After refusing to testify before a grand jury in Davenport, Iowa, University of Minnesota graduate student Scott DeMuth is facing conspiracy charges under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) for an incident that occurred in 2004. DeMuth, 22, was in high school at the time that animals were freed from a lab in Des Moines, and says that he did he not participate in the action. “Maybe I bumped into someone on the street,” DeMuth said in an interview. “I don’t really want to know who was involved with this.”
The AETA was passed in 2006, after being amended from a previous law, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA). AETA increased monetary and criminal penalties for animal enterprise crimes. AETA amended the AEPA to cover a broader range of actions, including frightening people involved in an animal enterprise. The AETA also includes “conspiracies and attempts.”
The passage of AETA is part of the “Green Scare,” according to Will Potter, author of the Green is the New Red blog. He quotes John Lewis, a top FBI official, as saying, “The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement.” Potter’s blog offers an extended analysis of AETA.
The indictment against DeMuth states that between November 9 and 20 (or later), DeMuth “did knowingly and intentionally conspire with persons unknown to the Grand Jury to commit animal enterprise terrorism and cause damage to the animal enterprise in an amount exceeding $10,000.” Under AETA, the prosecution needs to prove that DeMuth was a conspirator in the crime, not necessarily that he participated in the action.
Presented as evidence were a lock pick and a journal that were confiscated during the Republican National Convention in 2008, DeMuth said. He was staying in the Food Not Bombs house when it was raided a year ago just before the RNC. Several of his books were taken during that raid, including works by Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. As for the lock pick, DeMuth said it was taken from a common room of the house, and did not belong to him.
A few details from the prosecution’s attempt to prevent DeMuth’s release give an indication of where the case against him is leading. In the prosecution’s “Motion for Revocation of Release Order,” the prosecution states that the “Defendant’s writings, literature, and conduct suggest that he is an anarchist and associated with the ALF movement.”
In the hearing, the prosecution presented several passages from DeMuth’s journal, in which he “discusses activities of other persons who he identified only with a single initial,” according to the judge’s order. One individual in the journal was identified as “P”, which the prosecution said was short for Peter Young, an animal rights activist who in 1998 freed minks from mink farms. After being arrested, Young fled authorities and was on the road for over seven years before finally getting caught. Young only served two years, because at the time he freed the minks, it was still only a misdemeanor.
DeMuth said he’s never met Peter Young. Young, too, said he doesn’t know DeMuth. In a telephone interview, Young said he heard about his name being brought up in the DeMuth hearing while he was out with friends. He said he got a phone call from a friend telling him he better go home and check his email. “I don’t know what leap of logic they were using to think it was me,” Young said. “I’ve never met Scott.”
Young, who has written about the case on his blog said DeMuth’s case is part of “an ongoing assault on the animal rights movement and an attempt to demonize people who do selfless acts trying to save animals”. Young said he felt it was “extremely improbable” that DeMuth was involved in the University of Iowa incident, as he was only 17 at the time. “That action seemed to be very well planned and executed.” He suspects that, given that the indictment against DeMuth came several days after the statute of limitations for the 2004 action had expired, the indictment was really only an attempt to freeze the statute of limitations. “They’re buying more time with flimsy evidence,” Young said.
DeMuth said he suspects that the charges against him are partially retaliation for not testifying before the grand jury. DeMuth was subpoenaed to the Davenport Grand Jury on November 17. After the court would not allow DeMuth to use his academic and professional confidentiality agreements as a valid reason not to testify, DeMuth refused to testify.
“If I had taken immunity, I wouldn’t have been charged,” DeMuth said. “If they originally thought I was part of this crime, they would have just charged me … They didn’t [have evidence] and thought I had information about someone else.”
David Peller, DeMuth’s adviser at the University of Minnesota, writes in this blog post that DeMuth is being targeted because he has researched and/or interviewed numerous activists in Native American struggles and environmental and animal liberation movements. Peller has been actively promoting a petition to drop the charges against DeMuth, which he believes are punitive.
Meanwhile, DeMuth’s former girlfriend, Carrie Feldman, is still being held in jail in Davenport, for refusing to testify before the grand jury.
The prosecution declined to be interviewed for this article, given the case is still pending.