Interview with Joseph Buddenberg of the AETA 4
Sun Sep 5 2010
Case of the AETA 4 and It's Implications for Activists
Dylan Powell of The Vegan Police
recently interviewed Joseph Buddenberg of AETA 4, four animal rights
activists who were charged with violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism
Act. Although the case was dismissed in July, it is not over. A federal
magistrate signed a warrant in August ordering Joseph to provide a DNA
sample to the FBI. In the interview, Joseph discusses the AETA 4 case and
its implications for activists.
Joseph states, "I appeared before
Magistrate Vadas, UC Santa Cruz graduate, and he scolded me. He yelled that
the three allegations against me at that point were some of the most
'chilling' accusations he'd ever seen. The allegations at that point were
attendance at two demonstrations and that I somehow helped make leaflets
opposing UC Santa Cruz vivisection. Keep in mind this is a federal judge and
former prosecutor who has dealt with child pornographers, meth dealers, bank
Recent interview with Joseph Buddenberg conducted by Dylan Powell of The
Vegan Police (http://www.theveganpolice.com).
He talks about the AETA4 case and its implications for activists Intro: The
AETA 4 case was the first large scale animal rights case that I have lived
through as an activist and as such it was one that built the foundation of
my interest around prisoner support and solidarity in the animal rights
community. We have had numerous interviews with people in regards to the
case (Peter Young, Will Potter, Dara Lovitz, etc) and I was happy to
organize a fundraiser last January for the AETA 4. When Joseph agreed to an
interview I was happy to keep this case at the forefront and help give some
insight into one of the people involved. Please read, circulate and help
support in any way you can.
Q: Back in 2009 after arrests were made
the Santa Cruz Police Chief Howard Skerry immediately went on record as
saying, 'A lot of cases are very complex. We don't give up on the cases. If
it takes years, it takes years.' Since the Government has had such a hard
stance on this case, were you surprised that a lot of people saw the ruling
on July 12th as an indication of this all 'being over?'
A. I want to
be clear that I'm speaking for myself in answering all of these questions. I
don't know what my co-defendants are thinking, as I haven't talked to them.
But I'm not that surprised. Very few people understand the complexity of
legal rulings. Unless you've been here, you can't fully grasp how the legal
system is set up in favor of prosecutors and the status quo.
the presiding judge ruled that the prosecutor violated our fifth amendment
rights, as well as federal rules of criminal procedure, this is not an end.
The prosecutors simply get to start over and try again if they wish. The FBI
is not going to let this case go. They are press-focused and can't afford
the embarrassment of a loss at this point. This is a political case and the
FBI has loved setting examples and attempting to destroy political movements
since their inception. Everyone active in the animal rights movement should
read up on COINTELPRO. Read Brian Glick's 'War at Home.'
I knew that
it would be an uphill battle and that judges weren't my friends at my
initial hearing on February 20, 2009. I was arrested at the Alameda County
courthouse by a half-dozen FBI agents, members of the Joint Terrorism Task
Force, and UC police as I appeared at a hearing contesting a restraining
order. I was taken to the San Francisco federal building and booked. I
appeared before Magistrate Vadas, UC Santa Cruz graduate, and he scolded me.
He yelled that the three allegations against me at that point were some of
the most 'chilling' accusations he'd ever seen. The allegations at that
point were attendance at two demonstrations and that I somehow helped make
leaflets opposing UC Santa Cruz vivisection. Keep in mind this is a federal
judge and former prosecutor who has dealt with child pornographers, meth
dealers, bank robbers, etc. I was placed in a halfway house at the
prosecutors request and spent the next month there. Upon my release, I was
on house arrest for six months.
The FBI definitely utilized the
press to their advantage and sent the message that this case was a high
priority. Within hours of my arrest, the FBI had formulated a very-scary
sounding press release. Our pictures were on every local TV news station
that night, complete with reporters talking of 'attacks' and four
'extremists.' FBI spokesperson Joseph Schadler made the rounds, and the
Santa Cruz Sentinel had a field day.
This is not over. Last week, a
federal magistrate signed a warrant ordering me to provide a DNA sample to
the FBI. The FBI agent's affidavit cites an ongoing investigation into
violations of AETA, as well as conspiracy. The same laws for which I was
indicted. Through the DNA sample, they hope to prove that my DNA is present
on a particular megaphone seized from my co-defendant Maryam's vehicle back
in 2008. My attorneys have been told that the prosecutors will get in touch
with them regarding case status by mid-September.
Q. Glenn Beck
recently held a march on Washington, and like previous right wing marches on
Washington (since Barack Obama's presidency) hundreds of people in the crowd
used the threat and intimidation of violence in their chant and signs. 'We
Came Unarmed THIS Time,' 'It's Not Time To Regroup, It's Time to Reload,'
etc. Do you think events like this help expose the irony and prejudice of
the AETA ?
A. Absolutely. This is actually a tremendous outreach
tool for those working to overturn designer statutes like AETA. It's been
said so many times and it's a cliche at this point that the FBI and police
agencies value the status quo and the protection of contested industries
'right' to profit over life itself. You can be arrested for vicious animal
abuse at a dairy farm and face misdemeanor charges, as happened in Ohio
recently. And if you tried to shut the criminal farm down, you'd risk facing
charges under AETA.
