“The difference between vigilantes and animal rights activists”
NEW DELHI, India; WASHINGTON D.C.––Responding to “animal rights violence” that has cost at least 10 human lives in two years, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations on May 7, 2017 spelled out “The Difference between Vigilantes and Animal Rights Activists.”
Strongly worded as it was, the FIAPO newsletter editorial may have most forcefully made the point in that FIAPO director Varda Mehrotra signed her name to it, instead of seeking safety in the quiet anonymity that is her usual leadership style.
Mayhem in the name of cow protection
Though entirely directed at recent incidents in India involving Hindu ultra-nationalist Gau Rakshaks, or “cow protectors,” Mehrotra voiced a message relevant to U.S. animal advocates too, especially those who imagine that ends justify means and that self-righteous passion can somehow rationalize a lack of both philosophical consistency and strategic wisdom in a fundamentally non-violent cause.
The underlying issue, the contradiction between waging violence and respecting all sentient life, has nothing to do with the legality or political popularity of the actions in question, Mehrotra made clear––because in India the violent acts have occurred with at least the tacit approval of the Hindu nationalist government presently in power.
Farmer beaten to death
Mehrotra wrote a month after Muslim dairy farmer Pehlu Khan, 55, was on March 31, 2017 beaten to death by a
mob near Alwar, Rajasthan. The Gau Rakshaks mistook a cow Khan was taking home to add to his herd for a cow being taken to slaughter.
“Cow protection has been a trigger for sectarian violence throughout modern Indian history and its resurgence since 2015 has been linked to an increasingly assertive Hindu nationalist movement,” explained a FIAPO news report linked to the editorial.
Prime minister pledged to ban beef
“Indian prime minister Narendra Modi won office in 2014 pledging to ban beef across India,” the article recounted, paraphrasing reportage by Michael Safi of the Guardian.
“Calls to declare the cow India’s national animal have grown since his election. Police are regularly accused of working alongside cow protection vigilantes. One state, Haryana, announced plans last year to license some of the groups.
“Modi rebuked the vigilantes last August,” the FIAPO report continued, “after videos emerged showing young Dalits – India’s least socially dominant caste, tasked with disposing of dead cows – being flogged for handling the animals’ carcasses.”
Meanwhile, the FIAPO report mentioned, “Gujarat state raised the sentence for cow slaughter to life imprisonment. The chief minister of another state, Chhattisgarh, said that anyone caught killing cows there would be hanged.”
AETA stopped most “AR violence” in the U.S.
Erupting in multi-year clusters of incidents during the late 1980s, mid-1990s, and circa 2003-2006, violence in the name of animal advocacy has seldom surfaced in the U.S. in recent years, coinciding with the passage of the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, in effect since November 2006.
No one was ever actually killed as result of “animal rights” violence in the U.S., but there were many close calls, including a March 1997 bombing at the Utah Fur Breeders Agricultural Collective feed storage depot in Sandy, Utah, that sent shrapnel flying toward house trailers on the premises that were occupied by two men, a woman, and a two-year-old boy.
Extended coverage of 1992 law
AETA, essentially a consolidated sentencing act bringing together under one heading a variety of offenses which were already illegal, extended to animal industry workers the provisions of the 1992 Animal Enterprise Protection Act. The 1992 law covered only property.
Post-AETA, the only high-profile violence undertaken under the pretext of animal advocacy were “a spate of attacks on University of California animal researchers,” recounted San Francisco Chronicle reporter Matthew Yi after similar state-level legislation was introduced in California.
Most recent major cases
“In February 2008,” Yi wrote, “six masked people tried to force their way into the home of a U.C. Santa Cruz researcher. The suspects tried to break in by pounding on the front door, and when the researcher’s husband confronted them, the suspects hit him on the head, authorities said. In January 2008, a Molotov cocktail exploded on the front porch of UCLA researcher Edythe London’s home. In 2007 the same home was flooded,” reportedly doing $20,000 worth of damage, “when someone broke a window and inserted a garden hose with the water on full blast. In a separate incident, the wife of another UCLA researcher was sent a package of razor blades and fur, accompanied by a threatening note.”
