Monday, May 01, 2006

Animal Crackers

Mark Hyman spends an entire commentary talking about supposed the supposedly shady finances of the group People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals. What he doesn’t do is explain why.

The specific charges he makes are that PeTA helped fund militant animal rights groups such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and that they rake in a lot of money but, according to Hyman, only spend a tiny fraction “influencing legislation and public opinion.” What, asks Hyman darkly, is PeTA spending its money on?

As far as I could tell from a bit of surfing, the charge about PeTA contributing to militant groups boils down to a some relatively small donations the organization made to the legal defense fund of an ALF member. I couldn’t find anything suggesting PeTA was actively bankrolling ALF or ELF vandalism.

And on the issue of the missing PeTA money, the organization publicly reports its income and expenditures, and
they spend most of it on educational and activism programs. They also report the salaries of their top employees, and it sure doesn’t look like anyone’s getting rich working for PeTA.

As to why would the FBI have such voluminous files on PeTA for Hyman to troll through, the answer is that apparently PeTA is one of several mainstream organizations that’s
been targeted for scrutiny for any possible connections to “terrorist” organizations. So far, this search seems to have come up empty, and the legality (to say nothing of the productivity) of the investigations is questionable.

I’ll put my cards on the table, here. I love animals. I also enjoy eating them on occasion. I’ve also taken medicines that I’m sure were tested on animals. I feel we owe animals basic kindness, decency, and respect. However, I don’t think this is at odds with using animals to better human life as providers of food and medical knowledge. I sympathize with PeTA’s stance on animal issues, but I probably come up short of embracing their full agenda.

As far as groups like ALF and ELF, I don’t have much time for them. When I was in Iowa City, members off ALF vandalized the psychology lab at the University of Iowa and “freed” lots of mice and rats (they also destroyed tens of thousands of dollars worth of property, including records of research). Apparently in the process of committing the vandalism, they
ended up causing many of the rodents to drown. They not only freed the animals from captivity, but from this mortal coil as well. With friends like ALF, what rat needs enemies?

Having said that, labeling these groups “terrorist” organizations is despicable. Vandals? Yes. Criminals? Yes. Self-righteous, counterproductive twits? Yes. But terrorists?

That’s a word that should be reserved for those who do violence to human beings. Lumping ELF and ALF into the same category as the KKK, neo-Nazis, and al-Qaida does a huge disservice to those who have actually suffered violence at the hands of terrorists. While ELF and ALF have done millions of dollars in damage, I’m not aware that a single human being has been physically harmed by their actions. They’re crimes have been against property (along with some animals that have been “collateral damage”).

If animal rights groups are “wacko” for placing animals on the same level of importance as human beings, how much more insane is it to place inanimate objects on that level?

But for conservatives, it’s not insane.

And that’s where we get back to Hyman. He never says why he has it in for PeTA, but my guess is that PeTA is a stand in for the larger pro-environment movement that Hyman and most conservatives have such disdain for. This puts him in the company of most of his fellow conservatives, for whom the environment is a tool to be used as we see fit. The notion that any issue beyond profit should factor into environmental decision making is anathema. Rebulations on the treatment of farm animals, restrictions on hunting certain animals, setting aside habitat for preservation, restricting the ability of factories to vent pollution into the biosphere . . . all are obstacles to the great moral good of the free market.

This is also why folks like Hyman and similarly minded folks in the administration and beyond can call groups like ELF and ALF “terrorist” groups and use their names in the same breath as groups that murder human beings. Not only do these groups destroy private property (which would be bad enough), but they often specifically target businesses they feel are hurting nature and do what they can to thwart them.

Most people (including me) would agree that this is lawlessness which should be punished. But for conservatives, it’s something more. It’s an attack on their fundamental values. Destroying inanimate objects is not mere vandalism. It’s an attack on individual freedom and the spirit of entrepreneurship. It’s an attack on the source of morality itself.

Ergo, attacking an organization that champions any environmental cause is a good in and of itself. It’s a chance to hammer away at the ideas the group represents rather than the group itself. Ultimately, Hyman couldn’t care less about how PeTA spends its money or what its FBI file says beyond his ability to take these facts and twist them to embarrass and defame the ideas it stands for.

Hyman can’t be straightforward about this because A) he’s not entirely cognizant of his own motives, and/or B) most Americans, while not vegetarians, support restrictions on what companies can do to the environment and feel animals should be treated with respect.

But if he can get people to be skeptical of organizations that champion such values, he can weaken environmental causes without necessarily changing anyone’s mind about the issues themselves.

And if we don’t call people like Hyman on their rhetoric, common-sense rules about how nature should be used (and how it shouldn’t be abused) will go the way of the dodo.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.50

P.S. Friend of this website and champion of media issues generally, Nicholas Johnson, happens to have written a cogent, concise essay about one possible way of bridging the gap between our desire to care for animals and our desire to use them in research. You can read it


At 4:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm not sure I completely agree with you on this one. From what I've seen, groups like Peta and ALF do use techniques that fit the definition of terrorism.

At Boys Town National Research Hospital, Peta targetted Prof Edward Walsh because of his use of animals in research. He and his wife received death threats against their son.

At the University of Iowa, animal research labs were trashed and at least one researcher received a threatening note. ALF posted the researcher's names, home addresses, and phone numbers, on their website "as a public service". Just above the list of researchers, they announced:

"Let this message be clear to all who victimize the innocent: We're watching. And by axe, drill, or crowbar--we're coming through your door. Stop or be stopped."

