Animal Research Protesters Face Terrorism Charges
* This article was modified on June 21, 2010.
On Jan. 27, 2008, over the course of seven hours, 11 people dressed in black and wearing bandannas over their faces like a gang of train robbers, protested in front of the homes of various UC Berkeley professors who conduct bio-medical research using animals. The group chanted, marched and scrawled messages in chalk on the sidewalks.
Phrases such as “murderer.” “Animal abuser.” “Rat killer.”
UC police officers claim to have recognized four people involved in the protest from a similar action that took place the previous October.
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On Feb. 24, 2008, five or six individuals protested in front of a UC Santa Cruz professor’s house. He was inside when he heard the group near his front door. He opened it, and they yelled at one another. There was a struggle, and the professor was hit with something, most likely a bullhorn. The group fled by car. The professor and his wife both claimed to have been terrified by the group, all of whom wore bandannas—except for the man with the bullhorn. The professor took down the car’s license-plate number, which police traced to Maryam Khajavi’s residence. Later that night, after obtaining a search warrant, police found Khajavi, Nathan Pope and Adriana Stumpo at the home. A search of Khajavi’s car turned up bandannas and a bullhorn.
According to the federal government, Stumpo and Pope, now 22 and 26 respectively, are domestic terrorists. The charges against them, stemming from both the Berkeley and Santa Cruz incidents, include two counts—conspiracy, as well as force, violence and threats involving animal enterprise—under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).
Since Stumpo’s and Pope’s indictments, each of which carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison, they have graduated from college, gotten married and moved to Long Beach. Should their case go to trial, they and their fellow defendants—known as the AETA 4—could become the first people convicted as terrorists under that law.
President George W. Bush signed AETA on Nov. 27, 2006, amending the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA) of 1992.
The original law carried prison time of up to a year if the accused was convicted of “intentionally stealing, damaging or causing the loss of enterprise property, including animals or records or conspiring to do so, and thereby causing more than $10,000 of economic damage.”
The new version adds a maximum of five years prison time. Also, in order to be convicted as a terrorist, an activist has to put someone “in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury . . . or conspires or attempts to do so.”
Barry Bowman, chairman of the UC Santa Cruz Department of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology, says approximately 15 of his faculty members work with animals in their research and that the actions taken against some of those researchers in 2008 were terrifying.
“If you have a masked person, that is quite threatening,” he says. “It’s no longer completely defensible behavior. I would be pretty strong in defense of [the activists’] First Amendment rights, but when you don’t know who they are, and when they step off public property and onto private property, they step across a line.”
AETA isn’t the only law designed to punish those who cross that line. In September 2008, following the firebombing of two UC Santa Cruz professors’ residences the previous month, the California Assembly passed a law making actions leading up to extreme acts a misdemeanor. Those actions include publishing information about a researcher or his or her family, as well as trespassing on an academic researcher’s property for the purpose of interfering with his or her academic freedom. The University of California sponsored the law.
Stumpo and Pope were charged under AETA before the state law existed. Pope’s attorney has not returned the Weekly’s calls seeking comment for this story; Stumpo referred all questions to Emma Bradford, her Palo Alto-based attorney.
Bradford tried—without success—to have the case dismissed on the grounds that AETA is unconstitutional because it uses language she describes as vague and overly broad. “My argument and belief is that even if [her client’s alleged] actions are true, the conduct that is described falls within the First Amendment,” she says.
And Bradford isn’t the only one to take issue with AETA. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a nonprofit legal organization, argues that the law, which, it states, was pushed through Congress by various biomedical and agri-business lobbyists, violates First Amendment rights.
“The language of AETA covers many First Amendment activities, such as picketing, boycotts and undercover investigations, if they ‘interfere’ with an animal enterprise by causing a loss of profits,” says Rachel Merrpole, the attorney working on the AETA 4 case on behalf of CCR.
The first incident referenced in the government’s case against the AETA 4 took place on Oct. 21, 2007, when a group of about 20 people stood on the front yard of a UC Berkeley bio-medical researcher identified only as L.B. in the prosecution’s Bill of Particulars. They rang his doorbell, made noise and chanted such animal-rights slogans as “1, 2, 3, 4, open up the cage door,” “5, 6, 7, 8, smash the locks and liberate,” and “9, 10, 11, 12, vivisectors go to hell.”
According to Lisa Shaffer of the FBI’s San Francisco field office, L.B. called the police and said “he was very fearful and felt harassed and intimidated by the demonstrators’ activities that day.”
The Bill of Particulars had been requested by Pope’s defense attorney for the purposes of clarifying the identity of those threatened, how they were threatened and how, exactly, the government “will seek to prove [this act] was in the furtherance of the conspiracy alleged in Count 1.”
“I think that these AETA prosecutions, in general, tend to be really vague,” Merrpole says. “Perhaps because the U.S. doesn’t want to acknowledge that they are threatening people with long prison terms for chanting slogans or writing things in chalk.”
Stumpo and Pope are also being charged in connection with a July 27, 2008, incident in which they allegedly used a computer at a Santa Cruz Kinko’s to search for information about 11 biomedical researchers who worked at the University of Santa Cruz. This information was later printed on a flier titled, “Murderers and Torturers Alive and Well in Santa Cruz July 2008 edition,” which was on a table at a coffeehouse two blocks away. The flier identified 13 researchers and stated, “Animal abusers everywhere, beware, we know where you live, we know where you work, we will never back down until you end your abuse.”
The next hearing in the AETA 4 case is set for July 19 in the San Jose federal courthouse; a trial date could be set then. Bradford believes the case will “almost certainly” go to trial.
The prosecuting attorneys declined to comment on the ongoing case. “We have to let the courts work it out,” says Jack Gillund, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Northern District of California.
Stumpo and Pope, meanwhile, have tried to live as normally as possible as young newlyweds. But, as Bradford notes, “Living under a federal indictment is a very stressful environment to be in.”
This article appeared in print as "Chalk and Awe: A Long Beach couple faces up to five years in federal prison for aggressively protesting animal research at UC schools up north."
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