Freeing Animals Is Not “Terrorism,” Rights Attorneys Argue

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November 6, 2014, Chicago – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel at the People’s Law Office and the Federal Defender Program in Chicago filed a motion to dismiss a terrorism indictment against two animal rights activists alleged to have freed mink and foxes from fur farms. The activists were indicted under the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which punishes causing damage or loss to a business or other institution that sells animals or animal products, or to a “person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.” CCR attorneys argue that the AETA is unconstitutional because it makes no distinction between loss caused by criminal acts and loss caused by boycotts and other constitutionally-protected activity, and that, in any event, punishing non-violent activity as “terrorism” is an unconstitutional denial of due process. 

“Releasing animals so that they can escape being killed for fur coats is a quintessential act of non­-violence,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol. “Calling such an act ‘terrorism’ shows just how outlandish terrorism rhetoric has become. Ultimately, the government is saying it is a terrorist offense to save the wrong lives.”
 
Kevin Johnson and Tyler Lang were indicted under the AETA in July for allegedly releasing mink and foxes from two rural Illinois fur farms. They previously faced state charges of “possession of burglary tools” after a police search during a traffic stop turned up items such as wire cutters. Both men pleaded guilty to the State charges; Mr. Lang was sentenced to 170 days in prison, and Mr. Johnson 30 months. They face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of the AETA charges.
 
This week, the Supreme Court is also considering the AETA, in response to CCR’s civil challenge to the law, Blum v. Holder. Blum was file in 2011 on behalf of five longtime animal rights activists with long histories of participating in peaceful protests and advocacy efforts, who have limited or even ceased their lawful advocacy out of fear of being prosecuted as terrorists. Blum seeks to have the AETA struck down as vague and overbroad in violation of the First Amendment. The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiffs were not permitted to sue because they could not show that their prosecution under the law was “certainly impending.” In August, CCR asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, and it is scheduled for conference on November 7, 2014. 
 
Read the motion filed today here. For more information on the fur farm raid case, visit CCR’s case page, U.S. v. Johnson.
 


The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Last modified 

November 6, 2014