Image by Tomas Castelazo— Wikimedia
Did you know that throwing a rock through the window of a Whole Foods could be punished as a federal crime of terrorism? An Assistant United States Attorney admitted as much last year, when defending the little-known Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (commonly known as the AETA) against a constitutional challenge by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The AETA is a piece of designer legislation passed quietly in 2006 and used a handful of times since then, primarily to punish activists who release animals from fur farms. While there is no single, unifying definition of “terrorism” in federal or international law, there is consensus in the academic literature identifying violence or acts dangerous to human life as universally accepted components, and this consensus is generally mirrored in federal law, including in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the USA Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act, and the federal terrorism sentencing enhancement. And yet, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act has little to do with violence (unless we’re talking about preventing violence against animals by releasing them from fur farms and other facilities). It prohibits using a facility in interstate commerce (think: traveling across state lines, using a cell phone, or researching something on the internet) for the purpose of “damaging or interfering” with the operations of an animal enterprise and, in connection with that purpose, “intentionally damag[ing] or caus[ing] the loss of any real or personal property (including animals and records) used by an animal enterprise.”
The AETA defines “animal enterprise” incredibly broadly, as “a commercial or academic enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products for profit, food or fiber production, agriculture, education, research, or testing.” Whole Foods is a commercial enterprise that sells animal products—as is every other non-vegan restaurant, grocery store, and clothing store in the country. Throwing a rock through its window is intentionally damaging its property, and doing so after you found the address using your smart phone fulfills the interstate commerce requirement. Continue Reading »