[Marxism] Gross Violation of Free Speech Department

Jon Flanders jonathan.flanders at verizon.net
Sun Dec 24 11:40:52 MST 2006


http://www.shac7.com/case.htm#ssc

The SHAC 7 are 6 animal rights activists and the organization Stop
Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA (SHAC USA) who were convicted on March 12,
2006, under the controversial Federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
The Act punishes anyone who "physically disrupts" an animal enterprise.
The charges stem from these activists' alleged participation in an
international campaign to close the notorious product testing lab
Huntingdon Life Sciences. 

Specifically, these activists are alleged to have operated a website
that reported on and expressed ideological support for protest activity
against Huntingdon and its business affiliates. For this they are
charged with "terrorism" and face an aggregate of 23 years in Federal
Prison. 

The SHAC 7 case is the latest in an onslaught of attacks against
domestic dissedents under the guise of fighting terrorism. Animal rights
is a "fringe" issue and the government is banking on the broader social
justice movement to turn a blind eye to those focusing on the “less
important” issue of animals and expressing “extremist” views. But make
no mistake - these activists are the canaries in the mine. This case is
intended to pave the way for further silencing of activists involved in
all issues. It is imperative that the broader social justice movement
stand behind these activists in our communal defense of free speech,
press, and association. Support the SHAC 7 and support your right to
free expression!

FROM THE SHAC7 SUPPORT COMMITTEE:


The SHAC7 Conviction:
A Blow to Free Speech and Compassionate Activism
On March 2, the Bush administration dealt yet another blow to the First
Amendment, as the SHAC 7 were found guilty of multiple federal felonies
for advocating the closure of the notorious animal-testing lab
Huntingdon Life Sciences. Now, all six activists face years in federal
prison. All six of the defendants are currently under house arrest while
awaiting sentencing on June 13th. 

Not only is this conviction an appalling miscarriage of justice for the
defendants, but it also demonstrates the erosion of free speech
protections and is part of a politically motivated attack on the animal
rights movement in particular. This is the first time anyone has ever
been tried under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 (formerly
known as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act), and the convictions set a
nightmarish precedent for animal protection campaigners throughout the
country. Many industry hacks hope that convictions under the AEPA will
clear the way for the government to go after any activist that campaigns
against big business and is successful, regardless the legality of their
tactics. 

History of the Case 

All of the defendants were involved in some capacity in the campaign to
close Huntingdon Life Sciences, a contract research lab with one
facility in New Jersey and two in England. Horrendous acts of cruelty to
animals at the lab were exposed in five different undercover
investigations. Video footage showed workers punching beagles in the
face, dissecting live monkeys, falsifying scientific data, and violating
countless sections of the animal welfare act. Since 1999, activists have
campaigned globally against the lab, bringing it to the brink of
closure.

With a laundry list of victories behind the campaign, it was only a
matter of time before big business called on the government to stop the
big bad activists. After several hearings before Congress brought
governmental pressure to bear, a New Jersey federal grand jury indicted
seven individuals and the organization Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty
USA on charges of animal enterprise terrorism under the Animal
Enterprise Protection Act on May 26, 2004. Also included in the
indictment were charges of interstate stalking and conspiracy to use a
telecommunications device to harass others.

The Indictment

Originally, seven individuals were charged, along with the organization
Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA. The individuals were Kevin Kjonaas,
Lauren Gazzola, Jacob Conroy, Joshua Harper, Andrew Stepanian, Darius
Fullmer, and John McGee. McGee was eventually dropped from the case.

All of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to violate the Animal
Enterprise Protection Act, a never-before-applied 1992 statute. Kjonaas,
Gazzola, Conroy, and Harper were also charged with conspiracy to harass
using a telecommunications device (sending black faxes). Kjonaas,
Gazzola, Conroy, and SHAC USA were charged with conspiracy to commit
interstate stalking and three counts of interstate stalking via the
Internet.

While the charges themselves sound alarming, the defendants are not
actually accused of having personally engaged in terrorist or
threatening acts. Instead, the government's case centers around the idea
that aboveground organizers of a campaign are responsible for any and
all acts that anyone engages in while furthering the goals of the
organizers. In this case, the claim is that the SHAC7 should be
imprisoned because underground activists took illegal actions against
companies with ties to H.L.S.

If it weren't so serious, this distortion of the law would be laughable,
and yet somehow the defendants were convicted and are now facing years
in federal prison based on the claim that being part of an activist
campaign is tantamount to being a member of a global conspiracy.


The Green Scare
During the "Red Scare" of the 1940's and '50s, government propaganda
campaigns convinced the public that members of the Communist Party
represented an imminent threat to the United States. Through the use of
this sort of fear-mongering in association with FBI Director J. Edgar
Hoover, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy was able to brand anyone who
disagreed with him as a Communist or Communist sympathizer. Two of the
main tools used to pursue these goals were federal grand juries and
Senate hearings.

Today we see a return of these tactics in the collaboration between U.S.
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and F.B.I. Deputy Assistant Director John
Lewis. In hearings last year, Lewis labeled the animal liberation and
environmental movements the biggest domestic terrorism threats facing
the country. A news article also referenced Inhofe indicating that since
the government could not find the people who engaged in the underground
activities, it must go after the above-ground activists in these
movements.


The Return of the Political Conspiracy Charge
Three of the six charges listed in the indictment were conspiracy
counts. In fact, half the defendants only faced conspiracy charges. A
conspiracy charge is typically very vague, very difficult to prove, and
yet very easy to imply guilt of. These sorts of charges have a long
history of use for political purposes during periods when an
administration is in power that wants to curtail protest activity.

