You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Peter Young’ tag.
Liz Carlisle. Cheyenne Cherry. Amanda Cheadle. Do those names look familiar? If you’re an animal advocate in the US or England, they probably do. In the past month, all three have been in court for perpetrating sadistic crimes against animals. Liz Carlisle of Ohio pleaded guilty to drowning two rabbits at a pet store where she worked. She received a $250 fine, will perform 120 hours of community service and is on probation for six months. Cheyenne Cherry, meanwhile, is serving two years in jail for roasting her friend’s cat in a 500-degree oven. The unrepentant New York teen stuck out her tongue and yelled, “It’s dead, bitch” to an animal activist in the courtroom. Then there’s Amanda Cheadle, whom the British press have dubbed “the Suitcase Puppy Killer.” Cheadle, a dog breeder in England, shoved 15 puppies in suitcases and locked them in a cupboard. Eleven died and four survived. Cheadle was sentenced to 20 weeks in prison — less than two weeks for every dog she killed. And just as I began writing this post, a judge in England announced he will not send two youths to prison for beating a baby deer to death.
While animal advocates are outraged by these sentences (or lack thereof), I was surprised that some activists are downright philosophical about them. Even more surprising is that these activists have all recently spent time in prison for nonviolent acts. Josh Harper, Peter Young and Andy Stepanian gave me their thoughts on the judicial inequity that is reflected in a system that seems to let cruel offenders off easy while meting out Draconian penalties to those campaigning to save lives.
“I guess because I’ve divested my faith in fair treatment from the justice system, I can’t say that it comes as a shock,” says Peter Young, who served two years in federal prison for liberating thousands of mink from fur farms. “Consider who gets the attention from the FBI and the police, the amount of resources they invest in investigating [animal activism] cases and who receives the harsh sentences. The disparity is striking.”
Peter believes the root of this disparity is the almighty dollar. “It’s pretty clear that we hold profits over life, and I really think that’s what it comes down to. The person who killed the cat wasn’t threatening anyone’s profit, whereas my restitution was $350,000. Because money rules everything, authorities are naturally going to come down harder on somebody who inflicts those kinds of losses on a legal business.”
Josh Harper agrees. “I suppose these cases are a reminder of how far we have to go as activists to change our culture’s priorities,” he says. Josh received a three-year sentence for being part of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign. Officially, he was charged with “conspiracy to harass using a telecommunications device” — he had made two speeches in support of sending “black faxes” as a way to cause economic damage by wasting fax machine toner. Moreover, Josh and his codefendants were prosecuted under a now-outmoded version of the federal Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, a piece of “anti-terrorism” legislation that, like the later Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, was designed to suppress the activities of animal rights advocates. “For conspiring to shut down an animal testing lab using electronic civil disobedience, I spent three years in prison and owe $1 million in restitution,” he says. “Meanwhile, people who commit violent acts upon thinking, feeling creatures are usually not punished at all. Some days that makes me feel anger, but mostly it just makes me feel determined.”
After serving two years and seven months for “conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act” as another member of the SHAC campaign, Andy Stepanian doesn’t believe incarcerating either social justice activists or animal abusers is the answer to society’s woes. “I keep getting held up on the fact that I don’t believe in the penal system,” he says. “I oppose the prison industrial complex and all forms of oppression. I don’t relish seeing a single piece of kindling thrown into that fire no matter how despicable the animal-abusing wretch is.” Andy views cruelty to animals as a sickness that is exacerbated when the abuser is behind bars. “I think we need to get proactive in healing our culture’s illnesses, and in turn these abusers — whom I see as symptomatic — will be a less-frequent phenomenon. That said, however, the disparity between the sentences serial animal abusers get and the sentences that nonviolent animal liberationists get can easily make you want to cry.”
All three activists agree the courts used their cases to deter other animal advocates. “They certainly intended for [the SHAC case] to be noticed,” Josh says. “A number of things make that clear, from their use of press conferences about the case to the way they took pictures of people who came to support us at court to their choice of defendants. This case was intended to be high profile and create a chilling effect on animal activism.”
