FREE SPEECH — Will Potter, writing at, argues that the FBI squandered scarce anti-terrorism resources in monitoring and tracking First Amendment activities by four animal rights activists in the Santa Cruz area arrested under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

The activists were arrested, in the very first use of this sweeping
law, for activity like “chalking defamatory slogans,” creating fliers,
protesting while wearing masks, and attending a protest where an
alleged attempt at forced entry took place. I was hoping that the
criminal complaint would reveal something, anything, to justify such
serious “terrorism” charges.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Video surveillance used to track activist leafleting.
    Fliers were left at Café Pergolesi in Santa Cruz that listed the names,
    addresses, and phone numbers of animal researchers. It included
    rhetoric like “animal abusers everywhere beware we know where you live
    we know where you work we will never back down until you end your
    abuse.” That kind of heated rhetoric has been used in the leaflets,
    posters, and chants of not just the animal rights movement, but every
    other social justice movement. It’s not pleasant, but it is protected
    First Amendment activity. FBI agent Shaffer says video surveillance was
    used to identify two activists who left the leaflets in the coffee
  • Internet records used to track activists researching public information.
    FBI agent Shaffer says two of the defendants used “a public internet
    terminal to download and access the personal information for
    researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz.” The public
    information appeared on a flier titled “Murderers and torturers alive
    & well in Santa Cruz July 2008 edition.” The government obtained
    internet records from the university, tracked them to a Kinko’s, and
    then used video footage and business records from Kinko’s to identify
    activists using the internet for this information.
  • DNA testing used to match activists with bandanas allegedly worn at a protest.
    Agent Shaffer says “based on DNA comparisons, laboratory analysis
    confirmed that KHAJAVI’s DNA was on at least one bandana, and that a
    combination of POPE’s and STUMPO’s DNA was on another recovered
    bandana.” What’s striking is that the government says it doesn’t have
    the money to help states use DNA testing in death penalty cases—and exonerate innocent people on death row—but there is money for DNA testing of activists’ bandanas.