A Terrorist Under Every Bush


"…we must take care not to lump legitimate groups with terrorists. To do so would only minimize the very real threats against our society.”

~ Senator Frank Lautenberg, (Dem. N.J.)

I’m a law-abiding, middle-class mother and grandmother. But I recently discovered that, according to Bush and the FBI, I may be a “terrorist." This came as quite a shock. It’s true that I often speak out against injustice, because I believe a citizen has a responsibility to try and make the world a better place. But I’ve never participated in a physical protest of any kind, unless wearing a T-shirt with a slogan counts. When the “Million Woman March” was going on, I was home, watching Martha Stewart bake a pie.

My protests have always been limited to letter-writing campaigns, but in the era of the Patriot Act, domestic spying, and abuse of government power, I wonder how safe that is, even on a major website. In a recently filed lawsuit, the ACLU has documented the way that, for political reasons, the FBI has expanded the definition of domestic terrorism to include mainstream groups who criticize government policy, i.e., groups such as Greenpeace, PETA, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the ACLU itself.

Still, I’ve decided to come clean and just hope the FBI doesn’t show up on my doorstep.

I confess. I’m a vegan. I don’t eat meat, eggs, dairy products or fish, nor do I purchase animal products of any kind. I don’t own a leather sofa, wool sweater, or use cosmetics tested on animals. And I donate money to animal advocacy groups.

There, I’ve said it!

But respecting the innocent creatures we share the planet with is a peacenik, Gandhi-esque thing. How does that make me a terrorist? Well, it takes just four short steps to get there! Pay close attention You, too, may be a terrorist without knowing it. (Do you support somebody who supports somebody…?)

Step #1. The FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."

Okay, I think I’m safe so far. Admittedly, I’ve tried to convince “segments of the civilian population” (friends and family) to go along with my “political and social objectives” (vegetarianism, libertarianism, etc.), but I’ve never used force or coercion against anyone, unless you count “forcing” my teenager to mow the lawn.

Step #2. The FBI has classified extremist animal-rights and environmental groups among the top “domestic terrorist threats” and says they are making them an “investigative priority.”

Hmmm. This could be a problem. What do they mean by “extremist”? Vegans seem like extremists to many people. Friends think I’m being extreme when I refuse to put “non-dairy” creamer in my coffee because the fine print tells me that it actually does contain dairy. And I do go to “extremes” reading food labels and querying chefs about the ingredients in their dishes. And I feel “extremely” frustrated, when I see eleven billion animals being tortured and slaughtered each year, just to provide humans with trivial gustatory pleasures.

Partly, my concern is just a natural outgrowth of years of association with benevolent people who do a lot of thinking about moral issues. I once lived among Zen Buddhists, who believe that all creatures have value in themselves, and we don’t have a right to use them for our own ends, regardless of how much we like the taste when we slather them with butter and toss them on the barbecue. And my husband is a philosophy professor, so philosophical discussions about morality abound in our household.

I think there are convincing philosophical arguments (even libertarian ones) for animal rights. And I think meat-eaters hold contradictory beliefs. I don’t see any difference between slicing a drumstick off my beloved little dachshund’s hindquarters and eating it, and slicing bacon strips from an innocent pig, just as sensitive and intelligent. But, millions of pet owners who spend billions of dollars annually to feed and promote the well-being of their pets and who would cry bloody-murder if anyone harmed them, find nothing wrong with slaughtering billions of other animals and eating them or making shoes from their skins. Many people recognize this tension in their beliefs, but just don’t want to give up that juicy steak or their latest fashion accessory. I don’t think I’m being “extreme” – just consistent.

But to label animal rights advocates “terrorists” seems bizarre. As Senator Lautenberg has noted, we “must be careful not to proclaim guilt by association. The acts of one individual do not mean that an entire organization can be labeled a terrorist group. Timothy McVeigh was a member of the National Rifle Association. That doesn't make the NRA a terrorist group.” And he adds, “To date, not a single incident of so-called environmental terrorism has killed anyone.” Who’s next, he wants to know, “Right to Life? Sierra Club?”

Step #3. The Bush Administration has repeatedly “put the world on notice that we will hold any person or regime that harbors or supports terrorists as guilty of terrorism as the terrorists themselves.” Now, follow out the logic:

In a May 2005 Senate hearing, the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front were designated “terrorist organizations” by the FBI. Evidence was presented that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the United States have both supported these groups. So, by Bush’s logic, PETA, with over 800,000 members, and the Humane Society, with over 8 million, are as “guilty of terrorism as the terrorists themselves” – though only a tiny minority, a mere handful, ever takes radical action on behalf of animals.

So, how do I, a law-abiding citizen, animal-lover, and involved mom – get branded a terrorist?

That’s Step #4. The same way PETA and the Humane Society do. I’ve donated money and supported PETA and the Humane Society, both terrorist organizations according to the Bush administration’s guilt-by-association logic. And anyone who supports terrorists is as “guilty of terrorism as the terrorists themselves."

If you think this is far-fetched, think again. We’re all terrorists, now!

October 16, 2006