“Yes, they made an example out of us,” adds Andy. “Let me make an example of an incident where a drunk breaks a window while leaving a bar in a disorderly huff. Then compare that incident to an activist who breaks a window of an unattended business that profits from animal abuse. Both cases on the municipal level are either malicious destruction of property — a misdemeanor — or criminal mischief — a low-level felony. But the way each of those cases is handled will be like night and day. The drunk may be expected to pay damages and get a reduced sentence for disorderly conduct or a lesser offense, while the activist risks having the indictment superseded federally with potential penalties under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The judge sees fault in the system in regard to the drunk because the bar got the man drunk, and he realizes that the alcohol industry is a contributor to economy, and when enough people are under the influence, things like this happen. What the judge can’t explain is why a sober activist would risk her or his freedom for a species to which they cannot even directly communicate. The action is not just contrary to the property of the animal business targeted, but is also contrary to the entire system and culture at play. The system sees behavior like that of the direct-action activist’s as troublesome and threatening because it fits no accepted, or at least understandable, mold and it takes away economically. To someone who supports the system and does not care about animals, they see no benefit from an action like this.”
Peter echoes these thoughts, saying that authorities cannot comprehend an animal activist’s motivation. “Judges and prosecutors never seem to wrap their heads around the idea of a selfless crime. It’s almost like it causes their circuits to fry out, because it’s so outside their paradigm. They assign sinister motives, but they never acknowledge that this was about saving animals. What I think always gets lost is these prosecutors oftentimes don’t think this has anything to do with animals. I don’t think they’re looking at it for what it is: people trying to help animals. The FBI and prosecutors see it as a property crime.”
Let’s return, for a moment, to the issue of animal abusers who receive little or no punishment for their crimes. For a prosecutor’s insight, I turned to Scott Heiser, director of the Criminal Justice Program for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). A former district attorney, Scott likes nothing more than seeing animal abusers held accountable for their crimes. But he acknowledges cases — even clearly brutal ones — may not always get the attention they should, nor the outcome the public would like to see.
“The disparity between sentencings from within the animal cruelty caseload is very real,” says Scott. “A person who kills two rabbits at work gets a slap on wrist, while the roasted-cat defendant gets two years in jail. That happens all the time, even from within the same jurisdiction and even at times in cases before the same judge. There are many reasons for this, including the difference in the offenders’ prior criminal records; the level of remorse the court feels the offender has for his or her conduct; judicial bias for or against animal crimes cases generally; judicial bias for or against the type of animal at issue (house pet vs. ‘food animal’); the laws of the jurisdictions calling for different sentencing outcomes —compare sentencing options in Texas and Oregon and you’ll see a huge difference; the daily jail population at the time of the sentencing, a very real factor that many people overlook — judges get regular reports from the jail on the population, and those judges have to make early release decisions all the time to manage overcrowding; the sentencing ‘appeal’ of the victim family — for example, the little pony-tailed kid’s puppy killed versus the 35-year-old drunk’s marginally cared for backyard dog. There are tons of reasons. Some decry this as unjust and unfair and call for sentencing guidelines to ensure consistent treatment for similarly situated offenders. Others who have practiced in jurisdictions with sentencing guidelines will tell you that guidelines just don’t work because they divest the judge of the discretion to fashion truly just sentences on a case-by-case basis.”
Nevertheless, I think it’s important that we communicate with prosecutors and others our concern about animal abuse cases. District attorneys do care about public opinion, so when you hear of a crime against an animal, write to prosecutors and express your views. Also, letters to editors of your local paper help educate the public and bring awareness about animal issues. (ALDF is an excellent resource to find cases with animal victims.)
Finally, let’s remember the activists whose willingness to speak up for animals has cost them their liberty. “I went through a terrible ordeal in prison, and some of my friends are still inside,” says Josh. “In the struggle for animal equality, some of us are going to end up behind bars ― even if we are innocent, and even if our crimes are not as heinous as those perpetrated daily against billions of non-humans. While we must keep our focus primarily on the animal nations, let’s not forget our friends in the movement who are doing time for trying to advance our beliefs. Please consider writing to an animal rights or environmental prisoner.”
When 10 activists from Austria’s Association Against Animal Factories (“Verein gegen Tierfabriken,” or VGT) were arrested in May 2008 and charged with “suspected forming of a criminal organization in connection with direct animal right actions,” activists around the world were quick to show their support. Animal Liberation Victoria even carried out an open rescue in solidarity with the prisoners, saving 13 hens from a battery-egg operation in June. All the attention shined a spotlight on the Austrian government, which released the activists in September. Clearly, in an age when the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act can become law with hardly an objection from lawmakers, anyone might find themselves behind bars for voicing an opinion not in step with the status quo.