The law, especially when aimed at political
movements, is never fair or just. It's been this way for decades. They don't
go after right-wing terrorists who have a history of murder because they
aren't a threat to their agenda. They actively serve their agenda. This is a
simple message that the public easily understands. Despite the FBI's
attempts, no one other than the animal abusers themselves believe that the
non-violent animal rights movement should be more of a funding priority or
that we're more of a domestic threat than violent white supremacists,
anti-abortion murderers, or child pornographers. The Black Panthers, the
American Indian Movement, the Puerto Rican Independence movement, Earth
First!, and now the animal rights movement. We're in good company. I believe
we could learn a lot of inspiration and courage from these past and present
liberation struggles. The small-scale repression aimed at a very small
number of animal rights activists in the U.S., though serious, does not
compare to the deceit, brutality, false imprisonment, and murder that the
FBI leveled against the anti-racist and social justice struggles of the
1960's and 70's. Let's keep this in perspective and keep the focus on the
animals whose lives literally hang in the balance.
Q. In March 2009
Will Potter wrote a piece on the AETA 4 called 'Snitch Hunts,' where he
comments that he thinks those involved in the AETA 4 are not the intended
targets, but instead people who have been centered out to be leveraged in
hopes of gaining information. Do you think this was the intention in this
A. It's a possibility. But I have my doubts. I'm not a hard
person to track down, and the FBI never attempted to so much as interrogate
me directly. They visited my then-partner at her workplace in the summer of
2008, more than six months before my arrest. They asked her to pass along
their business cards. I spoke to an attorney, who reminded me that it was my
right to not speak with them. This is your fundamental right, despite
anything they tell you. Perhaps they realized I wouldn't speak to them
without some degree of force, and figured an indictment would be the extra
push that was needed? Upon my arrest, I asked to speak with my attorney
immediately. In any case, I have no information to provide them. And I would
never speak to the FBI.
18 months later, and they're still
proceeding with this case. I don't think this is about scaring people into
cooperating. I think that the prosecutor really thinks they can get a
conviction here, given the momentum of the UC vivisection campaigns and the
illegal tactics used by anonymous people. This is the SHAC prosecution
model. Throw together all the 'scary' stuff in an attempt to influence what
they hope will be a conservative jury into fearing this movement and wanting
to convict the scapegoats. In the discovery we've received thusfar, there's
hundreds of serious allegations leveled at absolutely no one in particular.
There's threatening emails, firebombings, broken windows and other vandalism
of several UC-Berkeley vivisectors' property, harassing phone calls, etc.
In December of 2008, I was arrested on a trespassing warrant. No
evidence was offered except for the word of a vivisector that the image
caught on his private surveillance camera looked like me. No word mentioned
of how he knew my name or who coached him. In my cell, I was visited by a UC
Detective who said, 'Keep it up. All the bullshit. The emails. The
vandalism. It will come back to get you sooner or later.'
the most clear intention of the case is the same as the SHAC case. Arrest a
few public activists and hope to scare away everyone active in the campaigns
and the larger fight for animal freedom. I think this has largely worked,
unfortunately. It's clear this is their agenda, given their vague indictment
which offered no details. No one knows what they are to allowed to do
anymore! I've been approached by straight-faced individuals whose activism
is solely vegan outreach, in anxiety because of our case. I've been asked if
I believe they could be prosecuted under AETA for flyering outside of Whole
Foods about factory farming. People need to keep in mind that AETA and
similar statutes will only be used against those that prosecutors think that
a jury will want to convict. They simply could never get a conviction for
most of the activism currently engaged in by the AR movement. You would have
to effect a very powerful institution for the Department of Justice to spend
millions of dollars prosecuting you.
Q. In July 2008 you wrote a
letter to the Berkeley Daily Planet chronicling some of the intense police
surveillance that was being placed on you without any charges. Did you ever
get a response from City Council Members or Berkeley Police Review
Commission? In hindsight, would there have been anything you would have done
differently knowing that the heavy handed surveillance led up to the AETA
charge in Feb 2009?
A. I never received a response from any City
Council members. Upon talking to an attorney, I was advised that it would be
a waste of time to file a complaint with the Police Review Commission. They
very rarely, if ever, sustain allegations against police officers. This is
something I call into question as small scale repression by Berkeley police
continues. I think a lawsuit or similar action would be warranted in many of
these recent instances.
Honestly, I don't think I could have done
anything to avert the indictment except stay at home and not go on demos. It
broke my heart when I started to understand what the billions of animals
experience in the animal exploitation industries. I don't think I could have
been inactive and still lived with myself knowing that primates are locked
in restraint chairs and deprived of water their entire lives, or that cats
have their skulls drilled open just a few miles away from my home.
