Two animal rights activists who allegedly released thousands of animals from a mink farm about sixty-five miles southwest of Chicago have been indicted on federal terrorism charges.

Both Tyler Lang and Kevin Johnson were indicted by a grand jury in the Northern District of Illinois for allegedly releasing 2,000 minks from captivity on August 14, 2013, and for conspiring to “damage and interfere with the operations of a fox farm in Roanoke, Illinois,” according to the Justice Department.

Media are reporting on the indictments but what is missing from the coverage is the fact that these animal rights activists were charged under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which means they were not just indicted with “freeing minks”—a violation of private property. They were indicted for allegedly committing an act of terrorism.

Here is the grand jury charge against Lang and Johnson [PDF]:

…defendants herein, conspired with each other, and with others known and unknown
to the Grand Jury, to travel in interstate commerce, and to use and cause to be used a facility of interstate and foreign commerce, for the purpose of damaging and interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise, including Mink Farm A and Fox Farm A, and in connection with that purpose, intentionally damaged and caused the loss of real and personal property (including animals and records) used by an animal enterprise, and real and personal property of a person having a connection to and relationship with an animal enterprise, which offense resulted in economic damage exceeding $10,000, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 43(a) and 43(b)(2)(A)… [emphasis added]

Will Potter, who regularly covers these kinds of stories at his “Green is the New Red” blog, did not miss this fact.

Potter reported that Lang was arrested in Los Angeles and during his bail hearing the government asked for a “$30,000 bond, which is $20,000 above what pre-trial services had recommended.” The prosecutor claimed Lang was a “flight risk” because of his “extreme activism” and said Lang planned to “travel the country for what he calls non-profit work but what the government calls violent disobedience.”

“Lang told me he had planned on beginning a tour this weekend with other volunteers, protesting airlines that transport primate for animal experimentation,” Potter added.

On August 15, 2013, at about 1 AM, as Potter reported for VICE, Lang and Johnson were pulled over by police for having “temporary dealer plates” on the “brand-new green Prius” they were driving. The refused to consent to a search and one officer overheard on the police radio reportedly said that Johnson was on a terrorism watch list.

Police found bolt cutters and and wire cutters. They charged the two with “possession of burglary tools,” a felony. They were not charged with being involved in the fur farm raids at the time, however, FBI agents at a bail hearing for Lang and Johnson made sure prosecutors were aware there were unsolved raids in the region and farms had been targeted.

Johnson was sentenced to 30 months in jail in Illinois. Lang was “freed from state custody after agreeing to a plea deal in November,” according to WLS.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has pursued a lawsuit against the constitutionality of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. A federal district court in Massachusetts dismissed the lawsuit on March 12, 2013. CCR filed an appeal on April 21, 2014.

Ryan Shapiro, an animal rights activist (as well as a Freedom of Information Act activist) who has focused on factory farming issues, described in a piece for Truthout.org how he helped “coordinate an undercover investigation of notoriously cruel foie gras factory farms” in 2003.

“We found ducks crammed inside cages so small they couldn’t stand up, spread their wings, or turn around,” Shapiro wrote. “As an act of civil disobedience, a group of us openly rescued a number of ducks from this abuse. We also made a short documentary film to educate the public about what was being hidden behind the closed doors of these factory farms. The images we captured played a crucial role in sparking national and international campaigns against foie gras and in the successful 2004 ballot initiative to ban the production of foie gras in California.”

Shapiro and a fellow investigator, Sarahjane Blum, who is also a plaintiff in the CCR lawsuit, were convicted of misdemeanor trespass and sentenced to community service. To Shapiro, “This was a reasonable and acceptable price to pay for bringing to light the realities of factory farming.”

But, as he outlined, Congress moved to make it possible for industry to prosecute individuals who engaged in acts of civil resistance as terrorists.

“In 2006, under heavy lobbying from the pharmaceutical, animal agriculture and fur industries, Congress passed [AETA],” Shapiro asserted. “The AETA is designer legislation that targets political dissent directed at any business that uses or sells animals or animal products – or any company ‘connected to’ such ‘animal enterprises.’ Simply hurting the profits of these businesses—by, for example, producing and screening a film that inspires people to boycott foie gras or other animal products—qualifies as a terrorist offense. Indeed, a distressingly high number of my closest friends have been convicted as terrorists for engaging in free speech and civil disobedience advocacy on behalf of animals.”

Rather than risk the possibility that acts like the one taken by Lang and Johnson would lead to bans against the use and selling of animals or animal products, corporations have seriously undermined that possibility by convincing lawmakers to criminalize such nonviolent action as terrorism.