Congress Considers Tougher Eco-Terror Laws

Published April 1, 2006

Revelations of violence and intense intimidation against persons tenuously associated with a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company have reinvigorated support in Congress for the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) introduced in the U.S. Senate on October 27, 2005 and which Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI) introduced in the U.S. House on November 4, 2005.

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act would amend the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 by broadening the definition of an animal enterprise to protect more individuals and companies from animal rights terrorists, protecting not only animal enterprises themselves but also persons and companies with business or personal connections to animal enterprises; prohibiting actions designed to make persons fear death or serious bodily injury for associating with an animal enterprise; and increasing the penalties for violation of the Act.

Referring to October 2005 Senate testimony regarding, in part, the events chronicled in a federal trial that began on February 7 in Trenton, New Jersey, Inhofe observed, “The chilling testimony embracing assassination and destruction that we heard from the ‘spokesman’ of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty eco-terror group only points to the need for a tightening of current law for authorities to be to able to prevent future activities, and to better investigate and prosecute eco-terror cases. [The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act] specifically addresses the ‘tertiary targeting’ tactic employed by eco-terrorists by prohibiting intentional damage of property belonging to a person or organization with ties to an animal enterprise. Currently, only the animal enterprise itself is covered by law. The bill also increases penalties for intentional economic disruption or damage, and for intentionally causing bodily harm or placing a person in reasonable fear of death or bodily harm.”

Vote Is Expected

In the House, Democrats Dan Boren (D-OK), Thomas Edwards (D-TX), and Rick Larsen (D-WA) joined Petri in co-sponsoring the bill. Both the House and the Senate are expected to vote on the bill before the summer recess.

Free-market environmentalists, including Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, applauded efforts to strengthen protections against eco-terrorists. But Burnett cautioned the issue is best dealt with by the individual states.

“I would like to see stronger protection for property rights at both the state and federal level, but I worry about the federalizing of criminal statutes,” Burnett explained. “It clogs federal courts, is potentially overkill, and is really the purview of the states. If a federal statute is passed, the justification and grounds for federal intervention should be made clear in the statute. It should be made clear why federal intervention is warranted, rather than leaving it to the states.

“Ideally, this is an issue that the individual states should be tackling right now,” added Burnett.

— James M. Taylor