AETA Denies Freedom of Speech and Due Process Say Attorneys
May 9, 2016, Chicago – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) challenged the constitutionality of the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) on behalf of two activists convicted as terrorists for freeing thousands of mink and foxes from fur farms. The AETA 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.” In a brief urging the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court ruling, CCR and co-counsel 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. The case is United States v. Johnson.
Said Defendant Kevin Johnson, appealing his case from prison, "Aescheleman Fur Farm has been exposed as a site of unspeakable violence. Foxes on the farm went mad as they witnessed fellow foxes being anally electrocuted for their pelts. For his acts, Daniel Aeschelman was fined $300 and went on with his business. For my peaceful effort to free those and other fur industry victims, I was sentenced to three years in federal prison. This is what passes for justice under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act."
Johnson, along with his co-defendant Tyler Lang, previously faced state charges of “possession of burglary tools,” after a police search during a traffic stop turned up items such as camouflage jackets and bolt cutters. Both men pleaded guilty to the State charges and were sentenced to 30 months and 170 days in prison, respectively. They were subsequently indicted under the AETA, facing federal charges and up to 20 years in prison. They pleaded guilty to the AETA charges last summer, but reserved their right to challenge the constitutionality of the AETA.
“The AETA singles out activists who oppose violence against animals for special punishment. Those who damage property at non-animal enterprises have committed a property crime, while under this law those who damage animal industries have committed a federal crime of terrorism,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol. “Designating people who release animals – in order to save them from being killed and made into coats – as terrorists is not only preposterous, it is unconstitutional.”
Johnson and Lang were indicted under the AETA in 2014 on the eve of the annual Animal Rights National Conference. In 2015, two more activists were similarly indicted under the AETA, also for releasing animals and damaging property at fur farms and other so-called animal enterprises, again just days before the national conference. According to Meeropol, these conspicuously timed indictments underscore the real purpose of the AETA: to scare an entire movement into silence. Both activists in the second case pleaded guilty in February, and one has since been sentenced to two years in federal prison.
CCR is joined in its representation of Kevin Johnson by co-counsel at the Peoples Law Office. Tyler Lang is represented by the Federal Defender Program.