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Animal rights activists speak out about eco-terrorism

Will Potter

Will Potter -

Will Potter, author of "Green is the New Red", describes the way that governments treat environmental and animal rights activists.

Photo by Camille Sasson

Two prominent animal rights activists spoke to students and members of the public in Smith Hall on Friday afternoon about their personal experiences being targeted by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies for being “domestic terrorists.”

Will Potter and Jake Conroy each gave an account of their personal experiences. Potter, an independent journalist who has written for The Chicago Tribune and The Dallas Morning News, among others, talked about his research after being told by the FBI that he was on their terrorist watch list. Conroy talked about his time in prison for organizing protests against Huntingdon Life Sciences, a company that performs biomedical testing on animals. His research into how nonviolent protesters are being labeled as terrorists would eventually form his book “Green is the New Red,” which he was promoting and selling at the talk. 

Potter claimed that the purpose of using national security laws to suppress animal rights activists is not because they pose any real harm to society but rather because they threaten corporate interests.

“We are not talking about breaking windows anymore,” Potter said. “For these movements, the biggest threat that [these activists] are posing is that they are completely reshaping our culture, about how people think about animals, how people see animals, how they see the natural world, and how they see surveillance.”

Trevor Griffey, the principal organizer of the talk and a U.S. history lecturer at UW Bothell, said anti-terrorism procedures could also be used against Americans who disagree with our government but are nonviolent.

“Will Potter’s research is important because it highlights the ways in which the ‘War on Terror’ is used to not just fight terrorism,”  Griffey said. “[It can also be used to] criminalize any social movement in the United States that uses nonviolent direct action tactics — especially movements that use these tactics to challenge corporate power.”

Conroy spoke next, chronologically going through his time working against Huntingdon Life Sciences, the subsequent police investigation, and his four-year stint in prison. 

He especially highlighted his experiences with law enforcement during his indictment.

“The doors swing open and sure enough, 30 people come in, all in whole body armor, all wearing ski masks and guns drawn,” Conroy said. “There were cops, the FBI, ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), Homeland Security — and they were going to raid the house.”

Throughout, both speakers kept the mood light by telling jokes, which elicited chuckles from the audience. Conroy talked about filling his trash bags with “extra cat litter and pepper spray” when he discovered that private investigators were going through his garbage.

However, both speakers wrapped up with a serious call to action.

“My message to you all is that no matter what involvement you have, whether you’re a student or a professor or a protester, there’s a space for everyone to be involved in this,” Potter said.

Conroy urged audience members to persist through hard times.

“If I can do this, then any of you can,” Conroy said. “What I am talking about is that we be creative, we be fearless in our actions.”

Some audience members felt that the talk was powerful.

“We’re closer to a possibility like imprisonment than we think we are,” senior Rae Leigh said.

Others took away different things.

“People object to being confronted with terrible things, and [what the authorities] don’t realize is that instead of shutting the people up [with these tactics], they are spurring them on,” said Franziska Edwards, an elementary school teacher. “The beginning of change is to make it known to everybody.”

Reach contributing writer Steve Xu at development@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @steveeeexu94

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