What was that we were saying about violence and intimidation and threats and silencing? What was that Garton Ash was saying?

Here the animal rights campaign has something in common with the extremist reaction to the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, as seen in the attacks on Danish embassies. In both cases, a particular group says: “We feel so strongly about this that we are going to do everything we can to stop it. We recognise no moral limits. The end justifies the means. Continue on this path and you must fear for your life.”…If the intimidators succeed, then the lesson for any group that strongly believes in anything is: shout more loudly, be more extreme, threaten violence, and you will get your way.

I meant to talk about this yesterday along with the rest, but went on a different tack and forgot to return to it. But what a particular group is saying is not just all that, but also ‘We feel so strongly about this that we don’t care that we are a tiny fraction of the population and not in any sense representative of anyone but our impassioned selves, we are going to force our view of What Is Right on everyone, because the fact that we feel strongly about this means that we are right about it, therefore all the rest of you don’t count, you have to do what we say.’ They are, in short, unaccountable. They can’t be negotiated with or talked to or persuaded or outvoted; they can only be submitted to. They give us two choices: submit, or be assaulted and damaged in whatever way we see fit. That won’t do. That is not how human beings want to live, and it won’t do. (It’s probably not how bears or elk want to live, either, but they have no choice in the matter; we do.) It won’t do. It’s unacceptable. It’s all wrong. We all know that. We don’t want violent, threatening, bullying, damage-inflicting people telling us what to do; we want the rule of law, and the right of appeal, and the absence of random violence, instead. Therefore – the intimidators must not succeed. The more they torch buildings and kill people, the less they should succeed. And if they do succeed, if targets of intimidation do decide that they are not willing to risk the danger for themselves or the people who work for them, then that decision has to be called what it is, so that everyone will hate it and wish it hadn’t happened and resist its ever happening again, rather than being called respect or sensitivity, so that people will like it and be glad it happened and hope it goes on happening.

The conviction of the six Shac members is therefore a good thing. Here’s why.

During the three-week trial, defense lawyers acknowledged that a Web site run by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty posted home addresses and other personal information about animal researchers and others. But the activists said they were simply trying to shame their targets into dissociating themselves from the company, Huntingdon Life Sciences, and they disavowed any involvement with the vandalism, death threats, computer hacking and pipe bombs against those on the Web site. Although federal prosecutors presented no evidence that the defendants directly participated in the vandalism and violence, they showed jurors that members of the group made speeches and Web postings from 2000 to 2004 that celebrated the violence and repeatedly used the word “we” to claim credit for it.

Posting home addresses is not a way to shame people, it’s a way to threaten them and put them at risk. It’s a way to try to force them to submit, by a tiny group that no one elected or appointed or has any way to call to account. It won’t do.

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