A bill that would boost penalties against so-called eco-terrorists and create a national clearinghouse for information about them is unnecessary and unlikely to curtail the behavior it is meant to prevent, animal rights activists said Thursday.
"To compare animal rights activists to terrorists like Tim McVeigh is scare mongering," said Bruce Friedrich, a Washington-based spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or PETA. "Perhaps the most disturbing part is that the federal government would collect information on suspects, which denies the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Furthermore, threats, intimidation and property damage are already illegal so there is no need for it."
Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) introduced the bill, which establishes a five year mandatory sentence for firebombing, a tactic traditionally used by extremist groups such as the Earth Liberation Front.
If passed, the bill would let prosecutors seek the death penalty against anyone who causes the death of another person during an attack on an animal or plant enterprise. It would establish and maintain a national clearinghouse to collect data on such crimes and on activists who, critics argue, simply exercise civil disobedience.
The bill also would add eco-terrorism to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization law. Nethercutt, who in a newspaper editorial last month compared groups such as ELF to the likes of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, introduced the legislation after animal rights activists in May allegedly torched a research facility at the University of Washington.
"These new domestic terrorists are misguided and delusional, weaving a grand conspiracy of environmental exploitation," Nethercutt wrote.
"The real terrorists are people who make their living abusing innocent animals," said Paul Shapiro, a spokesperson for Washington-based Compassion Over Killing, an animal rights group. "The government needs to take seriously the fact that a growing segment of the population is no longer willing to sit by while people who terrorize animals have all of the protection."
Friedrich said the bill "smacks of McCarthyism." He went on to add, "The next thing you know they'll be calling in artists, actors and anyone else they can think of to ask of them, 'are you now or have you ever been a vegetarian?'"
He said the bill's intent to collect information about suspects could dissuade perfectly legal activists from exercising their First Amendment rights.
"These kinds of bill are being introduced in various states across the country and my impression is the same toward all," David Barbarash of the Animal Liberation Front told United Press International in a telephone interview from British Columbia. "They are meaningless. Everything it seeks to do is already covered -- arson theft, breaking and entering."
Barbarash said increased penalties likely would not dissuade activists.
"Most activists are very adept at evading the police and not leaving forensic evidence behind," he said, adding that training manuals are available on the Internet and in publications.
He also said that in states such Oregon and Washington, which have passed eco-terrorism laws, activist activity has actually increased.
"There is only one way to stop ALF and ELF, that is to open laboratories to the public, stop torturing animals, stop the destruction of old growth forests," he said. "To compare us to terrorists like McVeigh, who kill people, is absurd. The ELF haven't killed or injured anyone and they've been active for over 20 years." (United Press International, 14. Juni 2001)