The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published a long look at Stop Huntingdon Cruelty’s harassment of Stephens Inc. and the role that Stephens played in promoting legislation designed to crack down on animal rights and extremist environmentalist crimes.
In June 2002, President George W. Bush signed a bioterrorism bill which, among other things, increased the penalties for crimes against animal rights activists and others. Before, for example, to prosecute vandalism at an animal enterprise, prosecutors had to show that there was at least $10,000 in damages plus a “physical disruption” to the facility. Now, vandalism under $10,000 carries up to six month in jail, and for vandalism exceeding $10,000, the maximum penalty is now up to three years, with the “physical disruption” requirement thrown out.
The maximum penalty for causing serious bodily harm also jumped from a maximum of 10 years to a new maximum of 20 years.
According to the Democrat-Gazette, even after Stephens sold its share of Huntingdon Life Science to a private investor, it continued to push for the new penalties. Stephens’ corporate political action committee as well as individual Stephens officers gave thousands of dollars to the various elected officials who introduced the new penalties.
Of course SHAC maintains that the new penalties were not necessary, with SHAC spokesperson Angela Jackson telling the Democrat-Gazette,
We absolutely think it wasn’t needed. We don’t carry out any sort of illegal activity. The problem with fast-tracking eco-terrorism laws is that it criminalizes dissent. It takes things that are healthy dissent and healthy criticism of government practices and corporate practices and turns it into terrorism.
This from a group that applauded the activist who set of smoke grenades in two Seattle office buildings this summer. In SHAC’s book, that probably qualifies as “healthy dissent and healthy criticism.”
Stephens spokesman Frank Thomas also tells the Democrat-Gazette about his efforts to establish a dialogue with SHAC after Stephens agreed to loan HLS several million dollars back in 2000. According to the Democrat-Gazette,
Thomas offered to take members of SHAC on a tour of any Huntingdon research facility. He also offered to make them members of an ad hoc committee to review Huntingdon’s treatment of the animals it uses in research. SHAC declined.
“They told me all that mattered was shutting Huntingdon Life Sciences down,” Thomas said. “It was a good meeting, but, at the end, they said, ‘Get ready.’
Congress comes to Stephens’ aid. Kevin Freking, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 22, 2002.
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