Terrorism, Animal Advocacy, Or Free Speech? Two Animal Rights Activists Argue Their Deeds Are Mislabeled

Two animal rights activists will argue in court today that they are not guilty of terrorism, and that to label their actions as such strips them of free speech rights. Kevin Johnson and Tyler Lang stand accused of releasing animals being raised for their fur, using bolt and wire cutters to set the foxes and mink free. In their state, the charge is burglary. In Federal court, it’s terrorism.

According to The Guardian, the pair, who consider themselves animal rights activists, not burglars or terrorists, released a total of around 2,000 animals and defaced the property with slogans related to animal rights. They were picked up when the tools, camouflage clothing, and ski masks were found in their vehicle during a routine traffic stop. Both were sentenced on the state level for burglary, but they also face Federal charges for terrorism.

The AETA, or Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act, seeks to protect businesses whose profit comes from animal-based products, by labeling activists whose actions affect the profits of these corporations as terrorists. Passed in 2006, AETA allows the government to protect ‘animal enterprise’ companies by defining as terrorism any act that intentionally causes “damage or loss to any real or personal property” of any company or individual associated with animal enterprise.

The law does give a small exception, making it clear that it doesn’t apply to such activities as picketing, peaceful demonstrations, and other acts that purely consist of expression.

However, animal rights groups fear it is still too broad, allowing for many nonviolent forms of protest to be labeled as terrorism, and Johnson and Lang believe that their actions should never have been charged as terrorism. Lang’s statement, can be seen on the pair’s support page.

“The recent charges brought against Kevin and me are not only wrong but egregious. When we think of terrorism, we think of violence being committed against individuals. The government’s ‘terrorist’ targeting of two friends with a history of speaking out against injustice is an affront to the meaning of what violence really is, and a slap in the face to a public that sadly knows what terrorism actually looks like.”

While Johnson and Lang clearly broke laws, cost fox and mink farms profits, and left properties defaced, the animal rights activists do not intend to argue that the actions were not criminal, merely that “terrorism” is the wrong term, and that the charges are inappropriate for the crime.

[Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images]