Most of the allegations against me consist of my involvement in public
demonstrations filmed by local police. I was working on several campaigns at
the time. A lot of strange things started to happen, and I did experience
misdemeanor arrests and surveillance. But I was set on the goal of impacting
a powerful institution and ensure that less animals lives were taken at the
hands of vivisectors. I'm sure most activists can relate to the feeling of
being haunted given the severity of non-human oppression and our movement's
Q. The response from fellow activists when they
hear about the case is 'what can I do to help?' What are some ways people
can help support the AETA 4 right now?
A. Continue to keep the case
in the public consciousness. Use the valid first amendment issues at stake
to our advantage. Talk to your friends and family. Send a letter to Holder.
Fund-raisers are always needed. We have many amazing attorneys working
pro-bono on this case but if there's a conviction, appeals costs will be
astronomical. Continue your vital activism. Recent undercover investigation
of animal abuse facilities have helped to awaken public consciousness. When
people see the depravity and violence of the vivisection and other animal
abuse industries, they are much less likely to support criminalizing
righteous activism against these industries.
I feel like in this
case so much has centered on the label of terrorism and the tactics of
protest that a lot of people have lost sight of what brought activists out
in protest of University of California, Berkeley. What is happening at UC
Berkeley which brought people out in protest?
I feel very strongly,
and my attorney agrees, that this prosecution was brought by the Department
of Justice after heavy pressure from the University of California. The UC
regents are politically powerful billionaires. What they want, they get. The
university does not want to be exposed in any capacity.
There was a
multi-faceted years long campaign taking place in Berkeley. The UC-Berkeley
animal rights group BOAA pressured the city council into passing a
non-binding resolution demanding an end to primate vivisection at UC
Berkeley and calling for a phasing out of vivisection. In the midst of the
campaign, several University of California campuses were constructing new
vivisection labs. UC-Santa Cruz, UC-Irvine, and UC-Berkeley. The
construction of the Li Ka-Shing Center at Berkeley continues and will lead
to a 70 percent increase in vivisection facilities.
What was going
on and continues to this day at UC Berkeley is unfortunately not much
different than what is taking place at every major university. Michael
Budkie of SAEN has done much in recent years to expose these facilities,
posting all of the relevant documents and information on his website.
At UC Berkeley, it's no different than your local university. Invasive
experimentation on living animals. Confined in cages for the entirety of
their lives are non-human primates, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits,
wild mice, hyenas, cats, squirrels, voles, etc. UC Berkeley currently
experiments on 40,000 animals. Non-human primates are brain mapped, that is
deprived of water and forced to perform visual tasks while bolted down in
restraint chairs. Stereotaxic devices are used on cats and birds to keep
their heads in place while researchers chart their brain activity. Violent
acts that would have you arrested and facing felony charges if performed
outside the vivisection lab.
Q. I think it is really important that
people in the community know about the people involved in these cases. What
do you like to do with your spare time? What are your hobbies? As someone in
the horrible situation of living through the trial run of this very
repressive legislation, what advice can you give to other activists?
A. It's important for supporters to understand that activists facing
charges are just like yourself. They are not superheroes. It could be any
one of us.
I think it's important to personalize every defendant of
our movement. Ditch the 'vegan warrior' rhetoric and understand these are
just normal people driven by compassion.
It's still a surreal
experience for me. I don't view myself as a threat. I like to hang out with
friends, hike, go on bike rides, eat good vegan food, and listen to punk
Each individual will have specific support needs. The most
important thing, is to not do the FBI's work. In recent cases, I've seen
people commenting on cases, feeding the gossip mill and taking the FBI's
allegations as truth.
The advice I would give to other activists, is
to be smart. Go with your gut feeling. If someone active in your group seems
suspicious, distance yourself from them. At the same time, don't give into
the fear-mongering around AETA and continue your activism. Keep things in
perspective. You have very little chance of being prosecuted under this law.
The animal rights movement in the U.S. currently has ten billion non-human
prisoners, and about twelve humans imprisoned or facing charges. In many
countries other than the U.S. and U.K., severe sentences and laws stifling
activism do not yet exist. Be effective before they have the opportunity to
Every social justice movement has and will always have
defendants and prisoners. For the prisoners of our movement, non-human and
human, support them as you would if you were locked in a cage. The human
prisoners need, for the most part, donations and lawyers. The non-human
prisoners need your voice and continued action.
I won't lie. It has
been a very scary, drawn out, and traumatizing experience for me. It's not
fun to be on house arrest for days on end, knowing that it could stand to
get much worse. At the most stressful points of the past couple years, it
was circumstantial and had little to do with the case. I lost my mother
while I was under indictment. While I was at my mother's side in the
hospital, I received several calls each day from my 'federal pre-trial
officer.' He was threatening to take me into custody, accusing me of being
on an unauthorized trip. My partner of several years left me that same
month. I tend to be a shy and private person, so it was hard for me to reach
out to my community and request help and support.
The advice I would
offer to those facing charges or serving time, is to stay in touch with your
community. This community threw dozens of fund-raisers and covered my legal
fees. Hundreds of people from this community called the facility I was being
held at and demanded that I be served vegan meals. And so much more. We have
an amazing support team and this is an amazing movement to be a part of. My
gratitude can not be expressed. All of you give me hope that one day we will
see a world free from non-human slavery.