From “Joe Exotic” to Wayne Pacelle
WASHINGTON D.C.––Soon-to-be-former U.S. President Donald Trump and his die-hard defenders who are now facing criminal charges for storming the U.S. National Capitol building on January 6, 2021 were scarcely the only big losers from the events of the day.
Former U.S. Air Force security dog handler Ashli Babbitt, 35, lost her life, shot by a Capitol Hill police officer as she crashed through a glass door into the Capitol building, following others.
Serving in the Air Force and Air National Guard from 2004 to 2016, Babbitt while stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska adopted her retired working dog as a personal pet.
Other human deaths
An extensive investigation by Dennis Wagner, Melissa Daniels and Grace Hauck, of USA Today indicated that Babbitt’s behavior since circa 2014 had become increasingly unstable.
Four and perhaps more people died in consequence of the Capitol building storming: three more Trumpists, who suffered medical emergencies at the scene as the mob blocked rescue vehicles from approaching, and Capitol Hill police officer Brian D. Sicknick, 42.
Another Capitol Hill police officer, Howard Liebengood, 51, reportedly killed himself three days later, on January 9, 2020. His motives are as yet undisclosed.
“Joe Exotic” seeks “Get out of jail free” card
Along with the deaths and injuries were several possible political casualties among animal users and advocates who had tried to position themselves close to Trump.
These ranged from tiger exhibitor “Joe Exotic,” convicted in January 2020 of trying to hire the killing of Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, to Animal Wellness Action founder and former Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, who had repeatedly enlisted Blair Brandt, Florida Co-Chair for the Trump Victory Finance Committee 2020, as a lobbying contact with the Trump family.
“Joe Exotic” lawyer Eric Love, according to the online entertainment tabloid TMZ, had “strategically chosen” January 6, 2021 as his day to fly from Texas to Washington D.C. in a private jet with a portrait of “Joe Exotic” on the nose.
Love sought a “high level” meeting with Trump administration officials “in connection with” seeking a pardon for “Exotic,” whose actual name is Joseph Schreibvogel Maldonado.
“Exotic” had campaigned for Trump in Oklahoma in 2016.
Bradley Lane Croft
Also reportedly seeking a pardon from Trump before his departure from office on January 20, 2021––if Trump is not impeached or removed first by the few remaining cabinet members under Article 25 of the U.S. Constitution––is Bradley Lane Croft, 49.
The pit bull advocacy organization Animal Farm Foundation funded Croft from 2013 to 2017 to prepare pit bulls for police work.
Croft was on December 18, 2019 ordered to forfeit more than $1 million in assets to the federal government, following his conviction on multiple fraud charges.
Senior U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra on November 6, 2019 convicted Croft of eight counts of wire fraud, four counts of aggravated identity theft, two counts of money laundering and two counts of making a false tax return.
Neither “Joe Exotic” nor Bradley Lane Croft meet the eligibility criteria for a presidential pardon recommended by the Department of Justice, having not already served at least five years for their federally convicted offenses.
Trump has, however, already pardoned 28 friends and political allies before they met the Department of Justice criteria. Among them were Joe Arpaio, sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona, from 1993 to 2016; former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; and 26 people pardoned on December 23, 2020.
Prominently posing as an animal advocate burnished Arpaio’s reputation, even as he racked up a record of police misconduct that the U.S. Department of Justice eventually identified as part of the most blatant pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history.
Arpaio was in 2017 criminally convicted for contempt of court in failing to implement judicially ordered reforms, but was pardoned by Trump two months later.
Pacelle has identified Arpaio on several occasions over the years as his “pitchman” for Arizona legislation, and invited Arpaio to deliver the keynote address at the 2008 Humane Society of the U.S. Expo in Dallas.
Pacelle’s “pitchman” in approaching Donald Trump, however, appears to have most often been Blair Brandt, 32, of Palm Beach, Florida––a real estate entrepreneur, former “reality television” personality, and apparent longtime confidante of Lara Trump, wife of Trump’s second son Eric Trump.
Brandt, between Trump’s November 2020 national election loss and the January 6, 2021 riot in Washington D.C., was reportedly active on social media promoting the mass demonstration that turned into the storming of the Capitol Building, though he does not appear to have advocated that particular denouement.
Bizarre claims about China
Before that, Brandt may have been best known to Trump administration watchers for amplifying bizarre claims about China through social media.
