PETA's New, Friendlier Image? Dancing On Graves!

After the 9/11 terrorist attack, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals told reporters that it was altering its tactics because the “in-your-face” style of protests wouldn’t be as effective. And, amazingly, not a small number of newspapers bought that nonsense and ran stories about PETA’s new profile. And this weekend, PETA’s less offensive approach including sending a woman to literally dance on the grave of one of PETA’s enemies, the late circus trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams.

Gebel-Williams died a year ago and to mark the one year anniversary of his death, PETA sent Rachelle Thorne, 20, to his grave site dressed in a devil costume. Thorne planned to dance on the circus pioneer’s grave. (Thorne also gave her name as Jessica L. Smith to police).

Thorne was accompanied by PETA spokeswoman Brandi Valladolid who told reporters that Gebel-Williams was “a bully who made a fast buck on the bloodied backs of animals.”

Gebel-Williams’ families got wind of the planned protest and alerted police. They took Thorne into custody while Valladolid split before the arrest took place.

Thorne remained in jail overnight and Valladolid told The Florida Herald Tribune that it was the policy of PETA not to bail out its protesters when arrested. That, of course, is a lie, since PETA has on several occasions bailed out arrested protesters, including an incident a few years ago when it bailed out individuals accused of arson at a PETA protests.

Ringling Bros. issued a press release saying,

It’s shameful that our critics feel that they should desecrate the resting place of a man beloved by millions who ushered in the era of respect for all animals. According to a press release issued yesterday, PETA sent a protester dressed as a devil to dance on the rave of animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams, who passed away one year ago today.

While police managed to stop Thorne/Smith from dancing on Gebel-Williams grave, such outrageous protests do help to drive yet another nail in the coffin of the animal rights movement. For a brief second, PETA seemed to recognize this after the 9/11 attack but has apparently concluded that even horrible publicity like this is better than no publicity at all. Lets hope they keep up that policy.


Protest at Gebel-Williams grave foiled. Sun and Weekly Herald (Florida), July 21, 2002.

Devil picks a hot day for grave dancing. Bill Hutchinson, Herald Tribune (Florida), July 20, 2002.

Ringling Bros. Responds to Extremists’ Latest Antics. Ringling Bros., Press Release, July 19, 2002.

PETA Sues Feld Entertainment, Accusing It of Illegal Spying

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a lawsuit in May accusing Feld Entertainment, Inc. of hiring former CIA deputy director Clair E. George to illegally spy on the organization. Feld Entertainment owns the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Circus.

In 2001 PETA sued Feld Entertainment for the return of documents that PETA claimed were stolen from the animal rights organization. PETA attorney Phil Hirschkop told The New York Times that, without admitting wrongdoing, Feld and others handed over about two dozen documents. Those documents may have been obtained from a former employee of PETA’s, but under Virginia law they are protected trade secrets according to PETA.

PETA’s lawsuit turns into unintentional parody when it accuses Feld entertainment of planting volunteers and employees within PETA in order to gather information on the group. What was Michelle Rokke doing at Huntingdon Life Sciences again? Apparently PETA does not appreciate being a target of its own tactics.

PETA’s lawsuit seeks up to $1.8 million in damages for the alleged spying.


Animal rights group PETA alleges spying in lawsuit against circus owner. Bob Lewis, Associated Press, June 2, 2002.

Rights group says circus spied on it. The New York Times, May 31, 2002.

Animal Rights Foundation of Florida Protests at Gunther Gebel-Williams Funeral

Eight members of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida showed up to protest at the funeral of renowned circus performer Gunther Gebel-Williams.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that the group was led by Heather Lischin of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and carried signs with slogans such as “Gunther, take your whips and bullhorn with you, RIP.”

Lischin wore black and said, “We’re out here mourning for the animals who’ve died at the hands of Gunther and Ringling Bros.”

A friend of Gebel-Williams wrote a letter to the Herald-Tribune saying,

If you have a problem with animals performing in a circus ring, protest outside the arena, not at the funeral of a man who was not only a performer, but a husband, father, and grandfather as well. Shame on them for not having the decency and common courtesy to let his friends and family celebrate his life and grieve his death without having to endure their negative presence as we left.

Asking common decency from animal rights activists seems to be asking for a lot these days. On the brighter side, perhaps ARFF can now get together with the only other person I have ever heard stoop low enough to protest at a funeral — Fred Phelps of God Hates Fags infamy. Lischin’s sure managed to get her group in with some mighty fine company there.


Animal-rights supporters picket. By Thomas Becnel, Sarasota Herald Tribune, July 24, 2001.

Animal-rights protest insulting. Shelley Broome, Letter to the editor, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 28, 2001.

PETA's Hypocritical Lawsuit Against Ringling Brothers

The Associated Press reported this week that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed suit in Virginia against Ringling Brothers Circus. The lawsuit charges Ringling Brothers with using paid investigators to infiltrate PETA by pretending to be volunteers. The spying allegedly took place in the early 1980s.

