Yesterday in a New Jersey courtroom, six leaders of a radical animal rights group known as SHAC (and the organization itself) were convicted of a variety of domestic-terrorism charges. Their prosecution followed a multi-year campaign of violence and intimidation, directed against a medical research firm whose lifesaving work requires the use of animal test subjects. When they are sentenced on June 7, The New York Times reports this morning, a few of the “SHAC 6” (formerly the “SHAC 7,” but charges against one were dropped) may be jailed for as long as 23 years. (The federal prosecutor in the case believes seven-year sentences are more likely.)

The newest federal inmates include Joshua Harper, the recipient of a $5,000 grant from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Also in the slammer is Andy Stepanian, who has in recent years signed his e-mails indicating that he worked for PETA (click here for an example). Joining them is Kevin Kjonaas, the long-time leader of SHAC in the United States, who co-signed a series of intimidating SHAC-oriented letters in 2001 with Neal Barnard, the long-time president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Not charged was SHAC president Pamelyn Ferdin, wife of the murder-endorsing former PCRM spokesman Jerry Vlasak, and herself a recent card-carrying PCRM staffer.

Taken together with recent federal indictments of at least 19 other activists (click here, here, here, here, here, and here) on charges related to the terrorist Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front, the U.S. eco-terror movement appears to be losing some of its most determined criminals. But these 19 include Rodney Coronado, the recipient of $70,400 in PETA funds during his first felony trial. Also on that list are former professional PETA protesters Kevin Tubbs and Michael “Tre Arrow” Scarpitti. It may be that completely neutralizing this eco-terrorist threat will ultimately require shutting down its farm team. Time will tell.