Crimes of Compassion: How Ag-Gag is Killing Freedom of Speech

Did you know that your government and elected representatives are spending your tax dollars to suppress freedom of speech via the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and other “ag-gag” laws? Glenn Greenwald, perhaps best known as the journalist who broke the Edward Snowden story, has been investigating the link between Factory Farms and the US Federal Government. And what he uncovered is shocking.

Greenwald’s investigation occurred following Direct Action Everywhere’s (DxE) videos of a baby piglet called “Lily” that they rescued from Circle Four Farm in Utah. Circle Four is a Smithfield Pork Facility that breeds and kills over 1 million pigs per year.

In his article, he records how, under the pretext of recovering two injured piglets, “a six-car armada of FBI agents in bulletproof vests, armed with search warrants, descended upon two small shelters for abandoned farm animals: Ching Farm Rescue in Riverton, Utah, and Luvin Arms in Erie, Colorado.”

Why the fuss?

Of course, all this begs the question: why would the Federal government expend valuable resources hunting down two missing piglets? Why would they harrass workers at animal sanctuaries? Greenwald makes the answer abundantly clear:

Lily and Lizzie are political and journalistic threats. Animals like them are vital for enabling animal rights activists to demonstrate to the public in a visceral, personalized way that this industry generates massive profit by monstrously and unnecessarily torturing living beings who are emotionally complex and experience great suffering.

Greenwald goes on to state:

The Justice Department’s grave attention to a case of two missing piglets reflects how vigilantly the U.S. government uses extreme measures to protect the agricultural industry — not from unjust economic loss, violent crime, or theft, but from political embarrassment and accurate reporting that damages the industry’s reputation.

This government overreach is done in the name of laws like the AETA – the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. This law was passed with bipartisan support during the Bush administration, with support from Senators James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, and Senator Diane Feinstein, a respected California Democrat.

The law is is violated if one “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise … for the purpose of damaging or interfering with” its operations.”

As Greenwald notes, only “damage to property” – but not humans – is required to be considered guilty of domestic terrorism under this law.

The First Amendment, Animal Rights and Thought Crime

It’s conceivable that a law like this could make it illegal to do anything that damages or interferes with the operations of animal agriculture, including revealing the truth about how these companies make their money. And if it infringes on an animal enterprise’s profits, the activist could face up a fine and up to 20 years in prison if the economic loss is greater than $1,000,000.

Prior to this law being enacted in 2006, any animal rights activism that destroyed property was already against the law. The purpose of this bill was solely to label such actors as “terrorists” and to expand the reach of the law to go beyond simple property damage and into the realm of thought crime.

Public Safety

Ag-gag laws don’t just stifle freedom of speech, they endanger public safety. Recently, the UK’s Guardian newspaper ran an expose on unethical business practices at the Two Sisters Poultry Processing Plant. That revelation has cost the processing plant its reputation, and has lead to a parliamentary inquiry, with the company’s CEO being called to testify. Imagine if this had happened in the US? In most states, ag-gag laws would have resulted in the Guardian’s journalists being charged for recording safety violations. No wonder we have so many outbreaks of food poisoning. It’s hard to address the root causes when its illegal to damage the profits of animal agriculture. Honestly, it’s amazing we’re even allowed to do safety recalls!

Giving animal agriculture a carte blanche is not in the public’s interest in any conceivable way. It’s a violation of our safety and of our basic freedoms. And what does the public get in return? The questionable benefit of Senators for life who line their coffers with donations from big Ag. It doesn’t seem like a very good deal to me.

 

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