In 2013, a pair of animal rights activists went on a journey to free over 5,700 minks being raised for the purpose of making fur coats for well-heeled women. Over a six-month period, the couple went on to vandalize homes and buildings belonging to those they knew to be connected to the fur industry. Breeding records were destroyed as well as furs. Property loss estimates are in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane are presently charged with violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Such a violation carries a ten-year prison term and a fine of $250,000.

Meanwhile, criminal activity on Wall Street is costing We The People approximately $320 billion a year, according to Forbes contributing writer Steve Denning. His source for this figure?  The International Monetary Fund (IMF). When a magazine like Forbes starts publishing this information, citing the IMF, you know it’s not “liberal socialist rantings” about “class warfare.” It’s cold, hard facts.

While this author shares Buddenberg and Kissane’s concern for animals, we at the Ring of Fire do not condone vandalism. There are more effective and legal ways of bringing attention to these issues. That said – do these two really deserve to be labeled as “terrorists”? And how does the loss of a few hundred thousand dollars in property damage compare to the hundreds of billions – even trillions – of dollars that working, middle-class people have lost to Wall Street’s rampant greed and corruption? How about the hundreds of billions that are virtually stolen from the U.S. treasury by corporations and financial institutions every year through tax-dodging schemes? How many of these banking institutions have been used to launder drug money with full knowledge of those working there?

Moreover, why does federal law enforcement refuse to prosecute these crimes as vigorously as they’re going after a pair of small-time vandals whose misguided deeds were motivated by conscience?  Yes, periodically these institutions pay out fines amounting to billions of dollars. Compared to the staggering amounts they have stolen from the American people, however, these fines represent nothing more than pocket change – and these institutions are able to write them off as part of the “cost of doing business.”

It is possible to write several volumes on the issue of being “too big to jail” and why federal law enforcement spends so much time and resources on relatively low-level offenders while virtually ignoring the massive felonies committed by the rich and powerful. But we’re all familiar with the short explanation: it’s about money and the power and influence it brings.

Officials at the Securities and Exchange Commission are thinking about high-paying jobs at investment firms after leaving government service. How hard do you think they’re going to go after those firms? Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was a partner at Covington & Burling, a D.C. law firm representing many of the Wall Street institutions largely responsible for the sub-prime mortgage crisis. He has returned to that firm since stepping down. Would Holder’s old law firm have welcomed him back if he had gone after Wall Street criminals with the same energy that the FBI is putting into the prosecution of two animal rights activists?

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) was passed in 2006 using a procedure known as “unanimous consent.” Essentially, it wasn’t voted on, nor even debated. However, the law is written in such a broad manner that lawful activists simply speaking out can be labeled as “terrorists.” It should come as no surprise that the corporate lobbyists who pushed for the law worked for our old friends at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Setting animals free, while in violation of the law, hardly constitutes an act of terrorism. Destruction of property is likewise a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on its value – but it doesn’t even come close to the way Wall Street criminals have destroyed lives.

These issues are symptomatic of the disease that afflicts not only America, but the world as well. The capitalist system uses lives (human and animal) and discards them, while placing the highest value on material things that produce wealth, confer status or can be sold at a profit.

Most of those in power cannot, or will not, see the problems and contradictions inherent in this mentality.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.