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Cover Story

Animal Activists Fight for Their Own Rights Page 3

Some Utah animal advocates fear being put in a legal cage.

By Jesse Fruhwirth
Posted // May 12,2010 -

In 1997, the most destructive act of eco-terrorism in Utah history was committed against the Fur Breeders Agriculture Co-op in Sandy, a farmer-owned co-op that provides livestock food, when an incendiary device started a fire that caused about $1 million in damage. Brothers Douglas Joshua Ellerman, then 21, and Clinton Colby Ellerman, then 22, later pleaded guilty to explosives charges and served seven years and five years each in prison, while a federal jury acquitted three others charged in the incident. None are currently active in local animal rights groups.

Recently, five activists were acquitted after being charged with violating Salt Lake City’s targeted-residential picketing ordinance, passed in July 2007, to manage animal rights protests at the homes of University of Utah researchers who use animals in their experiments [see “Residential Picketing Case Ends in Acquittals,” May 6, City Weekly]. At least six residential demonstrations were held after the ordinance passed without arrests, says acquitted picketer Thomas Risk, but at the seventh demonstration, 16 picketers were cited. Others were convicted, four of whom are appealing.

peta2.jpgBut another case local activists have no direct relationship to has them worried. The so-called SHAC-7 case, upheld by the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in December, charged six activists and their organization—Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty—with animal-enterprise terrorism and stalking. The group coordinated protests at the homes of officials from Huntingdon Life Sciences, an animal-testing agency based in New Jersey.

No one was charged with actually vandalizing property, issuing violent threats or trespassing, though prosecutors presented unproven evidence of those crimes and others. The SHAC-7 were nevertheless convicted of encouraging and supporting illegal activities, in part, by posting addresses on its Website and cheering on illegal acts that they say were committed exclusively by others. The Center for Constitutional Rights has asked for an en banc review of the 3rd Circuit panel’s decision, stating Americans have long been allowed to condone illegal behavior. CCR argues that what the SHAC-7 did with their Website was “menacing public speech,” which has been protected by the courts in the past, not a “true threat,” which is not protected.

The case deeply concerns Young. He’s the closest thing to a SHAC-like entity in Utah. Since his release from prison, he’s compiled The Blueprint, a national directory of hundreds of mink farms across the country and distributes it on his Website. Previous to Hall and Viehl being arrested, he offered a $2,500 defense fund to anyone arrested in connection with the mink release. He repeats ALF communiques posted on other Websites. He publicly endorses illegal actions like mink releases.

Could he be investigated for supporting illegal activities based on those facts alone? Industry spokeswoman Teresa Platt is curious about that very question. As the executive director of Fur Commission USA, she knows Young by name, as well as Viehl, Hall and others. Indeed, she thinks the “terrorist” label is appropriate for them and says ranchers who use animals are a persecuted minority. “They’re just ordinary, hard-working people trying to figure out how to deal with these crimes of special-interest domestic terrorism,” she says. She says the roughly 40-year history of illegal animal-rights actions has contained many violent threats and some actual violence against ranchers and animal researchers, and thus, many animal rights actions now carry an implicit threat and encouragement of violence. “If you read some of [Young’s] statements, they’re borderline incitement, right? He does offer people money should they get caught breaking the law. Is that incitement? … He’s probably had legal advice on what he can and can not say, but he is close.”

The FBI won’t say how close he is, but it seems the FBI already associates Young with at least one of the 150 eco-terrorism investigations the FBI acknowledges are ongoing.

The Feds

In March, Young moved to Salt Lake City, where most of his eight roommates are animal-rights activists, vegan and Straight Edge. The entire household was served a search warrant by the FBI on March 15 that authorized the agents to seize any materials that may contain information about Young’s travels, associates, or communications that may be connected to “animal enterprise terrorism.” Cell phones, iPods, pictures and computers were taken, not just from Young, but from some of his roommates.

PetaProtest.jpgThe warrant was issued out of the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Southern District of Iowa where Scott DeMuth, 22, of Minneapolis, is on trial, accused of vandalizing a University of Iowa animal research laboratory in 2004. Young says he doesn’t even know DeMuth, nor did he have anything to do with the Iowa incident, but he blogged critically of the prosecution on multiple occasions, both before and after the raid. He believes federal law enforcement is trying not just to hassle and make people distrust him, but to do that to the entire household of activists. Young’s roommate, Matt Bruce, and others in the house believe the FBI purposefully waited for Young to move in—only four days prior to the raid—in order to instill fear and gather possessions from all of them. “It’s definitely been an activist house for years,” Bruce said.

