Animal advocate charged with Dutch assassination

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2002:

AMSTERDAM–Volkert Van der Graaf, 32, among the most
prominent animal rights activists in The Netherlands, was charged on
May 8 with killing populist prime ministerial candidate Pim Fortuyn,
54, two days earlier, with five close-range gunshots to the head
and body, as Fortuyn left a radio station where he had just done an
Van der Graaf was cofounder of Milieu Offensief, known for
use of aggressive legal tactics to fight against all forms of factory

Wrote Stephanie van den Berg of Agence France-Presse, “It
was thought to have been the first political assassination in The
Netherlands since the 17th century. Fortuyn, elegant, bald-headed,
and openly gay, won wide support with his fiery calls to end
immigration in a country where one of every eight people–two million
out of 16 million–are not of Dutch origin,” and the most common
name of male infants in 2001 was reportedly Muhammed.
Fifteen to twenty thousand people marched in mourning for
Fortuyn in Rotterdam, his home city. A former sociology professor,
Fortuyn had founded his own political party, called simply Ljist Pim
Fortuyn, meaning “list of candidates endorsed by Pim Fortuyn.” The
new party won more than a third of the seats on the Rotterdam city
council in March 2002, and was expected to contend for position as
the third largest delegation to the Dutch parliament in the May 15
national election. Instead, Ljist Pim Fortuyn came in second,
despite lacking a designated leader, taking 26 of the 150 seats.
That was two more seats than were won by the Labor Party, headed by
incumbent prime minister Wim Kok, 62, and enough to give Ljist Pim
Fortuyn considerable bargaining power in a coalition government which
will probably be formed by Christian Democrat leader Jan Peter
Balken-ende, 46, most noted thus far for his resemblance to the
fictional character Harry Potter.

Silver bullets

Van der Graaf was apparently apprehended almost immediately,
but Dutch authorities did not officially confirm his identity until
he was formally charged with murdering Fortuyn and possessing an
illegal firearm. The Dutch newspaper De Vokskrant named Van der Graaf
as the suspect in custody on May 7. Van der Graaf was arraigned
after a search of his home found silver-tipped bullets that matched
the bullets used to kill Fortuyn.
The unique ammunition caused investigators to reopen files on
the December 1996 murder of Chris Van de Werken, 43, an alderman
and town environmental officer in Nunspeet, 40 miles east of
Amsterdam. Passers-by heard gunshots, rushed to the scene, and
found Van de Werken lying dead on a wooded bicycle path near his
home, where he had gone to jog. An inquest into the shooting ended
in April 1997 without identifying a suspect, but Van de Werken was
known to have clashed with Van der Graaf.
Van der Graaf reportedly lived for about a year before his
arrest in Hardewijk, 30 miles east of Amsterdam, eight miles from
the Van de Werken murder scene, in a district described by Andrew
Osborn and Ian Black of the British newspaper The Guardian as the
Dutch “Bible belt.”
Hardewijk mayor Johan de Groot told Martin Fletcher of the
London Times that the assassination was a “total surprise” to Van der
Graaf’s wife Petra, who left the community with their infant on the
advice of the town council. Reports differed as to whether the
infant was a son or a daughter whom Van der Graaf called “Moppie.”
Neither Van der Graaf nor his mother Anneke Van der Graaf
spoke to reporters.
Their silence left the motive for allegedly killing Fortuyn a
bit of a mystery.
“We don’t have a very developed policy on animal rights. We
were busy developing it,” Ljist Pim Fortuyn representative Joost
Eerdmans told The Guardian, adding “Pim had two dogs. They were his
life, since he did not have a partner. He loved animals. There is
no mistake about that.”
“Pim Fortuyn had reasonable views on the bio-industry,” the
animal advocacy group Pigs In Need said in a prepared statement.
“Fortuyn believed that new agricultural policy needed to be
According to Pigs In Need, Fortuyn wrote in a recent book,
“Animal welfare must be a priority and we need to switch to less
industrial production methods.”
But Fortuyn reportedly told the Dutch “green” group Milieu
Defensie (Environmental Defense) in late 2001 that, “The whole
environmental policy in The Netherlands lacks substance. I’m sick to
death of your environmental movement.”
NRC-Handelsblad, called “the Washington Post of Holland” by
World Animal Net cofounder Wim de Kok (who is not to be confused with
the defeated prime minister Wim Kok) on May 8 reported that “Fortuyn
recently declared on the TV program Business Class With Harry Mens
that he would take a proposed ban on fur farming off the table if he
was in charge, according to Bont Voor Dieren (Fur For Animals). Bont
Voor Dieren fears that 200,000 mink will become the victims of fur
farm expansion.”
Repeatedly raised in the Dutch parliament since 1995, the
fur farm ban was approved 76-70 on July 1, 1999, but was opposed by
then-agriculture minister L.J. Brinkhorst, and has yet to be
“With a new government, and with the current events in mind,
I doubt whether the fur farming ban is ever going to happen,” Wim de