Only one high-profile fugitive accused of violence in the name of animal advocacy remains at large. Daniel Andreas San Diego, now 37, is suspected in connection with bombings in 2003 at the biotechnology firm Chiron Corp. in Emeryville, California, which was hit twice, an hour apart, and the nutrition and cosmetics company Shaklee Corporation in Pleasanton, California, bombed eight days later.
No one was injured in any of the explosions, but the Shaklee bomb was reportedly wrapped with nail gun bandoliers, making the nails into potentially deadly shrapnel.
But if actual violence under the pretext of animal advocacy has waned, appealing to the passions, fantasies, and frustrations of donors with vigilante postures has seldom been more fashionable. Rival tablers at every recent Animal Rights National Conference have vied for attention in a variety of black costumes and camouflage fatigues beneath posters of themselves and others in ski masks. Some pose with weapons in what 40-odd years ago would have been called “Patty Hearst chic,” after the heiress-turned-kidnap-victim-turned-revolutionary who brandished a submachine gun during a 1974 bank robbery before metamorphosing into an heiress again and largely vanishing from public view.
Hiding behind fictitious guns
Cornered by recent ANIMALS 24-7 and Showing Animals Respect & Kindness exposés of fundraising to develop “spay/neuter cookies” which do not exist even in a viable scientific theory, “600 Million Stray Dogs Need You” founder Alex Pacheco responded with an April 26, 2017 statement playing up his claimed role as a gunner aboard the original Sea Shepherd ship in 1979––a vessel which famously carried no guns.
“Bully breed” violence at all-time high
And while actual violence by humans against humans in the name of animal advocacy may have waned since lawmakers and law enforcement agencies began treating it like any other form of organized crime, violence by pit bulls and other “bully breed” dogs promoted by ostensible animal advocates is at an all-time high, militantly defended by an entire multi-million-dollar industry led by the Humane Society of the U.S., the American SPCA, Maddie’s Fund, and the Best Friends Animal Society.
Pit bull advocacy campaigns have in common with the Gau Rakshak movement in India that they operate under an umbrella of “official legitimacy.” Goondas in India hide behind the Hindu religious duty to protect cows; in the U.S., animal control agencies are under so much political pressure to achieve high “live release” rates that many avoid impounding pit bulls even after multiple violent incidents, and return pit bulls to owners, release them to “rescuers,” or adopt them to the unwitting public regardless of the pit bulls’ history.
Denying the violence
Much as Gau Rakshak activists tend to rationalize violence in the name of cow protection, pit bull advocacy centers on denying the violent proclivities of pit bulls, often with rhetoric reminiscent of that of “Animal Liberation Front” supporters. For decades now, ALF supporters have pretended that arsons and bombings directed at property rather than people are not really “violence,” no matter who may suffer collateral injury.
Consistently overlooked by ALF supporters, pit bull advocates, and Gau Rakshak activists alike is that a person who is injured or killed by accident is just as much in pain or dead as if the person was a deliberate target.
Dogfighters account for smallest part of the mayhem
Ironically, HSUS and the ASPCA at the height of violent activity claimed by the so-called “Animal Liberation Front” made a frequent public point of distinguishing themselves and legitimate animal advocacy goals from the mayhem.
Both HSUS and the ASPCA acknowledge some pit bull violence and associated crime in high-profile campaigns against dogfighting, but have yet to recognize that organized dogfighting accounts for only the tiniest tip of the pile of pit bull victims, and that fighting dog breeders are statistically trivial contributors to the million-odd pit bulls per year arriving at animal shelters through owner surrender and impoundment.
“Knee-jerk & poorly-planned schemes”
Wrote Varda Mehrotra, “Stories of acts of violence by Gau Rakshaks––in the name of non-violence towards animals (specifically cows)––have gripped the country. After the tragic death of a Muslim man killed by cow protection vigilantes, amid knee-jerk and poorly-planned schemes and laws to punish ill-treatment of cows, news came in of individuals who beat up three Muslim men transporting buffaloes. Significant debate followed on whether [those who beat the Muslims] were animal rights activists or Gau Rakshaks.
