Saving Minks from Fur Farms is, According to the FBI, “Terrorism”

Terrorism, often associated with violent political attacks against civilians, is an emotionally charged term, used more frequently now after 9/11. The FBI defines terrorism as “violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law with the intention to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

Though Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston with the intent to harm a segment of the population, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev planted bombs during the Boston Marathon with the intent to coerce government policy, neither Roof nor Tsarnaev face direct terrorism charges for their crimes against US citizens in accordance with clear ideological and political objectives.

But last week, the FBI issued a press release detailing the indictment of two alleged domestic terrorists. In 2013, Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane purportedly released several thousand minks from fur farms throughout the country. According to the FBI’s press release, Buddenberg and Kissane’s alleged terrorism was strictly confined to property damage. US Attorney Laura Duffy stated, “The conduct alleged here, sneaking around at night, stealing property, and vandalizing homes and businesses with acid, glue, and chemicals, is a form of domestic terrorism.”

Why is this considered domestic terrorism? Because, even though legislation that prohibits sabotage and destruction of property already exists, the Bush Administration approved the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), in which one needs only to “intentionally damage or cause the loss of any real or personal property for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise” to be considered a terrorist. Buddenberg and Kissane’s actions do not have to comport with the FBI’s definition of terrorism to be considered terrorism under AETA standards.

Regardless of one’s moral stance on animal liberation or the effectiveness of Buddenberg and Kissane’s actions, should nonviolent political protest of this nature be considered terrorism? Furthermore, if their nonviolent actions against an industry are a form of terrorism, why aren’t the deadly actions of Roof and Tsarnaev? With the passing of the AETA, “terrorism” essentially became easier to commit (or it is easier to be labeled a terrorist)—but only for nonviolent political activists challenging corporate enterprise.

By prosecuting acts of nonviolent civil disobedience as terrorism, this law heightens legal repercussions of such crimes and intensifies social censure. In his 2001 address to a joint session of Congress, George W. Bush unforgettably warned, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Although the statement was intended to appeal to foreign nations for support, this “us-or-them” ideology exemplifies domestic policies that seek to demonize individuals threatening existing political narratives. A reevaluation of popular rhetoric is crucial in order to encourage true forms of justice. The AETA exploits a word that evokes a visceral response in the majority population in order to suppress nonviolent corporate dissidents, while political acts against human life are not as heavily weighted. In the address, George W. Bush also observed that, “freedom and fear are at war.” For once, his words couldn’t be more accurate.

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