This time of year — while most people are out shopping, buying gifts for loved ones, planning their holiday festivities and simply counting down the days until winter break — marks the anniversary of two animal rights cases: the Operation Backfire arrests two years ago and the incarceration of most of the SHAC 7 one year ago. These were cases that primarily went under the radar in comparison to cases like the Jena 6, which rightfully gained much public attention this past year.
For the animal rights and environmental activists sitting in prison this year, holiday shopping is the last thing on their mind. To understand these cases, you must first have an understanding of the government ruling us. While corporations are gaining more and more protection under our laws, our freedom to speak out on what we feel is unjust is being crushed. While one can point out numerous examples during our present Bush area of fear-mongering, the Operation Backfire and SHAC 7 cases represent perfect examples.
Ending a 10-year investigation by the FBI known as Operation Backfire, 11 people, many of the them self-proclaimed Earth Liberation Front members, were indicted in December 2005 and January 2006 on charges including arson, conspiracy and destruction of an energy facility. Despite all their crimes being nonviolent, there is no use labeling these activists as terrorists with such bills as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act passed last year, a bill which included a much heavier sentence than the previous Animal Enterprise Protection Act. If some of the defendants had been found guilty of all their charges, they faced a minimum life sentence. However, all received between three and 13 years.
No doubt, many of you are saying to yourselves that their actions were completely unlawful and that they must be punished. However, labeling these nonviolent actions as terrorism brings into effect a factor activists can only begin to comprehend. Being an animal rights activist for a few years now, the realization that our government and FBI labels earth and animal activists as their number one terrorist threat is a chilling point to consider. Nevermind going after al-Qaida, remember: profit before people.
The implementation of bills such as the AETA — which was backed by animal research labs, corporations and politicians — was not something our government decided to vote on one morning after a cup of coffee. This was another approach in their strategy to silence activists from speaking out on the unimaginable cruelty that goes on inside fur farms, animal testing labs and behind factory farm walls. It was a strategy to protect corporate profit. But it's the animals that have to live through it every day. It's the earth that is being destroyed by corporations that our government supports and funds. It's our "beloved researcher" who is being protected.
The SHAC 7 can be seen as even going a step further in an attack on the First Amendment. The SHAC 7 are six animal rights activists and the organization, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA. Charged under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, these six activists were linked in their participation to shut down Huntingdon Life Science, an animal product testing company that has been charged with numerous animal welfare violations and gruesome violations such as punching beagle puppies in the face. Now they're in prison for three to six years. And for what? For running a website and charges including conspiracy to violate the AEPA, conspiracy to harass and conspiracy to commit interstate stalking via the Internet. Now as six activists sit in prison for committing acts that harmed no human being whatsoever, truly violent and cruel acts continue in primate labs such as the one right here on campus.
We are truly living in a green scare era, in which anyone can look around and feel the effects of government control in all aspects of our lives. These are not isolated incidents if one simply looks back through history. Beginning with the Salem witch trials to the Red Scare era of the '50s to our present day post-Sept. 11 oppression that is all too common, we simply must refuse to live in a world where we are afraid to speak out on what we feel to be unjust simply because our government or any "higher power" supports it. If you don't agree with unlawful, more direct approaches, then get up, get active and implement whatever strategy you feel is right.
But we cannot continue to be silenced. From the Jena 6 to the SHAC 7 our strategies may not always be the same, but our goals of living in a truly free and democratic world are. We cannot forget about the Operation Backfire defendant, the SHAC 7 defendants or any political prisoner who has put his or her own freedoms at risk to expose the truth. Perhaps most importantly, we cannot continue to look past the environmental injustice, the animal cruelty and human injustice that continue every single day. Gandhi may have put it best when he said "no one is free when others are oppressed."
Kevin Carey (email@example.com) is a senior majoring in wildlife ecology.