Let Andrew Stepanian Know What You Think of Him

Andrew Stepanian is an animal rights terrorist who was convicted of smashing the windows of a Long Island, New York, fur store. In typical activist faction, while he was awaiting sentencing Stepanian distributed a letter over the Internet calling on animal rights activists to engage in acts of violence and property destruction in solidarity with him (Andy Stepanian Whines About His Upcoming Sentencing).

Animal rights activists are now circulating an e-mail asking for people to write letters to Stepanian. According to the e-mail,

Thanks to your support, imprisoned activist Andrew Stepanian of the Long Island Animal Defense League has received over one hundred and fifty emailed letters, and numerous personally sent letters.

…By supporting Andy you support more than animal rights. You support our attempts to make free speech truly legal and to end the harassment and intimidation tactics the FBI uses.

Leaving aside the vandalism=free speech nonsense, why not send Andy Stepanian a letter telling him exactly how you feel about acts of terrorism? Letters to Stepanian should be sent to:

Andrew Stepanian 8/8/78
100 Center Dr.
Riverhead NY 11901

Harper Warned by Judge

On November 20th I mentioned that animal activist Josh Harper, who was indicted for failing to appear before a grand jury, had sent out a couple e-mail messages to animal rights activists that contained some pretty strong language. According to an Americans for Medical Progress e-mail newsletter, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis J. Hubel was not pleased with Harper’s e-mail missive and warned Harper that, “I think it comes dangerously close to asking people to
commit violent acts.”

AMP went on to report that,

Although Harper’s attorney argued the activist was within his constitutional free-speech rights, Hubel said that if Harper incited, encouraged or publicized his approval for crimes, it would violate the
conditions of his pretrial release and land him in jail.

Andy Stepanian Whines About His Upcoming Sentencing

On Friday, November 17th, Andy Stepanian will be sentenced for his role in numerous Animal Liberation Front crimes committed in the Long Island, New York area. Over the weekend a letter from Stepanian circulated on several animal rights mailing lists defending his actions and urging animal rights activists to protest outside the court room at his sentencing hearing.

In 1999 Stepanian started the Long Island chapter of the Animal Defense League. This came just a year after a wave of Animal LIberation Front violence began — over thirty acts of vandalism and property destruction probably in excess of $100,000 were committed in the Long Island area in 1998 and 1999. A coordinated attack on Long Island McDonald’s restaurants in October 1999 cost tens of thousands of dollars alone.

On February 3, 2000, Stepanian and another member of the Long Island ADL, Ron Blaich, were arrested for smashing windows at a fur store in Huntington New York. Stepanian’s case went to trial and he was convicted — he currently faces 2 1/2 to 7 years in jail. So what does Stepanian have to say for himself? He and the animal rights movements are the real victims!

I am writing this [letter] to you not to ask for help, but rather to assure you that “they” (Police, FBI, Cointelpro) want you to be frightened by what is happening to me. Their goal is to scare each activist on LI [Long Island] by making an example of me by sending me to prison. If you allow them to scare you then they have started winning, they prey on fear and weakness in activist collectives.

Of course when Stepanian and other activists were running around smashing windows, vandalizing store fronts, and other criminal activities they weren’t at all trying to instill fear in their victims. They probably thought that smashing windows would contribute to the self esteem of the store’s proprietors. Leave it to terrorists to start ranting and raving about how police are trying to instill fear (it probably never occurred to Stepanian that instilling fear in lawbreakers is considered by many people to be one of the primary goals of criminal justice).

After noting that furriers in New York are planning to attend his sentencing, Stepanian rails against this “harassment.”

We (ADL) Have proposed that we return to them the same level of harassment they use against us. IF THEY TREAT US LIKE CRIMINALS, THEN WE HAVE THE DUTY TO TREAT THEM LIKE THE CRIMINALS THEY ARE! … the FBI and DA’s office are spearheading a campaign to dissolve the animal rights movement…

Stepanian could have easily avoided being treated like a criminal — all he would have had to do is simply not commit any crimes. Most people who have political and ideological disagreements don’t go around smashing each other’s windows (although property destruction directed against animal rights groups has occurred, furriers, medical researchers, and others don’t go around smashing the windows and vandalizing the exteriors of the headquarters of animal rights groups).

