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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/14/11

"Ag Gag" Bill Reintroduced in Florida, as Animal Activist Faces Felony for Photography

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Florida Senator Jim Norman wants to stop activists from exposing factory farms.

Earlier this year, four states were considering "ag gag" bills to criminalize photography, or video or audio recording, of what goes on at factory farms, animal experimentation labs, and other facilities. They all failed, but as I have been saying for months, it will only be a matter of time before these bills are modified and reintroduced.

In Florida, the first has just resurfaced. Senator Jim Norman, who said undercover investigations are "almost like terrorism," has a new bill. SB 1184 revises a few agriculture statutes that deal with stormwater management, feedstuffs, and citrus harvesting equipment. Then it ends with a transparent attack on the First Amendment.

SB 1184 says:

A person may not knowingly enter upon any nonpublic area of a farm and, without the prior written consent of the farm's owner or the owner's authorized representative, operate the audio or video recording function of any device with the intent of recording sound or images of the farm or farm operation.

It makes exemptions for law enforcement and government employees but, of course, there are no exemptions for journalists or activists. That's the point. Norman filed his original bill at the urging of an egg farmer, Wilton Simpson, who wanted to stop activists from gathering video footage to use in a state ballot initiative against factory farm cruelty (similar to the successful California initiative).

These ag gag bills created quite an uproar when they were introduced. Most people are unaware, though, that dozens of states already have designer laws protecting factory farms from activists.

Florida "Eco-Terrorism" Law Put to Use

Florida already has a law called the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (FL ST - 828.40 -- 43). It passed in 1993 at the request of industry, ostensibly to target groups like the Animal Liberation Front who cause "physical disruption" or the loss of property. It has sat on the shelf for years. That is until this month, when an animal rights activist was charged with a felony in what seems to be the very first use of the law.

Chris Lagergren was arrested at gunpoint by an off-duty Miami cop outside of the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo.

So what was he allegedly doing that prompted an armed cop, 100 miles outside of his jurisdiction, to arrest him at gunpoint? And what was so dangerous that Lagergren's bond was set at $30,000?

According to the police report, he had been taking photographs and was tampering with a fence:

R. Lingenfelser [the president of the facility] stated he has seen Chris for the past two weeks standing on the Hampton Inn property, video taping the Marine Mammal property and its staff.

Lingenfelser says he saw Lagergren and another individual attempting to dismantle a fence, and called the police. He said the FBI had warned him that Lagergren, a well-known activist in the area, "is going to attempt to release any caged animals [or] mammals into their natural habitat" as part of the Animal Liberation Front, a "domestic terrorist organization."

This isn't the first time Lingenfelser has had run-ins with photographers. He previously threatened a photographer with a felony for taking photos of whales.

Lingenfelser may not be a credible source, but as Carlos Miller wrote on the photography site Pixiq: "That's not to say Lagergren wasn't trying to free the whales that day" But until they catch him doing something more than just taking photos or trespassing, they should treat him like any other suspect arrested on misdemeanor charges."

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Will Potter is an award-winning reporter who focuses on how lawmakers and corporations have labeled animal rights and environmental activists as "eco-terrorists." Will has written for publications including The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News and Legal Affairs, and has testified (more...)
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