High-Tech Activism

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1995:

High-Tech Activism
The high cost of losing vs. the economics of victory
by Steve Hindi
president, Chicago Animal Rights Coalition

In 1992, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage
County, Illinois targeted thousands of “surplus” deer for
slaughter by sharpshooting and by rocket-netting followed by
captive bolt dispatch. While we opposed killing healthy deer
by either method, sharpshooting at least theoretically offered
the possibility of instant death. Rocket-netting was an entirely
different matter.
Rocket-nets are explosive devices that literally blast
a heavy net over groups of deer drawn to a baited site. People
who live nearby often call rocket nets “howitzers,” as their
roar can be heard for miles. The stress to the victims cannot
be overestimated, as the explosives detonate just a few feet
from the victims as they feed. Rocket-netting also causes a
high incidence of unintended injury, as frightened deer hurt
themselves trying to escape.


Forest Preserve District officials were well aware of
all this. But rather than address the cruelty of rocket-netting,
they chose to secure themselves against exposure and any
resulting public relations fallout. Orders were given to close
the preserves to the public a couple of hours before the
killings each evening. Sawhorses, vehicles and armed guards
were stationed at each entrance. Armed security personnel
patrolled the boundaries. The Forest Preserve looked like
what it was––a war zone––with the deer the unarmed and
unsuspecting “enemy.”
District personnel refused to allow anyone, from
taxpayers to the media, to view the killing. They assured the
public that the slaughter was fast, humane and painless.
They said the deer did not struggle much in the nets, were
never injured before having their brains pulverized, and
never got away.
While media and complacent public accepted this
propaganda, we were unconvinced.
For over two years, the Chicago Animal Rights
Coalition and other animal protection groups struggled
against the District. We spent thousands of hours at county
government meetings, made hundreds of phone calls, wrote
letters, and protested in sub-freezing weather near the killing
sites. We accomplished little if anything, and the slaughter
went on. Some of us were arrested, which only drove our
costs higher. What we needed was videotape of the killing.
This would convince the public––but we said we could not
afford the cost of the specialized equipment that could do the
job. This was what we believed. We were wrong.
In fall 1994, CHARC came to a new realization.
The cost to us involved in losing the battle far eclipsed any
amount likely to be spent in an intelligent plan to win––over
and above the obvious cost in pain, suffering, and loss of life
to the deer. We educated ourselves about the available covert
video technology. It was not a cheap solution, but we had
come to believe that it was one way, maybe the only way, to
stop the killing.
The evening of January 9, 1995 was just another
night of slaughter for the killers of the DuPage County Forest
Preserve District. On that night, however, more than the
deer were being hunted. As the “howitzers” exploded, as
deer jumped and somersaulted in panic, crashed, were
dragged in the nets, and finally had their brains blown out, a
hidden video camera recorded every pitiless moment, every
struggle, every scream. Two firings of the nets were recorded
that night. One firing resulted in suffering that went on for
35 minutes. Our video exposed every lie the District’s propaganda
machine had ground out for more than two years.
The next meeting of the DuPage County Forest
Preserve Commissioners began pretty much like all the others.
Animal protection activists were there, apparently, to
again bang their heads against the wall. The smug killers
were there, confident that their cruel and deadly secrets were
still safe. The Commissioners were there, ready to stand
behind the District staff, and to ignore the truth. This, however,
was a day of change.
During the public comment session at the beginning
of the meeting, we played our secretly obtained videotape to
a room of stunned observers. Even those Commissioners who
supported the killing watched intently, likely dreading the
negative publicity and hard questions they knew would follow.
The killers looked as if a bomb had dropped on them,
while activists who hadn’t previously seen the video saw their
worst imagining realized.
The eyes have it
Seeing was believing. The DuPage County Forest
Preserve Commissioners voted to stop rocket-netting and captive-bolting
deer on the very day they saw the video. The
same media that previously supported rocket-netting as a
“necessary evil” now came out strongly against it. Chicago
television news stations played the footage repeatedly, sometimes
preceded by warnings that discretion should be used by
viewers, due to the disturbing nature of the subject matter.
Radio stations played the sounds of deer crying out as they
struggled before being killed, with similar warnings.
The District, desperate to avoid the public outrage,
claimed the footage was not from DuPage County. In
response, CHARC scheduled an outdoor press conference
right at the killing fields, and invited District personnel to
attend. CHARC and the media showed up, but not one mem
ber of the District appeared. One disgusted newspaper wrote
a scathing editorial against them, titled “Show Up Or Shut
Up!” Other, more inventive “explanations” from the
District became laughable. The DuPage County Forest
Preserve District was completely discredited, and is even
today far from recovered.
While the costs of successfully saving lives were in
the thousands of dollars, this was a pittance compared to
what we spent over the years to lose. And our victory
spread became larger, as seeing the uproar in DuPage
County, the neighboring Cook County Forest Preserve
District adopted a permanent moratorium on rocket-netting.
We have gone on to use our undercover video
equipment to expose cruelty in donkey basketball, rodeos,
and canned hunts. And we have continued to improve our
video capabilities. We now have equipment that can shoot
over long distances, and at night. We have tiny video cameras
we can hide on a person’s body, as well as video cameras
and recorders with timers, which can be planted indoors
or out. Technology is advancing so quickly that it is hard to
keep up with what is available. There seems to be no end in
sight to the possibilities for documenting cruelty to animals.
Other than being there, nothing captures better than
videotape the essence of a situation. Little is more compelling
than a crying, suffering, or dying animal. This is
something I hope even the smallest groups will come to realize
soon. Some large organizations have used undercover
video for years. But grassroots people must rely upon their
own devices, because help from the big groups isn’t always
available, and their longterm national strategies may not
include stopping particular abuses right here and now. Video
technology, meanwhile, can turn even a lone activist into an
effective deep cover strike force.
CHARC now rarely goes on any action without
video equipment. Our cameras have helped record improper
police activity at protests, and the crimes of thugs such as
those who attend pigeon shoots. But our most important use
of video is in documenting abuse itself. Pigeon shooters in
Hegins, Pennsylvania and other areas have taken terrible hits
because of long distance footage documenting their nightmarish
treatment of wounded birds. Now, hidden video footage
of a live turkey shoot, which also occurred in Pennsylvania,
is exacerbating their public relations nightmare. The club
exposed by the video vowed to never hold another live animal
shoot. Laboratories, circuses, dog and cock fights, farm and
slaughter abuse, and virtually every other type of abuse can
now be revealed with imagination and funding.
It is my hope that every activist organization will
start building a video arsenal. Animal abusers dread public
exposure. Without question, video equipment is expensive
up front, not to mention difficult to work with. But it is
CHARC’s experience that in the end, winning is not nearly as
expensive as losing, either in dollars or lives.
One word of caution: consult a lawyer if possible,
prior to an operation, to make sure you do not violate anyone’s
right of privacy. CHARC has never had a problem with
this, but it is wise to be cautious until you know your way
around the legalities.
If you are interested in learning more about covert
video, please contact us. We will be happy to discuss our
equipment and methods, and will give you the names of our
equipment suppliers. We may even be able to come and help
in certain situations.
If you want to take a bite out of animal abuse, try
video “hunting.” Your opposition is likely to be a “sitting
duck.”
[Contact CHARC c/o POB 66, Yorkville, IL
60560; 708-552-7872; fax 708-208-0562.]

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