“It’s important for us to be vocal and active about supporting people who have been incarcerated for defending animals ― or even just speaking out in their defense ― because it relays a clear message that the people abusing animals are the real criminals, not the people trying to protect them,” says Dallas Rising, president of Support Vegans in the Prison System (Support VIPS). “Supporting political prisoners of any kind makes a difference for the individual, but especially for animal rights activists. The average animal rights prisoner has very little in common with the general prison population, so having a connection to people who share a similar value system can be very important to people who are isolated, bored and frustrated by the lack of meaningful exchange in their environment.”
Peter Young, who served two years in federal prison for liberating animals from several fur farms in 1997, believes that supporting humans in prison sends a strong message to activists that there is a safety net for them if they are caught engaging in illegal actions on behalf of non-human animals. “This peace of mind makes the work of people fighting for animals under darkness much easier,” he says. “I have also found the stories of animal rights prisoners to be powerful outreach. These stories of people breaking the law to save animals raise the bar and bring those new to the issue a sense that if other people are willing to break the law to save animals, the least they can do is be vegan.”
There are many ways to help imprisoned activists, and providing a little support to someone facing years in jail can buoy that person’s morale and nurture solidarity in the movement. I am going to focus on five main methods: writing letters, sending books, visiting, helping vegan inmates get plant-based food and providing financial support (sending money, helping with legal expenses, etc.).
The first step is knowing where inmates are, and the easiest place to find addresses for animal activists serving time is the Internet:
- Bite Back magazine maintains a list of prisoners that the publisher updates weekly.
- The Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) site lists activists currently serving sentences for their actions against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS).
- The Vegan Prisoners Support Group lists inmates in the UK (including SHAC).
- A SHAC7 support site in the US is also worth checking out.
Cards and letters are paramount to relieving an inmate’s feeling of isolation; however, all mail is opened and read by prison officials, so don’t write anything that may cause problems for the prisoner. “Depending on the prisoner, do not discuss the case or anything related to the case,” advises attorney Shannon Keith, who has represented a number of animal rights activists and campaigns, including SHAC and Sea Shepherd. “Do not discuss your feelings about whether the person is innocent or guilty.” She also says that most prisons do not accept anything other than letters and photos. “So, no stickers ― especially no animal rights stickers. No pictures depicting protests.”
Dallas cautions supporters not to take it personally if the inmate doesn’t respond. “It is not about you,” she says. “Don’t get upset if the person doesn’t write back to you, especially if they didn’t know you before going in. And even if they did know you, they may not have the mental or emotional energy to write back. Or they simply may not have the time.”
Unless you’re lucky enough to have unlimited time and resources, commit to writing just one or two inmates, and do it consistently.
Here are a few more letter-writing do’s and don’ts.
- Write on both sides of the paper.
- Write your address on the letter or card.
- Number the pages of your letter.
- Make sure the content of any photos you sent is appropriate; write the inmate’s name and prisoner ID number on the back of photos.
- Let imprisoned activists know about animal activism going on around the world.
- Send currency.
- Send stamps, envelopes, blank paper or blank note cards.
- Tape your envelope closed.
- Include paperclips, staples or other metal objects inside your letter.
- Send food or care packages.
- Send photographs larger than 4”x6”. No Polaroid photos.
- Write “legal mail” on the envelope or anything in your letter that implies you are an attorney.
“Letters to a prisoner can be like anchors or lifelines to the outside world,” says Andy Stepanian, who served two years and seven months in prison for “conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act” as part of the SHAC campaign (he was released in December 2008). “Although my mail was vetted for content, I still received bundles of letters, and every time I did I felt like I could hold my head a little higher. The letters reminded me of where I came from and what I was fighting for.”
Most inmates appreciate receiving books, since reading is one way to pass the time behind bars. It’s a good idea to write to the prisoner first to confirm he or she can receive books; you can also ask what kinds of books they would like to read.
Books sent to most prisons must be new and with a soft cover (paperback); hardcover books will either be refused or prison officials will tear off the covers before passing the book on to the inmate. Unfortunately, many prisons will not permit you to mail a book to an inmate yourself; instead, books must be sent either directly from the publisher or through an online retailer such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Prisoners are often able to list books they would like to receive on Amazon’s Wish List section (just search the inmate’s name), or through a support group Web site.
Each US federal prison has set up certain days and times ― visiting hours — for family and friends to visit inmates. The inmate you plan to visit should tell you what the hours are for that prison. But you can’t simply show up and expect to see an inmate.
