Edward Walsh on the Animal Enterprise Act

Several years ago, the United States created the Animal Enterprise Protection Act which was supposed to give courts and prosecutors more power to go after animal rights terrorists. The results have been less than stellar — only a single activist has ever been convicted under the law and there are now more terrorist acts than ever before, with the animal rights terrorists expanding into environmental issues. What is to be done?

Edward Walsh wrote an excellent review of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act for Lab Animal which is reprinted on the web site of the National Animal Interest Alliance (Walsh is a member of NAIA’s board of directors). While Walsh correctly perceives the Animal Enterprise Protection Act’s problems, I must respectfully disagree with a good portion of his analysis.

Why is the law so rarely invoked (i.e., almost never)? Walsh thinks it is because of confusion and loopholes within the law itself. I suspect there is a different dynamic at work — namely there is almost no political pressure to actually devote significant resources to exposing and prosecuting animal rights terrorists.

For this, the animal rights terrorists have largely themselves to thank. By carefully focusing exclusively on property crimes and avoiding injury or death to human beings, the Animal Liberation Front makes it difficult to justify the sort of massive investigation that has focused on extremist anti-abortion protesters who have frequently inflicted injuries and even committed murder. Moreover, by targeting property the vandals simultaneously create a great deal of positive outpourings from within the animal rights movement, while at the same time avoiding the sort of national negative press that might otherwise galvanize a public outcry against them.

Think about it — when was the last time an act of animal rights terrorism was included in a network news broadcast. The only recent instances I can think of were the attack on a laboratory at the University of Minnesota and the Earth Liberation Front’s arson in Colorado, neither of which created any sort of sustained outrage among the public.

Add to that mix the extreme difficulty in tracking down ALF and ELF terrorists. As the FBI has repeatedly said, political terrorists organized into small autonomous cells (as the ALF/ELF are) are the most difficult terrorists to catch. To date the terrorists who have been caught and prosecuted in the United States have been apprehended largely by accident (i.e. the terrorists made a serious mistake which brought them to the attention of police). Moreover, since there is no overarching ALF organization, but rather ALF is more like a brand name for animal rights terrorism, catching the perpetrator of a given act of terrorism only implicates maybe four or five other activists at most. The result is a minimal payoff for an extremely difficult task.

It is doubtful that, barring any such outcry from the public, police and prosecutors are going to devote significant resources to cracking down on animal rights terrorism. I suspect that it will, unfortunately, require the loss of life before the proper resources are allocated this important task. And, unfortunately, I think loss of life is becoming more and more likely.

Although they have been pretty successful at evading capture, however, animal rights terrorists have been singularly unsuccessful at creating political change in the United States. Frustration at their political impotence seems to be motivating the terrorists to take more daring and dramatic actions, and it is only a matter of time before there is a loss of life associated with these actions (there have, in fact, already been some close calls in the United States).

Once the political will is there, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act will be largely irrelevant. In fact it is hard to understand the point of having such an act in the first place except as a symbolic gesture. It would be far better off to simply charge animal rights terrorists with arson, burglary or what have you and ask judges to consider the political nature of their crimes during the sentencing phase.

One idea I oppose strongly is Walsh’s suggestion that there be a federal death penalty for animal rights terrorists who commit murder. It would be better to see a mandatory life without parole for people who commit acts of political murder.


The Animal Enterprise Protection Act: A scientist’s perspective brings the law into focus. Edward J. Walsh, Lab Animal, February 2000, v.29, #2.

Juvenile Justice Bill Targets Animal Rights Violence

An amendment to the Juvenile
Justice Act, approved by the U.S. Senate a couple weeks ago, would strengthen
the criminal penalties of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act as well as make it
a federal felony to distribute bomb making information over the Internet.

The language to strengthen the
AEA penalties was introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as part of an
amendment co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and approved
by an 85 to 13 margin. The amendment would increase the penalty for raids
against animal enterprises to up to 5 years in prison and fines up to
double the actual damages done. In addition, the FBI would maintain a
database of information about attacks on animal enterprises, greatly increasing
the coordination of investigations of such crimes at the local, state
and federal level.

In a press release Jacquie Calnan,
president of Americans for Medical Progress, said, “We are grateful to
Senator Hatch for taking a leadership role in protecting biomedical research.
When research laboratories are attacked, the ones who lose most are those
of us who are living with a disease or who are watching a loved one cope
with a devastating illness.”

In a related development, a
bill passed the Minnesota legislature which allows victims of animal rights
activists to recover damages up to triple the actual damages done.

Both bills represent an opportunity
that opponents of animal rights need to seize. Although the increase in
prison terms and fines included in the Hatch/Feinstein amendment would
certainly be welcome, it appears unlikely the Juvenile Justice bill will
survive in a form that President Bill Clinton will sign. In the House
of Representatives, a similar bill is being bogged down with dozens of
proposed amendments as well as a storm of controversy over proposed gun
control measures. It is still possible the amendment might become law,
but it is a long shot.

On the other hand, the 85 to
13 vote demonstrates the support is there in Congress for taking more
serious action against the growing incidence of animal rights violence.
Opponents of animal rights should use the visibility created by the recent
attack at the University of Minnesota to push Congress to pass Hatch’s
amendment in its own right or attached to some other less controversial
piece of legislation.

Preferably such legislation
would not be burdened with Feinstein’s ban on distribution of bomb making
material over the Internet, which is clearly unconstitutional. Some of
the animal rights bomb making material found on places such as the Animal Liberation Front Information Site may itself be actionable in a civil
lawsuit, but Feinstein’s blanket ban is just the latest manifestation
of her anti-Internet hysteria and would never pass muster with the Supreme


US Senate Acts on Animal Rights Terrorism” Americans for Medical Progress press release, May 18, 1999.

Defend Frontline, the ALF and Free Speech! Frontline Information Service press release, May 20, 1999.

Juvenile Justice Bill Used to Target Activists. No Compromise, press release, May 25, 1999.

Anti-ALF Bill Passes Minnesota Legislature. Frontline Information Service press release, May 21, 1999.

Senate blasts bomb-making info on Net. Courtney Macavinta, News.Com, May 19, 1999.