Two prominent activists have launched a campaign on college campuses to argue that the federal government ignores “right-wing violence” while it unlawfully targets environmentalist protestors.
Journalist Will Potter, often accompanied by notorious animal rights activist Jake Conroy, has visited several universities over the last few months to tell students and professors – including law school students and educators – that the FBI is abusing the 2006 “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act” to target and jail animal rights activists and other social justice protestors.
They claim law enforcement officers use the law to convict non-violent protestors as “eco-terrorists,” but meanwhile don’t prioritize capturing “right-wing extremists” who commit heinous crimes against minorities. They use Conroy – convicted under the act – as a prime example.
Underscoring their campus speeches, Potter’s 2011 book “Green Is The New Red” is frequently becoming required reading on many colleges campuses, including: Georgetown University’s “Politics of Terrorism and Political Violence” course; University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law’s civil rights litigation class; American University’s social justice course; Northern Arizona University’s politics and protest course; and at other colleges, according to a compilation on Potter’s website.
And while Potter’s rhetoric largely accuses the FBI of targeting so-called left-wing protestors while ignoring what he frequently refers to as “right-wing extremists,” the law has also received criticism by conservative groups that say it goes too far.
“The law has emerged as a central example of how Congress has eroded the legal concept of mens rea, which is Latin for ‘guilty mind’—a long-held protection that says a defendant must know they’ve done something wrong to be found guilty of it,” states a Sept. 2011 article in The Wall Street Journal. “The 2006 act was cited in a joint study by the conservative Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as an example of an overly broad law, particularly the way it clashed with First Amendment free-speech protections.”
A late January speech by Potter and Conroy at Duke University’s school of law echoed those sentiments. They discussed Conroy’s prosecution to raise questions about the violations of protestors’ First Amendment rights.
Conroy was convicted under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act and sentenced to forty-eight months in federal prison. Recently released, he is now completing three years of probation.
Conroy had been a member of the infamous SHAC 7, which campaigned to close a notorious animal testing lab. In his speech, Conroy alleged the Philadelphia-based corporation killed upwards of 500 animals per day and participated in acts of animal cruelty, such as dissecting animals without first euthanizing them.
Conroy said he used an assortment of tactics in the campaign to stop the lab, but denied using any physical violence against people or animals.
“The ‘terrorist’ campaign of the SHAC 7 didn’t involve anthrax, pipe bombs, or a plot to hijack an airplane,” Potter’s website states. “They ran a website. On that website, they posted news about the campaign — legal actions like protests and illegal actions like stealing animals from labs — and unabashedly supported all of it.”
Conroy, in his speech, said his group considered their campaign successful as the corporation’s stock price went from $30 to cents on the dollar, but he added that’s when the trouble started.
He said he was investigated as a domestic terrorist for acts of economic sabotage, as the federal government considers economic damage to a specific corporation in an amount greater than $10,000 to be an act of domestic terrorism.
But Conroy said he saw his involvement in the campaign – maintaining the group’s website and participating in nonviolent demonstrations – as protected free speech.
Conroy and Potter claimed the feds’ priorities are out of whack.
Potter, in his talk, argued “right-wing violence” such as rape, murder, and assault, have increased 400 percent since 1990, yet the federal government considers eco-terrorism America’s greatest threat, citing various government documents.
On his website, Potter loosely defines right-wing violence as crimes directed against ethnic and religious minorities as well as the homosexual community.
“When examined side-by-side with FBI reports on domestic terrorism, the data … shows that the FBI has been either grossly miscalculating, or intentionally downplaying, murders and violent attacks by right-wing extremists, while exaggerating the threat posed by animal rights activists and environmentalists, who have only destroyed property,” Potter states.
Potter, in his speech at Duke University, said American’s First Amendment rights are in jeopardy from the federal government through its use of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, noting the law is used to prosecute nonviolent civil disobedience, citing Conroy’s experience as one such example.
He added individuals who conduct undercover investigations, such as news organizations, to gather evidence or expose animal cruelty can also now be prosecuted as domestic terrorists under the law.
Potter warned attendees that due to the extensive research for his book, conducted using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain hundreds of thousands of documents relating to eco-terrorism, that he is often monitored by the FBI.
He even suggested the feds could be monitoring his presentation, and said FBI agents have previously attended his lectures.
Potter also warned the animal terrorism act could be abused by law enforcement if groups of consumers banded together to choose not to purchase a product and encouraged others to do so as well, thus disrupting a specific corporation’s ability to create a profit.
He said those protestors could be seen as domestic terrorists engaged in economic sabotage. At what point, he asked, does ideology become illegal instead of protected free speech?
Several students appeared visibly upset after the talk.
Fix contributor Jessica Kubusch is a student at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.