“Most prisons require that you be accepted and on an approved list first, so before you take your trip to the prison, call to make sure you do not have to be approved first,” says Shannon. “If so, mail the prisoner and ask them to fill out a form for your visit. You will receive an approval later, and then you can visit as you please during visiting hours. When visiting, know that you are being watched and possibly recorded. Avoid discussing legally sensitive subjects. Dress appropriately.”
In the UK, visiting a convicted prisoner requires you to first have a visiting order (a “VO”); these are generally issued to inmates once a month, and he or she will mail it to you. Depending on the prisoner, visits are one to two hours, and prisoners may be allowed between two and four visitors a month. For more information on Visiting inmates in the UK, click here.
If a city or county jail is denying a prisoner access to vegan meals, a few phone calls to the warden can help, says Dallas. “There’s not a lot people can do to help make sure a vegan is getting good food in a federal prison, but in a jail, phone calls matter a lot.”
Peter agrees. “Mob-action phone calls work,” he says. “You can’t overstate how concerned most jailers are with outside scrutiny. I have never had a problem with food that 100 phone calls in six hours did not fix. One jail was so concerned about the perceived threat of angry activists they sent a sheriff to the supermarket each morning, with a shopping list I wrote with my own hand.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals can help with prisons. PETA’s Bruce Friedrich says it is best if the judge orders the prison to provide vegan food before the convicted vegan heads to jail. “If your judge orders it, you’re set.” Failing that, family and friends on the outside can help by contacting PETA. “PETA is always ready to work to get vegan food for anyone who is having trouble,” says Bruce.
Although prisons may not be known for their vegan fare, some have surprisingly good plant-based food options, including lentil shepherd’s pie, vegan pizza, veggie burgers and mock meats. Here is PETA’s list of the top 10 veg-friendly US prisons.
Prisoners must pay for envelopes, postage stamps, phone cards and other necessities. They may even have to buy their own vegan food from the prison commissary. They probably also have legal fees. All these expenses can be offset with a fundraising effort managed by friends on the outside. Some organizations, like SHAC, set these up and allow people to donate online. Moreover, they raise funds through benefit concerts, film screenings and product sales.
“Fundraising for costly legal fees is always appreciated,” says Dallas. “As a bonus, you automatically have something to write about.”
You can also support inmates by sending money directly to their commissary account. The US Bureau of Prisons has a system to maintain an inmate’s monies while he or she is incarcerated. Family, friends or other sources may deposit funds into these accounts. For details on options for depositing funds into a prisoner’s account, click here.
You might also consider money-transfer services like JPay that allow you to get funds to a prisoner the next business day.
Prisoner Support Groups
SVIPS – United States
Founded by Dallas Rising, Peter Young and Aaron Zellhoefer, Support Vegans in the Prison System (SVIPS) assists prisoners needing vegan food, toiletries and general support.
VPSG – United Kingdom
Vegan Prisoners Support Group (VPSG) helps prisoners obtain vegan food, vegan toiletries and vegan footwear. British animal rights activist Jo-Ann Brown formed the group in 1994 to aid activist Keith Mann. Since then, VPSG’s work has grown, and it has been called upon to advise on disputes between prisoners and the prison service relating to vegan diets. Though based in the UK, VPSG supports prisoners in other countries. While incarcerated in Austria last August, for example, VGT activist Elmar Völkl wrote: “The Vegan Prisoner Support Group work must have been very good, because from the first day I got vegan food (on the first day I didn’t get anything), although I didn’t ever mention the word ‘vegan’ once!”
ALFSG – United Kingdom
The Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group (ALFSG) is a legal, above-ground organization that provides financial and practical support to those who find themselves in prison as part of the movement.
Advice from Prisoners of Conscience
Peter Young gave a talk on prisoner support at last year’s Let Live conference, and it’s definitely worth checking out.
SHAC activist Lauren Gazzola believes no form of support is better than activists staying active. Lauren, now serving a four-year, four-month sentence at a federal prison in Connecticut, told Abolitionist Online: “[T]o everyone who has written, sent books, donated, or done any other form of direct support, please know that the best form of support we can receive is vicarious ― please get out and fight for the animals. Step up your efforts, no matter where you currently stand in your activism ― take one step further, inspired by the SHAC7, and make our conviction a victory for the animals.”
