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In 2004, several separate FBI investigations into the animal rights and environmental movements were combined into Major Case #220, also called Operation Backfire. Shortly after, the FBI’s top official in charge of domestic terrorism announced that “The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement.”
As a result, members of these movements face heightened levels of law enforcement surveillance, infiltration and harassment. Activists, their families and friends are contacted at their homes and workplaces, and are often intimidated and pressured by both local police and FBI agents to share information. Laws such as the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA) and the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) impose more serious sanctions for certain crimes if committed by animal rights activists. In some cases, the laws criminalize traditionally protected First Amendment activities.
Prosecutors often request “terrorism enhancements” to extend prison sentences in cases involving animal rights and environmental activists. In addition to longer prison terms, those sentenced under terrorism laws or enhancements face harsher treatment in prison, including possible placement in highly restrictive Communication Management Units.