DeMuth Charged with "Animal Enterprise Terrorism," But Could Be Released Next Week
Thursday morning, Minneapolis grand jury resister Scott DeMuth was charged with conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism in Davenport, Iowa federal court. He is currently being held in the disciplinary block at the Muscatine County Jail after he was found to be in civil contempt of court for refusing to cooperate with the grand jury that convened in Davenport on Tuesday. Because the civil contempt charge was later dropped, on Friday he attended a hearing to decide on his possible release on unsecured bond; a final decision has not yet been made by
Late Friday, Iowa corporate media reported that DeMuth also pleaded not guilty at the hearing. The article also reported that Assistant U.S. Attorney Cliff Cronk cited items seized from DeMuth during a raid before the 2008 Republican National Convention.
Since the passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA, an expansion on a previous act) in 2006, the law has only been used twice before yesterday: once in California and once in Utah. The act criminalizes and brands as "terrorism" actions which injure no one - such as like leafletting and sidewalk chalking - and are routinely undertaken by non-radical activists and ordinary citizens. The only criteria is whether the act "damag[es] or interfer[es] with the operations of an animal enterprise," such as by affecting profits. In the California case, one of the alleged crimes, reads the indictment there, was "us[ing] the Internet to find information on bio-medical researchers at the University of California."
Friday evening's article in the Quad City Times and Waterloo--Cedar Falls Courier also revealed more about prosecutor Cronk's arguments. He claims the 17-year-old DeMuth was in fact a person dressed in black seen in video of the 2004 ALF raid, and that he was an associate of Peter Young, who served prison time for Midwest fur farm raids in the 1990s.
Supporters of DeMuth and fellow jailed grand jury resister Carrie Feldman (who is being held indefinitely in Washington County, Iowa) have already mounted a defense campaign and are raising legal funds; a first benefit has been scheduled for Saturday. They are also working with organizations around the country to raise awareness about grand juries and government repression. Supporters are planning a call-in day sometime next week to demand that the dismissal of the subpoena against Feldman and the charges against DeMuth.
Reportedly, Cronk has been inflammatory in his conversations on the phone, recording calls from supporters as just one tactic in his strategy of portraying Feldman and DeMuth as dangerous criminal anarchists. The same sort of unhinged behavior has reportedly been his modus operandi in court.
DeMuth's indictment (PDF) posted online is only the unsealed portion of a longer, sealed indictment. It accuses him of conspiring with persons unknown to cause economic damage in excess of $10,000. But, although media have insinuated that DeMuth is being charged with the November 14, 2004 ALF break-in itself (the Associated Press and dozens of subsequent stories used the Orwellian term "animal terrorism"), that may or may not be the case. It's unclear from the sections of US Code cited in the indictment whether he's being accused of property destruction and the release of animals or simply perceived threats against an animal enterprise. (
The AETA's predecessor, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA) was created in 1992, first outlining the crime of "animal enterprise terrorism". The law was scarcely used, most notoriously in the case of the SHAC 7, who were never charged with any physical actions; they simply vocally supported others. The "7th" of the 7 was their a corporation, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA Inc., and its website.
The AEPA was expanded upon a number of times, culminating in 2005, when Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma introduced the AETA, which expanded the AEPA to include campaigns against "tertiary targets," with the goal of "prohibiting intentional damage of property belonging to a person or organization with ties to an animal enterprise" -- for instance, banks or insurance brokers who do business with vivisectors. The act was passed in 2006, with only six members of Congress present for the vote.
Because the 2004 ALF raid happened before the passage of the AETA, it's unclear whether the AETA or the AEPA would apply. Because the section of the indictment detailing the supposed crimes themseles is sealed, it's currently impossible to tell whether the allegations fit one act or the other. The main difference, perhaps, would be in the possible punishment. Under the AETA, a defendant found guilty of causing damage over $100,000 (the 2004 U of I damages were estimated at $450,000; though DeMuth's indictment indicates "economic damage ... exceeding $10,000"), faces up to 10 years in prison. Under the older version - the AEPA - the figure seems to be three years.
