Countering Animal Rights Spies


In recent years, farmers have been increasingly targeted by animal rights groups trespassing on their properties, stealing farm animals, and other acts of vandalism. The frequency with which undercover animal rights groups infiltrate farms, circuses and other animal enterprises as undercover employees is increasing. In light of this increased activity, farmers are searching for new ways to guard their property and protect their animals, especially after a breach of privacy. The adventures of one Terry Hill (covered in this magazine) are examples of animal rights criminals going to extreme and illegal lengths to frame those who work with animals – why is Spike Stocker not in jail and what did animal rights spokespeople right at the top of charities and on TV as presenters know about Hill?

In the US, similar spying by animal rights activists has been cracked down on and legislation is way ahead of the UK. Although some state legislatures have attempted to regulate the release of video or photographs taken at an animal enterprise without permission, much related legislation has been successfully challenged on constitutional grounds.

For example, in Animal Legal Defense Fund, et al. v. C.L. Butch Otter and Lawrence Wasden, No. 1:14-cv-00104-BLW (D. Idaho Aug. 3, 2015), the court held that legislation which targets journalists or activists, who may be critical of animal enterprises, could violate the constitutional right to freedom of speech. While that ruling protects filming and the subsequent release of a video, there still may be legal remedies that farmers and ranchers can seek against those who enter their operation under false pretences to harm their animals and business.

In the US the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), 18 U.S.C. § 43, is a federal law that protects against the potential damage and harm caused by members of animal rights groups. The AETA prohibits individuals who have travelled in interstate or foreign commerce, or used or caused to be used the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, from damaging the property of an animal enterprise, or intentionally putting the owner of an animal enterprise in fear of death or serious bodily injury. An individual found guilty pursuant to the AETA faces a range of penalties, including fines and imprisonment depending on the severity of harm and economic damage caused.

Can farmers and ranchers use the AETA to prosecute those individuals who knowingly accepted employment of an animal enterprise for the purpose of harming that business and the animals therein? To succeed with an AETA claim, farmers or ranchers would have to demonstrate the damage to the animals, 18 U.S.C. § 43(a)(2)(A), or show how undercover employees interfered with or conspired to interfere with the operation. 18 U.S.C. §§ 43(a)(2)(B),(C). Until these questions are explored in a court of law, best practice on any animal enterprise to prevent loss, damage or harm to animals, equipment and other property is always to thoroughly screen employees and ensure that they are properly trained and supervised.

As Boris Johnson sweeps to power – promising that he cares about the UK countryside – it would make sense for him to crack down on the illegal behaviour of hunt saboteurs and others who terrorise the UK countryside; its women and children. Meanwhile, there is room in English law to hone in on the Spike Stocker case and prevent repetition, removing charity status of those complicit; unmasking these extremist networks. As investment into exposing UK animal rights criminal networks reaches new heights and as perpetrators’ names are increasingly exposed in public it makes sense for the police to have powers at their disposal to prevent these common terrorists from blighting the countryside with their crimes.