The San Francisco Chronicle reports that four young people have been arrested on suspicion that they harassed UCB and UC Santa Cruz animal researchers under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

It is clear from the reporting that law enforcement is taking this issue seriously. The FBI and seven other law enforcement agencies were involved, and effort was coordinated through the Joint Terrorism Task Force. From the press release and reporting, it looks as though agents were following these activists in public places, and filmed them using publicly-available computer terminals. Even DNA was used to link items in a car used to flee from a harassment incident to the suspects arrested.

The FBI’s press release alleges the following harassment:

On Sunday, October 21, 2007 a group of approximately twenty people, including Mr. Buddenberg, Mr. Pope, and Ms. Stumpo, demonstrated outside a University of California Berkeley professor’s personal residence in El Cerrito, California. The group, some wearing bandanas to hide their faces, trespassed on his front yard, chanted slogans, and accused him of being a murderer because of his use of animals in research. The professor told police he was afraid, and felt harassed and intimidated by the extremists.

On Sunday, January 27, 2008, a group of approximately eleven individuals, including Mr. Buddenberg, Mr. Pope, Ms. Stumpo, and Ms. Khajavi, demonstrated outside the private residences of several University of California Berkeley researchers over the course of the day. At each residence, extremists dressed generally in all black clothing and wearing bandanas to hide their faces marched, chanted, and chalked defamatory comments on the public sidewalks in front of the residences. One of the researchers informed authorities he had been previously harassed and the incident had caused him to fear for his health and safety.

On February 24, 2008, five to six individuals including Mr. Pope, Ms. Stumpo, and Ms. Khajavi, attempted to forcibly enter the private home of a University of California researcher in Santa Cruz. When her husband opened the door, a struggle ensued and he was hit by an object. As the individuals fled, one yelled, “We’re gonna get you.” The professor and her husband both told the FBI they were terrified by the incident.

On July 29, 2008, a stack of flyers titled “Murderers and torturers alive & well in Santa Cruz July 2008 edition” was found at the Café Pergolesi in Santa Cruz. The fliers listed the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of several University of California researchers and stated “animal abusers everywhere beware we know where you live we know where you work we will never back down until you end your abuse.” The investigation connected Mr. Buddenberg, Mr. Pope, and Ms. Stumpo to the production and distribution of the fliers. Distribution of the fliers preceded two firebomb attacks outside researchers’ Santa Cruz homes, both of which are still under investigation by the FBI.

I’m willing to bet that local and federal police have people in every one of the area animal rights groups, in light of this pattern of harassment. This effort is likely to deflate this type of criminal behavior, because violations of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act can result in up to 5 years in prison. Whether guilty or innocent, a federal investigation and prosecution will turn one’s life upside down. And if guilty, the government will be seeking maximum prison stays.

Comments

  1. #1 Chad
    February 21, 2009

    Glad to hear something is being done about this.

  2. #2 hedberg
    February 21, 2009

    So what are the underlying crimes here? What did they do that is not protected by the First Amendment? Simple trespass and a “struggle” that is not well described. What is this, conspiracy to commit trespass? Considering the context of the “struggle,” someone may be guilty of making a threat, but who? I don’t have any sympathy for the animal rights wackoes any more than for the 911 twoof wackoes, but if you can turn this behavior into some sort of criminal harassment, then you can prosecute civil rights demonstrators, gay rights demonstrators, union organizers, anti-abortion demonstrators (oh, never mind).

    The criminalization of political dissent. This sucks.

  3. #3 hedberg
    February 21, 2009

    Ok, so the law is targeted specifically against the animal rights wackoes and the behavior described is probably a misdemeanor under the act. I suppose it’s not that big of a deal, but it still sucks to turn something like simple trespass into a federal crime.

  4. #4 JThompson
    February 21, 2009

    @hedberg: I thought the same thing, then I read the law he linked to.
    It wasn’t the flyers or the protesting that got them into trouble. It was the threats, the tresspassing, and the scuffle. All of which are illegal anyway and should be prosecuted.

  5. #5 Lab Lemming
    February 21, 2009

    hedberg:
    Simple trespass is cutting across somebody’s lawn in order to get to the bus stop.

    That is a very different crime than breaking into someone’s home and threatening them with bodily harm. Trespassing as part of an organized attempt at intimidation and coercion is a more serious crime. There are plenty of laws targeted at specific groups and types of groups that use small crimes to facilitate grand ones: RICO, anti-clan and anti-abortion laws, all the various terrorism stuff.

    It is perfectly legal for these people to put up posters in their own yards. They can even hold a march or event in a public park or street. but allowing them to threaten those with whom they disagree into silence helps nobody’s freedoms.

  6. #6 Anonymous
    February 21, 2009

    In the FBI press release as quoted above, there is exactly one threatening statement cited and that’s probably way too vague of a threat to be criminal and not protected by the first amendment. The “scuffle”, I don’t know. the facts cited don’t really say much about how it went down. — might be some crime committed there, but whether it was by the demonstrators or the home owners is not clear to me from the facts as given. You can’t start a fight to get unwanted door bell ringers off your porch, except in either Texas or Louisiana where you can probably legally shoot them–particularly if the uninvited guest is either Scottish or Japanese.

