.
Moramarco stretched even further in the case of Lauren Gazzola. He pointed to a radio interview in which Gazzola says, “We support property destruction, we support illegal action, we support home demonstrations and economic sabotage.”
In what might have been the boldest, most chilling argument made by the government in this case, Moramarco said that such a statement of her political beliefs and her personal views, such a statement about which tactics she believes are effective, was “tantamount to a confession.”
Wonder if US Asst. Attorney Glenn J. Moramarco went to law school wanting to prosecute thought crimes, or if that’s something he only picked up in the Bushie DOJ?
We’re lucky that Lauren Regan and the CLDC together with the good folks at CCR stepped forward yesterday. Let’s hope they can persuade Federal Courts to uphold the same Constitution that most of the Congress would so eagerly destroy.
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”