“It’s easy to get lost in prison,” says Andy. “Lost in solitude, despair or other negative sentiments. Letters and outside support help pull you out of that space and strengthen you, make you whole.” Andy encourages people on the outside not to be deterred if they don’t know what to write about. “What many fail to understand is that the prisoner is just eager to make contact, to hear good news about movement victories or reconnect with an old friend. If you are a stranger, don’t feel discouraged. I can speak from firsthand experience that on some of my worst days while imprisoned, it was the words of a stranger that helped me trudge through another day. Something as simple as describing a beautiful day outside may mean the world to a prisoner at that moment when they open your envelope.”
Recently released from prison, animal rights activist Peter Young has offered $2,500 in legal aid to anyone who is arrested after the release of 6,000 mink from a ranch in Kaysville, Utah, on September 21.
“Raiding fur farms in the middle of the night is one of the most effective tactics we have against the undeniably cruel fur industry,” says Peter. “I hope these activists remain free to carry out other liberations, but if it proves necessary, I pledge $2,500 towards the legal fees of anyone arrested.”
Peter Young served two years in federal prison after being arrested in 2005 for his role in the release of 8,000 mink from six fur farms in South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. On the first leg of this campaign, he cased several farms in Utah.
Commenting on the media coverage in the wake of the Kaysville release, Peter refutes fur industry claims the animals do not survive in the wild, will die of heat exposure and don’t travel long distances when released.
“Ranch-raised mink have been shown to thrive in the wild,” he says. “The industry is lying to the public to distract them from the inherent cruelty of the fur trade.”
Peter is no longer carrying out fur farm raids due to law enforcement surveillance after his release from prison. He has shifted his focus to voicing support for groups like the Animal Liberation Front that still work outside the law to rescue animals.
“The activists behind the Kaysville mink rescue are compassionate freedom fighters who risked their freedom to give animals theirs. This $2,500 is my gesture of support for those working outside the law to make this world a better place.”
Peter adds, “I am intending to make further offers like this in the future when there is a significant ALF action to stimulate media interest and hopefully get to talk about the plight of animals to a large audience.”
In 1997, Peter Young and another activist raided six fur farms in the U.S., releasing an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 mink and 100 fox. Soon after the sixth raid, a farmer in Wisconsin notified police that a suspicious car was driving past a mink ranch. Alerted by an FBI report regarding recent animal liberations on fur farms, police stopped Peter and the other activist, who refused to consent to a search of the vehicle. The car was impounded while authorities waited on a search warrant. When the car was finally searched, police discovered incriminating evidence, including addresses of fur farms with notations indicating their size, fence structure, parking availability and proximity to nearby homes. By then, Peter and the other activist were gone.
Peter was wanted by the FBI for seven and a half years before being arrested in California in 2005. He faced a total of 82 years in prison. Peter’s lawyer got the felony portion of his indictment dismissed, and he was sentenced to two years in federal prison. In court, a defiant Peter Young said that his only regret was not doing more damage. He was released from prison on February 1, 2007.
Peter, you are best known in the activist community for liberating minks and foxes from fur farms in South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. How have those events changed your life?
They brought me to some of our culture’s darkest corners, from hellish animal sheds to dim jail cells. From those experiences and others I have learned animal liberation is more effectively taken than asked for. I learned determined individuals can accomplish in one night what a million protests can never achieve.
So do you think there is any place in the movement for protesting and other types of campaigns?
I’m more fluid in my position on tactics than could be assumed. This is a result-oriented movement, and ultimately we must stand behind that which brings results. I am for protesting when it works, and am against it when it merely provides us the illusion of changes. Being “active” is worse than nothing when it gives us the illusion of being effective. And when protesting works, as has been the case with certain weak-link targets like foie gras restaurants, then it is absolutely to be celebrated as a tactic. Such is the case with distributing Why Vegan pamphlets: approximately 2% of people who read the pamphlet change their diet. When we are distributing millions of Why Vegan leaflets, this is huge. I will say for every protest-victory, I assess the time-costs and inevitably consider we could have avoided months of protest and hundreds of people-hours with one well-calculated act of economic sabotage. We have selective vision in regards to our victories. The last and largest foie gras restaurant in Salt Lake City, which had been protested for months, stopped selling foie gras after anonymous individuals shut down their gas main during a busy Saturday night, and later took out several large glass windows. That was all it took. We should fight smarter, not harder.
What can you say about the support you got from the movement while serving your sentence?
I received more letters than I could answer, more books than I could read, and more visits than I could accept. Asking people to take risks for animals while not being there to support them if arrested is like sending someone down the Colorado River without a life raft. While the urgency of what’s happening in farms and labs will always incite many to act outside the law, these actions will increase in correlation with the quality of the support offered to those who are caught. It is invaluable for those working in darkness to deliver animals from cages to know if they are arrested, they will be taken care of. For those who support prisoners, this is the true return on their investment: You allow those who have not been caught to do their work.