Now living in the U.S. but originally from The Netherlands,
de Kok was among the leaders of Bont Voor Dieren during the 1980s.
He kept close contact with Dutch animal advocates while representing
the World Society for the Protection of Animals during the early
1990s. Through World Animal Net, de Kok often amplifies Dutch
animal protection news to the global animal advocacy community.
“Milieu Offensief has been one of the most successful
organizations fighting against factory farming in the Netherlands,”
de Kok said. Fur farms were a major target.
“Under the Dutch legal system,” de Kok continued, “any
citizen can claim standing to pursue a lawsuit under environmental
protection laws. When towns do not follow proper procedures for
granting permits for new or expanding farms, any citizen can appeal.
This is a massive job, but Van der Graaf’s organization specialized
in this, and won 75% of the thousands of cases they fought. Van der
Graaf was an expert in legal tactics, and would say, ‘I am
successful because local authorities do not do their homework.’
“If only for that reason, Van der Graaf’s act is
regrettable,” said de Kok, who has been quietly critical of violent
actions throughout his involvement in animal advocacy. “The
assassination delivers a serious blow to the credibility of the
environmental and animal protection movements in the Netherlands.
The country is in shock.
“Obviously an act of violence like this must be strongly
condemned,” de Kok emphasized. “Animal protection and environmental
nonprofit organizations are scrambling to distance themselves from
Van der Graaf as far as possible. Our enemies will use this incident
anyway for many years to come.”
Confirmed New York Times correspondent Marlise Simons, “The
news prompted an outpouring of furious e-mails and telephone threats
against other environmental groups, whose members fear that a
broader hate campaign may be building up.”
Added NRC-Handelsblad, “The visitor count at the Milieu
Offensief web site, <>, usually gets five to ten
visitors a day, but after Van der Graaf was named, it got 54,961.”
Yet it was Bont Voor Dieren, at <>,
that reportedly got the most flames, because, said NRC-Handelsblad,
it had posted an article calling for unspecified “action” against
Fortuyn, with an illustration showing the back of his bald head and
the caption, “More hair than brains.”
The article and illustration were removed, however, within hours.

The suspect

The British group Animal Freedom meanwhile posted a
transcript of a two-year-old telephone interview with Van Der Graaf
to < volkert.html>. A brief
preface explained that Van der Graaf “is not, and was not, a member
of Animal Freedom.”
Said Van der Graaf, “Even in elementary school I was
interested in animals, the environment and nature. I was a member of
the World Wildlife Fund Rangers. We did things like picking up
garbage in the dunes. I used to fish with my brother, who was two
years older. I used to get a kick out of catching fish. My brother
put the worms on the hook. I did think it was mean to the worms and
the fish. It just wasn’t right, but apparently everyone thought it
was normal. In high school my feeling that something was not right
increased. People think it normal that you eat animals, and that
you let fish suffocate in nets when you catch them. But inside me
arose a sense of justice. Such things should not be happening in a
civilized country, I thought.”
But Van der Graaf apparently never opposed all killing–which
put him somewhat at odds with other Dutch activists, whose views he
found paradoxical and hypocritical.
“When I was 15,” Van der Graaf explained in the Animal
Freedom interview, “I worked at a bird shelter in Zeeland. Only 2%
of the birds who were brought in covered in oil survived. I wanted
to prevent suffering, and I didn’t agree with the suffering of the
birds that died slowly from the oil in their intestines. At that
place it was a taboo to end that life. The others thought you simply
had no right to end it. At the same time they put out mouse traps to
kill the mice that were stealing the bird food. I left that place.
I didn’t want to be inconsistent any longer.”
The second son of a schoolteacher in Middelburg, Zeeland,
Van der Graaf was “passionately interested in biology,” said
classmates interviewed by the London Times, and “founded the Zeeland
Animal Liberation Front, which daubed slogans on the facades of
restaurants with frogs’ legs on the menu.”
“At one point I wanted to stop eating meat,” Van der Graaf
told Animal Freedom, “but my parents wouldn’t let me because [they
said] you had to eat meat. Only after I started studying in
Wageningen [living away from home in a university town] I gave it up.
Questions remained: is leather okay, is milk okay, are eco-eggs
“Then I became a vegan. It took some effort,” Van der Graaf
said, “but once you are one, it becomes normal fast.
“During my studies I involved myself in the use of laboratory
animals,” Van der Graaf recalled. “I joined a regional
anti-vivisection federation,” and became “a member of the Inter
University Consultation Committee on Animal Use. We tried to reduce
the number of laboratory animals used in education. We fought for
the right to refuse to dissect animals in our studies,” surveyed and
publicized the uses of animals in different courses and subject
areas, “and tried to support other students who opposed animal
experiments. We didn’t want to impose a standard,” Van der Graaf
insisted. “Students could make up their own minds based on our
descriptions of animal tests and the procedure that they could follow
to be exempted from dissection. We asked them: do you want to cut
into a dead piglet or into sharks that were caught as by-catch during
herring fishery?”
Van der Graaf cofounded Milieu Offensief in Wageningen in 1992.
“Now I’m involved in the environment as well as animal
welfare,” Van der Graaf told Animal Freedom. “Whatever your motives
are for working here, you work together toward the same result:
stopping the expansion of factory farming. The result is less
pollution of the environment and less animal suffering. Through
legal procedures we fight permits for factory farms and fur farms,
using the law as our tool.”
The Milieu Offensief web site claimed that more than 2,000
legal actions it initiated had prevented several million animals from
being bred and raised in inhumane conditions, prevented nitrate
pollution of groundwater, and saved energy.
Milieu Offensief attorney Roger Vleugels told New York Times
correspondent Marlise Simons that the organization was active in
approximately 120 municipalities, mostly targeting breeders of pigs,
chickens, calves, and mink.
Added Vleugels in a televised interview, “I don’t know
Volkert Van der Graaf as someone who would use violence.”
“We won a lot,” Van der Graaf boasted to Animal Freedom,
“but now we are going to apply ourselves more to the heavy offenders
of environmental degradation and animal suffering.
“My actions don’t come so much from love for animals,” Van
der Graaf stated. “I just have a basic standard: what happens to
animals in factory farming is not right. For the rest I just act
rationally. I don’t have to be a friend of animals to protect
“Many animal protectors act from the assumption that nature
is good,” Van der Graaf concluded, “but every dark side of humans
can also be found in nature. Protect-ing animals is civilizing
people, as they say.”
What Van der Graaf did not say, or even hint at, is how
killing people might coincide with his beliefs and strategy.

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