July 29, 2010

Meeropol on AETA 4

by Robert Meeropol

Last Thursday I received an email from my daughter, Rachel, a human rights attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights letting me know that she’d won a legal victory. She wrote: “Court just dismissed the indictments against the AETA 4. … Indictments don't get dismissed everyday, so this is a really nice win.”

AETA (Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act) was passed towards the end of the Bush administration. It is a sweeping federal law that brands as terrorism protests that hurt the finances of corporations that conduct animal research or deal in animal products. According to police reports, those who were charged and became known as the AETA 4 trespassed on the property of a California college professor who had conducted medical research on animals. The protesters wore bandanas over their faces and chanted slogans such as “1,2,3,4, open up the cage door; 5,6,7,8, smash the locks and liberate, 9,10,11,12, vivisectors go to hell.”

For participating in this and several similar demonstrations, the AETA 4 faced a possible 10-year prison sentence.

However, in the indictment the government, perhaps fearing that specifying what the defendants had actually done would make it obvious that the law was criminalizing first amendment rights, merely alleged that they violated AETA by listing the language of the statute. The Judge dismissed the charges because the indictment did not “allege facts that sufficiently inform each defendant of what it is he or she is alleged to have done that constitutes a crime.”

The government may chose to re-indict the defendants, but to do so they must enumerate the illegal acts the defendants supposedly committed.

AETA is a terrible law, and can be used to attack a broad range of protesters as terrorists for engaging in non-violent actions that harm corporate profits. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have used this law and “terrorist enhancements” in other laws as part of on going legal actions called the “Green Scare” aimed at repressing animal rights and environmental activists. The RFC has provided support for the children of several imprisoned Green Scare defendants.

I’m pleased that the protesters have won a round and I’m personally delighted that my daughter and the CCR played a role in that victory, but this silver lining has a cloud within it.

As Rachel and CCR Legal Director Bill Quigley have written in an article on Huffington Post: “While animal rights and environmental activists are the main target of these new laws equating protest with terrorism, the law could potentially be applied to anyone who protests anything, and does it effectively. … Environmental and animal rights groups are organizing against this law and against the green scare in general. Activists from other movements need to join them.”

The last sentence points to the problem. A vast segment of the Left has not taken these attacks seriously because they do not take the politics of the government’s targets seriously. This plays into the hands of the agents of repression whose time-worn tactic is first to single out those with less popular support and attempt to isolate more militant activists from larger more moderate progressive groups, before taking on the larger groups directly.

As a teenager I remember hearing older leftists denigrate the emerging New Left. Since then I’ve repeatedly witnessed the dismissal of emerging movements by those already championing other, more established causes. Recently I’ve heard my contemporaries scorn the youthful indiscretions of today’s activists. Young and old have a lot to learn from each other. I felt this with a passion when I was young and I doubt that’s changed just because I’ve aged. It is counterproductive for progressives to focus on disparaging the tactics of militants they disagree with or to watch from the sidelines. Instead we should stand in solidarity with those under attack from our common enemy, the repressive agents of expanding corporate empires that are destroying the environment and militarizing the planet.

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