Of course PETA pioneered this technique of infiltrating groups itself — in fact it came to national prominence precisely because of Alex Pacheco‘s questionable undercover work. Now, however, PETA is complaining that this case is different.

The Associated Press quoted PETA’s Lisa Lange as explaining, “First of all, we don’t steal documents in our investigations. More importantly, we investigate situations where we have reason to belive, either through whistle blowers or industry practices, that illegal and abusive treatment of animals exist.”

Lange’s first statement is an outright lie. In 1997 PETA settled a lawsuit brought against it by Huntingdon Life Sciences over a PETA operative who infiltrated HLS. That operative stole hundreds of HLS documents and video tapes, and one of the requirements of the settlement agreement was that PETA had to return or destroy all materials stolen from HLS.

As for PETA investigating only where there are allegations of animal abuse: a) PETA has manufactured evidence of animal abuse as often as it has uncovered it, and b) given Ingrid Newkirk and other PETA staff members tendency to praise animal rights terrorism, it would not be much of a stretch to wonder if PETA might be engaged in illegal activities itself. Certainly there is at least as much evidence for that as there is for some of the bogus claims that PETA has pursued.

Ringling Brothers, for its part, told the Associated Press that the company had not been served with the lawsuit yet and so could not comment.


PETA: Circus spied on us. Matthew Barakat, Associated PRess, May 8, 2001.

Activists Fail — Barely — To Pass Circus Ban In Seattle

    In a preview to a battle that
is likely to get far more intense through the rest of this decade, a ban
on circus animals on city property barely failed to pass the Seattle City
Council. The proposed ordinance failed on a 5-4 vote after heavy lobbying
by animal rights activists and circus officials.

    Although there are a few places
around the country that already have local bans on circuses, Seattle would
have been the first major city in the United States to pass such a ban.

    Those who support the ban argued
that keeping animals in circuses is inherently cruel. As Diane Venberg,
an organizer for the Progressive Animal Welfare Society put the animal
rights case, “Bottom line, there’s no way to provide a natural habitat
for animals in a circus.”

    Anti-circus activist Claudine
Erlandson put a melodramatic touch on after the vote saying, “All Seattle
is crying. That’s not rain outside it’s tears.” But Erlandson and the
others do not intend to give up.

    “We’re going to re-group and
perhaps put the measure on the general election ballot,” said activist
Simon Chaltowitz.

    Whether or not PAWS or any
of the other anti-circus activists have the financial wherewithal to do
so is debatable. Both sides of the issue spent thousands of dollars on
ads before the vote and at least one activist expressed skepticism about
whether it was realistic to push for a ballot initiative so soon.

    Especially considering that
Ringling Bros. and other circuses targeted by the activists seem prepared
to fight back.

    Without a ballot issue, though,
it’s hard to tell how much legs the circus ban movement will have in the
United States. Getting a few animal rights-oriented individuals on elected
to the City Council is one thing, especially given typically low voter
turnouts in local elections in the United States, while getting voters
to agree with the animal rights position on a ballot initiative is another
thing, as activists have found in recent years with failed iniativies
such as their effort to require warning tags on fur in Beverly Hills.

    Personally, I doubt there is
any great desire among the electorate to ban circus animals. As Ringling
Bros. spokeswoman Joan Glavin underscored, the reason Ringling Bros. is
successful is precisely because so many people want to see exotic animal

    “As long as they [circus patrons]
continue to come by the millions, we will have animals. And we will continue
to protect the rights of people to see them.”


Animal advocates regroup after Seattle defeats circus animal ban. The
Associated Press, February 15, 2000.

Seattle City Council defeats exotic-animal ban; activists to regroup.
John Zebrowski, Seattle Times, Feb. 15, 2000.

PETA’s Internet hypocrisy

A couple years ago there was an enormous flap over an opponent of animal rights who registered the domain, claiming he represented People Eating Tasty Animals. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals whined and moaned about the site and threatened to sue the owner of the domain. Eventually the domain was suspended, and PETA currently uses

So now it is 1998 and what is PETA doing? ThatÂ’s right, deceptively registering domain names associated with their opponents. Recently it registered and posted information on that web site accusing Ringling Brothers of mistreating animals. Just as PETA did a few years ago, Ringling Brothers filed a lawsuit demanding PETA stop using the domain name.

On May 14, Ringling Brothers agreed to drop the lawsuit in exchange for PETA transferring control of to the circus. Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, didnÂ’t sound all that disappointed to see the domain name go saying, “The site had served its purpose. Ringling had brought all the attention in the world to it.”

Sorry Newkirk, but the only thing highlighted by this fiasco is PETA’s own hypocrisy.


“PETA agrees to turn over domain name to circus,” Associated Press,
May 14, 1998.