Ironically, contrary to Stepanian’s claim that the FBI is trying to destroy the animal rights movement, it is people like Stepanian who threaten it most. There are at least two lawsuits currently in pre-trial phrases that claim various above-ground animal rights groups are simply fronts for terrorist groups like the Animal Liberation Front. Convictions like Stepanian’s only make it more likely that a civil jury will accept that argument that groups such as the Animal Defense League are part of a larger conspiracy to destroy legitimate animal enterprises.

When a large jury award causes the animal rights movement to implode, activists shouldn’t blame the FBI or local police, but rather activists who combine their daytime legal activism with their nighttime criminal activity.


Andy Stepanian letter, October 12, 2000.

Another RICO Lawsuit Filed

In the first week of August,
a group of New Jersey furriers filed a lawsuit accusing the Animal Defense League of Jersey, the Animal Liberation Front and others of violating
federal racketeering laws. The lawsuit alleges that the ADL was part of
a conspiracy to illegally impair the operation of a legitimate business.

For its part, the ADL took
the odd tactic of putting itself on record in support of some acts of
violence against animal enterprises. ADL spokesman Darius Fuller told
the New Jersey Star-Ledger that although his group is distinct from the
ALF, physical destruction of property is sometimes a necessary act. “It’s
just a simple question of which is more important, life or property,”
Fuller said. Fuller also told the Star-Ledger that his group has regular
contact with the ALF.

Somebody give Fuller a little
more rope — he is on a roll.

Meanwhile, the Animal Defense
League of Pennsylvania and the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade announced
a conference in Philadelphia on legal challenges against animal rights
groups and how to respond to them. In a joint press release the two groups,
who were named as defendants in another Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization lawsuit filed by Jacques Ferber, claimed “Jacques Ferber Furs is abusing this RICO suit in an attempt
to achieve an injunction against CAFT and ADL. Yet another step
taken to drive off those fighting to end oppression. Who will be next?”

One of the interesting things
to note about the press releases issued from the various animal rights
groups about these RICO lawsuits is that although lawsuits against pro-life
activists and groups really set the precedent for going after protesters
who express support for illegal actions, none of the animal rights groups
has referenced this precedent much less given an opinion on the application
of the law in those cases. I, for one, would like to know if CAFT and
others believe anti-abortion protesters were also the targets of “oppression.”

More Details on Jacques Ferber Inc.'s RICO Lawsuit Against Animal Rights Organization

Fur Commission USA, which represents
over 400 fur farms, recently issued a press release on the Jacques Ferber Inc. lawsuit against the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, the Animal Defense League, and Vegan Resistance for Liberation. Under the civil provisions
of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), Ferber
alleges that these three groups as well as four named individuals engaged
in a series of acts that amounted to a criminal conspiracy to
interfere with a legitimate business enterprise.

As I’ve mentioned before,
RICO was originally meant to help prosecutors go after legitimate businesses
that were used as fronts by organized crime, but it is the civil provision
of the act that has gained the most notoriety. Pro-choice groups recently
won big victories in two separate civil cases against pro-life groups
and individuals that advocated or approved of illegal acts against abortion
clinics, but did not actually participate in such illegal acts. Juries
in those cases agreed with the plaintiffs that even though the defendants
did not commit illegal acts, by their advocacy of illegal acts they were
part of a conspiracy that did commit such acts and as such could be held
liable for the illegal acts.

The Fur Commission USA release
noted that since 1995 Ferber was subjected to almost weekly protests by
animal rights groups and on April 24, 1999, “vandals wearing hoods
smashed the store window.” Ferber argues that the three animal rights
groups and the four individuals named in the suit engaged in a pattern
of harassment intended to intimidate the company and ultimately force
it out of business. The Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that juries should
be allowed to decide whether or not this sort of activity constitutes

Ferber might have an even
stronger case than did the pro-choice groups if Fur Commission USA’s information
is accurate. It quotes one of the activists named in the suit, Brett Wyker,
but in a footnote at the end of its release claimed:

In January [1999], Wyker e-mailed FCUSA’s Terry Platt: “hey,
what did oyu [sic] think of the Fur Farmers convention in WI? FUR IS DEAD

The convention in question
was the International Mink Show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where several
masked animal rights activists tried to gain entrance to the show. According
to Fur Commission USA, among those activists was Gary Yourofsky, an activist
recently jailed in Michigan for releasing mink from a farm there, and
CAFT’s John Paul Goodwin.

