Apathy thwarts “Call To Action BBQ”
VERBENA, Alabama––One inept attempt to rally nationwide support for cockfighting, convened on short notice amid a global pandemic, scarcely means the multi-million-dollar cockfighting industry is unraveling, protected as it is by “good old boys” in legislatures and law enforcement.
But that fewer people rallied in defense of cockfighting on August 22, 2020 at Brent Easterling’s L&L Game Farm near Verbena, Alabama, than the few hundred who often attend local cockfights does tend to suggest that most cockfighters would rather continue to defend their industry with bribes and backroom political deals than by standing up for it in the open.
Response to SHARK exposés
The “Call To Action BBQ,” as Easterling billed the rally, was called after Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK), funded by the Humane Farming Association, “targeted three major illegal cockfighting operations in Kentucky,” SHARK summarized in a July 27, 2020 media release.
“All three,” SHARK explained, “were highly organized criminal ventures located in buildings built specifically for cockfighting, including multiple fighting pits, stadium seating, vendors, concession stands, and extensive illegal gambling. The cockfighting operations were in the counties of Butler, McCreary and Clay. We are happy to report that all three of these locations have been shut down,” SHARK concluded, “as well as a fourth location, again in Butler County.”
Planning political defense
The four cockpit closures in less than 60 days, along with judicial rulings that made cockfighting illegal in the U.S. territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, visibly rattled the cockfighting industry.
Easterling, with gamecock breeders Jim Collins of Puerto Rico and Mario Maldonado of Houston, Texas, began promoting the “Call To Action BBQ” circa July 21, 2020 as, in Collins’ words, a venue for “discussing some general ideas and what our first steps will be, based on the blueprint they have used against us,” toward mounting a political defense of cockfighting.
KKK allies returned cockfighting to Puerto Rico
Cockfighting has survived in the U.S., despite being outlawed in most states for most of the time that the U.S. has existed, through political connections and bribery of law enforcement––and returned to prominence in Puerto Rico in 1933, 35 years after being banned there, through an alliance of politically well-positioned cockfighters from Kentucky, associated with the Ku Klux Klan, with those cockfighters remaining in Puerto Rico.
(See the latter half of Cockfighters “win” from delay of hurricane aid to Puerto Rico.)
But cockfighters have rarely if ever sought public political support. Anti-cockfighting laws have often been passed by initiative when obstructed by allies of cockfighting in state and local legislatures.
Seldom have cockfighters even seemed to imagine that most of the public might condone cockfighting, long associated as it has been with a variety of crimes against humans.
Easterling, Collins, and Maldonado might have deluded themselves that they could win public political support by mobilizing because of the success of a series of anti-corruption marches in Puerto Rico that brought the July 22, 2020 resignation of former governor Ricardo Rosselló, a Democrat.
Ricardo Rosselló’s leading political opponent, U.S. Congressional Representative Jenniffer González-Colón, a Republican, has been photographed attending cockfights and has embraced cockfighting as a symbol of Puerto Rico, even though barely a third of Puerto Ricans have ever even seen a cockfight, and baseball eclipses cockfighting in popularity.
But Rosselló also embraced cockfighting. Both Rosselló and González-Colón lobbied against the language in the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill that extended the federal prohibition of cockfighting to U.S.-held overseas territories.
Attempted “rainbow” coalition
The alliance of Easterling, Collins, and Maldonado sought to unite white southern cockfighters, traditionally associated with the Ku Klux Klan, and currently inclined to sport the Confederate battle flag and “Trump” bumper stickers on their vehicles, with dark-skinned cockfighters of Spanish-speaking and Caribbean ancestry.
Such attempts, indicative of the axiom that “politics make strange bedfellows,” have failed before. While cockfighting thrives––behind closed doors––among the gamblers of many Spanish-speaking and Southeast Asian ethnic communities, cultural and linguistic differences have repeatedly inhibited the formation of an authentic “rainbow” coalition in defense of cockfighting.
But the “Call To Action BBQ” was up against more than just racism among cockfighters, surveillance by SHARK, and the cost of traveling long distances.
COVID-19 also had a role in thwarting the organizers’ ambitions. Attending public gatherings is discouraged under social distancing guidelines, and masking is required at public gatherings in Alabama, but several “Call To Action BBQ” invitees made plain via social media that they would not attend any event at which they would be required to wear a mask.
SHARK, meanwhile, alerted media and law enforcement that Easterling, described as “a cockfighter who has a criminal history of racketeering related to drugs,” would be hosting what SHARK media contact Stuart Chaifetz on August 17, 2020 called in a media release a “COVID -19 Super-Spreader Event.”
Hard to prosecute an offense with a $50 fine
Chaifetz also complained to Chilton County sheriff John Shearon that the “Call To Action BBQ” could become a “COVID -19 Super-Spreader Event.”
Responded Shearon, “I had a discussion yesterday with the event organizer [Easterling] about what was going on. He stated there will not be any chicken fights going on there. He stated that there will only be a political rally and barbecue. He stated they have already talked to the State Health Department about the barbecue and they stated that as long as the food was not sold, it was fine. The organizer stated they will be handing out face masks when the people get there.
“I explained to him they need to wear the mask and socially distance and he stated they would. He stated there will be probably three hundred people there at the event. I can’t tell him or anyone else how many people they can have on their property. He stated that anyone was welcome to come see that they were not violating any laws.
“Chicken fighting is a violation in Alabama that carries a fine of $50.00 if convicted,” Shearon added. “It is hard spending our citizens’ tax dollars on something that is only a violation. When and if it ever becomes a felony,” Shearon said, “then we can deal with it and can be justified.”
Shearon recommended that SHARK might “reach out to our lawmakers” toward making cockfighting a felony.
Collins urged civility
Jim Collins, during the days leading up to the “Call To Action BBQ,” appeared to spend much and perhaps most of his social media time urging fellow cockfighting enthusiasts to be careful about what sort of evidence they posted online, where, and what sort of behavior they demonstrated, especially in making threats of violence against SHARK.
Collins’ many postings admonishing civility among cockfighters appear to have begun soon after Brenda Schory of the Kane County Chronicle revealed on July 29, 2020 that “Steve Hindi, founder of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, reported six threatening and obscene voice mail messages to the Kane County Sheriff’s Office, believing them to be related to the group’s recent shut down of four cockfighting rings in Kentucky.
“Sick, twisted people”
“According to sheriff’s reports,” Schory continued, “the threatening messages were reported on July 27 and he provided the recordings from the same male voice to deputies. The deputy called the number – and the man answering let loose a similar stream of obscene invective at the deputy, reports stated.
“The deputy completed a grand jury subpoena request for records and sent it to the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office for approval, the report stated.
“Hindi said he also reported the threatening messages to the FBI.”
Observed Hindi, to Schory, “Even though [cockfighters] are committing crimes, they tell themselves they are great patriots. They have the American flag and the Confederate flag up at[cockfights],” Hindi said. “It’s incredible for people who are fixated on watching two birds peck each other to death with razor blades and gaffs on them. These are some of the sickest, most twisted people in society – and very dangerous.”
Opening bank account
As matters developed, “Call To Action BBQ” participation could apparently have been counted in the low dozens, not the hundreds.
Posted Easterling afterward, “I would have loved to see a better turnout and I have had numerous people text and say that a ‘certain’ organization scared them from coming! I respect everyone’s opinions, but we just can’t let that happen in the future! What we and Mr Jim Collins are trying to accomplish will have to have a much larger following!
“Mario Maldonado will set up a PayPal account today and the bank account is in the process of being opened up!” Easterling said.
“This is for game fowl farmers, horsemen, cattlemen, coon dog owners, etc.,” Easterling finished. “This is not [to] support cockfighting, this is to support our rights to own game fowl! Before long, if we don’t step up, there will be no gamefowl rights, no horse racing rights, no coon hunting rights, no rights at all.”
Easterling’s statement overlooked––besides any recognition of animal rights––every human right actually recognized in the 10-article U.S. Bill of Rights and/or among 30 rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights advanced by the United Nations.