The SHAC 7 are 6 animal
rights activists and the organization Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA
(SHAC USA) who were convicted on March 2, 2006, under the controversial
Federal Animal Enterprise Protection Act. The Act punishes anyone who
"physically disrupts" an animal enterprise. The charges stem
from these activists' alleged participation in an international campaign
to close the notorious product testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences.
activists are alleged to have operated a website that reported on and
expressed ideological support for protest activity against Huntingdon
and its business affiliates. For this they are charged with "terrorism"
and face an aggregate of 23 years in Federal Prison.
The SHAC 7 case is
the latest in an onslaught of attacks against domestic dissidents under
the guise of fighting terrorism. Animal rights is a "fringe"
issue and the government is banking on the broader social justice movement
to turn a blind eye to those focusing on the less important
issue of animals and expressing extremist views. But make
no mistake - these activists are the canaries in the mine. This case is
intended to pave the way for further silencing of activists involved in
all issues. It is imperative that the broader social justice movement
stand behind these activists in our communal defense of free speech, press,
and association. Support the SHAC 7 and support your right to free expression!
THE SHAC7 SUPPORT COMMITTEE:
The SHAC7 Conviction:
A Blow to Free
Speech and Compassionate Activism
On March 2, the Bush
administration dealt yet another blow to the First Amendment, as the SHAC
7 were found guilty of multiple federal felonies for advocating the closure
of the notorious animal-testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences. Now, all
six activists face years in federal prison. All six of the defendants
are currently under house arrest while awaiting sentencing on June 13th.
Not only is this conviction
an appalling miscarriage of justice for the defendants, but it also demonstrates
the erosion of free speech protections and is part of a politically motivated
attack on the animal rights movement in particular. This is the first
time anyone has ever been tried under the Animal Enterprise Protection
Act of 1992 (formerly known as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act), and
the convictions set a nightmarish precedent for animal protection campaigners
throughout the country. Many industry hacks hope that convictions under
the AEPA will clear the way for the government to go after any activist
that campaigns against big business and is successful, regardless the
legality of their tactics.
of the Case
of the defendants were involved in some capacity in the campaign to close
Huntingdon Life Sciences, a contract research lab with one facility in
New Jersey and two in England. Horrendous acts of cruelty to animals at
the lab were exposed in five different undercover investigations. Video
footage showed workers punching beagles in the face, dissecting live monkeys,
falsifying scientific data, and violating countless sections of the animal
welfare act. Since 1999, activists have campaigned globally against the
lab, bringing it to the brink of closure.
a laundry list of victories behind the campaign, it was only a matter
of time before big business called on the government to stop the big bad
activists. After several hearings before Congress brought governmental
pressure to bear, a New Jersey federal grand jury indicted seven individuals
and the organization Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA on charges of
animal enterprise terrorism under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act
on May 26, 2004. Also included in the indictment were charges of interstate
stalking and conspiracy to use a telecommunications device to harass others.
seven individuals were charged, along with the organization Stop Huntingdon
Animal Cruelty USA. The individuals were Kevin Kjonaas, Lauren Gazzola,
Jacob Conroy, Joshua Harper, Andrew Stepanian, Darius Fullmer, and John
McGee. McGee was eventually dropped from the case.
of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise
Protection Act, a never-before-applied 1992 statute. Kjonaas, Gazzola,
Conroy, and Harper were also charged with conspiracy to harass using a
telecommunications device (sending black faxes). Kjonaas, Gazzola, Conroy,
and SHAC USA were charged with conspiracy to commit interstate stalking
and three counts of interstate stalking via the Internet.
the charges themselves sound alarming, the defendants are not actually
accused of having personally engaged in terrorist or threatening acts.
Instead, the government's case centers around the idea that aboveground
organizers of a campaign are responsible for any and all acts that anyone
engages in while furthering the goals of the organizers. In this case,
the claim is that the SHAC7 should be imprisoned because underground activists
took illegal actions against companies with ties to H.L.S.
it weren't so serious, this distortion of the law would be laughable,
and yet somehow the defendants were convicted and are now facing years
in federal prison based on the claim that being part of an activist campaign
is tantamount to being a member of a global conspiracy.
the "Red Scare" of the 1940's and '50s, government propaganda
campaigns convinced the public that members of the Communist Party represented
an imminent threat to the United States. Through the use of this sort
of fear-mongering in association with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, U.S.
Senator Joseph McCarthy was able to brand anyone who disagreed with him
as a Communist or Communist sympathizer. Two of the main tools used to
pursue these goals were federal grand juries and Senate hearings.
we see a return of these tactics in the collaboration between U.S. Senator
James Inhofe (R-OK) and F.B.I. Deputy Assistant Director John Lewis. In
hearings last year, Lewis labeled the animal liberation and environmental
movements the biggest domestic terrorism threats facing the country. A
news article also referenced Inhofe indicating that since the government
could not find the people who engaged in the underground activities, it
must go after the above-ground activists in these movements.
