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.