    Anyway, when all is said and done, you’re looking at misdemeanors punishable by a year or less. I haven’t looked it up, and I’m not going to, but I would guess that California law probably has sufficient provisions to address the behavior of the demonstrators. Maybe parade permit violations or graffiti violations. Simple trespass (and as far as I can see, the behavior alleged above is nothing more serious than cutting across a lawn to get to the bus stop), surely, is covered in California. Any vandalism crimes are covered. Disturbances to the peace are covered, right? So, why is there a federal law about this and why is the federal government expending resources to pursue these moral equivalents of overtime parkers?

    I do agree with JThompson that crimes committed by these people should be prosecuted. And, when they are arrested, they should be subjected to the same treatment as any other petty criminal. If it’s customary to stack up charges (I doubt, for example, that it is possible to get arrested for public intoxication in Houston, Texas without also being charged with trespass, resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, and uttering terroristic threats — ok, that’s hyperbole, but you get the idea), then they should get it too.

    For numerous discussions about threatening speech and the first amendment, see Volokh’s blog.

  7. #7 Chris Hoofnagle
    February 21, 2009

    @hedberg
    “True threats” are not protected under the first amendment. Thus the attempted home invasion accompanied with the promises for retribution go way over the line. Additionally, the state can prohibit protesting in private neighborhoods. So yes, these groups could go to UCB and protest on campus, but visiting these researchers’ homes and distributing their addresses is part of a campaign of intimidation and harassment.

    The issue that’s lurking out there is who firebombed the UC Santa Cruz professor’s home. These four may not be involved at all, but perhaps they know who were.

  8. #8 hedberg
    February 21, 2009

    Sure, true threats are not protected, but I see nothing in this story that constitutes a true threat. I don’t believe “We’re gonna get you” does the trick. Particularly, since the speaker is, from what I can tell, unidentified.

    As far as the “home invasion” goes, “five to six” (is that the same thing as “five or six?”), I don’t buy it. Well, I guess if they were “individuals” and not part of a group that “five to six” could attempt a home invasion as described and fail. But, if a group of five or six couldn’t successfully invade this home protected (I presume) only by the unarmed professor and his wife, how serious of a threat can they be?

    Yeah, the state can limit demonstrations in neighborhoods, so, if they violate that law, arrest them for it and prosecute them.

    One more thing that I failed to comment on earlier. “Whether guilty or innocent, a federal investigation and prosecution will turn one’s life upside down.” That’s true, and it’s only an out of control government exceeding any normal boundaries that would prosecute in order to turn their lives around for the crime of political dissent.

  9. #9 Sam N
    February 21, 2009

    Hedberg, if all these people were allegedly guilty of was political dissent, I would agree with you.

    Good job of dismissing assault of an unarmed professor as harmless to make your straw man of an argument. Especially since you don’t know the details of what went down.

  10. #10 hedberg
    February 21, 2009

    They’re guilty of trespass and there was a “scuffle.” I’m not dismissing anything. If there is good evidence that any one of these people is guilty of assaulting the professor, whoever the evidence indicates is guilty should be charged. Go for it.

    You’re right, I don’t know the details of what happened. So, tell me.

  11. #11 Tyler DiPietro
    February 21, 2009

    “Sure, true threats are not protected, but I see nothing in this story that constitutes a true threat. I don’t believe “We’re gonna get you” does the trick.”

    Yeah, because we all know that in the context of an attempted home-invasion the phrase “We’re gonna get you” can only be intended in the most benevolent way possible.

    “As far as the “home invasion” goes, “five to six” (is that the same thing as “five or six?”), I don’t buy it. Well, I guess if they were “individuals” and not part of a group that “five to six” could attempt a home invasion as described and fail. But, if a group of five or six couldn’t successfully invade this home protected (I presume) only by the unarmed professor and his wife, how serious of a threat can they be?”

    Nothing in the article says that the home-invasion “failed”, that’s you making up your own details in an effort to dismiss the crimes being committed. It only says the husband opened the door when they attempted it.

    Something tells me you have it in with the bozos. If so, fuck you.

  12. #12 Chad
    February 21, 2009

    As someone who work at a primate reserch facility and has done work involving primates, I’m glad to see this being taken so seriously. Most of us who do this kind of work are sensitive to the concerns expressed by such groups but we haven’t come to our conclusions easily or quickly.

  13. #13 H
    February 22, 2009

    Some details:

    The attempted home invasion at Santa Cruz was the home of a female professor (hedberg made a gendered assumption). Her husband was struck by an object after he confronted the individuals that had been harassing his house. I believe there were at least three small children in the house at the time because their daughter was having a birthday party. I remember reading the professor and the children hid in a closet because they were so frightened.

    One of the fire bomb incidents also happened at faculty housing located on UCSC campus. Since it happened on UC property, there may be different laws involved than a private residence.

