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The Oberlin Review

Animal Rights Activists Speak on ‘Eco-Terrorism’ Branding

Robin Wasserman, News Editor

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Will Potter, journalist and author of the new book Green is the New Red, and animal rights activist Jake Conroy spoke Monday on government and corporate oppression in relation to animal rights activism. Conroy, who spent three years in prison after organizing against animal testing at Huntingdon Life Sciences, discussed his experiences in the prison system. The event was sponsored by Oberlin Animal Rights.

Potter emphasized that the influence of corporations has allowed nonviolent actions of the environmental movement to be branded as “eco-terrorism” by the government and media. He described how the FBI threatened him after he began handing out leaflets against Huntingdon Life Sciences, a corporation that performed testing on animals.

“I got a knock on the door from two FBI agents who told me that if I didn’t work as an informant, they would put me on a domestic terrorist list,” he said. “It really made me ashamed that [the threats] did affect me. It made me wonder about the consequences of this form of rhetoric.”

This curiosity led Potter to research how such anti-environmental and anti-animal rights policies were put in place. He described how video footage was secretly obtained of the mistreatment of animals in Huntingdon Life Sciences. Organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals used this footage to garner public support for the shut down of Huntingdon. While PETA was not actively involved in such methods, they did speak in defense of nonviolent tactics.

“So this was a big problem for corporations and industry groups who were being targeted for obvious reasons,” Potter said. “And they set out to neutralize this threat by shifting the discussion away from … ‘vigilante’ or ‘eco-warrior.’ They created a new word, ‘eco-terrorism.’ ”

Potter pinned the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act as the “pinnacle” of these efforts. He said that AETA is “a law so big and so broad that, according to the supporters, it even wraps up nonviolent, civil disobedience as terrorism.”

AETA allowed for the arrest of Conroy and others involved in Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, which organized protests of Huntingdon. Instead of just protesting Huntingdon itself, SHAC concentrated protests on businesses that provided services to Huntingdon.

“It was the idea of taking what the laboratory needs to operate as a business and protest that,” Conroy explained. Instead of targeting Huntingdon itself, SHAC protested its Internet provider, bank, insurer and other companies that supported it.

“Their share price of 30 dollars dropped to mere pennies,” Conroy said. “What happens when that starts to occur, it’s not just the government that starts to take notice. … These corporations are taking notice on how these small grassroots organizations and people like all of you in here are affecting the world’s largest corporations.”

Other groups against Huntingdon would “smash windows and spray paint cars or break into laboratories and liberate animals,” according to Conroy.

“While we weren’t organizing [these illegal activities], we would say, ‘that’s great so long as you don’t hurt anyone.’ … We were very vocal about supporting not only aboveground activity but also underground activity.”

As a result, the FBI tapped SHAC’s phones, had members followed and planted a sting. Though they did not find any evidence of directly organizing any illegal activity, they did eventually raid SHAC headquarters.

“It’s 20, 30 guys coming through the door, … and they mean business,” Conroy said. “There’s a helicopter flying in the neighborhood. And we’re thinking, ‘This is kind of overkill.’ We made it very clear from day one that we didn’t support violence.”

Potter emphasized that it is important for activists not to get discouraged by the direction these laws have taken.

“If we internalize that, I think it can really weigh us down,” Potter said. “But … the fact that a group of activists working internationally brought a multinational corporation near bankruptcy scared the daylights out of not just Huntingdon Lab Sciences but out of corporations around the world.”

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Established 1874.