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Six animal-rights activists that ran a front group for pipe-bombers discovered that the nation has lost patience with violent protests, and now face as much as 23 years behind bars for their connections to vandalism, bombings, and death threats against medical researchers. The verdict is the first conviction under a law passed fourteen years ago to stop attacks on research facilities and their staffs:
An animal rights group and six of its members were convicted of terrorism and Internet stalking yesterday by a federal jury that found them guilty of using their Web site to incite attacks on those who did business with or worked for a British company that runs an animal testing laboratory in New Jersey.
The case was the first test of the Animal Enterprise Terror Act, enacted in 1992 to curb the most aggressive tactics used by activists. The verdict, which came after 14 hours of deliberation, was called an insidious threat to free speech by some activists, but was cheered by research scientists, some of whom are lobbying Congress to tighten restrictions on protesters.
During the three-week trial, defense lawyers acknowledged that a Web site run by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty posted home addresses and other personal information about animal researchers and others. But the activists said they were simply trying to shame their targets into dissociating themselves from the company, Huntingdon Life Sciences, and they disavowed any involvement with the vandalism, death threats, computer hacking and pipe bombs against those on the Web site.
Although federal prosecutors presented no evidence that the defendants directly participated in the vandalism and violence, they showed jurors that members of the group made speeches and Web postings from 2000 to 2004 that celebrated the violence and repeatedly used the word "we" to claim credit for it.
Prosecutors also produced telephone records indicating that the president of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, Kevin Kjonaas, called a man charged with bombing a California biotech lab shortly after the explosion.
Jurors were also shown a videotape of SHAC's director, Lauren Gazzola, at a protest in Boston, making reference to the previous acts of violence and warning a target, "The police can't protect you!"
Supporters of SHAC claimed that the law and the verdict amounted to an infringement on free speech, but the First Amendment has never been held to protect death threats and admissions of complicity in crimes. The leaders of front groups such as SHAC have routinely acted as political mouthpieces for terrorists, and this verdict now shows that a price will come from voluntarily acting as accessories to their crimes.
Anyone who bombs, vandalizes, or issues death threats to achieve what they cannot win through the legislative process is a terrorist, regardless of the cause. It does not matter whether that cause is abortion, the environment, animal research, or eliminating the designated hitter rule. Ends do not justify means, and living in a democracy means accepting the legitimacy of a loss in the democratic process. For years, people who acted violently in support of political issues found too much sympathy from their peers. Those days appear over, and not a moment too soon.
Advocacy groups that front for people like the Animal Liberation Front should take a lesson from this prosecution. Especially after 9/11, distinctions between the terrorists and those that enable and protect them have been eliminated. Apologists for bombthrowers only damage the credibility of their cause, and in cases like SHAC, their own liberty as well.Sphere It View blog reactions
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