A personal resumé notes that “Brandt advocated in the Washington Examiner on April 6, 2020 for the closures of Chinese wet markets and the dog and cat meat trade,” going on to mention, as if there was any connection, that “On April 8, 2020, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture announced a plan to end dog and cat meat trade on May 8, 2020, citing public concern following COVID-19.”
In truth, though, what the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture actually did was reclassify dogs as pets, rather than livestock, implementing a rule change that had been formally proposed at least a decade earlier. The rule change made no mention of cats, who have never been considered livestock.
City of Shenzen, not China, banned dog & cat meat
Separately, also on April 8, 2021, the city of Shenzen, just north of Hong Kong, banned selling dogs and cats for human consumption.
Shenzen activists had campaigned for the ban since June 17, 2006, when the Shenzhen Cat Net web site founder, identified by China Daily only as “Isobel,” carried a white rose to the newly opened Fang Company Cat Meatball Restaurant.
Starting with “more than 10” supporters, according to China Daily, including Gao Haiyun, Miss Shenzhen for 2005, “Isobel” had about 40 cat-lovers with her when she reached the restaurant, backed by “a large crowd including children,” China Daily reported.
Rescuing the cats they found at the restaurant, they extracted a pledge from the owner that he would not sell cat meat any more.
Pit bull lobbyist
Brandt went on to allege on October 2, 2020, after Trump tested positive for COVID-19 infection, that “The Chinese Communist Party has biologically attacked our President.”
Brandt did not mention that Trump’s own failure to respond promptly to warnings about COVID-19 issued to the world by China, beginning on December 31, 2019, has contributed to at least 385,250 U.S. deaths.
Brandt––himself a pit bull owner––has at least since 2017 helped Lara Trump to lobby against legislation meant to protect the public, pets, and animals kept as livestock from pit bull attacks.
The Humane Society of the U.S. credited Brandt with helping to win passage of Florida Amendment 13 in 2018, which shut down Florida greyhound racing as of January 1, 2021, leaving only six greyhound tracks still operating in the U.S., scattered among five states.
The Humane Society of the U.S. also credited Brandt for winning Trump administration support for the 2019 PACT Act, which purportedly “prohibits extreme acts of cruelty when they occur in interstate commerce or on federal property.”
The PACT Act, however, exempts anything done in connection with legal hunting, fishing, or trapping; “customary and normal” agricultural and veterinary practices; slaughtering animals for food; pest control; medical and scientific research; euthanasia; or actions “necessary to protect the life or property of a person.”
Other than some individual acts of sadism, and practices that were already illegal under existing federal law, it is difficult to find any cruelty done to animals that the PACT Act does not exempt.
“Could hurt with the donor class”
Brandt and Lara Trump, along with the rest of the Trump family, lost much of their political credibility at “about 1:00 p.m. on January 6, 2021,” assessed Palm Beach Post reporters Christine Stapleton and Wendy Rhodes.
“Florida was poised to become the center of the MAGA universe, where GOP operatives would map out the party’s future and raise millions of dollars to make it happen,” explained Stapleton and Rhodes.
“Here, Donald Trump would preside over it all as political king-and queen-maker, hosting lavish fundraisers at Mar-a-Lago and anointing a new breed of loyal, brash acolytes. Now, Florida Republicans and political strategists are wondering how the party will recover from damage caused by Trump’s inflicted wounds and what role the soon-to-be ex-president and Florida will play in rebuilding the party.”
Brandt told Stapleton and Rhodes that the January 6, 2021 debacle in Washington D.C. “does not change his [Trump’s] pull with the working-class voters,” while conceding that “It could hurt with some of the more elite, sophisticated Republicans in the donor class, especially the ones who have always been on the fence.”
Jake Angeli Chansley wore the horns
The “animal angle” attracting the most immediate attention on January 6, 2021 were the antics of Jake Angeli Chansley, 33, who entered the U.S. Senate debating chamber shirtless, with his face painted red, white, and blue, wearing horns, an apparent coyote and/or raccoon fur cap, and carrying a spear.
An unemployed would-be actor, Chansley reportedly lives with his mother in Phoenix, Arizona, somewhat reprising the life of Joker, memorably played by animal advocate Joaquin Phoenix in the 2019 film of that title.
Chansley has been charged with trespassing, violent entry and disorderly conduct. Jailed, Chansley went on a hunger strike, contending that he can only eat organic food.
Former dog court judge is now former U.S. Senate majority leader too
The violence on January 6, 2021 somewhat upstaged the January 5, 2021 runoff election for two open U.S. Senate seats.
