‘The Animal People’ and Lessons from the SHAC 7

From IGD

“The number of activists isn’t huge, but their impact has been incredible … There needs to be an understanding that this is a threat to all industries. The tactics could be extended to any other sectors of the economy.”

Brian Cass, managing director of HLS

In this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, we speak with both Josh Harper and Andy Stepanian, who both served several years in prison for being involved in the group, Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC), which organized against Huntington Life Sciences, a lab which is paid by corporations to test products on animals.

As CrimethInc. wrote:

Unrivaled by any campaign of comparable scale and effectiveness, SHAC took off quickly in the US. Thanks in part to superior funding,3 the propaganda was colorful and exciting, as were promotional videos that juxtaposed heart-wrenching clips of animal cruelty with inspiring demonstration footage to a pulse-racing soundtrack of techno music. The campaign offered participants a wide range of options, including civil disobedience, office disruptions, property destruction, call-ins, pranks, tabling, and home demonstrations. In contrast to the heyday of anti-globalization summit-hopping, targets were available all around the country, limited only by activists’ imaginations and research. The intermediate goals of forcing specific investors and business partners to disconnect from HLS were often easily accomplished, providing immediate gratification to participants.

SHAC, which served as the public face for the movement which operated in both the UK and the United States, waged an unrelenting campaign which sought to change the way in which activists targeted corporations. In the SHAC model, activists went after the shareholders and supply companies, organizing a variety of pressure campaigns and conducting demonstrations at the homes of executives. These tactics has a major impact on the company.

An anti-SHAC ad which appeared in the New York Times

In response to the campaign, the government pushed back. Targeted under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), 7 SHAC organizers were eventually given several years in prison for their roles in running the SHAC website and speaking on behalf of the movement against HLS; essentially being targeted as a form of collective punishment which was intended to send a message to the wider movement.

Again, from CrimethInc.:

On May 26, 2004, Lauren Gazzola, Jake Conroy, Josh Harper, Kevin Kjonaas, Andrew Stepanian, and Darius Fullmer were indicted on various federal charges for their alleged roles in the campaign. Teams of FBI agents in riot gear invaded their homes at dawn, threatening them and their pets with guns and handcuffing their relatives. The investigation leading up to the arrest was reportedly the FBI’s largest investigation of 2003; court documents confirm that wiretap intercepts in the investigation outnumbered the intercepted communications of that year’s second largest investigation 5 to 1.

The defendants were all charged with violating the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, a controversial law intended to punish anyone who disrupts a corporation that profits from animal exploitation; some were also charged with interstate stalking and other offenses. The defendants were never charged with engaging personally in any threatening acts; the government based its case on the notion that they should be held responsible for all the illegal actions taken to further the SHAC campaign, regardless of their involvement. They were found guilty on March 2, 2006, sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to six years, and ordered to pay tremendous quantities of money to HLS.

The SHAC 7 trial was clearly intended to set a precedent for targeting public organizers of campaigns that include covert action; its repercussions were felt as far away as England. In 2005, the British government passed the “Serious Organized Crime and Police Act” specifically to protect animal research organizations. On May 1, 2007, after a series of raids involving 700 police officers in England, Holland, and Belgium, 32 people linked to SHAC were arrested, including Heather Nicholson and Greg and Natasha Avery, among the founders of SHAC in Britain. In January 2009, seven of them were sentenced to prison terms between four and eleven years.

With the release of the new documentary film, The Animal People, we caught up with both Josh and Andy to talk about the SHAC 7 case, why the SHAC campaign was so successful and created a new working model for anti-capitalist organizers, and the lessons for social movements.

There are 5 Comments

but isnt that picture of vitalist international

does it matter? some would argue for publishing, working, using big words, paying the rent and podcast projects and maybe down the line a life in academia? just sayin' as chisel would say!

I was part of the fight against HLS in the DC area from 2006 to the end, and sometimes the weekly "in the trenches" slugging match and overall "war of attrition" reminded me of WWI. An interesting aspect of this campaign was that neither the vivisection industry as a whole nor the animal rights movement as a whole could afford to lose this one for strategic reasons. The result was that both sides poured more and more resources into a fight that would normally have been over in the first couple years, both the puppy killers and ourselves were determined to win at any price.

We laid on the home and office demos hot and heavy, but it seemed like everytime we killed HLS's financing the bankers drew straws to see who would be next on the hot seat. At least five times we achieved what should have been a "hard kill" of HLS as a viable business, only to have the US or UK government or some bank that drew that short straw set them back on their feet. In the end, HLS outlasted SHAC (due to too many arrests under nasty UK laws), but ended up owing $120M to US bank secured by everything they owned. I compared them to a battleship that had sunk all their opponents, but was so shot up that running into just one storm on the way home would sink them too. They slipped that noose by arranging to be bought by Harlan Labs, with the now combined company known as Envigo, so as to dispose of their incredibly toxic name. I do not know but presume the puppy-punching and pencilling in fake test results continue as before.

On Dec 19, 2008 I was nearly killed outright when a home demo targetting Janet Lambert of Invitrogen (chemicals and lab equipment) was ambushed by 75 cops and I was chased to and nearly over a 35 foot cliff with stones at the bottom. That home demo was in the middle of nowhere, with no cover whatsoever making for a dangerously exposed position. On top of all else, DC Councilmember Mary Cheh had encountered us in the streets during the previous week's action by accident and flipped out. To this day I consider her the prime suspect in setting that ambush that came so close to putting me in a coffin. Two weeks later, the very next time we went out, I was back in action. It's this kind of shit plus the whole exhausting "war of attrition" that reminded me so much of the First World War.

Today, I use the story of HLS as a warning to other harmful corporations such as those involved in fracking, tar sands, and pipelines. I also invoke it against eviction-happy, redevelopment-promoting slumlords, doing my best to turn what the FBI said was their greatest fear about the HLS campaign into reality.

Add new comment