Government lawyers insist there is no problem with calling such activity "terrorism" -- because they promise they "will not refer to the defendants as terrorists at trial or in any other context." Then why does the AETA punish freeing animals as "terrorism" at all? Indeed, regardless of whether prosecutors utter the term, if found guilty Johnson and Lang will be convicted "terrorists."
The government says it is appropriate to criminalize such activity under a "terrorism" law because other acts committed against animal enterprises could properly be defined as terrorism, such as arson or bombings. This is like calling every assault "murder," because murder is a particularly brutal form of assault. Moreover, as lawmakers themselves noted when enacting the AETA, "It is a relatively simple matter to prosecute [arsons and bombings] using existing federal statutes." But, lawmakers continued, "it is often difficult... to address a campaign of low-level...criminal activity...in federal court."
But why must low-level criminal activity by animal rights activists be prosecuted in federal court? Indeed, Johnson and Lang already pleaded guilty to state-level "possession of burglary tools" charges and served several months in state prison.