Animal Protection >
June 3, 2005
by Pete Spina
Lining the sidewalk outside the federal courthouse in Trenton, NJ on
June 1, 2005, some of the signs they hold show pictures of restrained,
mutilated or tortured animals from experiments worthy of the
imagination of Dr. Josef Mengele, involving elaborate and brutal head
restraints on terrified primates, wired brain implants on prostrate,
living house cats and disemboweled beagle puppies. Other signs call
for the defense of free speech, invoking the First Amendment of the
Bill of Rights.
The sun is out but the breeze keeps them cool. They are nicely, even
conservatively dressed, middle class and mostly white, and they
maintain an orderly composure while police deploy linked metal
barricades in front of them. Armed federal police guard the entrance
of the courthouse behind them, clad in bullet-proof kevlar vests. They
do not taunt the police, but they do chant loudly, energetically and in
"Human freedom, animal rights! One struggle, one fight!"
Inside the courthouse, the trial of the SHAC 7 has begun.
The SHAC 7
On May 26, 2004, a federal grand jury indicted seven activists on
"terrorism" charges. Kevin Jonas, Jake Conroy, Lauren Gazzola, Darius
Fulmer, Andy Stepanian, Josh Harper and John McGee were indicted on
charges of "animal enterprise terrorism" under the Animal Enterprise
Protection Act of 1992.
At heart, this is a free speech fight. The specifics of the indictment
state that the seven are alleged to have run a website that reported
on protests aimed at pressuring investors, stockbrokers and customers
of the animal experimentation facility Huntington Life Sciences to
divest from the facility. The indictment alleges the seven conspired
to encourage the disruption of commerce at HLS. The government's
interpretation of the AEP Act seeks to define as domestic terrorism
any such third party action that has the effect of limiting commerce,
whether criminal in method or not and no matter how peaceful,
encompassing a variety of tactics such as civil disobedience,
demonstrations and divestment campaigns.
Industry spokesmen like David Martosko of the Center for Consumer
Freedom, a front group for the meat, dairy and restaurant industry,
have smugly described SHAC as the "mainstream animal-rights movement's
Achilles Heel." Their hope is that should the SHAC 7 trial end in a
guilty verdict, it will effectively criminalize any dissent. The AEP
Act could then be used to prosecute other organizations, like People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). This trial is a test case
of the principle that advocating non-violent change -- and being
effective at it -- is the same as engaging in violent terrorist
This principle has been applied before in US history. It is the same
twisted logic that lead to the imprisonment and execution of the
Haymarket Martyrs, late nineteenth century labor organizers and
anarchists who fought for the 8-hour day. This principle sent Nicola
Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti to the electric chair. Like these
figures from history, the SHAC activists scarcely fit the bill of the
hardened thugs they are made out to be.
Soft-spoken Kevin Jonas volunteered for nursing homes, worked for PIRG
and founded an Amnesty International chapter at his alma mater,
Midwestern University. Jake Conroy went to art school. Lauren Gazzola
is a magna cum laude grad of NYU. Darius Fulmer works as an EMT. Andy
Stepanian spends his weekends with a group that cooks food for the
homeless. Josh Harper went to school for drama and runs his own video
production company. John McGee is a law student. These are twenty to
thirty year-olds more likely to discuss where they can find tasty
vegan ice cream than plot harm to anyone or anything, yet the
government ranks them as terrorists equivalent to Iraqi suicide bomb
mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Despite efforts to portray them as such, several government officials
openly ackowledged that SHAC has not violated the Animal Enterprise
FBI Deputy Assitant Director John Lewis stated that "the activities of
SHAC generally fall outside the scope of the AEP statute. In fact,
SHAC members are typically quite conversant in the elements of the
McGregor Scott, US Attorney for California's Eastern District,
admitted that "While animal 'terrorists' [sic] are increasingly
targeting not only animal enterprises themselves...but also anyone who
is believed to be engaged in the provision of services to such animal
enterprises, federal law does not currently equip the Department with
the necessary tools to effectively prosecute the perpetrators of such
Despite these admissions, the government is moving lockstep with
animal testing industry groups like the bogus Center for Consumer
Freedom and with Huntington Life Sciences itself, as well as corporate
investors who face the prospect of public pressure and exposure due to
their morally questionable business ventures. Having failed to gain
any headway on more militant, clandestine groups such as the Animal
Liberation Front, the government is seeking to destroy the animal
rights movement's above-ground and transparent activist base.
The immensely effective SHAC campaign (having already bankrupted
Huntington Life Sciences twice before financial intervention by the UK
government, a move unprecedented in history) is first on the list, but
the government's tactics of intimidation and calculated suppression of
dissent can easily be extrapolated to other grassroots movements, a
fact that should deeply concern anyone interested in civil liberties
or social justice.
SHAC: a Blueprint for Effective Activism
Just as the animal research industry's motives are obvious, the
government's reasoning is simple: their greatest fear is that other
activists will learn from the SHAC campaign and integrate those
tactics into their own endeavors. From the global social justice and
anti-war movements to anti-racist, labor and community activism, the
potency of SHAC's methods are compelling.
In only three years, by means of secondary and tertiary targeting of
companies investing in HLS that do not actually need HLS to remain
financially secure, and by enabling the free-flow of information about
actions conducted by other groups in a coordinated manner, the lab
lost 90% of its worth as companies divested or cancelled contracts.
Insurance firms will no longer cover HLS. Accounting firms will not do
their taxes. All this has been accomplished by a simple understanding
of corporate hierarchies, knowledge of the pressure necessary to
isolate and discourage investment and the application of time, energy
and the concerted activity of committed activists.
Key to these tactics are an aggressive, no-compromise stance.
Activists do not simply protest HLS, they protest anyone who has any
business dealings with HLS. In some cases, activists have sent black
faxes to companies' fax machines, burning out print cartridges after
20 copies, a tactic the federal indictment cites as a violation of the
FCC's indecency provisions. Other actions in the campaign have
involved demonstrations at the homes of executives and investors.
While these tactics are aggressive and rude, they simply do not fall
into the category of violent terrorism.
This has the government grasping for straws and reacting in desperate
ways. Central to the government's case against the SHAC defendants is
the accusation that SHAC activists are violent extremists. These
accusations carry no weight in reality, only the threat of guilt by
association. For instance, Executive Assitant US Attorney Charles
McKenna revealed in the first day of trial that the government may
seek to include testimony from Brian Cass, an HLS managing director
from England who was attacked outside of his home by unknown,
unidentified assailants. The only connection made between the SHAC
defendants in the United States and Cass is that Cass worked for the
same firm they targeted for protest, but at its UK facility.
Other insinuations come straight from HLS execs themselves. HLS
general manager Mike Caulfield called the SHAC 7 "extremists" and said
the trial is about whether HLS employees "should have to fear for
their lives." This is a convenient scare tactic used by a company
whose direct financial interests are threatened by the exposure of its
practices and are completely unsupported in fact. The mindset also
betrays an egregious political double standard, shared by the
Definition of a Domestic Terrorists
On May 18, 2005, the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public
Works held an oversight hearing regarding the prevalence of
"eco-terrorism," specifically focusing on the activities of the Earth
Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front. In testimony, FBI Deputy
Assistant Director Lewis told the committee that animal rights and
environmental extremists are the nation's top domestic terror threat,
beyond even violent neo-nazi groups like the Aryan Nations. He
included SHAC in his assessment.
Republican Senator from Louisiana David Vitter echoed this conclusion,
discussing the actions of "ALF vandals" at Lousiana State University.
Although unable to produce a single instance of an individual being
injured in any way, he ended by saying that "It is only a matter of
time until these attacks by domestic terrorists involving arson result
in human deaths."
Democratic Senator from Vermont Jim Jeffords questioned the entire
proceeding. "I am puzzled why the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee is examining the issue of animal rights and eco-terrorism
since the Committee lacks jurisdiction over criminal law enforcement
Jeffords went on to express his frustration that Democratic
Congressman Bennie Thompson, ranking member of the House of
Representatives Homeland Security Committee, had been barred by the
Republican EPW Committee Chair, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, from
testifying about the danger posed by demonstrably violent right-wing
Jeffords stated, "I'd like to submit for the record a report
Congressman Thompson prepared, entitled - quote - 'Ten Years After the
Oklahoma City Bombing, the Department of Homeland Security Must Do
More to Fight Right-Wing Domestic Terrorists.' The report highlights
the apparent failure of DHS to assess the threat posed by right-wing
domestic terrorist groups in the Department's five-year budget
planning document. I share his concern that the Department of Homeland
Security needs to protect us from all terrorist threats and should not
focus on eco-terrorism at the expense of other domestic terrorist
groups, such as the KKK, right wing militias, abortion bombers and
Jeffords' concerns have good cause. In February of 2005, the husband
and mother of US District Judge Joan Lefkow were murdered, execution
style, in the basement of her home in Chicago's suburbs. Judge Lefkow
had issued a copyright infringement ruling against a white supremacist
group called the World Church of the Creator and ordered its leader,
Matt Hale, to change its name and cease using documents bearing the
group's name. Matt Hale then attempted to contract a hit on Judge
Lefkow's life. As he awaited sentencing for that conviction, Lefkow's
family was murdered.
