By  on February 2, 1994

NEW YORK -- The National Board of Fur Farm Organizations, which represents American mink and fox farmers, says a new ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court will allow businesses to press charges against animal rights organizations guilty of violent protests.

The High Court's 9-0 decision last week in National Organization for Women v. Scheider -- which involved actions against abortion clinics -- opens the door for groups to seek restitution for damages done by animal rights activists under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, according to Robert Buckler, the National Board's executive director.

"This gives retailers or researchers another avenue for recourse under federal law against animal rights activists," said Tim Sullivan, government affairs council for the National Board.

The court's ruling means the federal government can use RICO to prosecute those who attempt to shut down a legal enterprise through bombings, arson, break-ins and threats, according to Buckler.

The interpretation comes in the wake of several attacks against fur farms, retailers and research facilities, including the firebombings last November of four Chicago retailers. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) claimed responsibility for those incidents.

"Animal rights activists, with the rare exception of a group like ALF, are peaceful, nonviolent organizations," asserted Todd Davis, who is the general council for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"We don't think that RICO can or will be used against peaceful First Amendment activists," he said.

Asked about last week's raid by PETA members at Calvin Klein's headquarters here, a protest against the designer's use of fur, Davis said that was "essentially a sit-in."

"Sit-ins have a hallowed tradition in this country," he commented, adding, "It's not the kind of thing that RICO is directed at."

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