Today's Philadelphia Inquirer contains an OpEd piece by Nick Cooney, defending the SHAC 7 (now SHAC 6). It is interesting because it depends so heavily for its effects on ignorance, and I've included it below.
First, most people don't understand that Animal Rights and Animal Welfare are fundamentally different, and that for those believing in Animal Rights, a human life and an animal life are equally valuable — that if it's immoral to do something to a human, it is equally immoral to do it to a non-human.
Animal Welfare people believe no such thing: to AW people, animals are to be treated kindly and respectfully, and cruel treatment is to be punished. But AW people draw a bright line between the value of humans and that of animals.
That is a huge distinction that even the media doesn't always appreciate. (Elaborated here.)
The average person — media people included — and the AR true believer don't begin at the same philosophical starting point, so he misinterprets what the AR person believes and what drives him: he tries to interpret AR people within his own animal welfare philosophical framework, and incorrectly attributes AW motives to AR behavior, and thinks of AR people holding themselves to the same moral limits as AW people do.
So naive people (and I don't mean that disparagingly at all) are likely to see Dr. Steven Best as a bizarre anomaly, rather than as someone who reflects a core AR belief, when he says, with clear conscience, that he'd save his dog from a burning house rather than a human stranger (his dog pleasures him, a stranger — your child perhaps — does not). This is Professor Best's "Me First" ethic.
And they are equally likely to think that Dr. Jerry Vlasak, too, is just a single head-case when he advocates assassinating a few scientists or seal hunters in order to intimidate others into quitting their experiments or their hunting. But Dr. Vlasak, too, simply reflects the core value of the AR community: to the AR activist, each life — lab rat, seal, dog or human — is no more valuable than any other, and if you can kill a dozen or so scientists to save, say 50 lab animals, you have done a noble thing.
Mr. Cooney's OpEd counts on you not knowing this.
Second, Mr. Cooney attempts to defend the SHAC defendants by cloaking them in equal parts of the noble tradition of protest, boycott and firebrand free speech as legitimate tools to effect political and social change. The indictments against them, he would have us believe, is a sham — worse, it is an assault on freedom, yet another example of wicked government oppressing dissidents, their rights to free speech, their right to protest and incite people to boycott.
What Mr. Cooney counts on is audience not knowing is exactly how groups like SHAC, ALF, ELF and now PeTA conduct their "protests" and how they use speech.
SHAC et all are not just targeting corporations, they are targeting individuals, and that, I believe is an important distinction (link).
Those individuals may be employees of the company itself, or people associated with the company's clients or suppliers. (In the UK, one animal rights group has targeted everyone in an entire village.)
The "free speech" Mr. Cooney celebrates and wishes to have continue consists of posting on websites a person's identity, a demonizing characterization of him, and whatever personal information (home address, telephone number, credit card number, names of family and friends, schools attended by kids, etc.) might be useful for instilling fear.
There have been enough attacks against such targets that fear is a credible reaction. Indeed, anybody so fingered lives in constant fear of what might happen (folks at the University of Iowa are afraid to let their kids play in their own yard because of ALF threats [link, link]).
Intimidation and coercion of their employees are strong inducements for clients and suppliers of the target company to withdraw, and leave the target with one less client, one less supplier. It is death by a thousand cuts.
True — the people who post the information may not actually do the deeds of vandalism (dumping pain stripper on cars, spray-painting houses, running garden hoses through mail drops, puncturing tires) themselves, nor do they themselves send threatening mail or "black faxes", or make threatening telephone calls in the middle of the night.
For that, there are others — useful idiots — who are likely unknown to the people who posted the targeting information. They are thugs, miscreants, thrill-seekers, whatever you want to call them, but they are the ones who step forward, anonymously, and act out in behalf of the cause. And you don't need many such misanthropes to produce a large amount of fear in a short amount of time.
This is simply terror by proxy, and the same techniques of vandalism and intimidation have proven alarmingly successful in the UK.
And no, the fact that nobody's been killed doesn't make what these useful idiots do any less acts of terror. Terror is a state of mind, a fear of an act that might happen, and even if the act itself never occurs, the fear that it might is suffocatingly real.
What groups like SHAC are doing is the equivalent of burning crosses to terrify black folks. You don't need to kill anybody in order to get the message across that they better fear for their lives and the lives of the people they care for, adults and children alike.
