March 03, 2006

Prosecuting Anti-Abortion Extremists as Terrorists

At least, that's what I expect next given the outcome of this case.

A federal jury using an anti-terrorism law for the first time convicted six animal rights activists on Thursday for a campaign to drive a company out of business.


During the three-week trial before U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson, jurors heard that defendants urged sympathizers to harass Huntingdon employees, vandalize their cars and publish the names, addresses and phone numbers of their families on a Web site.

SHAC members also used their Web site in an attempt to stop other companies from doing business with Huntingdon in the hope that if they succeeded, Huntingdon itself would be unable to operate.

Their tactics included sending thousands of e-mails to the targeted companies to disrupt their computers, and sending "black faxes" to prevent fax machines from operating.

Some companies ended their relationship with Huntingdon as a result of SHAC's campaign, prosecutors said.

"We'll be at their offices, at their doorsteps, on their phones, or in their computers. There will be no rest for the wicked," the SHAC Web site said, according to prosecutors.

Defense attorneys argued that the defendants were exercising their constitutional rights of free speech and had not themselves committed the acts advocated by their Web site. SHAC said it was the victim of a government crackdown on dissent.

So if it isn't racketeering, maybe it is terrorism. Anyone want to lay money on the chances?

UPDATE: Forgot the hat tip to Mikevotes.

Posted by binky at March 3, 2006 11:40 AM | TrackBack | Posted to Extremism | Free Speech | J. Edgar Hoover | Reproductive Autonomy | The Ever Shrinking Constitution


I wasn't as worried by the RICO decision as some because I saw it as a defeat on a strategic level. It didn't say "Protestors have an absolute right to protest abortion beyond the First Amendment," it said "nice try, guys, but this particular law doesn't work for this." I don't agree with the decision, and I don't like the immediate outcome, but all it means is that the good guys now have to go back and find another way to ensure clinic access. A pro-choice Court might still have felt itself forced to reach the same decision.

Posted by: Hershele Ostropoler at March 3, 2006 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, the RICO was a good tactical move at the time, but as a long term strategy had lots of weaknesses. I was just being snarky about this terrorism thing, of course.

Posted by: binky at March 3, 2006 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

there's a legal gulf between anti-terrorist laws and RICO. that said, it sounds like the tactics of the animal rights activists are very similar to those employed by anti-abortion extremists, except that the latter are the only ones who appear to have advocated homicide. to the extent the law applies to one, one would think it ought to apply to the other.

i'm not sure it should apply to either, but it's definitely food for thought.

Posted by: moon at March 3, 2006 01:33 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure either. Nor am I remotely convinced that it's terrorism, and not something like stalking, or something else which you are more likely than I to know about. It's just a wee bit (ahem) hypocritical to prosecute the animal rights people as terrorists while giving the anti-abortion people a free ride.

Posted by: binky at March 3, 2006 01:48 PM | PERMALINK

Just because I'm not for letting either of these groups harass people with more than a little sign waving and hymn singing doesn't mean I'm not going to mention how if you advocate abortion protesters be prosecuted for holding hands and protesting peacefully, what's going to happen to the next Ghandi? Ghandi goes to Gitmo.

Posted by: Morris at March 3, 2006 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

Now you're just lying.

Posted by: binky at March 4, 2006 09:52 AM | PERMALINK

mooris, perhaps you can direct us to the animal rights website that displays the personal information of animal testing doctors and draws x's through their likenesses once they've been assassinated.

Posted by: moon at March 4, 2006 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Per your request, I will act as your edifier: Regarding advocating assassination:
“I don’t think you’d have to kill -- assassinate -- too many vivisectors,” Vlasak continued, “before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on. And I think for five lives, ten lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, two million, ten million non-human lives.”
Per your request regarding posting personal information on the internet:
"It was the latest in a series of attacks by the Animal Liberation Front on the Long Island family. The activists, who have asserted responsibility, once scrawled 'Puppy Killer' in red paint on the executive's house and have posted the couple's phone, license plate and bank account numbers on the Internet, along with this threat: "If we find a dime of that money granted to those charities was taken back, we will strip you bare."
They have also used "a 10-pound ammonium nitrate bomb 'strapped with nails'".
And, as I said, these are dark acts when used by either group.

