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Terrorism Bill Used to Attack Civic Activism
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<-- Return To Criminalizing Environmentalism

Source: SERC Online.

Terrorism Bill Used to Attack Civic Activism

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), along with the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, is promoting legislation in states around the country designed not to protect hunting, fishing, and agriculture but to criminalize legitimate political activism by American citizens. The ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force recently voted to adopt a model “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” and the Task Forces chairman introduced a version as Texas HB 433 in early February.

This legislation makes protesting environmental issues a criminal activity, and increases penalties for animal rights or environmental organizations participating in activities “with an intent to influence a governmental entity or the public to take a specific political action.” Another key concern includes the definition of “animal rights or ecological terrorist organization” as “two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or an activity involving natural resources.” Such vague language could encompass all environmental advocacy activity from signing petitions and peaceful protests and demonstrations to environmental organizations working to protect natural resources and environmental quality across the country. Furthermore, this bill would also create specific penalties for those who donate money to environmental organizations involved with political and social protests, demonstrations, and debates, as stated in the bill language: “A person commits an offense if the person knowingly provides financial support, resources, or other assistance to an animal rights or ecological terrorism organization for the purpose of assisting the organization.”

However, the most obvious proof that the bill is designed to criminalize activism in the public interest rather than terrorism is the provision which states: “A person commits an offense if the person, with political motivation or while acting on behalf of an animal rights or ecological terrorist organization: prevents an individual's use of an animal facility without the effective consent of the facility's owner by: entering the facility to take photographs or a video recording with the intent to defame the facility or the facility's owner.” Environmental and animal rights advocates who legitimately investigate and document misuse or exploitation could be prosecuted. A further provision of the bill would then cause the person to be stigmatized and labeled as terrorists and treated much like sex offenders and child molesters are today, by showcasing their photographs and identities on a state-run website for three years: “at which time the individual who is the subject of the record may apply to the department for a hearing on removal of record.”

The vast majority of environmental and animal rights organizations in the world do not condone violence, property damage or other criminal activity. Such activity should certainly not be supported nor tolerated and legislation already exists to address these crimes. Investigative reporters, protesters, and whistle-blowers speaking out or peacefully challenging actions likely detrimental to the environment are not terrorists. What is of most concern is that the bill language is so intentionally nebulous that it is not only harmful to the protection of our natural environment, but it is also in violation of the constitutionally protected rights that our country was founded upon such as freedom of speech, press, and assembly. The cynical use of our national tragedies by ALEC and its corporate and ultra right-wing supporters in order to criminalize legitimate environmental activism is obscene and indefensible.

In addition to Texas, versions of the legislation have appeared in Pennsylvania, Maine, and New York, and it may soon appear in at least Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Washington.

Links to Relevant Bills:

Texas HB 433

NY A4884

PA S.B. 589

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