Boycott Feinstein

A new proposed law would put activists in jail for hurting a company's bottom line

UC Hastings College of the Law student Andrea Lindsay, an animal rights activist who serves as spokeswoman for the group Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty, says the prosecution relied on a 1992 version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act to go after activists who ran an anti-Huntington Web site, after law enforcement had failed to catch the actual criminals who had made threats and committed vandalism. "They were basically accused of a conspiracy to operate a Web site that reported on the activities of others," Lindsay said.

Albeit, those activities were reprehensible: They included threats and harassment of company officials, the kind of tactics made famous by the most rabid anti-abortion activists.

Law enforcement failed to catch violent animal rights activists and charge them with the crimes they committed. So they jailed the Web propagandists who supported them.

The new Act calls for more lengthy sentences for such activity, and punishes activists whose protests harm "tertiary targets," or suppliers and other business partners of target companies. It includes language saying that the new bill will not infringe on ordinary social protest activities such as boycotts or picketing.

Opponents of the bill say, however, that just by stating that it will be enforced in a way that respects constitutional protections of free speech and protest doesn't make it so. The law's very premise, they say, that protest that harms a company's bottom line should be construed as a type of terrorism, is a frightening prospect for free speech.

"The function of civil disobedience and a boycott are to cause loss of profits in order to get a message out. So we don't think their distinctions make a difference," says Boghosian, the Lawyers Guild director.

Most menacing, in my view, was Feinstein's statement on Nov. 13 crowing about House passage of legislation whose Senate version she sponsored. "We can no longer tolerate criminally based activism regardless of the cause it allegedly advances," Feinstein said. "This is terrorism and it must be stopped."

Indeed, there are all sorts of social causes — environmentalism, labor rights, equal rights for women, rights for immigrants; protests against development and automobile use, and for consumers' rights — whose supporters might use tactics that might harm a company's bottom line.

"We're an easy group of people to pull this over on, and an easy group for the rest of the leftist community to ignore," says Lindsay, the spokeswoman for the jailed animal rights activists. "I definitely think this Act is a model for other social movements. The fact that they're calling activist activity as terrorism, well, that will of course carry over to other social groups."

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