In the US SLAPPs are used in controversies over development and zoning issues (25%), environmental protection and animal rights (20%), when public officials are criticised (20%), as well as various neighbourhood problems, human and civil rights cases and consumer protection issues.
The targets of these law suits are generally not radical environmentalists nor professional activists. They are ordinary middle-class Americans who are concerned about their local environment and have no history of political activity.
|Voluntary Organisation Member||3||2|
|Economic Role (eg Owner)||8||20|
|Public Interest Group||14||2|
The concentration on middle class citizens is no accident. They often have most to lose and don’t have the support and ideological commitment that a professional environmentalist in a large environmental organisation usually has. However Al Meyerhoff, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council claimed in 1992 that “What started as a tactic against small targets is now expanding to national groups....It is part and parcel of an overall counterattack by the polluter industry against the environmental community.”
Law suits are clearly aimed at intimidating middle-class citizens who have assets and mortgages that could be seized and are less threatening to young activists without assets who have little to lose. Kelpie Wilson, who was one of six activists SLAPPed in Oregon by a logging company, Huffman & Wright Logging, argued that:
Non-violent civil disobedience, historically a political tool of great importance to this country, is no longer a viable option for many activists....in future activists will probably have to divide into two camps. Those who do direct action will have to stay lean, mean and low on the food chain. They can’t keep suing us when they don’t get anything out of it.
Wilson and her colleagues had chained themselves to a yarder and hung a banner from it saying “From Heritage to Sawdust, Earth First!” They were arrested for interfering with the property of another and sent to jail. They thought it was all over when they got out of jail but then they were SLAPPED and Huffman & Wright won an award of $25000 in punitive damages and $5717 in actual damages. Wilson observed:
It seems so unfair that they can sue us for our little actions that barely even slow them down, but we can’t sue them for destroying our ecosystems, stealing our trees, bribing politicians, calling us ‘eco-terrorists’, beating us up, creating an atmosphere of hate and violence and otherwise being selfish, ignorant jerks.
The introduction of ‘food disparagement’ laws in the 1990s in several states opened up new avenues for SLAPPs to operate. These laws, which prohibit people from publicly criticising corporate food products, were promoted by agriculture, chemical and biotechnology industry lobbyists.