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Environmentalists = Terrorists

the new math

by Karen Charman

Have you ever signed a petition in support of an environmental or animal-rights issue? Do you belong to the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, or Greenpeace? Have you publicly protested some environmental or animal rights outrage? If legislation crafted and promoted by the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) becomes law, these fundamental rights of American citizenship could become illegal.

Exploiting the current political climate against terrorism, ALEC has teamed up with the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a pro-hunting group, to create a model "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act." The legislation is part of an intense backlash against increasingly effective and vocal citizen campaigns aimed at halting -- and holding corporations accountable for -- environmental, animal-rights and public health abuses.

Forging this kind of marriage to produce anti-progressive legislation is old hat to ALEC, now in its thirtieth year of policy bending. With an annual budget of nearly $6 million, ALEC's funders read like a Who's Who of the right, and include organizations like the National Rifle Association, Family Research Council and Heritage Foundation. It counts conservative activists and politicians such as Jesse Helms, Jack Kemp and Henry Hyde among its alumni. Enron, Phillip Morris (now Altria) and several oil companies rank among ALEC's corporate sponsors. And to bring the loop full-circle, ALEC boasts 2,400 state lawmakers representing all 50 states among its current members.

In light of this, it's hardly shocking that ALEC is no friend to green groups. According to a 2002 report by Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council, corporations and trade associations "funnel cash through ALEC to curry favor with state lawmakers through junkets and other largesse in the hopes of enacting special interest legislation -- all the while keeping safely outside the public eye."

The strategy obviously works. ALEC spokesperson David Wargin estimates that out of about 1,000 ALEC model bills introduced in the last legislative session, 200 were enacted. 

The Animal Ecological and Terrorism Act may be next,    Intended for states, it criminalizes virtually all forms od environmental or animal rights advocacy.  Versions of the proposed law were introduced in Texas and in New York in March.  New York Assembly member Richard Hadsell (D), who introduce the state's bill, says four or five other states have also expressed interest.

The Texas bill defines an "animal rights or terrorist organization" as "two or more persons organized for supporting any politically motivated intended to obstruct or delay any persons from participating in an activity involving animals or . . . natural resources."  The bill adds that "Political motivation means an attempt to influence a government entity or the public to take a specific political action."  Language in the New York bill is similarly broad.

Michael Ratner, a human rights lawyer, and vice-president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has never seen such draconian legislation in the United States.

"This is unique.  Even under the definition of domestic terrorism in the Patriot Act, you have to at least do something that arguably threatens people's lives," he says.  "The definitional sections of this legislation are so broad that they sweep within them basically every environmental and animal-rights organization in the country."

Sandy Liddy Bourne, director of the ALEC task force that came up with the model bill, insists the legislation is narrowly targeted at enviornmental and animal-rights extremists who blow up buildings or destroy research facilities.  "We're certainly not attempting to interfere with anyone's civil rights to protest or express their opinion on environmental or animal-rights issues," she says.  However, "there are legitimate business operations across our country that are being targeted by environmental extremists, and it's time to bring this kind of activity to a halt."

Ratner points out that there are laws against trespassing, vandalism, destruction of property, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. The only reason for this legislation, he says, is to eliminate all forms of dissent, including the time-honored democratic traditions of nonviolent, peaceful protest and civil disobedience.

Civil rights advocates who thought the Patriot Act was b should turn their attention to this legislation. Because if ALEC is successful, millions of people might just lose the only tool they have left: the right to loud and public dissent.     Sent by Mary Chipman and reprinted with permission from TomPaine.com

Karen Charman is an investigative journalist specializing in agriculture, health and the environment.

Comments from Mary Chipman

There are quite a number of corporations, organizations, and individuals in this country who profit a great deal from abusing animals and the environment. Because we have apparently been successful in educating more and more of the public regarding these abusers, they are getting nervous and are striking back in what has become an increasingly prevalent and effective manner: buying politicians. They are passing laws that restrict individuals from voicing legitimate opposition.

