TRENTON, N.J.—Kevin Kjonaas is an unlikely casualty of George W. Bush's war against terror.

No one, including the U.S. government attorneys who just finished prosecuting him for so-called animal enterprise terrorism, says that the 28-year-old Minnesota native killed anyone — or even hurt anyone.

He's never planted a bomb or sent anthrax through the mail.

The government doesn't claim Kjonaas damaged property — or knowingly provided material assistance to anyone who did.

"I've been an ass," Kjonaas acknowledged days before a Trenton jury found him guilty of inciting terrorism. "Some of the things I've done have been just rude, and I wouldn't do them again. But am I legally responsible (for the crimes the government accused him of)? No."

However, earlier this month, Kjonaas and five others ranging in age from 27 to 31 became the first people convicted under a 1992 U.S. law — significantly beefed up after 9/11 — that defines as terrorists those who damage firms involved in the animal business.

Along with another case in Oregon, this one involving radical environmentalists, the New Jersey trial marks a significant step forward in the Bush administration's decision to bring the war on terror home for use against those it views as its new domestic enemies.

"This is just the starting gun," says David Martosko, research director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, an organization funded by the U.S. restaurant industry and a fierce opponent of animal rights.

He says the government should move against more mainstream organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or the Humane Society of the United States, which he calls "the farm teams for the eco-terror problem."

Curiously, for a case with such serious implications, none of those convicted in Trenton is alleged to have carried out any of the substantive crimes laid out in the indictment — from property damage to intimidation.

Prosecutors didn't provide evidence they knew the perpetrators or had ever communicated directly with them. Rather, the six were convicted of running an Internet site that allowed others access to information that could be used in crimes.

They call themselves the SHAC Six, after the acronym of their animal rights group — Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty.

They could be called the Internet Six.

Animals arouse strong and contradictory passions. We fuss over pet dogs and weep when, as happened in Toronto recently, a police horse is hit by a car.

Yet we support laws that legalize, and in some cases require, the killing of animals.

In both the U.S. and Canada, federal laws demand that virtually all new pharmaceuticals be tested on animals.

The active ingredients of household products, such as cleansers or cosmetics, are also routinely tested on animals, although in Canada at least there are no statutory requirements.

Usually, the animals are killed afterwards so that autopsies can be performed.

It's a big business. George Goodno, spokesman for the Washington-based Foundation for Medical Research — an organization set up to promote the virtues of animal testing — estimates the U.S. industry alone is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. "One (genetically modified) mouse can cost $10,000," he says.

And that's just on the testing side. The animal business also includes farmers, slaughterhouses, restaurants, furriers and ranchers.

All of which helps to explain the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, an otherwise inexplicable U.S. law that singles out property crimes against businesses that use animals and treats them more seriously than similar offences against other organizations.

Passed in 1992, the law was initially viewed as one of those quirky American statutes that make for good politics but difficult jurisprudence.

But then two things happened.

First, radical animal rights protestors changed their tactics. No longer content to liberate animals held in labs and mink farms, they mounted sophisticated public campaigns against firms involved in animal testing.

To the alarm of the animal industry, some of these campaigns were successful.

The second was 9/11. After September 2001, anything labelled terrorism was anathema in America.

In mid-2002, under industry pressure, Congress quietly strengthened the animal enterprise protection act. Without formally changing its name, legislators also began to refer to it routinely as the "animal enterprise terrorism act."

In 2004, a senior FBI official told a congressional subcommittee that animal rights and environmental militants had become "the most active criminal extremist elements in the United States."


Like much of the militant animal rights movement, SHAC started in England. Founded in 1999, it was aimed at Britain's biggest animal research firm, Huntingdon Life Sciences.

A video aired on television that showed some Huntingdon employees deliberately abusing test animals gave the campaign particular piquancy. By 2001, protestors had driven the firm almost to bankruptcy.

Not all of the militants' tactics were peaceful. In one celebrated instance, two men beat Huntingdon's managing director with baseball bats.

While SHAC denounced the attack, this beating — as well as instances of threats, vandalism and firebombing — added a disturbing aura of thuggery to its protest.

Far more damaging to Huntingdon, however, were SHAC's successful attempts to persuade other companies not to do business with the firm. Tactics ranged from boycott threats to protests staged outside the homes of employees.

By 2001, after losing its major bank lender, its broker and many of its customers, Huntingdon fled across the Atlantic.

SHAC followed too.

Kjonaas, already an animal activist, had come across the SHAC campaign while visiting England. On returning home, he and a few others set up SHAC-USA Inc. which, like its English parent, was remarkably successful in convincing firms and financiers not to do business with Huntingdon.