Another point of uncertaintly is whether DeMuth should be charged as an adult or a juvenile, considering that he was 17 in November, 2004. This is further confused by the extremely broad language on the cover of the indictment (emphasis added):
"From a date unknown to the grand jury, but beginning November 9, 2004 and continuing to on or about November 20, 2004 or later, in and about Johnson County in the Southern District of Iowa, and elsewhere, defendant, Scott Ryan DeMuth, did knowingly conspire with persons unknown to the grand jury to commit animal enterprise terrorism..."
In February, four California activists - now called the AETA 4 - became the first people arrested and charged under that terrorism act. They're accused of incidents including a protest outside an animal reserarcher's home, chalking on public sidewalks, wearing bandanas, and distributing leaflets with contact information for researchers. One of the alleged criminal acts cited in their indictment is that two of the defendants "used the Internet to find information on bio-medical researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz." Their case has been taken on by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Then in March, two Utah activists - BJ Viehl and Alex Hall - were arrested in connection with the freeing of 300 minks from a Utah fur farm. Viehl entered a non-cooperating guilty plea in September, citing the extremely conservative rural Utah jury pool as unlikely to give him a fair trial. Hall is still taking his case to trial.
Unlike the others charged under the AETA, DeMuth is not primarily an animal rights activist. In fact, he's not even a vegetarian. But as part of the eco-prisoner support group Earth Warriors are OK! (EWOK!), as well as a graduate student in the University of Minnesota--Twin Cities sociology department researching liberation movements of all sorts, DeMuth is a visible target for a frustrated FBI.
One of the arguments made by attorney Barbara Nimis at DeMuth's contempt hearing - the charges for contempt were later dropped, allowing the government to pursue the AETA charge - was that DeMuth's was bound by confidentiality agreements in his scholarly research, which followed Institutional Review Board standards and guidelines. Earlier this week, the Twin Cities Daily Planet interviewed DeMuth's adviser at the U of M, David Pellow:
[Pellow said that] the sociology department is "mobilizing to support him and to make sure that his standing in the program is maintained." Pellow said that DeMuth may be allowed to continue his studies in jail, and that the chair of the department and the dean of students have been very supportive.
Pellow said that for a court to decide that the law has a higher power than the confidentiality of a university is very rare. According to the American Sociological code of ethics, "We are bound to maintain confidentiality to those who trust us with their information. If we give up that information we violate that trust." There is an enormous amount at stake, Pellow said, because the research done by academics ultimately affects public policy. "This is way beyond Scott DeMuth," he said.
Regarding the timing of DeMuth's indictment, Peter Young - one of the activists convicted under the AEPA - noted on his blog Voice of the Voiceless:
The indictment comes just one day before the 5-year statute of limitations was to expire. Another attorney has speculated the indictment was rushed through to freeze the statute of limitations, with the intent of buying them time to issue a future indictment:
"The government could file an indictment to toll the statute of limitations and then seek a superseding indictment after further investigation." the lawyer said.
These legal maneuvers are indicative of an investigation which has gone nowhere, and prosecutors who are desperate to locate members of the Animal Liberation Front, no matter what legal acrobatics are required.
And on Green is the New Red, Will Potter said:
Regardless of what, specifically, DeMuth is charged with conspiring to do, one thing is clear: conspiracy charges have been used throughout U.S. history as a catch-all when prosecutors can't get anything else to stick. That's exactly what happened in the case of the SHAC 7, under the previous version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
More from an EWOK! press release from Thursday:
"This charge under the AETA is a heinous example of the increasingly repressive tactics that the Federal government has used against people ranging from the Black Panthers to the AETA 4," said Thomas Addo of Earth Warriors are OK! (EWOK!). "We will continue to support Scott as he resists the government's attempt to criminalize his political beliefs."
It is unclear how this indictment affects Demuth's current incarceration. DeMuth and Carrie Feldman were both subpoenaed to appear before the Davenport grand jury on Tuesday; both refused to testify because of their opposition to repressive government tactics such as grand juries. Feldman was also found to be in contempt of court and continues to be held in Washington County Jail. She has not been charged with any crime.
The AETA has been widely criticized as being unconstitutional and broad enough to criminalize activities protected by the First Amendment. For example, Matthew Strugar of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has argued that a consumer boycott, if effective at reducing an animal enterprise's profits, would be punishable under the AETA as terrorism.
link to tc.indymedia.org
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion