Why animal advocates’ “war on terror” must be nonviolent
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2003:
Why animal advocates’ “war on terror” must be nonviolent
by Steve Hindi, founder, SHARK
It has happened again. Thugs misappropriating the name of
“animal rights activism” have struck another blow against all animal
advocates and the animals for whom we toil. This time the crime
occurred in Villa Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, where during
the first weekend in February 2003 someone reportedly cut the brake
lines of as many as 40 trucks owned by a company that sells live
The people responsible for this act have again allowed those
who abuse animals to paint all who care about animals as terrorists.
I hope these criminals, whoever they are, are caught and convicted.
And I hope they were not actually involved in animal defense.
Fourteen years ago my rage over the use of captive live
pigeons as targets at the annual Labor Day shoot in Hegins,
Pennsyl-vania completely transformed my life.
Since then I have watched, documented and exposed more
animal abuse then I want to think about. I live with horror at what
I have witnessed, with the knowledge that my past as a former hunter
embraced a world of abuse for which I was personally responsible.
It took me years to learn that losing control and giving over
to anger and contempt for animal abusers was the surest way to lose
opportunities to help the animals. Even today, maintaining my self
control can be difficult, yet there can be no question that violence
In the struggle to help animals we may feel with our hearts,
but we must think with our brains.
The vast majority of people are neither wanton animal abusers
nor animal activists. Most people are horrified by animal
abuse–when they recognize it.
As animal protectors, educating the public to recognize
animal abuse is our job. Educating the public is not accomplished by
threats and intimidation. Teachers who do not win the respect and
attention of their students have little chance of educating them.
I acknowledge that words alone will not bring about a more
responsible and compassionate world. Anyone who knows me knows that
I believe in action, and truth be told, I also take pleasure in
watching the opposition squirm.
I have witnessed and I daresay enjoyed immensely the effects
upon our opposition achieved by documenting and exposing their
misdeeds. I watch with great satisfaction when those in positions
of power are brought low by the truth of our video footage. I laugh
when the supposedly strong run from our little videocassettes.
Violence not only works against us: it lets animal abusers
off far too easily. If you really want to reduce your opposition,
nothing is more effective than exposure, shame, and public ridicule.
Are the thugs who claim to employ violence for compassion
merely thoughtless, or are they agents of the opposition? I don’t
know, and I no longer care. Either way, I am convinced that they are
as great a threat to a better world for animals as any identified
Whether the crime is cutting brake lines, arson, sending
razor blades to exploiters, or threatening their families, to name
just a few of many grossly misguided violent tactics, those in the
animal protection movement who commit indefensible acts should be
treated like the criminals they are.
At the very least, it is time for the great majority of
animal protectors who are not thugs to take a very strong public
stand against tactics that imperil the cause.
The acts of the animal protection movement lunatic fringe
strike me in the same way as, when I was still a hunter, I first
saw the Hegins pigeon shoot. I saw more than pigeons being blown
away. I saw also the death of hunting, then central to my own
lifestyle, and at the time that was the last thing I wanted to see.
The Hegins pigeon shooters were to hunting what the brake
line-cutting thugs are to animal protection.
There was no way to put a positive spin on the Hegins
slaughter, and for anyone to even try was only to worsen the public
relations nightmare. The Hegins killers operated outside any ethical
boundaries. They were slob shooters who violated every purported
hunting or conservation ethic, and their arrogance and
don’t-give-a-damn attitude left me certain that their demise was
If hunters had possessed even half a collective brain, they
would have turned out in overwhelming numbers and taken the shotguns
from the hands of the killers at Hegins. Their failure to do so
proved to many people, including me, that so-called hunting and
conservation ethics had no validity. As a result, I terminated
three decades of membership in the hunting and fishing fraternity.
Society will not swallow high-minded rhetoric when terrorist tactics
follow our words. We cannot preach nonviolent principles on the one
hand, and condone violent acts on the other.
Ironically, today as never before, there are many nonviolent
opportunities to promote a better world for animals. One example
was the recent Utah Animal Rights Coalition use of direct action to
expose the violence done to pigs and cattle at the Circle Four Farms
complex. Documenting horrendous conditions with both still and video
cameras, UARC activists allegedly committed a crime by removing two
young, sick piglets to find them veterinary care and homes.
The UARC activists were declared to be “terrorists.” But the
public was not convinced, because the UARC action was clearly
nonviolent and compassionate.
After the UARC action, two former Circle Farm workers came
forward to testify also about how the company mistreats animals.
Had the UARC action been violent, this would not have happened. As
a result, the public has seen multi-stage coverage of agricultural
animal abuse in Utah and beyond, and there is a chance that farm
animals, who currently have no legal protection in Utah, may now
receive legislative consideration.
Effective actions result in exposure, education, and
positive change. Ineffective actions perpetuate ignorance, retarding
the cause of compassion.
I have read about the children of animal exploiters being
threatened. That is a tactic as low as anything done by the
exploiters we claim to oppose. Apart from the heinous nature of the
act itself, the children of animal abusers are often themselves
traumatized by what their parents do.
I recall encountering such a case during our campaign to stop
the Hegins pigeon shoot. The attorney for the shooters was himself a
pigeon shooter. On one occasion he brought his son to court, and it
was clear to me that the son had no more regard for his father than I
did. He had a miserable enough life just having to live with the
guy, without anyone giving him grief simply because he had the
misfortune to be the progeny of a pigeon shooter!
I am in no way defending the lobster company, whose work I
consider to be vile. That is all the more reason I am so outraged at
the behavior of the brake line-cutting thugs: they turned the
abusers into the victims.
The public did not learn about the suffering of lobsters at
the hands of these people. The public did, however, learn about
the “animal rights terrorists” who victimized the people at the
lobster company, and could have victimized many others if a
brakeless truck had careened out of control.
I would suggest that only by following the Golden Rule might
we hope to succeed. We should only employ tactics that we are
willing to have employed against us.
In the case of SHARK, that means we might have to tolerate
our opposition standing outside my home with video cameras–big deal!
If we practice compassion while our opposition practices violence and
terrorism, it is easy to tell the good guys from the bad. When both
sides practice hate and violence, it isn’t just hard to pick out the
good guys: there are no good guys.
[Steve Hindi debuted in animal advocacy by challenging Hegins
pigeon shoot organizer Bob Tobash to a prize fight, to be held in
lieu of the shoot, as a fundraiser for the Hegins Park Association.
Tobash declined. Hindi’s videography was later instrumental in
ending pigeon shoots in both Pennsylvania and Illinois. Using a
paraglider to turn deer, geese, and prairie dogs away from hunters
on many occasions during the mid-1990s, Hindi was repeatedly jailed
for alleged hunter harassment, but put the oldest canned hunt in
the Chicago area permanently out of business. His extensive exposes
of animal abuse in rodeo have helped to end several rodeos. His most
successful campaign, however, may have been persuading Pepsico to
stop sponsoring bullfights. Contact Hindi c/o SHARK, P.O. Box 28,
Geneva, IL 60134; telephone 630-557-0176; fax: 630-557-0178;
e-mail <SHARKIntl@SHARKonline.org>; web <www.sharkonline.org>.]