  14. #14 Mark
    February 22, 2009

    A life is a life.

  15. #15 LanceR, JSG
    February 22, 2009

    A life is a life.

    Posted by: Mark

    Bullsh*t. Do you really mean to equate every E. Coli with a human life? Every dung beetle? Every seagull? Where do you draw the line? Just the cute furry ones?

  16. #16 Jim Lippard
    February 22, 2009

    hedberg wrote: “I don’t believe ‘We’re gonna get you’ does the trick.”

    In the context, I believe it certainly does.

  17. #17 Will
    February 23, 2009

    Regardless of how you feel about these issues, or these activists, this should scare the crap out of every American paying attention.

    This article doesn’t fully explain that, according to the FBI press release, these activists are not accused of any acts of violence. Their “crimes” including “chalking slogans,” protesting and creating fliers. More details are available here:
    http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/2009/02/22/aeta-arrests/

  18. #18 padraig
    February 23, 2009

    Threats don’t have to be explicit. Marching up to someone’s door with masks on screaming insults through a megaphone is threatening behavior. And behavior is NOT a 1st Amendment issue.

    In fact, just showing up at a researcher’s private residence carries the implied threat, “We know where you and your family live, and we can come here anytime we want.”

    One of those arrested, Buddenberg, filed a complaint over a police car following him on his bike. At no time did the cop threaten him or be anything other than friendly (admittedly sarcastically). Yet Buddenberg regarded that as threatening. Double standard much?

  19. #19 Fred Smilek
    February 23, 2009

    Im very glad that they caught these four suspects. Animal research is a valuable field that should be respected.

    Fred Smilek is the acting president of the Society to Save Endangered Species. It was founded two years ago by Fred Smilek along with his two best friends Charles and Jonathan. http://www.fredjsmilek.com

  20. #20 Amy
    February 27, 2009

    Padraig wrote:

    Just showing up at a researcher’s private residence carries the implied threat, “We know where you and your family live, and we can come here anytime we want.”

    Well, this is true. And as long as it isn’t accompanied by harassment, it is protected by the First Amendment.

    I abhor harassment and threats and think people should be prosecuted for them, even when I agree with their concerns. However, I’d like to point out that if the government actually enforced animal cruelty laws, the whole problem could be defused considerably. At the moment, if you know of a case of a researcher violating these laws (e.g., operating on live animals without anesthetic), and you write to the Department of Agriculture (which is the agency in charge of enforcing them), you get a form letterful of BS in return. And yet researchers continue to point to these laws as “proof” that they minimize suffering.

    In short, there is much common ground here that would satisfy all but the most extreme voices, and it is written into law already, but the police aren’t interested in enforcing those laws.

  21. #21 Dianne
    February 27, 2009

    But, if a group of five or six couldn’t successfully invade this home protected (I presume) only by the unarmed professor and his wife, how serious of a threat can they be?

    An unarmed professor and her husband, in this case. And if a group of people had been hanging out in front of my house, making threats and vilifying me, I’d be terrified if they got in, no matter how ineffectual they proved once they were confronted. If they can get in they can get in while my family is sleeping and set the house on fire or leave poison in the food or otherwise commit murder or attempted murder. Which they seem to have done at least twice in Santa Cruz.

    I never quite got this about radical animal rights types: they don’t seem to consider humans to be animals. Even leaving aside the issue of animal research, consider Pete Singer’s position on infanticide: he’s ok with it. Why is infanticide of an infant with, say, a serious mental handicap which leaves it with an IQ of 50 ok but killing an animal with an unmeasurably low IQ not? It just seems to lack logic.

  22. #22 Brad
    March 8, 2009

    There are a couple of issues here that bother me. One is that AETA is a law that grants special protection to powerful commercial interests. It is true as Fred puts it that animal research is a self-propelled ‘field’, rather than a tool as it should be. And I don’t think protecting a moneyed commercial enterprise is comparable to protecting minorities from hate crimes, though even those special protections can bleed into free speech infringing ‘thought crime’ prosecutions.

    The other thing is that tendency expressed by a couple of people here to rationalize terrorizing activists with the threat of prosecution just in case information about more serious crimes can be extracted from them in exchange for plea agreements. Aren’t we headed into dangerous waters with that kind of thinking?

    If these people attempted to do a home invasion, that is a serious crime and I would respect that charge, but AETA? A corporate/fascist state is not what I want to see us head towards, and we seem to have been leaning in that direction for a few years now.

    http://www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/23124prs20051220.html
    New Documents Show FBI Targeting Environmental and Animal Rights Groups Activities as ‘Domestic Terrorism’ (12/20/2005)
    “NEW YORK — According to new documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union, the FBI is using counterterrorism resources to monitor and infiltrate domestic political organizations that criticize business interests and government policies, despite a lack of evidence that the groups are engaging in or supporting violent action.

    The ACLU said that the documents released today on Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) show the FBI expanding the definition of “domestic terrorism” to include citizens and groups that participate in lawful protests or civil disobedience….”

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