Niagara University’s Spring 2020 Social Justice Speaker Series began with a conversation with Jake Conroy on Feb. 20 in the Multipurpose Room in Gallagher Center. Conroy explained his decisions to fight on behalf of animals as a member of the SHAC 7 (Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty) in spite of the anticipated costs to his personal freedom and well-being.

One of the focal points of Joaquin Phoenix’s new documentary, “The Animal People,” Conroy and his co-defendants were convicted in 2006 under spurious charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism — though none of them were found to have participated directly in any illegal acts. These were activists, the news outlet The Intercept reports, “who attended raucous but legal protests, shared publicly available information about corporations on their website, and celebrated and supported militant actions taken in the name of the SHAC campaign. That is, they were convicted as terrorists for speech activity.”

Each member of the SHAC 7 served their sentence and has been out of prison for years; the campaign to close Huntingdon Life Science is no longer active. But “revisiting their case now,” according to The Intercept, “is a worthwhile exercise for understanding the extent to which the supposed rule of law can be bent in the interests of corporate power and its attendant servants in politics,” and reporter Natasha Lennard argues that “The SHAC 7 case is a lesson in how legal instruments can be deployed to shut down dissent. At a time of renewed criminalization of protest activity nationwide, the so-called green scare stands as a worrying benchmark for the repression of political speech and the re-coding of protesters as criminals and terrorists.”