Yesterday, three convicted animal rights extremists received prison sentences in a New Jersey courtroom ranging from four to six years. Along with their organization, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) USA, they were also ordered to pay $1 million in restitution to the company their members terrorized. A fourth SHAC member was handed a three-year sentence this morning, and two more will learn their fate next week. They were convicted in March of using a website to incite threats and harassment against employees of a medical research company that uses animals.

You can rest assured that SHAC sympathizers will spin these convictions as a blow to free speech. But as we wrote today in New Jersey’s Home News Tribune:

Like true terror masterminds, these six took protecting lab rats past the point of earnest debate and honest persuasion, choosing instead to orchestrate a destructive crusade. Was it terrorism? You decide. The campaign included death threats, overturned cars, bombings and front-lawn midnight protests complete with chants of “Let’s burn his house to the ground” … Real people with real families were terrified …

Dozens of organizations in this nationwide movement want what SHAC wants: an end to medical experiments using animals … Some are familiar. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The Humane Society of the United States. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The Animal Liberation Front. As varied as their names and tactics are, these groups all share a common goal: “Liberating” animals, regardless of the cost to humanity.

Activist of all stripes — no matter how twisted their ideology — are free to engage in mature dialogue and public advocacy. This is America, after all. But yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre isn’t “free speech.” Neither is threatening to burn the theatre to the ground.

And just as we expect responsible citizens to abide by certain rules of democratic decency, we also expect them to express remorse for their wrong-doings. Throughout the SHAC trial and sentencing, though, all six defendants have remained disturbingly unapologetic. As one federal prosecutor told The Philadelphia Inquirer:

I’m struck by the fact that we’ve been through three sides of the sentencing and so far we haven’t heard anyone say, “I’m sorry.” And there are victims here today who perhaps would like to hear them apologize.