Other incidents by white supremacists and right-wing extremists in the
past involved a racist, three-day shooting spree in Illinois and
Indiana in 1999, attempts to manufacture or acquire weapons of mass
destruction, including biological and chemical agents, abortion clinic
bombings and assassinations of doctors who practice abortion
procedures, the delivery of home-made anthrax through the mail by
neo-nazis against "lawyers with Jewish-sounding names," and best
known, the Oklahoma City bombings of 1995 that killed nearly
two-hundred men, women and children.
The reality is that right-wing extremists have proven exceedingly
violent and brutal in recent years, while animal rights and
environmental campaigners have simply been extremely effective
activists. Right-wing extremists might kill people, but animal rights
and environmental activists hit corporate profits.
The government wears its political self-interest on its sleeve, a
self-interest that mirrors the interests of the animal research
industry: a total disregard for the suffering of living beings and the
blind pursuit of profit through intimidation and lies.
...and Then There Were Six.
Actions by prosecutors on the opening day of the trial expose the
inherent weakness of the government's case against SHAC. Attorney Josh
Markowitz announced to reporters that his client, John McGee, was no
longer part of the case and that Markowitz expected that the charges
against McGee would be dismissed.
Indeed, it seems that none of the other defendants even knew who McGee
was and many people openly questioned why he was indicted in the first
place. The extent of McGee's involvement in the SHAC campaign remains
unclear. However, the government's insistence on investigating and
indicting someone with no discernable involvement in the group has
First, the government wants to nail SHAC and nail them bad. It is so
desperate that it pursues every possible lead with maximum pressure,
including the use of illegal methods. A defendant's car windshield was
even smashed recently and a laptop stolen from that defendant's car;
$50 in cash was left untouched.
It is easy to understand John McGee's indictment in this context. If
he had any connection to protests against HLS or to the animal rights
movement more generally, a federal indictment against him would up the
ante considerably, forcing him into a position where he could be
coerced into helping the government's case against SHAC, either with
information or through testimony. The leverage gained by a federal
indictment is considerable, but it remains to be seen what impact any
information gained in this way would have considering the questionable
and indirect circumstances of McGee's involvement.
Still, even if McGee had absolutely no connection to the SHAC campaign
or the activists currently on trial and has not been coerced in this
manner, being the federal government means never having to say you're
Second, the government wants to send a clear message to animal rights
and other activists in the United States: if you are effective, you
will face an unprecedented level of pressure from federal agencies
regardless of the legitimacy or the methods of your activities. The
conclusion that social justice, animal rights and other activists
should draw from this is stark. The war on dissent is real, it is
coordinated and the need for solidarity between different movements
has never been more urgent.
One Struggle, One Fight
Animal rights activists have largely been part of an insular, single
issue movement. Their activity rarely extends beyond specific
concerns. Many animal rights activists have only recently begun to
engage in a broader analysis of human society, but that engagement has
begun, if slowly. The animal rights movement has always been effective
at addressing the question of what, but it is equally important to
answer the question why: why companies such as HLS pursue these
actions, why the US, UK and other governments seek to protect them and
why many people do not share the animal rights movement's concerns.
The answers are not always as simple as some would like to believe. If
vivisection ended today, the basic motivation behind its pursuit would
still remain: it is a capitalist enterprise driven by greed. As long
as that incentive remains built into the structure of society, so will
For their part, social justice, anti-capitalist and anti-war activists
have largely been content with mass protests, marches and petitions
with the occasional foray into direct action. Labor activists have
been content with fighting for better working conditions in a limited
sense while expanding or preserving current membership. Many
anti-globalization activists pine for the summit-hopping days
following the Battle of Seattle. Coordinated, long-term campaigns with
specific goals are rarely undertaken and tactics often bog down into
predictable and increasingly ineffective patterns. If there is one
thing the animal rights movement can teach other movements is that a
listserv, mass membership, two meetings a week or a zine on
do-it-yourself herb gardening can never replace energy, lean
organization, clear objectives, perseverance and innovative,
strategically targeted direct action.
But is such an understanding possible? If it is not, we already have a
taste of what the future holds for us. Our future is being played out
right now inside a federal courtroom in Trenton, NJ against six young
activists who were bold enough to stand by their conscience and act.
They stand there now, as much for us and our liberties as for the
lives of the animals they chose to defend. We must stand with them,
not because we wish to save ourselves, but because our liberation is
bound up in theirs.