The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

“AETA is not about the crime, it’s about the politics behind the crime. All of the actions targeted by this legislation (with the exception of First Amendment activity) are already crimes. The problem that law enforcement agents have encountered is not that there’s a shortage of statutes available, but that they just can’t catch underground activists. This legislation won’t solve that. It will, however, stray into the dangerous territory of prosecuting intent. This bill is not about crimes (or First Amendment activity) but about the beliefs of the individuals, and the social movements, behind them. Conservative lawmakers who opposed hate crimes legislation because it mandated disproportionate sentences based on ideology should logically oppose AETA on the same grounds.” ~Will Potter, from his blog,

“The AETA is ostensibly meant to target underground, illegal actions committed in the name of animal rights by groups like the Animal Liberation Front. But underground activists won’t lose much sleep over this bill. Their actions are already illegal (and they know it); the government has already labeled them the “number one domestic terrorist threat.” And yet these activists continue to demonstrate that heavy-handed police tactics will not deter them. Legal, aboveground activists are the ones who should be most concerned about this vague and overly broad legislation, under which they could be considered “terrorists.” The AETA sends a chilling message to activists of all social movements that political opportunists can use the rhetoric and resources of the War on Terrorism against them.” ~Will Potter, from “AETA Signed into Law,” published in Earth First! Journal, January 2007

On the 13th of November, 2006, only six congressional representatives were present to vote on legislation that would dramatically alter the climate of animal activism. A suspension of the rules allowed the act to fly through legislative procedures in less than fifteen minutes. The sole voice of disagreement, that of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, was not loud enough. On the 27th of November, 2006, George W. Bush’s signature turned the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) into law.

An act that includes civil disobedience in its definition of terrorism is understandably alarming to the activist community. The AETA states that even “non-violent physical obstruction of an animal enterprise or a business having a connection to, or relationship with, an animal enterprise, that may result in loss of profits but does not result in bodily injury or death or property damage or loss” can be punished with prison time and daunting fines. This is further detailed as offenses that do “not instill in another the reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or death,” do not cause “economic damage or bodily injury,” or that cause “economic damage that does not exceed $10,000.”

From the introduction of the act to the subsequent scaremongering and conviction of activists, Will Potter has chronicled the ongoing green scare on his blog, Potter is one of the few journalists to examine the government’s recent targeting of animal and environmental activists, much less make it his focus. In studying the AETA and its implications for the animal liberation movement, I reviewed the archives of Potter’s blog and his many published articles on this topic.
I have listened to Potter speak on two occasions: at a University of Washington presentation and at the Animal Rights Conference 2007. At both events the audience responded with questions about whether or not their personal, aboveground activism could be construed as terrorism. Could they go to prison for leafleting? Or protesting? Or, as the SHAC7 trial demonstrated, for operating a website?

The intent behind this legislation was clearly to squash activism. As Potter wrote: “The purpose of the balaclava-clad ad campaigns, the State Department briefings, the DHS memos, the outlandish prison sentences, the FBI harassment and the blacklists is not to protect national security or even to catch illegal, underground activists. The point is to instill fear in the mainstream animal rights and environmental movements—and every other social movement paying attention—and make people think twice about using their First Amendment rights.” The purpose was to scare activists out of being active.

However, the overall feeling at AR2007 suggested that perhaps this legislation is having an entirely different effect. Speaker after speaker encouraged us to not be intimidated. Emphasis was placed on knowing our rights, recognizing the threat, and choosing our risks wisely. No one suggested that anyone stop taking risks. Indeed, many individuals that I spoke to had decided that, if acting on their beliefs could land them in prison, they wanted to be sure that what they were doing was worthwhile. Presented with the choice of fear or resolve, most are choosing to up the level of their activism and striving to achieve as significant an impact as possible.

For additional information on the AETA, your legal rights, and the activists currently targeted by the green scare, check out the following websites:


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