Many of the activists want to utilize all legal means in pursuit of their goals, and they want clear direction from law enforcement on what, for example, prompted the FBI to sic an informant on them. How can they avoid being investigated in the future but still fully flex their constitutional rights? Is that even possible?

On the municipal level, they have on multiple occasions asked Salt Lake City officials for clear guidance on the residential targeted picketing ordinance and have gotten nothing—no advice and no guidance. Salt Lake City Prosecutor Sim Gill told City Weekly, “My job is not to give legal advice.”

Especially in the face of the SHAC-7 case and what it represents to them, the activists complain, that’s not good enough.

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kenneth Porter, of the FBI field office in Salt Lake City, compares that sentiment to “children asking their parents how far they can go without being spanked.” He has parentlike advice as well: “Don’t push the envelope.”

Local FBI officials say the line between free speech and illegal support of others’ crimes is determined on a case-by-case basis, so they can’t provide a detailed guide on how to approach the line of legality without crossing it. FBI Chief Division Legael Counsel Trent Pedersen said that if activists are spotted in the middle of the night near a mink farm—as Viehl and Hall once were—they might be investigated for genuine concerns that they are planning to commit a crime—which is itself a crime under federal law. But what if the activists are in a researcher’s neighborhood late at night holding candles, which local activists have done during vigils? Does that justify a full-blown terrorism investigation involving informants, search warrants and all? The FBI won’t say.

The FBI also declined to discuss the local mink releases from 2008, because even though both Hall and Viehl have pleaded guilty, Hall has yet to be sentenced, and the bureau rarely comments on active cases. Likewise, the FBI wouldn’t comment on FBI informants past or present the search warrant at Young’s home or whether Beckham is listed on a terrorist watch list.

Pedersen says no group is targeted because of its political beliefs and says the bureau does not intimidate political groups with investigation tools like search warrants. “That happened in the ’70s … but the Attorney General’s guidance on that is very clear, we’re not authorized to do that.” If a political group is to be investigated for suspected criminal activity of its members, he said, “the First Amendment is our guide” and extra precautions are taken to ensure the investigation won’t violate anyone’s constitutional rights.

Which may not be an easy task. Like Young, Viehl and Hall started as above-ground activists and hung around people from local animal-rights activist groups. That doesn’t mean anyone else in those groups encouraged Viehl and Hall to free mink or even knew they planned to do so, but it could explain—and, for some, justify—the use of informants and other investigation techniques that intimidate, scare and aggravate law-abiding activists even as they help determine the identities of guilty vandals.

Beckham, for one, worries government obstruction of legal actions is part of the inspiration for illegal actions like ecoterrorism. He quotes John F. Kennedy, who said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”

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Posted // February 9,2011 at 05:40

"He sees mink releases as akin to interrupting a rape in progress, so he doesn’t have any mixed emotions about harming animal-exploitation businesses."

Ironic statement considering this:


Posted // May 25,2010 at 15:28

Sarah Palin? You need meat to stave off heart attack. Ever heard of good cholesterol? There's other things involved but it's the constant eating of red meat that gives you heart disease. A balanced diet which is mostly meats like chicken, fish and anything but cow meat all the time is very good for you. Stop the killing? Start eating dirt then dumbass because plants are alive. Look up a botany website and read up a bit if you even passed comprehension. Yes, that's part of an education, not just reading and repeating like a parrot. You have to understand and apply what you learn not just open your mind so your brain falls out. Plants are just as alive as animals, they're just a different kind of animal and a plant is just another scientific classification for something that's alive.


Posted // May 25,2010 at 21:41 - Plants are alive but they are not sentient beings. In macrobiotics it is said that plants have "energy" and should be treated gently when handling so as not to disturb the energy to greatly before eating, such as cutting the vegetables in a certain way that is peaceful and orderly.


Posted // May 24,2010 at 16:49

Animal rights activists also terrorize scientists, break into their homes and vandalize, leave death threats to them and their families, and have bombed their homes. Also, ever seen 28 days later? That's a realistic scenario you do not know what they are testing in those labs 100% of the time. Do you think if there's any odd biological testing they'll advertise that like yesterday's news? Hello? So yes, it's pretty comparable to bombing an abortion clinic to save babies especially when not all of it is merely for make up etc. Some of it is for life saving medicine/disease analysis. Granted, a rat or a dog/cat is not that close to humans on the genetic scale, but chimps match human DNA by 98%. Even some things tested on rats work on humans. It's the basic principle of fire burns rats and humans, and yes pretty simplistic comparison but we do have the same types of physiology even if much of the chemistry is different etc we do have the same organs for a reason. I've read about this in the past in regular newspapers. Besides, it impacts real people's jobs/ability to work, feed their kids and themselves, their wives or even ailing parents and pets. Yes they have pets too. I eat meat but I wouldn't eat my pet as an example. It's similar to spiking trees by tree huggers. Those have killed loggers when they are cutting trees. Pretty silly to put a tree above a human life, and basically it's murder. It's why Osama had those dolts fly the planes into the twin towers on 9/11. Cutting off a money supply is a choke hold and he even stated this in a video saying it would divide the USA and we'd tear each other apart pretty well before he hit us again and it's coming true. Thanks but no thanks for your "activisim." True activism is like altruism and philanthropy. Peaceful assembly is not throwing rocks and bottles at police etc. That might be a privilege that's granted but it's not a right. The right is meeting in a town hall and addressing the issue intelligently, or writing a book that makes sense, getting a Masters or PhD or even Bachelor's and doing lectures etc. Grow up and quit trying to play spies or something.


Posted // May 25,2010 at 10:50 - Well, it was nice of sarah palin to weigh in on this issue. I wasn't aware she was so active in internet commenting. I'm impressed, lots of your words are spelled right!! Somebody's getting smarter :-) GO VEGAN you stupid son of a bitch, pull your head out of your ass, stop the killing, and stave off your heart attack a little longer. What a moron.


Posted // May 24,2010 at 18:09 - The article also mentions straight edgers, classified as an extreme and violent gang. I remember the days they gave curb sandwiches to those that smoked, drank, had sex etc to "enforce good values" I suppose. Now that's real sweet. Also, many are Vegans but even plants share a small percentage of DNA with humans, so you're still somewhat cannibalistic when you eat only plant matter. Oh, and studies show they react to disease with their own "immune system" and release pheramones when attacked by insect, disease or herbivores to warn other plants and activate their own defenses. Oh and studies show that plants react differently to Mozart vs Metallica, the latter having a negative effect on their growth and health. Also, Art of War shows that not just an economic war is waged before other types of attacks (or as part of the main attack and that attacks are made to look like they're really not attacks but just normal every day activism for example), and winning the people's hearts and minds is a precursor to some sort of major attack, well, you know what I'm getting at. Since supposedly these activists are college educated, have been in prison with other domestic terrorists, it makes me think that it's a front for something else or a distributed set of attacks that are separate in method but have the same result, which is death by a thousand paper cuts of the good ole USA. On animal rights crap, I call bullshit just like I do on Greenpeace and Japanese whaling for example. They currently hunt a whale the breeds faster than rabbits and what are they supposed to eat? Going to take down house cats next for eating mice? Lions for eating Gazelle? Wolves for eating deer? BTW, meat is needed by the human brain and soy not only makes you ill but is not the protein you need to have a healthy brain. Your brain will actually shrink if you don't eat meat. Same goes for fatty foods like bacon etc since the brain is made of a fatty material so, being a "fat head" is actually a compliment.


Posted // May 20,2010 at 22:25

I think that if you succeed it getting the word -- and video -- out to the public about the truth of these places, you will succeed in destroying the market for their products.


Posted // May 16,2010 at 16:24

I think it's funny that this article paints Jeremy Beckham as some sort of saint. There is at least some reason to him being on that list. There is a difference between cutting open cages or breaking into labs to free animals, and actually threatening the safety of the people who happen to work in the labs. He took the discourse we had with the lab people and completely shut it down with his extremism, and we have wasted many animals' lives and much time trying to get back to that discourse. Now they have the right to keep EVERYTHING from us, using the threat of violence as an excuse. How does that help the animals at all? This is pure ego.

- a pragmatist surrounded by all- or- nothing extremist