Two animal rights activists who authorities say went on an epic vigilante road trip across the US have been arrested and face jail time.
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The FBI on Friday announced the arrests in Oakland of two animal rights activists, Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane, and accused the pair of engaging in "domestic terrorism." This comes less than a month after the FBI director said he does not consider Charleston Church murderer Dylann Roof a "terrorist." The activists' alleged crimes: "They released thousands of minks from farms around the country and vandalized various properties." That's it. Now they're being prosecuted and explicitly vilified as "terrorists," facing 10-year prison terms.
Buddenberg and Kissane are scheduled to appear this morning in a federal court in San Francisco for a hearing on bail conditions, while arraignment is set for early September. The indictment comes just days before the scheduled start of the Animal Rights National Conference, the largest and most important annual gathering of activists. The DOJ did exactly the same thing in July of last year: Shortly before the start of the 2014 conference, they arrested two activists on federal "terrorism" charges for freeing minks and foxes from a fur farm. The multiple activists and lawyers who spoke to The Intercept since Friday's arrests are adamant that these well-timed indictments are designed to intimidate activists at the conference and more broadly to chill campaigns to defend animal rights.
This latest federal prosecution, and the public branding of these two activists as "domestic terrorists," highlights the strikingly severe targeting over many years by the U.S. government of nonviolent animal and environmental rights activists. The more one delves into what is being done here -- the extreme abuse of the criminal law to stifle nonviolent political protest or even just pure political speech, undertaken with tragically little attention -- the more appalling it becomes. There are numerous cases of animal rights activists, several of whom spoke to The Intercept, who weren't even accused of harming people or property, but who were nonetheless sent to federal prison for years.
One obvious and significant reason for the U.S. government's fixation is that the industries most threatened by this activism are uncontrollably powerful in Washington, virtually owning the Congress without opposition, stacking the relevant agencies with their revolving-door cronies. Another is that this movement is driven by hard-core believers impressively willing to sacrifice their own liberty in defense of their political values -- namely, trying to stop the mass torture and gratuitous slaughter of animals -- and that frightens both industry and its government servants; that animal rights as a cause is gaining traction worldwide makes the threat even more alarming.
Independent of the moral questions raised by this savage treatment of animals, these industrial practices spawn serious environmental degradation, exploit small farmers, and produce health risks for workers: practices that can remain undisturbed only as long as we remain blissfully unaware of the harms they cause.
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