Six members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a radical animal rights group, have been sentenced to between one and six years in prison by a federal jury in Trenton, New Jersey, for inciting threats, harassment and vandalism against a company that uses animals to test the safety of drugs and chemicals.
The jury found the six defendants 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 and other companies doing business with HLS by posting on its Web site the names, addresses, phone numbers and other personal information of HLS employees and those who do business with the company.
Three of the defendants were sentenced on September 12, 2006, including SHAC’s former leader in the U.S., Kevin Kjonass, who was sentenced to six years in prison. SHAC’s campaign coordinator, Lauren Gazzola, was sentenced to four years and four months, and the group’s Web site operator, Jacob Conroy, was sentenced to four years. Joshua Harper, SHAC’s West Coast coordinator and a self-described anarchist, was sentenced to three years the following day.
On September 19, Andrew Stepanian, the New York coordinator for the SHAC and a longtime activist with the Animal Defense League, was sentenced to three years in prison and SHAC member Darius Fullmer was sentenced to one year.
The defendants (dubbed the “SHAC 7” by supporters before charges against another man were dismissed) were convicted in March for conspiracy to violate the 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 were also ordered to pay $1 million in restitution to HLS.
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 damage 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 have rarely used the Animal Enterprise Protection Act because the penalties are too mild and it is 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.
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.
Pamelyn Ferdin, 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.”