PETA and Animal Rights Violence

In a recent op-ed article, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Ingrid Newkirk defended her organization by claiming that “PETA does not condone . . . violent acts.”

But in fact, PETA or its representatives have often rationalized or celebrated violence. Consider just a few examples:

* In the December/January 2000 issue of ‘Genre’, PETA’s Dan Mathews was asked to name men of the 20th century he admired. Mathews told the magazine he admired serial killer Andrew Cunanan, “because he got Versace to stop doing fur.”

* In 1999, an animal rights terrorist group calling itself the Justice Department sent letters booby-trapped with razor blades to medical researchers and fur farms in the United States and Canada. When asked about the letters, Newkirk said, “I hope it frightens them [the researchers] out of their careers. If experimenters feel afraid now, that’s nothing compared with the fear, harm and death they have inflicted on their victims.”

* In a new author’s note in her book about the Animal Liberation Front, ‘Free the Animals’, Newkirk writes, “Determined to cause economic injury to the exploiters, ALF members burn down their emptied buildings and smash their vehicles to smithereens. Perhaps, after reading this book, you will find that you cannot blame them.”

* In 1994, PETA donated $42,500 to the Rodney Coronado Support Committee. Coronado is an animal rights terrorist who in 1995 pleaded guilty to firebombing a medical research facility at Michigan State University.

* In fact, Newkirk herself has expressed a wish to carry out arson. At a 1997 animal rights convention she said, “I wish we all would get up and go into the labs and take the animals out or burn them down.” In 1999 she expanded on that sentiment, telling the ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’, “I find it small wonder that the laboratories aren’t all burning to the ground. If I had more guts, I’d light a match.”

When Newkirk claims that PETA does not condone violent acts, what she really means is that it is more convenient at the moment to pretend that PETA doesn’t condone criminal acts. This is a pretty common animal rights tactic – never let principles or the truth get in the way.

But why do PETA and other groups sympathize with and celebrate violence? Because they’re losing their war against animal use, and they know it.

Don’t take my word for it. That’s the conclusion of PETA’s Bruce Friedrich. In 1998 animal rights activist Freeman Wicklund wrote an article for ‘Animal’s Agenda’ arguing that the animal rights movement should adopt a non-violent approach modeled on Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friedrich responded with an essay calling Wicklund’s views “obscene.” According to Friedrich, there are so few animal rights activists and such concerted opposition to the movement’s goals that a nonviolent strategy will never work.

Instead, “Direct action which utilizes a broader range of tactics, including secrecy and sabotage, is far more challenging, and, consequently, more effective… Considering the power of our opposition, can you imagine where we would be without surprise direct actions and the secrecy required for so much of what we do?”

When it first arrived on the scene, PETA and other animal rights groups were new and exotic and received press coverage far disproportionate to their numbers and usually very sympathetic.

As the 1990s wore on, however, the protests started receiving less attention and reporters began to view the animal rights movement more critically.

At the same time, it became apparent that while many Americans were rightly concerned about issues related to animal welfare, for the most part, people were unwilling to take that concern to the extremes demanded by some in the animal rights movement.

Even PETA’s own celebrity spokespeople can’t stay on message. Mary Tyler Moore shows up to oppose fur but then turns around and lobbies Congress for money to fund research on juvenile diabetes – research which will inevitably include animal experiments.

Like many political movements that have seen their progress thwarted, many in the animal rights movement now see violent acts as a legitimate and necessary tactic to further their agenda.

Even relatively successful groups such as PETA feel the need to rationalize, if not support or defend, such violence. And it matters not whether people suffer physical injury in such assaults. To debate the meaning of violence is akin to debating the meaning of ‘is.’

Newkirk may have devoted much time and money to saving pets in the wake of the World Trade Center attack, but she seems to have little, if any, regard for the medical researchers, farmers and others whose lives and livelihood are threatened by animal rights violence.

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