Those working at Huntington Life Sciences have also been threatened (or "terrorized" in the words of those attacked). According to a Feb 19, 2006 AP report:

"One woman said she received an e-mail threatening to cut her 7-year-old son open and stuff him with poison. A man said he was showered with glass as people smashed all the windows of his home and overturned his wife's car."

Another researcher reported that his secretary opened a mailed package that contained a condom splatted with supposed HIV-infected blood.

Another Huntingdon employee told, in the AP story, of her 7-year old son, who would often crouch by the door brandishing a 5-inch kitchen knife when the doorbell rang, promising to protect his mommy.

"He told me not to worry," she testified last week. "He said he was going to get the animal people. Once I found him at the garage door with a knife. That was his state of mind. He was a 7-year-old boy."

Various organizations define "terrorism" as acts or threats of violence against property or persons, not simply the causation of death. Other defintions simply talk about the instillation of fear. So, it seems to me that the actions of animal-rights groups that condon violence and threats qualify.

Terrorism need not be the infliction of physical pain in order to be effective. Sen. John McCain has stated that mock torture and execution is, in some very real ways, worse than physical pain (see

It's not that I'd like to be in bed with Marky boy, its just that I see groups like Peta and ALF preaching non-violence against non-human animals, while condoning violence against human animals. They have something in common with religious zealots, which is troubling.

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Hi Anon-

You make some excellent points. A few thoughts in the spirit of keeping the conversation going:

I grant your point on the ALF thing, but lumping them in with PeTA doesn't seem fair, from the research I've done. I'm not a major PeTA fan (I often think they spend more time grandstanding than doing things that actually help their cause), but I don't think they fall into the same category as those who go out of their way to do vandalize and destroy property. If PeTA was behind the death threats against the Boys Town researcher, that's another matter entirely, but if they simply protested his research and someone else took it upon themselves to threaten him, that can't be laid at PeTA's feet (I certainly don't think if someone were to phone in a death threat to Mark Hyman that I should be held accountable simply because I have spoken out publicly against him, even if it turned out the person making the threat was a regular reader of this blog!).

Unlike PeTA, ALF seems to exist for the sole purpose of thieving, vandalizing, and destroying. Having said that, while I grant that what ALF does is criminal and deplorable, putting them into the same category as the KKK is (I believe) inaccurate and, as I said in my post, debases the idea of what "terrorism" truly is. Whatever threatening language ALF might have used (and I agree posting the addresses of researchers, etc. is revolting), there is no history (that I'm aware of) that any ALF member has physically harmed anyone. Given that, the threats of folks from ALF, while taking the same form as those of other militant groups (such as some pro-life groups who have published names of doctors who provide abortions) don't carry the same degree of menace (after all, those who work at clinics providing abortions *have* been killed and injured in attacks).

In essence, I think we agree in principle about the moral bankruptcy of the tactics used by certain more militant members of the animal rights crowd. But while you're no doubt right that threats and destruction of property might count as "terrorism" under certain definitions, those aren't definitions I'm willing to buy into, at least not anymore. The word has become too loaded to be used so broadly, in my opinion. I think one can despise the tactics of ALF/ELF and similar groups without erasing some boundaries that I think are important.

And if I thought for a moment that Hyman was actually approaching this issue with a sincere concern about the sorts of distinctions we're discussing, I'd be more lenient on the guy. But as I say in my post, I think this is all simply part of his usual game of conflating general causes with extreme examples and singling out targets to stand in for broader views they can be characterized as representing.

Thanks again for the thoughtful post!


At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the reply. I certainly share your view about Hyman's cynical use of issues. Not often when he comes across as being genuinely interested in the public good. Just the good of his "constituents".

Back to animal stuff...

It is problematic when a group, such as Peta, generates a stink about some researcher or business that they don't like and then violence or threats of violence ensue.

Is Peta responsible? Hard to say, but its also hard to say that they don't foster violence. Peta's website denies and condoning of violence, but the actions of their directors say otherwise.

Peta has donated repeatedly to Earth Liberation Front, which is known by the FBI as a terrorist group. Peta gave $10,000's to the Rodney Coronado defense fund (Coronado is a convicted arsonist who has also spoken out about how to make firebombs for the purpose of destroying property. The video can be found on the internet).

And when one looks at statements of Peta directors, you see a pattern that promotes violence. Here are some quotes from Ingrid Newkirk, president of Peta:

“Our nonviolent tactics are not as effective. We ask nicely for years and get nothing. Someone makes a threat, and it works.”
(April 8, 2002 issue of US News & World Report)

“I wish we all would get up and go into the labs and take the animals out or burn them down.”
("National Animal Rights Convention", 6/27/97)

“Would I rather the research lab that tests animals is reduced to a bunch of cinders? Yes.”
— New York Daily News, 12/7/97

“Perhaps the mere idea of receiving a nasty missive will allow animal researchers to empathize with their victims for the first time in their lousy careers. 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.”
(Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/12/99)

And here's a statement of Bruce Friederich, a Peta director:

“If we really believe that animals have the same right to be free from pain and suffering at our hands, then, of course we’re going to be, as a movement, blowing things up and smashing windows … I think it’s a great way to bring about animal liberation … I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories, and the banks that fund them exploded tomorrow... Hallelujah to the people who are willing to do it.

-Friedrich's statements at the “Animal Rights 2001” conference.

Sorry for this issue getting my dander up, but I know of people who have been affected by the actions of non-human-animal-rights groups. Peta is smart. They have a reasonably attractive website and "front end" (ex: Pamela Anderson as spokesperson), but they also embrace a much darker and violent side.


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