Please read the (above) article and judge for yourself. The legislation mentioned in the article is not happening "somewhere else"; it is happening right here in Missouri. There are legislators who are pushing for a ban on photographing or videotaping ANY ANIMAL FACILITY and the penalty would be a FELONY. They are also pushing to keep PUBLIC records of these animal facilities out of the PUBLIC's hands. They are dangerously close to passing. What this means is that anyone who is concerned about the welfare of the animals at one of Missouri's many puppy mills (we are known far and wide as "The Puppy Mill State") or at a stockyard or a research facility would be guilty of a felony if that person photographed or videotaped the establishment. Even if unsanitary, unsafe, or downright cruel conditions were found, the photographer would be the felon and not the true perpetrator.

The people who are pushing for this type of legislation are the very same kind who decades ago were pushing to keep blacks "in their place" and women "in the kitchen."

Your rights are being eroded

previous comments from Mary Chipman

I had to write to you guys to let you know what's happening here in St. Louis.  Whether you are involved in a social movement or not, what is taking place here does affect you and your inherent rights as an American citizen.     

Recent years have seen an erosion of our Constitutional rights to free speech and free assembly. The actions taken today by our own St. Louis City Police Department against ordinary citizens speak volumes about what is happening to our once-free nation.

You may or may not be aware that the Biodevastation 7 Conference is taking place this weekend at Forest Park Community College in St. Louis. These Biodevastation Conferences bring together people from across the country and around the world to discuss the effects of biotechnology and genetically modifed oranisms (GMOs) on the environment, people, animals, and international cultures. The conference this year was scheduled to coincide with the World Agricultural Forum sponsored by Monsanto. A protest against the World Ag Forum and Monsanto is planned for Sunday afternoon. These conferences and protests are non-violent, non-confrontational events and no violence has ever taken place during one of them. Despite their history of being peaceful and lawful assemblies, the St. Louis City Police Department has chosen to portray attendees as troublemakers, and has gone out of its way to cause trouble itself.

The week prior to the start of Bio-devastation 7 was filled with news reports of police officers gearing up for action, setting up barricades, organizing riot equipment, and outfitting themselves for war. There is absolutely no reason to believe the protest on Sunday will be anything but peaceful. Comparisons to the violence experienced in Seattle at World Trade talks a few years ago are unfounded and only serve to panic the public and negatively characterize dissenters. Nevertheless, police have already begun to arrest conference goers and ransack offices of organizers.

Between 20 and 30 people have been arrested already--before they were able to reach the conference. Their vehicles were searched, their offices raided; they were interrogated repeatedly, and they are being held--all because they planned to attend a conference unpopular to one of the largest corporations in town--Monsanto. If you think that America is still a free and open country, you are very much mistaken. The people arrested are being held without any charges.  They were in possession of no illegal materials and they had committed no crimes.

The offices raided were those of the Gateway Green Alliance and the Independent News. Three sets of officers who refused to identify themselves hauled away such dangerous and suspicious items as giant cloth puppets used for demonstrations. A van carrying attendees was pulled over on the pretext of noncompliance with the seat belt law. Yet, everyone in the van was hauled out and detained, repeatedly interrogated and videotaped while their vehicle was searched. One of the key speakers at the conference will not be able to attend because police found a bottle of vitamin C on her and are holding her for suspicion of drug possession. A caravan of bicyclists on their way to the conference was accosted by police and are also being detained without charge.

If you think this has nothing to do with you, think again. It doesn't matter what the cause or what the issue, the erosion of civil liberties means that any police department anywhere in the country can detain you without proper cause and arrest you without charge simply by claiming you may be a threat. The misnamed "Patriot Act" allows previously unheard of actions to take place, all in the name of "Homeland Security." You aren't involved in any social movement so it isn't relevant to you? You bet it is. You don't have to be actively involved in a cause or movement to find yourself in the sights of a gung-ho "patriot."

This is supposed to be a country that prides itself on probable cause and proper procedure before a citizen can be detained. However, the pseudo "War on Terrorism" has turned innocent people into terrorist suspects. Voicing an  unpopular opinion can land you in jail or worse. Please think about this the next time you hear politicians talking aout being tough on terrorism. I am headed back down to the conference in a few minutes, and frankly, nothing would surprise me from here on out.

Spring 2003 index                                                  CivAb index                                          Spring 03 issue continued                                                         

The Civil Abolitionist

  Spring 2003  v.14  no. 1