Believe it or not, in November 2006 Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and it was signed into law by President Bush. The text of the Act is available in full here. You can read a press release about this as well as find links to review the testimony heard by the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works here. You can also read an in-depth article analyzing the legislation, written by a freelance journalist who testified before Congress on the issue, here.
Apparently the legislation is an update to the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, updated in 2002. CNN reports: "'The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement,' said John Lewis, an FBI deputy assistant director and top official in charge of domestic terrorism." Yes, it's not the anti-abortion activists or the extreme right-wing militia groups or the homophobic hate groups, or any other groups that commit violence in the name of their "cause," it's the "eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement."
There are no doubt some extreme animal rights and environmental groups who engage in illegal activities, and no doubt there are instances of breaking into labs, destroying equipment, stealing animals, etc. Those actions are of course illegal, and have been illegal, even before the 1992 Act specific to animal enterprises. When the government labels environmentalists or animal rights activists as "terrorists," or while under investigation, "potential terrorists" then the Patriot Act kicks in. Thanks to the Patriot Act, the government can do almost anything in the name of "fighting terrorism," in some cases without warrants or court oversight. Fear of terrorism after 9/11 resulted in a Patriot Act which gives broad power to government, undermines civil liberties, and takes a giant step backward legally in all kinds of ways.
So, by branding animal activists and environmentalists as "terrorists," arguably government has vastly expanded its tools to investigate and conduct surveillance on groups and people associated with them.
While I certainly do not and will not condone violence or illegal activities by environmentalist, animal rights activists, or anyone else, all groups who promote change take unpopular positions, most conduct demonstrations, many conduct undercover or whistleblower type activities, and generally speaking, all seek to expose and change practices they disagree with. If there was a Domestic Anti-Terrorism Act that dealt with all extremist groups even-handedly, you can bet there would be a lively public debate about it, a lot of media coverage, and some strong opposition. But how much did you hear about the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act before it was passed?
If you review the testimony considered by Congress, it appears that the main proponents of this legislation are animal testing companies and labs, those who support factory farming, and generally those who are targeted by animal rights groups because they are abusing animals. They don't want to be interfered with, or to have their profits interfered with. Past legislation did not deter illegal activity so they want more legislation. Naturally the underlying issue of the treatment of animals is not addressed, just how to handle the extremists who try, inappropriately, to address the problem through illegal means. Unfortunately, the bill is not specific to violence, it's much broader.
Want to know if your Representative voted for the Act? Too bad. There was a voice vote in the House so you'll never know who voted how. You can be assured your Senator voted for it though, as it was unanimous.