The protestors' biggest coup occurred last year when, at the last minute and without explanation, the New York Stock Exchange refused to list Huntingdon on its big board.

"It's become almost impossible to trade our shares," Mike Caulfield, general manager of Huntingdon's U.S. operations told the Star.

At the Trenton trial, witnesses testified that SHAC-USA neither organized nor controlled the anti-Huntingdon demonstrations. Rather it acted as an information clearing house.

Details of anti-Huntingdon protests were usually e-mailed to SHAC-USA which would put them on its website. Similarly, home addresses for corporate officers and other employees of target companies would be posted. Gleaned from public sources such as annual reports and phone books, they would include a disclaimer saying SHAC-USA advocated only legal protest.

Still, there were problems.

A legal home protest might involve a vanload of demonstrators arriving outside an employee's residence to scream insults and pass out leaflets accusing the target of killing puppies.

In some cases, the strategy involved targeting people with only the most roundabout relationship to animal testing.

Amy Hessler, a patent agent for a company that did business with Huntingdon, testified that until her home was picketed she had never heard of the firm.

"I was scared for my life," she said. At times, demonstrators would pound on her door and shout obscenities or phone her anonymously to ask why she abused animals.

And that was the second big problem for SHAC. Regardless of its website disclaimer, some people — never identified — did engage in acts that were clearly illegal. Most notable was the bombing in 2003 of a California drug firm that did business with Huntingdon. While it caused no injuries, there was considerable property damage.

To the Trenton jury, other examples raised in court may have been even more disturbing.

Insurance executive Sally Dillenback testified she received an anonymous email asking how she'd feel if her 7-year-old son were treated like a Huntington lab animal and had his stomach slit open to be filled with poison.

Eventually, Dillenback's company, Marsh USA, dropped Huntingdon as a client.

In person, Kevin Kjonaas seems quite unlike the fire-breathing radical described by prosecutors. Slight and soft-spoken, he remains unfailingly polite as a reporter quizzes him, over dinner, on the animal movement's tactics and his role in them.

"I still think residential picketing is a good idea," he says. "It's been done for ages. Look at Cindy Sheehan (the U.S. peace activist who held a vigil outside of Bush's ranch). But not all of it is appropriate right now and not all of it is savoury."

Recalling Dillenback's testimony, he sighs.

"If I had to do it over again, I'd censor more of those Web postings and be less aggressive and confrontational, so that no one could perceive us as a threat, only as an embarrassment.

"We want to put pressure on those people (involved in animal testing) but we don't want them to think their children are going to be abducted. That's ridiculous... The tone and tenor need to change, not just from a PR perspective but because we represent a noble cause...

"The American public supports violence at times," he goes on, picking at his vegetarian curry. "But the animal rights movement is not at the stage now where violence or the rhetoric of violence is appropriate... It's not even close."


Perhaps what is most puzzling about both this case and another getting underway in Oregon is the sheer amount of government energy expended.

True, animal and environmental radicals have claimed responsibility for actions that destroyed property worth tens of thousands of dollars.

The Foundation for Biomedical Research calculates illegal acts by animal and environmental extremists have increased 1,000 per cent over the past decade. But even so, the absolute numbers (82 incidents in 2005) remain miniscule.

FBI spokeswoman Cathy Milhoan says there have never been any deaths or injuries in the U.S. attributable to animal rights or environmental terrorism.

By comparison, radical right-wingers killed 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Since then, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center report, police have uncovered 60 more right-wing plots, including plans to assassinate judges, bomb synagogues and destroy mosques.

In 2000, the head of Pittsburgh's tiny Free Market Party killed five and critically wounded a sixth. Three years later, a neo-Nazi videotaped himself firebombing a synagogue.

Yet in spite of this, as the Alabama-based law centre points out, the U.S. government has decided the radical right presents little or no threat.

And the FBI says illegal activities of the extreme right have been eclipsed by the "special interest terrorism" of the animal rights and environmental movements.

Meanwhile, Kjonaas and his fellow defendants await sentencing. The SHAC-USA websites have been shut down. A proposed law would make it easier for the FBI to electronically eavesdrop on animal and environmental groups, and more difficult for groups to mount campaigns against companies.

It's not clear what difference any of this makes.

Another organization, Win Animal Rights has taken over the anti-Huntingdon protests. "The train has left the station," says Pamelyn Ferdin, a Los Angeles animal rights activist recruited to formally run SHAC after Kjonaas was indicted.

"When activists see above ground people getting put in jail, they're just going to get mad."