Elevate Difference

Muzzling a Movement: The Effects of Anti-Terrorism Law, Money, and Politics on Animal Activism

There isn’t another contemporary nonviolent activist movement that is so routinely dismissed as too radical, mocked as too extreme, and so actively condemned and persecuted across the political spectrum as the animal rights movement. If you believe the media bias when reading reports about animal liberation, “victims” are often corporations and research facilities that abuse and slaughter animals, and the “terrorists” are those seeking a peaceful end to our destructive lifestyles and appetites. Those one-sided attitudes are even more prominent within the legal system, which punishes so-called ecoterrorists for thought crimes without much regard for the First Amendment.

When Dara Lovitz set out to write Muzzling A Movement, she had no idea just how thwarted her own efforts would be. Seeking to interview convicted animal rights activists in federal prison, the United States Department of Justice forbade her to conduct interviews with inmates. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, her work—research and interviews with activists convicted under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA; previously known by the less sensationalist named, Animal Enterprise Protection Act, or AEPA)—could and would facilitate criminal activity. A book project about animal rights activism became one about freedom of speech and the ways animal rights activists and their allies are often silenced, even before they speak.

A lawyer with years of experience and a landmark animal rights trial under her belt, Lovitz writes with authority and candor about the history of anti-terrorism laws and the ways international animal rights coalitions have been especially stifled in the United States since 9/11. Muzzling A Movement offers an overview of legal animal persecution and how modern so-called humane slaughter laws fail to protect ninety-eight percent of slaughtered animals—namely, birds and fish. Lovitz delves deeply into both legal and activist history, and readers emerge with a newfound understanding of just how harmful the “green scare” has been to the efforts of non-violent animal rights activists and supporters.

Although there is a long history of animal advocacy around the globe, Lovitz cites 1977 as the year it became widely publicized in the U.S. following the release of several laboratory animals. In the years that followed, animal liberation activities took place across the country; from releases at university laboratories to mink farm liberations, both connected to and unaffiliated with the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), animal rights activists began a series of direct actions that gained widespread attention.

Much of the book centers on one case and several key laws, though this is not without warrant given the legal precedence and the (limited) publicity that has been doled out. In November 1999, a group of U.K.-based activists formed a coalition with the goal of closing down Huntingdon Life Sciences, Europe’s largest contract animal testing lab, where an estimated 500 animals died every day at the hands of HLS lab workers. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, or SHAC, spread to a number of countries that outsourced to HLS. Within several years, seven U.S. activists—later known as the SHAC7—were arrested after an aggressive FBI investigation. Six of the original seven were later prosecuted and sentenced to prison time, though their efforts were not in vain; the New York Stock Exchange refused to list HLS on the market in 2004, which the vivisection industry attributed to SHAC’s activism. As of this writing, several of the original SHAC7 remain behind bars.

Despite the book’s small size, Lovitz packs an enormous amount of information onto its pages. I have yet to read another such thorough history of animal rights protection law as it relates to direct action, activism, and government oppression.

Written by: Brittany Shoot, September 7th 2010