“What’s in a name?”: The construction of eco-terrorism and legal repercussions of the AEPA/AETA

This post continues our series sharing pre-publication versions of chapter introductions in our upcoming book titled “Prosecuting Political Violence: Collaborative Research and Method”

Chapter 8

“What’s in a name?”: The construction of eco-terrorism and legal repercussions of the AEPA/AETA
by Athena Chapekis and Sarah Moore

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines domestic terrorism as“the unlawful use, or threatened use, of violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States […] without foreign direction, committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” This definition is intuitively accurate as the acts of terrorism that are frequently shown in the media seem to involve violent explosions or mass killing sprees, in which perpetrators seek revolutionary governmental and societal change. The Prosecution Project (tPP), on the other hand, offers the unique opportunity to analyze individuals charged with crimes that meet at least one of three inclusion criteria, which may not meet the stereotypical conceptualization of terrorism. First, the individual’s crime is in furtherance of socio-political change, which can include nonviolent tactics. Second, the individual supported a terroristic and/or extremist group, which can include solely financial contributions. Lastly, the defendant was described as terroristic through a “state speech act,” such as being investigated through the Joint Terrorism Task Force, even if the resulting charges are seemingly non-terroristic (e.g., felon in possession of a weapon). Thus, the database as a whole allows for researchers to compare and contrast instances of terrorism, extremism, and socio- political violence across ideologies, tactics, and demographics.

While the other chapters in this book focus on analyzing these variables within the context of the dataset, Chapekis and Moore look to demonstrate the utility of this dataset within policy and legislative discussions. Specifically, they make use of the uniqueness of tPP’s data in order to test claims regarding acts of violence on behalf of certain extremist groups and to investigate whether specialty legislation is justified in such instances.The authors examine the implementation and execution of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA) of 1992 and its successor, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) of 2006 as a case study. The stated reason behind the enactment of this legislation was to protect the United States from the most prominent domestic terrorist threat. The authors will use tPP data to test whether these claims of violence and the prominence of such a threat are accurate, as well as whether alternative hypotheses, such as the presence of corporate interests, were evidenced in the prosecution of individuals charged under the AEPA/AETA.

The analysis by Chapekis and Moore in this chapter serves to demonstrate how tPP data can be used to analyze the effectiveness of certain pieces of legislation and even as a tool to suggest policy changes. Just as START’s Global Terrorism Database provides empirical data on which many terrorism researchers base their studies, tPP can offer data that is amenable to analysis regarding the intersection of national security and legal concerns. In conducting this study, Chapekis and Moore hope to show undergraduate researchers not only that they have the tools and abilities to write effective research papers but also that their analyses can have real-world implications in debating meaningful reforms.

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