How do other inmates and prison guards treat animal activists in jail?
Having a case such as mine was an asset with prisoners and guards, and a liability with prison staff higher up the chain. With prisoners, I was given a significant amount of respect for being looked at as someone who “stood up for his beliefs.” That non-human animals were the beneficiary of this stand was irrelevant — it was the willingness to put talk into action which is respected in convict culture. This translated into many privileges and alliances which allowed my prison time to pass with little friction.
With senior staff in the Bureau of Prisons, the political nature of my case brought them to mark me as a security threat. This manifested in countless ways, including jail/prison security-level placement that was not in sync with the relative seriousness of my “offenses,” increased mail screening, stretches in solitary, and more. In recent weeks there has been a development in this realm, as we’ve seen several green scare and SHAC prisoners moved to maximum-security prisons. This is an unsettling trend and frightening evidence of the lunacy of those in power: running a website or destroying property is a more egregious crime than murder or kidnapping — crimes committed by those I shared a medium-security prison with.
Overall, I found being imprisoned for animal liberation activity was more of a benefit than a detriment, while being a little of both. It helped with prisoners and hurt me with prison staff.
What was the impact of your raids on the fur industry?
At least two of the six farms had to close. Final damage estimates were over $250,000. Approximately 2,000 animals were never recaptured, and farmers were forevermore kept up at night wondering if tonight was the night their farm would be raided — or, more importantly, wondering if they might be better off growing soybeans. The number of mink farms today is almost half of what it was when I was indicted, and I trust many fur farmers have asked themselves this question and made the right decision as a direct effect of ALF raids.
Did prison change your opinion of direct action in any way?
I never had any illusions about the consequences for direct action. I accepted the possibility of prison and, when weighed against the potential benefits and relative small chance of being caught, I made a decision. And I stand by my stance that it was the right decision. As long as direct action works, potential consequences will be irrelevant to those who answer to a higher law.
Other activists who have been jailed for their activism have told me they now focus on above-ground tactics because sitting in jail does not help animals. What’s your take on that position?
It’s a false dichotomy. In 20 years of ALF activity and over one thousand actions, only a small handful of people have ever been arrested. And of those, only a very few have served actual prison time. The number of people caught is statistically infinitesimal. It is not a “direct action equals prison versus above-ground activism equals freedom” equation. This has become more apparent as we see increased cases of people who thought they were working within the law, yet were still sent to prison — such as the SHAC defendants or those arrested in Austria. At this point, being effective is a crime, not transgressing the letter of the law.
The bigger point is that direct action versus other activism is a totally artificial division. It is all a manifestation of the same impulse, the same ethic.
Most who have been arrested, myself included, made easily avoidable mistakes which can be learned from. We must be honest about the fact that one has a statistically insignificant chance of getting arrested for direct action.
You mentioned the Austrian activists who were arrested. Governments around the world are using intimidation to suppress animal activism. What effect do you think the arrests of activists like Martin Balluch and others will have on the movement?
It will be met with both cowering weakness and galvanization. I’ve watched many people take a quit exit from activism after the smallest trace of repression — receiving an FBI visit, for example — and these high-profile arrests will filter out many weak links in our movement. My best hope for such people is that they will continue to be active in outreach efforts less likely to attract FBI attention.
On the other side, they are playing with fire when they arrest activists who work above ground and within the law. The only message that is sent to those who are in this for life is: You’re going to prison either way; it’s best to work in the dark of night where the risks are greatly reduced.
What other forms of activism do you feel are effective?
Vegan outreach in all its forms. Absolutely one of the best things you can do for animals.
Speaking of veganism, does an animal activist have to be vegan?
Veganism is too often viewed as a symbolic boycott when it is more accurately framed as something that has a direct effect on the lives of animals today. I’m not vegan to withhold money from animal abusers; I’m vegan because I’m sparing animals suffering in the here and now.
If you’re not vegan, you’re making clear that doing even the bare minimum to help animals is beneath your will. Veganism is not just another tool in the toolbox. It is the bare minimum.
You’re an inspiration to many activists. Who are your heroes in the movement?
We are best to keep an eye on our results and not those of others. I have no heroes and would encourage others to drop theirs. Don’t look up to your heroes, become them.