My Brother the "Terrorist"

by CAROLINE PAUL

My brother is considered one of the biggest domestic terrorists in the country. You probably haven’t heard of him, and I think that’s odd. After all, he’s dangerous. He’s trying to overthrow our country. He "doesn’t like our freedoms," or so President Bush has said of terrorists in general, so I suppose that applies to my brother too.

Let me tell you a little bit about him. He likes the History Channel. He’s a Trekkie. He cried (in secret) at the corny 1980s movie "Turtle Diary." He’s good at fixing things. And, most important, he has devoted his life to stopping animals’ suffering. To this end, he has broken the law. He crept into animal laboratories to free dogs. He dismantled corrals to release wild mustangs. He impersonated a fur buyer to film the treatment of minks. He put himself between whales and whalers despite warnings that his boat would be impounded and that he would be jailed. And nearly 10 years ago, he burned down a horse slaughterhouse in Redmond, Ore. It is for this final act that the U.S. government considers him among the ranks of Osama bin Laden, Eric Rudolph and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.

"This is a classic case of terrorism," the federal prosecutor said earnestly to the judge during a hearing last week in my brother’s case.

My brother, Jonathan Paul, has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., to burning the Cavel West Slaughterhouse. He will find out on June 5 whether the judge considers his actions deserving of the "terrorism enhancement" to his sentence sought by the government. (Nine other members of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, who pleaded guilty to different charges, are being sentenced as well. The first, sentenced Wednesday, was deemed a terrorist.) If a terrorism enhancement is imposed, my brother’s recommended sentence could go from less than three years to more than 14 years.

Don’t let me give you the impression that I think arson is something to be taken lightly. I do not. The irony is rich in this case: I was a San Francisco firefighter for 13 years. I was angry and dismayed that my brother chose arson as a route to stop animal suffering. But "a classic case of terrorism"?

Federal laws define terrorism as one of a laundry list of offenses committed for the purpose of coercing the government to change its policies. It is a broad definition, designed to give judges wiggle room and adopted at a time when terrorism was a new concept. Congressional hearings in 1995 and 2001 make the original intent of the laws clearer. When House members and senators described acts of terrorism, every example (Pan Am Flight 103, Oklahoma City, the first World Trade Center bombing, the Tokyo subway attack) involved the killing of, or the intent to kill, human beings.

But recently the government has moved away from the idea of terrorist-as-murderer. The case involving my brother represents the first time that terrorism enhancements have been sought when all the evidence shows that the defendants took affirmative steps to make sure no one would be endangered.

Clearly the government is trying to expand–or more accurately, dilute–the definition of a terrorist to encompass those who engage in property damage. Egregious property damage, yes, but still just property damage.

Past terrorism cases also have involved targets with government links. But the Cavel West Slaughterhouse was a private Belgian corporation; its horsemeat went to Europe and Japan. The prosecutor has argued that some of the horses were wild mustangs, sold by the federal Bureau of Land Management, and that therefore there was a clear intent to disrupt government policy.

There’s a legal term for this. It’s called "overreaching."

How much safer do we feel now that ELF/ALF members, who have never hurt or intended to hurt a single human being, might be confined to a maximum-security prison? Could it really be true that the most powerful country in the world feels "coerced" by a bunch of bunny huggers? Is the confident "I am the decider" leader of this nation being bullied by vegans? Or is it possible that the government just wants to crow about convicting another "terrorist" while the main one is still at large?

A lot has been written about the radicalization that led to Bin Laden’s hatred of the U.S. Let me tell you a bit about the conversion of one member of the group that the FBI now considers the "No. 1 domestic terrorist threat." When my brother was 15, he shot a bird out of a tree with a .22-caliber rifle. It fell to the ground, wings spread, gasping for air. He killed it with a rock. Then he vowed he would never knowingly harm an animal again.

My brother had hunted before. (Less perhaps then Ted Nugent but more than, say, Mitt Romney.) And yet on that day, he had a revelation. He can’t explain it. A religious person might say it was the tiny cruciform bird on the ground. A psychotherapist might surmise that something had been percolating for a while, only to burst to the surface. Who knows? What I do know is that since that day in 1981, my brother has been resolute in the rescue and protection of animals.

Anyone who lives in Redmond will tell you how terrible the Cavel West Slaughterhouse was. The horses screamed all day. Their blood clogged the sewage system. The stench was unbearable. The killings, by many accounts, were slow and agonizing. My brother’s sentiments were far from radical, and they had nothing to do with the government. His intention was simple: save the horses.

This does not mean arson was the right thing to do. If you call my brother a lawbreaker, I won’t argue. But labeling him a terrorist dilutes the meaning of terrorism. And you demean all the Americans, and all those around the world, who have died in real terrorist acts.

CAROLINE PAUL is a writer who lives in San Francisco.

 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 03, 2015
Sal Rodriguez
How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms
Lawrence Ware
Leave Michael Vick Alone: the Racism and Misogyny of Football Fans
Dave Lindorff
Is Obama the Worst President Ever?
Vijay Prashad
The Return of Social Democracy?
Ellen Brown
Quantitative Easing for People: Jeremy Corbyn’s Radical Proposal
Paul Craig Roberts
The Rise of the Inhumanes: Barron, Bybee, Yoo and Bradford
Binoy Kampmark
Inside Emailgate: Hillary’s Latest Problem
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine
Norman Pollack
American Jews and the Iran Accord: The Politics of Fear
John Grant
Sorting Through the Bullshit in America
David Macaray
The Unbearable Lightness of Treaties
Chad Nelson
Lessig Uses a Scalpel Where a Machete is Needed
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy