The government has unveiled federal terrorism charges against two animal rights activists accused of helping to free minks and foxes from fur farms in rural Illinois. In newly unsealed indictments, the prosecutors accuse Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff of freeing about 2,000 mink from their cages on a fur farm and then removing parts of the fence surrounding the property so the mink could escape. The activists are also accused of spray-painting "Liberation is Love" on the farm’s walls. Lang and Olliff have been indicted under the controversial Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), with each count carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. We are joined by reporter Will Potter, who covers animal rights and environmental issues at GreenIstheNewRed.com. "It really doesn’t matter how you feel about animal rights groups or about these alleged crimes of stealing animals," Potter says of the AETA, which he argues is too broad while criminalizing protests and civil disobedience. "This is really about a corporate campaign to demonize their opposition and to use terrorism resources to shut down a movement." Potter also discusses his wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to purchase a drone for use in photographing abuses at factory farms.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AARON MATÉ: We turn now to look at new developments in what critics dub the "Green Scare." On Friday, the government unveiled federal terrorism charges against two animal rights activists accused of helping to free minks and foxes from fur farms in rural Illinois. In newly unsealed indictments, the government accuses Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff of freeing about 2,000 minks from their cages on a fur farm and then removing parts of the fence surrounding the property so the mink could escape. The activists are also accused of spray-painting "Liberation is Love" on the farm’s walls. Now a grand jury has indicted them under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Each count they face carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the activists is already in jail. Last year, Kevin Olliff, who also goes by Kevin Johnson, was sentenced to 30 months for possessing burglary tools, after police pulled over and searched the car he and Lang were driving and found bolt cutters and wire cutters. We asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office handling the case to join us; they declined, saying they don’t do interviews on pending cases once the charges have been announced.
For more, we’re joined from Washington, D.C., by reporter Will Potter, who has been following the case closely. He just got back from Los Angeles, where the charges were unsealed in court on Friday. He covers animal rights and environmental movements at GreenIsTheNewRed.com. His book is called Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege. He had also got a Kickstarter campaign underway right now to purchase a drone and use it to photograph abuses at factory farms.
Will Potter, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain what these two young men have been charged with.
WILL POTTER: Thanks, Amy. Kevin and Tyler have been charged with two counts each of violating a law called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. And this was a law that was passed in 2006 and lobbied for heavily by people like the fur industry and also the meat and dairy industry and pharmaceutical and biotech companies. And what it does is it turns existing crimes like vandalism or theft of releasing animals, things like that, and elevates it into a terrorism offense. And because of that, they’re each facing up to 10 years in prison right now.
AARON MATÉ: And, Will Potter, the context here, in addition to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, there’s also this series of ag-gag laws passed statewide across the country.
WILL POTTER: So, the rhetoric from these industries and corporations for a long time now is that these new terrorism powers are needed for radical underground groups like the Animal Liberation Front—in other words, in theory, actions like the ones that are alleged in this case that were indicted just last week. But over the last few years what I’ve been documenting is this radical expansion of those terrorism powers to even things like photography and undercover video investigations. Right now these ag-gag bills are attempts to criminalize journalism and whistleblowers in multiple states and make it illegal to photograph animal abuse.
AMY GOODMAN: Will Potter, can you talk about the timing of the indictments?
WILL POTTER: The timing was not accidental, I don’t think. It happened—I just arrived in Los Angeles, along with hundreds of other people, for the National Animal Rights Conference. I was, ironically, heading there to speak about my work about government repression and corporate repression of political activism, and on the very same day, the FBI agents had announced this indictment of Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff for allegedly releasing mink from fur farms. And it was really telling that in the courtroom for—excuse me, for Tyler’s bail hearing, the government was making statements about how he was a risk because of his, quote, "extreme activism." And they said what he described as nonprofit work, the government called, quote, "violent civil disobedience." And I think this was really setting the tone in a lot of ways, not just for this particular legal battle that’s coming up, but also sending a very clear message to the hundreds of political activists that were gathered in Los Angeles, to instill fear and to elevate this terrorism rhetoric once again.
AARON MATÉ: Will, one of the industry reactions to your campaign to buy a drone to monitor factory farms came in a comment posted on Meatingplace.com. Emily Meredith of the Animal Agriculture Alliance wrote, quote, "Imagine you’re on your farm and you look up to find a small model-airplane/Star Wars Death Star-type object hovering over your property. This hypothetical could become reality if Will Potter gets his way." So, you’ve launched this campaign to purchase a drone.
WILL POTTER: I have. And I think it’s really telling to see the industry, the agriculture industry, compare cameras, in their view, to the Death Star from Star Wars, which had the power to destroy entire planets. And it makes you wonder, what is the threat of photography, and what are these industries trying to hide? In a lot of ways, I think that’s what’s really going on with this prosecution of Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff, as well. I mean, at worst, they destroyed, or allegedly destroyed, some property and broke some cages or released animals. But in doing so, they really shone a spotlight or put a spotlight on the animal abuse that’s taking place every day. And I think, across the board, that’s what these industries are terrified about. And that’s what has motivated me as a journalist to try to get around some of these new laws by purchasing a drone and shooting photographs from the air.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, this issue of terrorism, Will, if you can explain how these actions are being called terrorist?
WILL POTTER: So this campaign by corporations to label this type of activity and even nonviolent civil disobedience as terrorism has been going on for decades now. And in my book, I really chart this emergence of that eco-terror rhetoric. And it all changed after September 11th, and that’s really how we got to the point of this new law, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which is so broad that, according to its supporters, it not only includes things like stealing animals from fur farms and laboratories, but also civil disobedience and protest activity. And to me, this is this radical expansion of terrorism powers in the name of protecting corporate interests. So if there’s one message, I think, for me to convey right now with this court case, as I’m watching it unfold in Los Angeles, and these ag-gag laws, is that it really doesn’t matter how you feel about animal rights groups or about these alleged crimes stealing animals; this is really about a corporate campaign to demonize their opposition and to use terrorism resources to shut down a movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Will Potter, we want to thank you for being with us, author of Green is the New Red, also runs a website by the same title, as we move into our last segment.