Peter Young is a veteran animal activist who served two years in federal prison for rescuing thousands of animals from fur farms across the country. After being wanted by the FBI for seven years, Young was one of the first people prosecuted for “animal enterprise terrorism.”
The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) breaks new ground in defining specific types of activism directed at specific types of businesses as terrorism. AETA is invoked when economic damage is done to animal industries like factory farms, vivesection labs, slaughterhouses, et al. It’s not a new tactic to brand progressives as “terrorists” or question their patriotism, however, the unique scope of legislation like AETA threatens all political and social justice movements, whether it’s LGBT rights, animal rights, the environmental movement or the anti-war movement. Beware the slippery slope: AETA is a precedent for prosecuting activists as terrorists when their action costs a corporation money. While a detailed account of AETA is impossible here, there is an excellent analysis at GreenIstheNewRed.com.
Young is also among the most vocal, public supporters of those who work outside the law to achieve human, earth, and animal liberation including the Animal Liberation Front (A.L.F). He frequently lectures on liberation movements, the philosophy of direct action and AETA at universities and other events, and his work has influenced countless other activists inside and outside animal rights.
On the morning of March 15, Young was at his home in Salt Lake City when the FBI paid him another “visit,” search warrant in hand. I conducted the following interview with him via email, which was not easy to do, since the FBI confiscated his and his housemates’ computers.
1. What the hell happened?
At 11:30 a.m., March 15th, eight to twelve FBI agents from both Utah and Iowa entered our house shouting “search warrant.” They corralled all of us into the living room, and spent the next 7.5 hours searching our home.
The search warrant named me (and three other non-residents) specifically, and called for the confiscation of anything related to “animal enterprise terrorism.” They took 15 computers, eight phones, and many boxes of paperwork. Ostensibly, they were seeking evidence in the 2004 raid of the University of Iowa, in which 401 mice and rats were rescued and research equipment destroyed. This action was claimed by the Animal Liberation Front.
Since the raid, agents have been tailing residents of the house on foot and in cars, and sitting outside our home. It feels like a prolonged siege, continuing with the prosecutor’s allusions in court that the raid has provided evidence in the Iowa case, with which he seems to be drum-rolling further legal action. The raid of course yielded no such evidence, and this is a psywarfare operation on their part as much as an investigative one.
The raid comes after a succession of suspicious events and people in my life over the past six months. It is clear they had been planning this for some time.
2. Why are you being targeted?
Neither myself nor the lawyers involved have an answer. There are several theories, none of which involve the FBI’s belief that I was actually involved in the University of Iowa rescue.
The first theory is the FBI’s claim a diary seized at the home of Scott DeMuth (a non-vegetarian, 17 at the time of the raid, who has been charged for an unspecified role in the University of Iowa action) contained a reference to someone referred to as “P.” The context of this mention has never been stated. It is important to note DeMuth and I have never met. Yet this shared first initial of someone mentioned in a diary is touted as somehow tying me to the Iowa liberation.
The second is that the Iowa prosecutor is making the absurd claim that the entire A.L.F. is a single conspiracy. This is how he is attempting to extend the statute of limitations, saying that as long as there is not a five-year gap between any A.L.F. action, it is all one vast conspiracy, and the statute of limitations resets every time the A.L.F. carries out a new action. This is absurd in a dozen ways, the most serious of which is that it presupposes everyone who carries out an A.L.F. action knows one another and conspires together. The entire Iowa investigation is marked by these sorts of legally unsound acts of desperation.
This legal stretch is relevant to the raid of my home in that, being one of the few people caught for clandestine animal liberation activity, I would be a likely target for any “A.L.F. as a non-nebulous organization” conspiracy-theory sweep. However, the prosecutor is not doing his research: although the mink releases I went to prison for fit the model of Animal Liberation Front actions, they were not claimed by the A.L.F. So I am by no measure a “member of the Animal Liberation Front,” and thus am exempt from his conspiracy theory.
The third theory is simply that I am public in my support for the Animal Liberation Front. I speak to the media, publish articles, and give talks in defense of the A.L.F. These thought-crimes and speech-crimes are enough for the FBI to make anyone a target, as the SHAC 7 and AETA 4 cases have shown. These raids provide them an opportunity to seize computers and paperwork, and build their intelligence on the animal rights movement.
I expect they have wanted to get their hands on my computers and files for years. The Iowa investigation merely provided the pretext.
3. What is the climate for animal activism right now in light of AETA, in other words, what are the realities people need to be aware of?
To ask the question “how can we protect ourselves” (which is usually the subtext to these discussions) is to force ourselves into a defensive stance, when I would like to see us on the offensive. Conversations on the AETA in any context other than how to have it overturned usually focus on how legal, aboveground activists can “protect” themselves from prosecution. This is the intention of the AETA: to instill fear. To place a cop inside all of our heads, intimidating us into inaction. I don’t want to advocate a defensive stance in response to the AETA. I want people to nullify the AETA by continuing to fight for animals, regardless of its vague threats.
4. What are the most pressing industrial animal issues right now? What would you like people to be paying attention to?
The industry which claims the most victims (10 billion a year) is the meat industry, and it is responsible for more greenhouse gasses than all cars combined. Of course this is the one I would like to see ended above all. The best thing anyone can do for animals right now is become vegan, and end their consumption of flesh, dairy, eggs, and all animal products. We could end every other animal abuse industry tomorrow, and so long as the meat industry continued to expand with the population, more animals would die than the year before.
The underground, direct action wing of the movement would do well to take their limited numbers and finish off the small industries, the weak links that could be taken out with a few strategic blows. The fur and foie gras industries, for example, would be strategic and winnable targets.
5. You’ve done time for speaking and acting out. What about this issue is worth you putting your own freedom and rights on the line?
I’ve looked caged animals in the eye in labs and factory farms, and made a promise to them. Animal liberation is not just another “single issue;” it is something that claims over 10 billion lives (in this county) every year. And it is the issue in which we have, as individuals, the greatest ability to achieve victories. Every one of us can go out tonight and save animals in the short term from a factory farm or laboratory animal breeder. And every one of us can also promote a vegan ethic to build a long-term animal liberation strategy.
I have put my freedom on the line for non-human animals because, were I in a cage, I would hope others would make the same sacrifice for me.
In Peter Young’s statement to the court following his sentence, he said, “This is the customary time when the defendant expresses regret for the crimes they committed, so let me do that because I am not without my regrets. I am here today to be sentenced for my participation in releasing mink from 6 fur farms. I regret it was only 6. I’m also here today to be sentenced for my participation in the freeing of 8,000 mink from those farms. I regret it was only 8,000. It is my understanding of those 6 farms, only 2 of them have since shut down. I regret it was only 2.”
“I don’t wish to validate this proceeding by begging for mercy or appealing to the conscience of the court, because I know if this system had a conscience I would not be here, and in my place would be all the butchers, vivisectors, and fur farmers of the world. To those farmers or other savages who may read my words in the future and smile at my fate, just remember: We have put more of you in bankruptcy than you have put liberators in prison.”
Click here to read the full statement.
Voice of the Voiceless
Executive Director, Equal Justice Alliance
Green is the New Red
Gary Smith is co-founder of Evolotus, a PR agency working for a better world. Evolotus specializes in health and wellness, spirituality, animal protection, natural foods, documentary films, non-profits and socially beneficial companies. Gary and his wife adhere to a vegan lifestyle and live with their cat Chloe, in Sherman Oaks, CA.