Their doormat says, “Come back with a warrant.” The FBI did.
As scary as it is to have the FBI seize two pairs of Vans sneakers—among dozens of other more valuable items—the property seizures are not the top complaint from a house of Salt Lake City vegan activists who were served a search warrant by the FBI Monday. They say the obstruction of their animal-rights political movement is the real sin.
“They took my shoes, and that was no way within the scope of the warrant,” says animal rights activist Peter Young. “So I'm stuck with these dress shoes.”
Cell phones, computers, even an iPod were among the expensive items taken by the FBI, but also sentimental items like photographs and a postcard from Iowa. More than 50 items in all were taken, but they don't trust that the FBI properly cataloged all the small items, like individual photographs, because they were not allowed to observe the agents as they poked through their personal belongings.
Nothing illegal was found. There were no arrests. The residents were not hand cuffed nor did the plain-clothes agents draw weapons. Most of the residents were detained for eight hours without being allowed to use the phone—not even to call their employers to explain their absence. At least one resident, however, was allowed to go to work. Two residents, including a 22-year-old female, complain multiple agents entered her bedroom while she was sleeping and before she knew what was going on.
The seizure was authorized by a search warrant sought by federal prosecutors in Iowa that who were authorized to seize “materials which potentially relate to Peter Young and his physical location, travels, friends and associates and communications with other individuals” who may be involved in “animal enterprise terrorism.”
Though neither the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa nor the FBI field office in Salt Lake City would confirm it, Young and others say the warrant is connected to the prosecution of Scott Demuth, 22, of Minnesota, who's accused raiding animal research facilities at the University of Iowa in 2004.
Young denies having any connection to that crime or Demuth. Since neither prosecutors nor the FBI are saying anything, there's no evidence available to establish a connection. Young, who has blogged critically of the Demuth case, says pretrial discussions revealed that Demuth once referred to someone named “P” in his journal.
“That is the sole basis for trying to link me to this crime in 2004, in Iowa,” Young says.
Peter Daniel Young was convicted in 2005 of illegal wildlife transportation and making threats to commerce in connection with six mink farms he now admits he sabotaged. He became a cause celebre as he spent two years in prison after seven years of evading authorities.
Young's eight Salt Lake City roommates, each of whom requested anonymity, each support animal rights but also believe they were targeted because of their political beliefs and actions, including protests of fur shops, boycotting of restaurants that serve foi gras, and most recently, public condemnation of the University of Utah and local animal shelters for turning pound puppies into lab subjects.
Given his history and his outspoken support for defendants accused of crimes he previously committed, Young says he's been ready for an FBI raid like this one for the last 12 years. He feels bad for his new roommates—he moved in only a few days before the raid—who were not prepared.
“The house just feels unsafe,” one complains.
Young believes he's been targeted because of his vocal support for the Animal Liberation Front, an underground movement of radical activists known for sabotage, including car bombs placed on vehicles of animal research scientists.
“The message is if you vocally support ALF, we're coming after you,” Young says, “because that's all I'm guilty of.”
The residents distinguish between “above ground” and underground activists. The Salt Lake Animal Advocacy Movement, of which they are members and organizers, is an above-ground operation, distinct from the radicals like ALF. They say the raid was a way for the FBI to tarnish their names and reputations. Avoiding damage to their reputations was the reason they gave for wanting to remain anonymous.