Posted by: Morris at March 4, 2006 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

still not as bad as the website to which i was alluding that was around a few years back a propos abortion doctors. i'm well aware of the threats and deeds of the ALF and others, and i favor those groups' most extreme actions no more than i favor the comparable acts of anti-abortion demonstrators. i was just highlighting your disconnected-from-reality picture of abortion protestors holding hands and singing kumbaya as the absurdity that it is; off the top of my head, i know that at east one abortion doctor has been assassinated. _assassinated_. and abortion protests have gotten sufficiently out of hand with sufficient regularity that the conservative supreme court has been forced to act in defense of people's right to arrive unmolested at their physician's office for the privilege of allowing a wholly legal procedure to be performed upon their bodies.

morris, just out of curiosity, are you actually anti-abortion? completely? i really can't tell, and i won't presume to speculate, though i can tell that you routinely defend the most dangerous, undemocratic members of the anti-abortion camp, which is something i don't think you can say about either binky or me with respect to the ALF et al. i don't believe in violence except in cases far more extreme than those alleged by the animal rights movement, for which i've got rather limited sympathy to begin with (this, by the way, from a lifelong vegetarian).

Posted by: moon at March 4, 2006 01:34 PM | PERMALINK

"And, as I said, these are dark acts when used by either group." And if you believe those dark acts are terrorism when perpetrated by ALF and should be prosecuted as such, then it's only fair that when Operation Rescue does the same things that they also be prosecuted for terrorism. No?

Posted by: binky at March 4, 2006 02:09 PM | PERMALINK

You are an astute observer. I agree with the anti-abortion camp that as a matter of law, arbitrarily demarcating trimesters or weeks has no scientific basis, and thus is arbitrary, a quality that tends to run absurd when making law. If someone wanted to make a law based on biology, that is related to a specific biological stage of fertilization, I might be able to support that. However, most of those stages are over and done with before most women even know they're pregnant. As someone who values human consciousness, I would be trouble at sacrificing human life at a point where brain activity had begun. But as Binky would point out, so many women don't know they're pregnant at this point, and they're likely the ones who are least prepared to support, nurture, and encourage a child's development. And their children are likely the ones who will suffer most from folic acid deficiency related birth defects. I savor neither a generation of children who fail to thrive, nor the destruction of conscious life. My certainty is that the law fails to address this matter in an adequate fashion, by embracing either extreme or an illusion of middle ground, and I wonder with anticipation if this will become a source of national pain so great that in order to heal we must embrace a different approach to behavior, as a society, something that recognizes humanity's inability to bring justice to itself through law and science, and maybe in so doing admit our arrogance and redeem ourselves by finding something more that was here all along.

Posted by: Morris at March 4, 2006 02:28 PM | PERMALINK

line-drawing is an inherently arbitrary matter in law, and if you're going to throw out that bathwater you'll be throwing out any number of babies with it. ever heard phrases like "probably cause," "reasonable suspicion," "totality of the circumstances," "probative value versus prejudicial effect?" not one of these principles is amenable of black and white demarcations; they are vested in a trial court's discretion and are disturbed by appellate courts only when that discretion is abused.

or how about the criminalization of marijuana, which kills virtually no one, while alcohol remains legal and kills people directly and indirectly by the boatload, for an untenably arbitrary distinction. the law is in the business of arbitrariness, by your definition, but by mine arbitrariness would only apply were "judge" a position one routinely could attain with little or no relevant experience and without significant vetting by the electorate, the government representatives of same, or both. we indulge the fiction, at the very least, that our judges are culled from among experienced barristers precisely for the probity and learning, and that this background in the law, and particularly in commonlaw and statutory interpretation, enables them to discharge their duties honorably and consistently with the law as their oaths require.

i'd also like to note that your tacitly drawn equivalence between "brain activity" and "consciousness" suffers from two problems. first, it's tendentious in its own right; that's by no means an accepted definition of human consciousness. second, it's a fundamentally scientific argument, which runs counter to your baseline, if unspoken, premise, which is fundamentally theological in its emphasis on an initial presumption of sanctity of life. if you're so scientific, why isn't viability, the principle that animates, albeit imperfectly, the trimester framework, a legitimate standard? (and by the way, note the last sentence as a response to your claim that the trimester framework has no scientific basis; its basis may be scientifically imperfect, and especially unsatisfying to some parties, but the basis is scientific just the same, as it was established in light of particular developmental stages that roughly coordinate with the trimester framework.)

finally, another commonplace in law, an element of every determination courts must make, is the allocation of burden. you seem to assume that nebulous assertions regarding consciousness and the like are sufficient to create a presumption in favor of the fetus, thus shifting the burden to proponents of abortion to demonstrate the propriety of the practice. but given the historic reliance on abortion (long before it was performed surgically under sanitary conditions) why shouldn't the burden lie with the opponents to provide a robust basis for the criminalization of a time-honored practice with clear public policy benefits?

Posted by: moon at March 4, 2006 06:14 PM | PERMALINK
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