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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.
But there's something deeper driving this persecution. American elites are typically willing to tolerate political protest as long as it remains constrained, controlled, and fundamentally respectful of the rules imposed by institutions of authority -- i.e., as long as it remains neutered and impotent. When protest movements adhere to those constraints, they are not only often ineffective, but more so, they can unwittingly serve as a false testament to the freedom of the political process and the generosity of its rulers (they let us speak out: see, we're free!). That kind of marginal, modest "protest" often ends up strengthening the process it believes it is subverting.
When, by contrast, a movement transgresses those limitations and starts to become effective in impeding the injustices it targets -- particularly when preserving those injustices is valuable to the most powerful -- that's when it has to be stopped at all costs, including criminalizing it with the harshest possible legal weapons. This is the dynamic that explains the emerging campaign in the West to literally criminalize the previously marginalized BDS movement designed to stop Israeli occupation: It's gaining too much ground, becoming too effective, and thus must be banned, its proponents and leaders threatened with prosecution. The fear that the animal rights movement is growing stronger and will succeed in exposing the horrifying realities of these industries' practices is driving the persecution to the point of declaring it to be -- and formally punishing it as -- terrorism.
Even beyond that, the animal rights movement strikes at the heart of what is most cherished by American elites: the pillars of unrestrained capitalistic entitlement. That so much industrial profit depends upon extreme, constant torture and slaughter of animals is something regarded as, in essence, a sacred right.
Lauren Gazolla, who was imprisoned for 40 months in 2004 for her nonviolent animal rights activism and now works at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that this movement "strikes at something fundamental. It challenges a way of life: So much of how much we live our lives is based on massive violence against animals, and the more brutal these industries are, the more profit they make."
Anything that targets or threatens this entitlement is regarded as the highest and most severe threat. That's why the government, at the behest of the industry interests it serves, is calling it "terrorism": to them, few things are genuinely more menacing or threatening than an effective political movement aimed at these practices.
[Subscribe to Glenn Greenwald]Glenn Greenwald is a journalist,former constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times bestselling books on politics and law. His most recent book, "No Place to Hide," is about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. His forthcoming book, to be published in April, 2021, is about Brazilian history and current politics, with a focus on his experience in reporting a series of expose's in 2019 and 2020 which exposed high-level corruption by powerful officials in the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which subsequently attempted to prosecute him for that reporting.
Foreign Policy magazine named Greenwald one of the top 100 Global Thinkers for 2013. He was the debut winner, along with "Democracy Now's" Amy Goodman, of the Park Center I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism in 2008, and also received the 2010 Online Journalism Award for his investigative work breaking the story of the abusive (more...)