Return of the Political Conspiracy Charge
of the six charges listed in the indictment were conspiracy counts. In
fact, half the defendants only faced conspiracy charges. A conspiracy
charge is typically very vague, very difficult to prove, and yet very
easy to imply guilt of. These sorts of charges have a long history of
use for political purposes during periods when an administration is in
power that wants to curtail protest activity.
the 1960s, conspiracy charges were used to target anti-war protestors
and resulted in the conviction of Dr. Spock merely for speaking out against
the draft and supporting resistance to the Vietnam war. In a similar case
in 1969, a grand jury indicted eight activists on conspiracy and incitement
charges for their part in protesting the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
the SHAC7 case, the defendants were accused of having conspired to incite
others to break the law in pursuit of the goal of shutting down HLS. The
courts have consistently held that First Amendment free speech concerns
must take precedence, even to the extent of permitting the advocacy of
force and violation of the law, except where such advocacy is directed
to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to do so.
example, in Hess v. Indiana the conviction of a demonstrator who was overheard
saying "we'll take the fucking street later" was overturned
because the Court concluded that the unlawful action advocated was not
imminent but rather at some indefinite future time. The Court also found
constitutional protection for the statement by NAACP members that "If
we catch any of you going in any of them racist stores, we're going to
break your damn neck."
Across State Lines
only charges in the indictment that were not conspiracy charges were federal
stalking counts. The government's case on these charges was built around
the premise that organizing or participating in home demonstrations across
state lines becomes stalking. Never mind the fact that there were
clearly police present in the video shown of the protests, and if anyone
had done anything illegal, they clearly would have been arrested.
order to convict the defendants on these charges, the jury had to be convinced
beyond a reasonable doubt that the people whose homes were being protested
were not only in fear for their lives or of being physically harmed as
a result of the protests, but also that this was a reasonable fear, and
that the protestors intended for them to feel this way. With such a high
burden of proof required, and the knowledge that this was never the intent
of the defendants, these charges appeared impossible to get a conviction
case first went to trial in June 2005, but ended in a mistrial when one
of the key defense attorneys fell ill during opening statement.
trial resumed on February 6, 2006. It was originally scheduled to last
judge limited the defense capabilities from the beginning, ruling that
the defendants could not introduce their own computer expert (but the
government could introduce their computer expert) and that there
could be no anti-vivisection expert (but the government witnesses could
carry on about the benefits of animal research). She also limited the
defendants' preemptory challenges during jury selection to seven and failed
to dismiss jurors who worked for companies that had been the subject of
the campaign to close HLS.
government's case lasted two weeks and consisted of parading a long list
of witnesses up on the stand to testify about protest activity they had
been subjected to. While none could identify any of the defendants as
engaging in any criminal acts against them, many did testify about the
criminal acts of others. The judge allowed people like HLS Director Brian
Cass (who based in the United Kingdom) to testify about the campaign in
England, an attack on him in England, and the benefits of animal research,
despite the fact that he had nothing to say about the defendants in the
case. Government witness after government witness took to the stand only
to testify about activity t that had nothing to do with the defendants.
Over time, it became clear that the government's strategy was to throw
in every action that has ever happened in the campaign and then insinuate
that the defendants were somehow involved.
highlight of the government's case came when prosecutors called to the
stand a young activist from Ohio who had sent black faxes to an HLS supporter
and participated in an Electronic Civil Disobedience (ECD) against an
HLS affiliate. The activist testified that, in fact, SHAC USA had not
encouraged him or influenced him to take these actions but, instead, he
had been moved to action after seeing the undercover videos. He further
testified that the tactics of black faxing and ECDs were common knowledge
and that he had read about them on a number of websites.
over two weeks of the government presenting witnesses, it was the defense's
turn. In criminal cases, the defense is under no obligation to present
any witnesses or evidence, with the idea that it is up to the government
to prove the defendants' guilt. It is not up to the defendants to prove
their innocence. With the view that the government had failed to make
a strong case against the defendants, the defense presented one day of
witnesses and rested its case.
pleas from the individual defendants, SHAC USA's president, Pamelyn Ferdin,
decided to take the stand. While it is unclear what her impact on the
case was, it is clear that she violated the strong requests of the defendants
who were (and are now) facing significant prison time.
three days of deliberation, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts.
could these individuals be found guilty for speech? Most would say, welcome
to Bush’s America. Welcome to post-9/11 America. Welcome to corporate
America. But it is more complex than that.
defendants started the case with the chips stacked against them. The court’s
rulings from the beginning were not in their favor, and the federal government
had the advantage of endless people power to work on the case, as well
as months of wiretaps, emails, and Internet postings, which could easily
be misconstrued with a little help from the government.
the verdict in the trial came down to the question of whether the jury
would look past the hand-waving and vague suspicions of the government,
as well as past their own sense of camaraderie with the witnesses who
took the stand to testify about how perfectly legal home demos terrified
them and their families. Sadly, the defense presented by the SHAC7's team
of attorneys was just not up to the task under these conditions.
defendants each face significant time in prison. The two defendants convicted
of only one charge may be sentenced to up to a year in federal prison,
and the others will likely face sentences of five to ten years.
legal precedents are clearly on the side of the SHAC7, appealing the verdict
will be a lengthy and costly process. For the defendants, this means potentially
being imprisoned for years before it is possible the verdict could be
defendants desperately need our support – both financially to cover
the costs of the appeal process and morally to help them through these
difficult and trying times. For more information on how you can help support
the SHAC7 and reclaim our free speech rights, please visit www.SHAC7.com.