The election of Raphael Warnock, the first black candidate to become a U.S. Senator from Georgia, and Jon Ossoff, the first Jewish U.S. Senator from Georgia, returned control of the Senate to the Democrats, after four years with a Republican majority led by Mitch McConnell, senior U.S. Senator from Kentucky.
The McConnell tenure, though McConnell began his political tenure as a dog court judge in Louisville, has been anything but animal-friendly. McConnell has blocked almost every bill approved by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, including pro-animal bills, from going to a Senate vote.
Beagle helped to elect Raphael Warnock
“Raphael Warnock may have his pet beagle to thank” for his upset victory over Republican candidate Kelly Loeffler, suggested University of California Irvine political science professor Michael Tesler in a December 15, 2020 campaign analysis for The Five Thirty-Eight.
Explained Tesler, author of Post-Racial or Most-Racial? Race and Politics in the Obama Era, “Warnock aired two ads featuring his dog. In the first, he uses his cuddly canine to preempt negative GOP attacks against him — attacks that have tried to paint him as an ideological extremist.
“In the second ad, the pooch plays an even more prominent role, with Warnock walking his dog through a suburban neighborhood, poop bag in hand, while denouncing Loeffler’s ‘smear ads’ against him.
Asked Warnock of the dog, a beagle, “I think Georgians will see her ads for what they are — don’t you?” as he threw the poop bag into a garbage can. The beagle barked agreement and licked Warnock’s face.
Wrote Tesler, “The two spots have gone viral, generating almost nine million views, while Warnock’s dog–oriented tweets accumulated over half a million likes on Twitter in November.”
Agreed Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Warnock’s portrayal of himself as a dog lover, a strategic means of overcoming white suspicions of black men, smacked of pure genius.”
The Slutty Vegan
Further hinting that big animal-friendly changes are ahead, former Georgia House leader Stacy Abrams, who orchestrated the Warnock campaign, conducted a runoff election day media conference “outside the Slutty Vegan, a popular black-owned fast food spot,” reported Yahoo News national reporter and producer Marquise Francis.
Despite the name, or perhaps because of it, conferred by owner/founder Pinky Cole, 32, “Slutty Vegan, an Atlanta burger counter, has become the place to be seen waiting, especially if you’re an African-American celebrity,” observed New York Times reporter Kim Severson on July 1, 2019.
Since then, the vegan burger restaurant has expanded successfully to three locations serving majority black neighborhoods around Atlanta. Dexter King, son of Martin Luther King Jr., his mother Coretta Scott King, and the Black Vegetarian Society of Georgia showed the way by establishing vegan/vegetarian restaurants and food programs in several of those neighborhoods more than 20 years ago.
Alaskan drilling lease auction is a bust
The Trump administration, meanwhile, has charged full speed ahead to weaken or dismantle as many regulations as possible that protect animals and habitat before the end of the Trump presidency.
The Bureau of Land Management, for instance, with all eyes on the outcome of the Georgia runoff election, announced on January 5, 2021 that it has finalized a plan to open up 23 million acres of the western North Slope in Alaska to oil drilling.
This came “just before a scheduled auction of drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the eastern North Slope,” the Reuters news service observed.
But the auction, underway even as the pro-Trumpists invaded the U.S. Capitol building, was a bust, attracting just $14.4 million in bids––a fraction of what Alaskans had long anticipated might be paid.
“One of the Trump administration’s biggest environmental rollbacks suffered a stunning setback,” reported Tegan Hanlon and Nat Herz for National Public Radio, “as a decades-long push to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ended with a lease sale that attracted just three bidders — one of which was the state of Alaska itself.
“Alaska’s state-owned economic development corporation was the only bidder on nine of the parcels offered for lease,” Hanlon and Herz continued. “Two small companies also each picked up a single parcel. Half of the offered leases drew no bids at all.”
“We stand with reporters”
Even some environmental organizations were preoccupied, at the time, with the quasi-coup attempt in Washington D.C.
E-mailed Western Environmental Law Center communications director Brian Sweeney to ANIMALS 24-7 and other media, “I want to say we stand with reporters, also targeted today by the violent mob for their tireless labor through difficult circumstances to shine a light on the truth about all aspects of the news.
“It’s scary to watch this happen in a city I once called home,” Sweeney added, “as I imagine it’s scary to see some of the images come through Twitter and other avenues of this mob’s treatment of your colleagues.
“I recognize this is not the beginning of this vilification and violence, but it’s horrible nonetheless.
“Our hearts are heavy,” Sweeney finished, “but we’re fiercely dedicated to defending our democracy.”
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