These sort of links between
those who commit illegal acts and nominally nonviolent groups and individuals
is exactly the sort of evidence that led to the pro-choice plaintiffs
to win their cases. Lawyers in those cases produced evidence showing
all sorts of connections between the allegedly nonviolent activists pro-live
activists who did commit crimes and told the jury that it
was absurd to claim that the two were not part of an organized, illegal
attempt to shut down a legitimate business.

Ferber’s lawsuit is apparently
at a standstill while lawyers try to find and serve the four individuals
named in the lawsuit, but once that is taken care of this will be an interesting
test case of the RICO statute. If it can prevail it could be the beginning
of the end of common practices used by groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and others (in much the same way that pro-life groups
have had to radically alter their tactics in the last decade). On the
other hand, since animal rights issues have a far lower profile than abortion
issues, this case might not receive nearly the same treatment as the case
against the pro-life groups did, and could potentially lead to another
round of judicial review of the RICO statute.

Jacques Ferber, Inc., Files RICO Lawsuit Against Animal Rights Groups

Jacques Ferber, Inc., a Philadelphia
furrier, recently filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, the Animal Defense League, and Vegan Resistance for Liberation charging the groups with illegally conspiring to shut down
the furrier.

In its lawsuit, Jacques Ferber,
Inc., maintains that the furrier has been the subject of weekly protests
since 1995 by the three groups. Ferber maintains the protests have escalated
to a campaign of vandalism including incidents where windows have been
smashed, the store’s doors glued shut, and its customers and employees
threatened and harassed.

Ferber’s lawyer, Bruce E.
Rodger, also outlined several other actionable incidents including the
printing of “wanted” posters that depicted a Ferber principal with the
text “Wanted for Murder” and “Considered Extremely Violent.”

John Paul Goodwin, executive
director of the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, told the Philadelphia
that the suit under the |Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization| statute was a threat to
civil liberties. Goodwin also predicted Ferber would be unable to prove
the charges saying, “The fact is they don’t know who’s doing that. Any
lawsuit that says the (the individuals named in the suit) did is grossly

Whether or not RICO lawsuits
threaten fundamental civil liberties is still a hotly debated question,
although the Supreme Court so far has upheld civil lawsuits under RICO
(for the record, I think at a minimum the RICO statute needs some additional
clarification or it could just as easily snag anti-animal rights groups
as it will pro-animal rights groups).

As for the factual requirements
under RICO, however, they are rather minimal. Goodwin is mistaken if he believes
that in order for Ferber to win it must show that the defendants committed
specific illegal acts. In fact, if the precedents from the recent RICO
suits against pro-life groups apply here, all Ferber will need to show
is that the groups named in the lawsuit engaged in an organized way in
advocating or aiding the harassment or vandalism.

The recent verdict against
a pro-life web site that displayed “wanted” posters of doctors who performed
abortions, for example, found that the mere online posting or physical
distribution of such a poster could constitute an actionable act under
RICO. So could speech that merely suggested or described the creation
of such posters.

Similarly, even if none of
the three groups had members who participated in the vandalism, if it
can be shown that any of the three groups held strategy meetings at which
any of the vandals did attend, the groups might be liable.

Realistically a lot depends
on how the animal rights activists and the furrier are perceived by a
jury. Clearly, for whatever reason, the pro-life activists were seen as
very unsympathetic by juries, especially in light of the spate of physical
violence up to and including murder perpetrated by some fanatical pro-lifers.
Whether a jury will see animal rights activists as more like the pro-life
movement or more like the civil rights movement (albeit misguided) remains
to be seen.

Clearly a suit like this has
the best chance of winning if it were filed by a research institute against
groups that advocate or condone acts of violence against important medical
research. Unlike furriers, which many Americans seem ambivalent toward,
medical research still continues to enjoy a lot of support. Besides which
almost all Americans, and certainly every member of any conceivable jury,
would have benefited directly from medical research. It is hard to imagine
those who would condone or advocate for “direct action” against medical
facilities would be the receive much sympathy from a jury considering
a RICO charge.