During the 1960s, conspiracy charges were used to target anti-war
protestors and resulted in the conviction of Dr. Spock merely for
speaking out against the draft and supporting resistance to the Vietnam
war. In a similar case in 1969, a grand jury indicted eight activists on
conspiracy and incitement charges for their part in protesting the 1968
Democratic National Convention.

In the SHAC7 case, the defendants were accused of having conspired to
incite others to break the law in pursuit of the goal of shutting down
HLS. The courts have consistently held that First Amendment free speech
concerns must take precedence, even to the extent of permitting the
advocacy of force and violation of the law, except where such advocacy
is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is
likely to do so. 

For example, in Hess v. Indiana the conviction of a demonstrator who was
overheard saying "we'll take the fucking street later" was overturned
because the Court concluded that the unlawful action advocated was not
imminent but rather at some indefinite future time. The Court also found
constitutional protection for the statement by NAACP members that "If we
catch any of you going in any of them racist stores, we're going to
break your damn neck."


Protests Across State Lines
The only charges in the indictment that were not conspiracy charges were
federal stalking counts. The government's case on these charges was
built around the premise that organizing or participating in home
demonstrations across state lines becomes stalking.  Never mind the fact
that there were clearly police present in the video shown of the
protests, and if anyone had done anything illegal, they clearly would
have been arrested.

In order to convict the defendants on these charges, the jury had to be
convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the people whose homes were
being protested were not only in fear for their lives or of being
physically harmed as a result of the protests, but also that this was a
reasonable fear, and that the protestors intended for them to feel this
way. With such a high burden of proof required, and the knowledge that
this was never the intent of the defendants, these charges appeared
impossible to get a conviction on.

The Trial

The case first went to trial in June 2005, but ended in a mistrial when
one of the key defense attorneys fell ill during opening statement.

The trial resumed on February 6, 2006. It was originally scheduled to
last three months.

The judge limited the defense capabilities from the beginning, ruling
that the defendants could not introduce their own computer expert (but
the government could introduce their computer expert) and that there
could be no anti-vivisection expert (but the government witnesses could
carry on about the benefits of animal research). She also limited the
defendants' preemptory challenges during jury selection to seven and
failed to dismiss jurors who worked for companies that had been the
subject of the campaign to close HLS.

The government's case lasted two weeks and consisted of parading a long
list of witnesses up on the stand to testify about protest activity they
had been subjected to. While none could identify any of the defendants
as engaging in any criminal acts against them, many did testify about
the criminal acts of others. The judge allowed people like HLS Director
Brian Cass (who based in the United Kingdom) to testify about the
campaign in England, an attack on him in England, and the benefits of
animal research, despite the fact that he had nothing to say about the
defendants in the case. Government witness after government witness took
to the stand only to testify about activity t that had nothing to do
with the defendants. Over time, it became clear that the government's
strategy was to throw in every action that has ever happened in the
campaign and then insinuate that the defendants were somehow involved.

The highlight of the government's case came when prosecutors called to
the stand a young activist from Ohio who had sent black faxes to an HLS
supporter and participated in an Electronic Civil Disobedience (ECD)
against an HLS affiliate. The activist testified that, in fact, SHAC USA
had not encouraged him or influenced him to take these actions but,
instead, he had been moved to action after seeing the undercover videos.
He further testified that the tactics of black faxing and ECDs were
common knowledge and that he had read about them on a number of
websites.

After over two weeks of the government presenting witnesses, it was the
defense's turn. In criminal cases, the defense is under no obligation to
present any witnesses or evidence, with the idea that it is up to the
government to prove the defendants' guilt. It is not up to the
defendants to prove their innocence. With the view that the government
had failed to make a strong case against the defendants, the defense
presented one day of witnesses and rested its case. 

Despite pleas from the individual defendants, SHAC USA's president,
Pamelyn Ferdin, decided to take the stand. While it is unclear what her
impact on the case was, it is clear that she violated the strong
requests of the defendants who were (and are now) facing significant
prison time.

After three days of deliberation, the jury returned guilty verdicts on
all counts.

What Went Wrong?

How could these individuals be found guilty for speech? Most would say,
welcome to Bush’s America. Welcome to post-9/11 America. Welcome to
corporate America. But it is more complex than that.

The defendants started the case with the chips stacked against them. The
court’s rulings from the beginning were not in their favor, and the
federal government had the advantage of endless people power to work on
the case, as well as months of wiretaps, emails, and Internet postings,
which could easily be misconstrued with a little help from the
government. 

Essentially the verdict in the trial came down to the question of
whether the jury would look past the hand-waving and vague suspicions of
the government, as well as past their own sense of camaraderie with the
witnesses who took the stand to testify about how perfectly legal home
demos terrified them and their families. Sadly, the defense presented by
the SHAC7's team of attorneys was just not up to the task under these
conditions.

What Now?

The defendants each face significant time in prison. The two defendants
convicted of only one charge may be sentenced to up to a year in federal
prison, and the others will likely face sentences of five to ten
years.   

Although legal precedents are clearly on the side of the SHAC7,
appealing the verdict will be a lengthy and costly process. For the
defendants, this means potentially being imprisoned for years before it
is possible the verdict could be overturned.  

The defendants desperately need our support – both financially to cover
the costs of the appeal process and morally to help them through these
difficult and trying times. For more information on how you can help
support the SHAC7 and reclaim our free speech rights, please visit
www.SHAC7.com.

 









More information about the Marxism mailing list