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Radical Animal Rights Group Convicted of Inciting Violence, Stalking

Members of a radical animal rights group have been convicted of conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act and interstate stalking by federal jury in Trenton, New Jersey. The group itself was also convicted.

On March 2, 2006, the jury found the group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) and six of its members guilty of inciting violence against people and institutions who did business with Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a British-based research firm that runs an animal testing laboratory in East Millstone, New Jersey.

SHAC targeted HLS, as well as other companies doing business with HLS, because it uses animals to test the safety of drugs and chemicals. SHAC has claimed responsibility for several bombings and dozens of acts of vandalism and harassment in both the U.S. and Europe. Its campaign against HLS has become a transatlantic cause among radical animal rights activists since the late 1990s.

The six defendants, former SHAC spokesperson Kevin Kjonaas; Lauren Gazzola, whom the indictment identified as SHAC’s campaign coordinator; Andrew Stepanian, a longtime activist with SHAC and the Animal Defense League; Joshua Harper a self-described anarchist and SHAC activist; and SHAC members Jacob Conroy and Darius Fullmer, were all found guilty of conspiracy to violate Animal Enterprise Protection Act.

Kjonaas, Gazzola and Conroy were also found guilty of multiple counts of interstate stalking and conspiracy to engage in interstate stalking. In addition, Kjonaas, Gazzola and Harper were found guilty of conspiracy to violate a telephone harassment act.

The defendants (dubbed the “SHAC 7” by supporters before charges against another man were dismissed) were arrested in May 2004 by federal agents in New York, New Jersey, California and Washington. They face three to seven years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

During the three-week trial, prosecutors showed how SHAC’s campaign against HLS involved posting personal information on the Internet about its employees and about employees of firms that do business with HLS. The information posted on the Internet included phone numbers, home addresses, and in some cases, information on where employees’ children attended school. Many of those targeted have had their homes vandalized and received threats against them or their families, testimony revealed.

According to law enforcement officials, one female employee was sent an e-mail from SHAC threatening to “cut open her seven-year-old son and fill him with poison.” Prosecutors also produced telephone records indicating that Kevin Kjonaas called a man charged with bombing a California biotech lab shortly after the explosion.

Pamelyn Ferdin, a former child actor who became SHAC’s leader in 2004 after former leader Kevin Kjonaas was indicted, promised to continue to “expose atrocities” at HLS. Ferdin, who is married to Jerry Vlasak, spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, also said that the “feckless federal government” spent millions of taxpayer dollars “to wage an assault on all our constitutional rights.”

The Animal Enterprise Protection Act, signed into law by the first president Bush in 1992, provided animal research facilities with federal protection against violent acts by animal rights extremists. The act gave prosecutors greater powers to prosecute extremists, whose attacks create damages or research losses totaling at least $10,000. “Animal Enterprise Terrorism,” is defined in the act in part as “physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise by intentionally stealing, damaging, or causing the loss of any property (including animals or records).”

Some critics charged that prosecutors rarely used the Animal Enterprise Protection Act because the penalties were too mild and it was difficult to prove damages of more than $10,000. An anti-terrorism bill signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002 substantially increased the penalties for such actions.

Prior to the SHAC trial, there appears to have been only a single successful prosecution under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. In 1998, a federal grand jury in Wisconsin indicted Peter Daniel Young and Justin Clayton Samuel under its provisions for breaking into several Wisconsin fur farms in 1997 and releasing thousands of animals.

Samuel was apprehended in Belgium in 1999 and extradited to the U.S. In 2000, Samuel pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay over $360,000 in restitution. Young was a fugitive until being arrested in March 2005 in San Jose for shoplifting. He was later sentenced to two years in prison.

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