Thursday, January 11, 2007

Privileged Victims

Suppose I punch you and steal five bucks because I’m trying to pay off a gambling debt. Now, suppose you punch me and steal five bucks because you hate people like me. Which crime deserves the harsher sentence?

That is the issue behind laws which create special classes of perpetrators and victims for otherwise comparable transgressions. I slugged you and I got two weeks because I only wanted money. You slugged me and you got a year because of what you thought. Is that equal protection under the law?

Which brings me to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The privileged victims are not of any particular race or religion. Instead, the victims are “animal enterprises,” such as the Huntington Life Sciences company in the United Kingdom which conducts experiments on animals for the manufacturers of cosmetics, cleaning solutions, or other products.

A group called Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC) was very successful in its efforts against Huntington Life Sciences. SHAC used letter-writing campaigns, email campaigns, and so forth to propagate its views. Through its website, SHAC publicized demonstrations against Huntington, its customers, and its employees. SHAC also reproduced letters from anonymous contributors who claimed to have engaged in illegal activities. Several suppliers stopped doing business with Huntington, which went into debt. Because Huntington has a lab in New Jersey, federal charges in the U.S. were brought against SHAC.

The SHAC Six were the first people to be prosecuted under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, and they were convicted in March of this year. But they were not found guilty of pouring blood on mink coats or releasing captive research animals. They were convicted of conspiring to inspire others to commit crimes. They were not convicted for what they did; they were convicted for what others have done or might do.

The New Jersey branch of the American Civil Liberties Union entered the case as amicus. Observing that criminal acts had occurred, the A.C.L.U. wrote that

[t]he court neither found that SHAC or its leaders engaged in the illegal activities or that SHAC “directs” the actions of the activists who undertook illegal acts “within the scope of their actual or apparent authority” from SHAC. Had the court been able to find as such, the court could have rightly entered an injunction. However, the judge did not enter an injunction based on that analysis. Rather, he found that SHAC incited “imminent lawlessness.” For the factual basis, he relied on the fact that SHAC “endorsed” illegal activities and posted information about the illegal activity, which the court said thereby encouraged more illegal activity. The ACLU-NJ argues that allowing an injunction to issue based on individuals’ “endorsement” of other people’s illegal activities, is improper and a violation of free speech and freedom of the press.

The National Lawyers Guild opposed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, ostensibly written to strengthen the Protection Act, because existing laws already protect businesses from offenses like trespass or vandalism. Furthermore, the language of the Act is unconstitutionally broad and vague. It could be interpreted to outlaw legal, expressive speech, silence whistleblowers, or criminalize boycotts. The Act violates the Fourteenth Amendment because it treats individual offenses on arbitrary grounds.

Animal rights activists are not widely understood or defended. Consequently, they present a good target for bad laws. The Animal Enterprise Protection Act “protects” an industry from legal activities by encroaching on the Constitution, which is why the right-wing favors it. If you can protect the profits of one industry, why not every industry?

Where is all this heading? On November 27, Newt Gingrich addressed a banquet in Manchester, New Hampshire. Here are some excerpts:

This is a serious, long term war. And it will inevitably lead us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country.

…we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech…

It will lead us to learn how to close down every website that is dangerous…

I want to suggest to you that we right now should be impaneling people to look seriously at a level of supervision that we would never dream of if it weren’t for the scale of the threat.

Gingrich said he is not a candidate for the presidency. However, he is

seeking to create a movement to win the future by offering a series of solutions so compelling that if the American people say I have to be President, it will happen.

It’s always fear with the Republicans these days, isn’t it? The sales pitch is never hope or progress. If we don’t privatize Social Security, benefits will be cut. If we don’t attack, we’ll be attacked. If we don’t torture prisoners or suspend habeas corpus, Americans will die. To preserve free speech, we may have to end it.

Remember, terrorists can be anybody — eco-terrorists, narco-terrorists, al Qaeda, religious organizations, ordinary citizens opposed to the U.S. regime, right-wing bombers, “dangerous” bloggers, or anyone designated a terrorist by the Oval Office. It is anybody’s guess how the far right might construe “suspect” places. But Gingrich truly is talking about a level of supervision beyond your worst nightmares. So he has to convince you that there is an imminent threat.

The greatest threat we face, however, doesn’t spring from “terrorists.” The threat comes from Newt Gingrich and others who are chipping away at the First Amendment while promising to defend it, along with the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments. The tag line is always the same: Hurry, hurry; be afraid. Give up your rights before terrorists steal them.

Fear and prejudice can be effective motivational tools, but they are not amenable to reason. The way to preserve liberty is with more liberty, not less. The best defense against bad ideas is better ideas in the marketplace of ideas. When a government seeks to limit speech, it’s always a bad sign. It is an admission that the government has no faith in its professed ideals or confidence in the support of its people. And that really is something to fear.

Huey Long once said, “Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism.” I’m afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America in the name of national security.
—Orleans Parish District Attorney Earling Carothers [Jim] Garrison, Playboy, October 1967, vol. 14, no. 10


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