By: Leana Stormont
It was about this time last year when I learned that the FBI was stealing my garbage. It's not every day you walk out your front door to find a man wearing a suit and sunglasses in an unmarked grey sedan offering your trash a private escort to an undisclosed location.
I was in my third year of law school and actively involved in animal rights. I opposed the experiments on animals carried out in my university's laboratories and was actively working with student groups on campus to draw attention to the suffering endured by the thousands of animals who are dying behind locked laboratory doors all over this country every single day. Apparently I was loud enough to become a blip on the FBI's radar screen.
By challenging cruel and wasteful research, bought and paid for by American taxpayers, I became a strange sort of celebrity. I attracted a curious breed of paparazzi at on-campus lectures and educational events. Men with video equipment recorded every dull move I made and photographed me while I was engaged in such mundane behaviors as attending a lecture or introducing a guest speaker.
Since I was a law student, I was confident that even in post-9/11 America, where we have begun to trade freedom for security, effectively leaving us with neither, it was not against the law to voice one's opinion. Not yet anyway.
Recent revelations about the FBI's spying on vegans and peace activists, among others, should disturb anyone who values the civil liberties on which this country was founded. Documents released in December show that the FBI is aware that my employer, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is not a terrorist organization, but agents continued to harass and question employees anyway. The fact that these activities are being conducted in the name of national security should offend every American who watched in horror as terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
My mother's former office in the Pentagon was destroyed on 9/11 while she was at a doctor's appointment. I think I have a pretty good idea of what terrorism looks like.
Frankly, the notion that animal rights activists are "terrorists" would be laughable if the magnitude and ubiquity of animal suffering today were not so heartbreaking. More than a million farmed animals are killed in the United States every hour. Their lives are marked by misery and unrelenting confinement and they are slaughtered in unspeakably profane ways. Millions more are killed in hideous experiments, hunted, trapped and slaughtered for their fur.
It is perverse that by openly sharing my ethic of compassion, I could be considered a suspect of terrorism. My work with animal rights and other social justice movements aims to save life, not to destroy it indiscriminately, which is what real terrorists do..
I only can assume that the FBI now knows my dirty, and for that matter, smelly secret. My garbage undoubtedly provided law enforcement with prima facie evidence that I consume my fair share of vegan food and that I have several cats. As a practicing attorney, I can say with absolute confidence that those activities are not prohibited by law.
Do you feel safer knowing that federal law enforcement resources were spent sorting through my discarded soy-milk containers and cat litter? I know I don't.
Leana Stormont, Esq., serves as legal counsel in Research & Investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA.org.. She graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law with Distinction and received the Willard L. Boyd Public Service Award with Highest Honors.
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