DeMuth Charged with "Animal Enterprise Terrorism," But Could Possibly Be Released Next Week
Thursday morning, Minneapolis grand jury resister Scott DeMuth was charged with conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism in Davenport, Iowa federal court. He is currently being held in the disciplinary block at the Muscatine County Jail after he was found to be in civil contempt of court for refusing to cooperate with the grand jury that convened in Davenport on Tuesday. Because the civil contempt charge was later dropped, on Friday he attended a hearing to decide on his possible release on unsecured bond; a final decision has not yet been made by the court.
Since the passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA, an expansion on a previous act) in 2006, the law has only been used twice before yesterday: once in California and once in Utah. The act criminalizes and brands as "terrorism" actions which injure no one - such as like leafletting and sidewalk chalking - and are routinely undertaken by non-radical activists and ordinary citizens. The only criteria is whether the act "damag[es] or interfer[es] with the operations of an animal enterprise," such as by affecting profits. In the California case, one of the alleged crimes, reads the indictment there, was "us[ing] the Internet to find information on bio-medical researchers at the University of California."
Davenport Grand Jury support site | AbolishTheAETA.org | Listen to EWOK! on KFAI's Catalyst: Politics and Culture | Previously @ TCIMC: Feldman and DeMuth Jailed for Contempt | New Support Info | Press Release from EWOK!, Statements from Carrie and Scott | Video: Feldman on Grand Juries & Luce Guillen-Givens on the Green Scare
DeMuth's indictment (PDF) posted online is only the unsealed portion of a longer, sealed indictment. It accuses him of conspiring with persons unknown to cause economic damage in excess of $10,000. But, although media have insinuated that DeMuth is being charged with the November 14, 2004 ALF break-in itself (the Associated Press and dozens of subsequent stories used the Orwellian term "animal terrorism"), that may or may not be the case. It's unclear from the sections of US Code cited in the indictment whether he's being accused of property destruction and the release of animals or simply perceived threats against an animal enterprise. (View the text of the AETA here.)
The AETA's predecessor, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA) (Background from Green is the New Red) was created in 1992, first outlining the crime of "animal enterprise terrorism". The law was scarcely used, most notoriously in the case of the SHAC 7, who were never charged with any physical actions; they simply vocally supported others. The "7th" of the 7 was their a corporation, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA Inc., and its website.
The AEPA was expanded upon a number of times, culminating in 2005, when Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma introduced the AETA (Background from GNR), which expanded the AEPA to include campaigns against “tertiary targets,” with the goal of “prohibiting intentional damage of property belonging to a person or organization with ties to an animal enterprise” -- for instance, banks or insurance brokers who do business with vivisectors. The act was passed in 2006, with only six members of Congress present for the vote.
Because the 2004 ALF raid happened before the passage of the AETA, it's unclear whether the AETA or the AEPA would apply. Because the section of the indictment detailing the supposed crimes themseles is sealed, it's currently impossible to tell whether the allegations fit one act or the other. The main difference, perhaps, would be in the possible punishment. Under the AETA, a defendant found guilty of causing damage over $100,000 (the 2004 U of I damages were estimated at $450,000; though DeMuth's indictment indicates "economic damage ... exceeding $10,000"), faces up to 10 years in prison. Under the older version - the AEPA - the figure seems to be three years.
Another point of uncertaintly is whether DeMuth should be charged as an adult or a juvenile, considering that he was 17 in November, 2004. This is further confused by the extremely broad language on the cover of the indictment (emphasis added):
In February, four California activists - now called the AETA 4 - became the first people arrested and charged under that terrorism act. They're accused of incidents including a protest outside an animal reserarcher's home, chalking on public sidewalks, wearing bandanas, and distributing leaflets with contact information for researchers. One of the alleged criminal acts cited in their indictment is that two of the defendants "used the Internet to find information on bio-medical researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz." Their case has been taken on by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Then in March, two Utah activists - BJ Viehl and Alex Hall - were arrested in connection with the freeing of 300 minks from a Utah fur farm. Viehl entered a non-cooperating guilty plea in September, citing the extremely conservative rural Utah jury pool as unlikely to give him a fair trial. Hall is still taking his case to trial. (View their indictment - PDF.)
Unlike the others charged under the AETA, DeMuth is not primarily an animal rights activist. In fact, he's not even a vegetarian. But as part of the eco-prisoner support group Earth Warriors are OK! (EWOK!), as well as a graduate student in the University of Minnesota--Twin Cities sociology department researching liberation movements of all sorts, DeMuth is a visible target for a frustrated FBI.
One of the arguments made by attorney Barbara Nimis at DeMuth's contempt hearing - the charges for contempt were later dropped, allowing the government to pursue the AETA charge - was that DeMuth's was bound by confidentiality agreements in his scholarly research, which followed Institutional Review Board standards and guidelines. Earlier this week, the Twin Cities Daily Planet interviewed DeMuth's adviser at the U of M, David Pellow:
Pellow said that for a court to decide that the law has a higher power than the confidentiality of a university is very rare. According to the American Sociological code of ethics, "We are bound to maintain confidentiality to those who trust us with their information. If we give up that information we violate that trust." There is an enormous amount at stake, Pellow said, because the research done by academics ultimately affects public policy. "This is way beyond Scott DeMuth," he said.Regarding the timing of DeMuth's indictment, Peter Young - one of the activists convicted under the AEPA - noted on his blog Voice of the Voiceless:
“The government could file an indictment to toll the statute of limitations and then seek a superseding indictment after further investigation.” the lawyer said.
These legal maneuvers are indicative of an investigation which has gone nowhere, and prosecutors who are desperate to locate members of the Animal Liberation Front, no matter what legal acrobatics are required.And on Green is the New Red, Will Potter said:
More from an EWOK! press release from Thursday:
“This charge under the AETA is a heinous example of the increasingly repressive tactics that the Federal government has used against people ranging from the Black Panthers to the AETA 4,” said Thomas Addo of Earth Warriors are OK! (EWOK!). “We will continue to support Scott as he resists the government's attempt to criminalize his political beliefs.”
It is unclear how this indictment affects Demuth's current incarceration. DeMuth and Carrie Feldman were both subpoenaed to appear before the Davenport grand jury on Tuesday; both refused to testify because of their opposition to repressive government tactics such as grand juries. Feldman was also found to be in contempt of court and continues to be held in Washington County Jail. She has not been charged with any crime.
The AETA has been widely criticized as being unconstitutional and broad enough to criminalize activities protected by the First Amendment. For example, Matthew Strugar of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has argued that a consumer boycott, if effective at reducing an animal enterprise's profits, would be punishable under the AETA as terrorism.