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Feds Target Animal Liberation Activists
In May 2001, a small group of grassroots activists began a campaign that has become, arguably, the truest test of free speech in recent history. The opinions expressed by the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign are bold, controversial, and - perhaps most concerning to those who wish to stifle such viewpoints - growing in popularity.
Ironically, shortly after the campaign's inception, the First Amendment came under what many consider the most vicious offensive attack ever. Armed with hysteria over terrorism, the U.S. government has cooked up a witch hunt designed to flush out "domestic terrorists" by criminalizing dissent.
For some time, activists and civil liberties advocates have watched incredulously as the "War on Terrorism" delivered isolated incidents of persecution to Americans (see Attorney Lynne Stewart's indictment, the FBI's classification of groups such as The Ruckus Society as "terrorist organizations," and Terrorist Warnings attached to the driver's licenses of animal and environmental activists), all the while anxious about the implications of such incidents: that soon this witch hunt would be more organized, directed, and aggressive.
Meanwhile, Corporate America has flexed its financial muscles under the same premise. SHAC has seriously pissed off the largest, and most politically connected, companies in the world, and our vocal support of controversial, sometimes illegal, - and always effective - tactics has brought on more than a dozen civil suits crying "terrorism" designed to shut us up - a storm we've weathered largely on our own as much needed free speech pioneers were forced to focus their efforts on the wave of isolated attacks mentioned above.
Now corporate and government efforts have converged. On April 23rd, 2003, SHAC USA had its office (which just happened to also be the personal home of 4 activists) raided by 20 FBI agents for 9 hours. Simultaneously, another anti-HLS campaigner had his house raided in Seattle. Both raids were the dream come true of at least five known Federal Grand Juries (and untold numbers of which we are unaware) currently investigating animal rights activity. The raids came on the heels of numerous grand jury subpoenas. Every day a new SHAC supporter receives a visit from the FBI - people who have done no more than write letters have agents pounding on their doors.
In the most frightening phase of this "War on Terrorism," Ashcroft's henchmen have orchestrated their first systematic attack on domestic dissents against one of the most controversial activist groups on today's political landscape. SHAC activists are poster children out of which the government hopes to make an example for all dissidents to see. They're counting on conservatives and liberals alike to look at SHAC, see our "extreme" views, and lie down as the government stamps out the First Amendment.
It is not merely the obvious slippery slope that is problematic, but this violation of free speech in and of itself. Those who value the First Amendment cannot wait until more popular opinions fall under attack. The most important action we can take is to demonstrate that free speech advocates will stand up the very moment free speech - no matter how unpopular that speech - comes under attack . That moment is now.
Let this be a call to action for defenders of free speech and civil liberties everywhere.
Please join SHAC USA's legal preparations and help us build a lasting coalition to defend free speech.
A legal defense team.
If you are, or know, a sympathetic lawyer anywhere in the country, please get in touch.
Researchers and legal expertise.
Are you a law student? Part of a law clinic? An attorney but unable to litigate the case? We need your ideas, expertise and experience, and any hours you can volunteer to aid our defense team.
We need funding to pay our defense team and people to head up fundraising efforts. Can you donate? Do you know someone who can? Can you organize fundraising events, drives, etc.? Please get in touch.
We will not suffer these abuses in silence. Rather, we will do what we do best - expose the evildoers and their evil deeds. Let the public watch its elected officials spend their time and taxpayer's money to strip away the civil liberties they have pledged to uphold and protect. Help us organize a media blitz these politicians (and their corporate lackeys) will wish they'd kept at bay.
In the very midst of their efforts to strip it away, we have every intention of exercising our right to free speech. This resistance is larger than the SHAC campaign, it is larger than the animal rights movement - it is a the protest of all who value free speech, who value the right to speak their minds regardless of how unpopular, controversial, or radical their ideas. Start organizing now to hold demonstrations, phone ins, and stand up for free speech!
Power, resources, and political clout are stacked against us. But with your support and a searing determination never to give up, we have every intention of fighting - and winning. The danger of losing our right to free speech has never been more formidable.
'They've come for SHAC...' What will you do??
Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, USA
P.O. Box 22398
Philadelphia, PA 19110
shacusa [at] envirolink.org