Indeed, the threat is so real that the jurors in the SHAC case have had their names withheld out of a (credible, in my mind) concern that they themselves might be targeted.
If you like irony, that's irony on steroids.
In any event, here's Mr. Cooney's tome:
When most people think of terrorism, they envision car bombs exploding at military checkpoints and suicide bombers on pedestrian buses. But in a landmark case heard in Trenton, six animal-rights activists are being tried for terrorism, reportedly for encouraging illegal activity at a New Jersey-based animal-testing lab.
The expected eight-week trial of alleged members of the U.S. chapter of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) involves federal charges under the expanded 2002 Animal Enterprise Protection Act. But it actually will test the limits of what is - and is not - protected free speech.
The government has accused the defendants of threats and harassment aimed at closing Huntingdon Life Sciences Ltd., a British company whose lab in East Millstone, N.J., tests chemicals and drugs on dogs, monkeys and rats and other animals. The charges include operating a Web site, publishing a newsletter, and organizing demonstrations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McKenna contends the defendants are guilty of a criminal conspiracy to economically harm Huntingdon. The stakes are high: up to 23 years in jail for each of the accused.
In our post-9/11, Patriot Act era, a wide range of activities have been branded with the "terrorist" label, including political activism - particularly activism on behalf of animal rights. At a congressional hearing in May, animal and environmental activists were declared the nation's top domestic terrorist organizations, despite the fact that neither group has harmed a single person in their decades-long histories. Right-wing groups, whose supporters have murdered abortion doctors, blown up federal buildings, and brutalized African Americans, received barely a mention.
The activists standing trial in Trenton have not done anything so threatening. A federal indictment, handed down in May 2004, alleges that the defendants encouraged illegal activity against Huntingdon by publishing news reports about demonstrations, vandalism, and other actions taken against Huntingdon and its business partners. The indictment also alleges that the defendants' organized, four-year protest campaign has economically hurt Huntingdon by convincing numerous investors and customers to stop working with the lab.
While this is true - the lab currently is $84 million in debt - we need look no further than the rich tradition of boycotts that helped secure the rights of migrant workers, sweatshop laborers, and African Americans to realize that First Amendment activity that harms a business economically is still protected activity. And it is - unless your cause is animal rights.
The growing crackdown on free speech is not just limited to the defendants in Trenton. I should know: In October my home was raided by 16 armed Joint Terrorism Task Force and FBI agents. Seven months later, the computers, poetry, photos, passport, and other personal items that they took still have not been returned. The FBI refuses to reveal why the raid was done, stating that I am "under investigation" but not saying what the investigation is about.
I am an organizer with a local animal-rights group called Hugs for Puppies, and I know the raid has to do with my work conducting demonstrations on behalf of animals. Other animal advocates in the Philadelphia area have received visits from the FBI, been detained at airports by the Department of Homeland Security, had their telephones and e-mail accounts tapped, and had undercover agents enter their homes.
The Pennsylvania Senate is even considering an "ecoterrorism" bill that would declare as terrorism any action that disrupts the activities of a business using animals.
The trial of the SHAC activists will be watched closely by civil-liberties advocates and political activists of all stripes. When protected speech and protest activity are assailed as terrorism, and federal charges carrying two decades in jail are levied against those who fail to fall in line, we as a country have reached a low point in our protection of those rights we claim to hold so dearly. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "If the fires of freedom and civil liberties burn low in other lands, they must be made brighter in our own. If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free."
The effects of targeting individuals — of posting personal information about them on the web, and demonizing them — has foreseeable consequences. Vandalism will happen, though specifically against whom and what form it takes cannot be foretold.
But that doesn't make it any less predictable: if a bunch of drunk people drive their cars hell-for-leather on a slippery freeway, you may not be able to predict which of them will crash their car, or where or into what. But that someone will is highly likely, if not inevitable.
It is no different with SHAC and their website: when they posted their hit list, they may not have known which of their targets would be attacked, what form the attack would take, or who the perpetrators would be. But that someone would be attacked was virtually inevitable and entirely foreseeable.
You've read what Mr. Cooney and I have to say. Is SHAC as innocent as Mr. Cooney would have you believe, guilty of nothing more than exercising free speech?
I know what I think, but you make your own call.