“Each of us,” Mehrotra acknowledged, “probably knows animal rights activists within our community who have stopped trucks and rescued cattle being transported illegally [to slaughter]. The waters are muddy––at least from the public’s point of view.
“Animal rights activists are for all animals”
“Yet, there is a sharp distinction,” Mehrotra emphasized. “Animal rights activists are for all animals, for their intrinsic value and right to life, not to be seen as commodities that are to be used by human beings as food, or clothes, or entertainment. Gau Raksha, on the other hand, is an extremely narrow view which is speciesist (protecting only bovines, specifically cows), sexist (protecting cows but not bulls), and motivated by religious beliefs,” exclusive of the teachings of other religions.
“Not only is there a huge difference in ideology,” Mehrotra pointed out, “but as [leaders of] a movement based in non-violence, we also completely disagree with the violent tactics adopted by Gau Rakshaks.
“But the waters are muddied”
“But the waters are muddied,” Mehrotra repeated, “and now genuine initiatives against cruel treatment meted out to cows taken up by animal rights activists are likely to be referred to as acts of vigilantism too.
“Even initiatives to promote vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are likely to be viewed as a part of the same spectrum of vigilantism,” Mehrotra mourned, “thus setting back the hard work of many hundreds of grassroots activists who run campaigns to reduce and end the consumption of animal products.
“Rogue Gau Rakshaks are self-appointed, self-styled vigilantes, perpetrating violence and terror in the guise of animal rights activists,” Mehrotra declared. “Not only are we completely opposed to such elements, we are shocked by their extremely narrow vision, invariably failing to serve even the cow protection cause in its entirety. What happens to the cows they rescue? They land in shelters that are equally pathetic for any animal and which do not have sufficient fodder or access to veterinary doctors, and fail to provide even the basic minimum quality of life. Eventually, most of the [rescued] cows die a miserable death. Why is the treatment of cows in dairies across India absent from their criticism? Why aren’t Gau Rakshaks vegan?
“Lack of respect for the intrinsic value of animals marks the clear distinction between Gau Raksha vigilantism and animal rights activism,” Mehrotra finished. “We at FIAPO sincerely hope that there is strict action against the unlawful acts of these self-proclaimed ‘cow protectors.’ And for those genuine animal rights activists who are caught in this storm, we stand by you.”
Arguments stand in U.S. context
Especially striking to ANIMALS 24-7 is how easily Mehrotra’s central arguments can be rephrased to address either “direct action” violence in the name of animal advocacy in North America and Europe, or the violence by proxy resulting from pit bull advocacy.
Animal rights are for all animals, but pit bull advocacy is an extremely narrow view which is inherently “breedist” (note the common pit bull advocacy catch-phrase “If it ain’t pit, it ain’t shit”) every bit as much as any call for breed-specific legislation.
But the victim advocacy cause, calling for breed-specific legislation, is backed by the supporting reality that pit bulls kill more than 90% of all the animals and humans who are killed by dogs of any sort.
Bullying the victims
Pit bull advocates are often self-appointed, self-styled vigilantes, perpetrating violence and terror in the guise of animal rights activism.
In several cities, for example, on several occasions pit bull advocates have marched in menacing phalanxes, their pits straining at the ends of leads, toward pit bull victims and their family members who have assembled to mourn loved ones.
(See “Don’t bully my breed, but we will bully the victims,” by Beth Clifton.)
Not only is ANIMALS 24-7 completely opposed to such elements; we are shocked by their extremely narrow vision, invariably failing to serve even the pit bull cause in its entirety. What happens to the pit bulls whom pit bull advocates “rescue” from public animal shelters?
Hundreds of “rescued” pit bulls land in so-called no-kill shelters that would be inadequate for any animal larger than a tick, where the “rescued” pit bulls suffer from malnutrition, lack of veterinary care, and eventually die a miserable death, frequently torn apart by other starving pit bulls.
Victim advocacy is root of humane work
ANIMALS 24-7 will not allow pit bull advocacy to masquerade in our pages as either animal rights or animal welfare activism, both of which philosophies emphasize fundamental respect for all sentient life. Victim advocacy is the authentic root of humane work, whether on behalf of suffering animals or suffering humans.