It comes as little surprise that the very same government that stretched and distorted the threat posed by a distant sovereign nation in order to justify the harshest of actions against it would similarly stretch and distort the definition of [domestic] terrorism in order to justify the harshest of sanctions against certain criminal defendants. Consider the case of Jonathan Paul, as described by his sister in the following op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times:
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”? [full text]