On Feb. 28, 1992, an explosion ripped through Anthony Hall on the campus of Michigan State University. Rodney Coronado, with the help of unnamed co-conspirators, snuck into the building, stole research and then created a pyre from materials found in the building that he ignited with a self-made firebomb. This incident alone cost MSU $1.3 million in lost time, research and physical damage.
It was not a unique protest. Beginning in June of 1991, the Animal Liberation Front attacked a mink farm at Oregon State before firebombing a food cooperative in Edmond, WA. Later that summer, Washington State University’s mink farm was also attacked. Continuing its reign of terror, ALF burned the Oregon Malecky Mink Ranch to the ground in December. The final attack occurred in October of 1992 at Utah State University with another burglary and arson.
Now, 25 years later, the animal rights movement has changed from its fiery beginnings. Yet, it still hasn’t figured out an important thing: how to be humane.
In the decade following the arson at Michigan State, the animal rights movement continued its aggressive tactics. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) gave $70,000 to the legal defense of the arsonist Coronado, and acted as a “media conduit” for the FBI-designated terrorist group Animal Liberation Front. PETA also gave a grant to the Earth Liberation Front, a sister group of the ALF. The FBI calculated in 2004 that ALF/ELF had committed over 1,000 criminal acts and caused $110 million in damages.
The law fought back. In the early 90’s, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Protection Act to protect those businesses that legitimately used animals, and the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in 2006 to enhance penalties.
Not long after, a number of animal rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States and ASPCA, were sued under federal anti-racketeering laws after they were discovered to have secretly paid a witness who lied under oath in a separate lawsuit animal rights activists had brought against a circus. The groups ultimately settled for $25 million.
But they haven’t learned their lesson. Today, animal rights campaigns have embraced tactics that border on economic extortion.
Their new strategy is to threaten companies to comply with their agendas. Animal activists will contact corporate executives and demand that they change their company policies to buy, for instance, only cage-free eggs (this raises the price of eggs for consumers, driving down demand).
If companies don’t comply, they can expect a public smear campaign. PETA launched the “McCruelty” campaign against McDonalds. The Humane Society of the United States similarly attacked IHOP for “animal cruelty” with a large public relations campaign against the chain.
A number of companies have acceded to animal-rights demands to avoid a knee-capping. With long term promises to comply with demands, these business operators push their agreement to source new eggs or meat products several years down the road and get the bullies to go away—at least, temporarily.
However, even a pledge for future compliance doesn’t stop the bullying. The Humane Society got an agreement from Costco and then attacked them for not shifting fast enough to cage-free eggs.
These intimidation campaigns don’t just harm restaurants or supermarkets. They limit choices for consumers, raises prices, and mislead consumers by misrepresenting agricultural practices that are approved of by agriculture scientists and veterinarians.
The irony is animal rights groups don’t want companies to serve cage-free eggs or other “humanely raised” animal protein. They don’t want companies to provide – or consumers to eat – any eggs, meat, or dairy at all. They oppose zoos, aquariums, leather and other ways in which society uses animals.
These groups have not been able to convince the public to adopt their ideas. Only 1-2% of the public is vegan. So they rely on intimidation to push their political aims.
It’s certainly progress that animal rights activists have moved on from arson. The next step is for them to be humane to those who don’t see the world through their distorted lens.
Will Coggin is research director for the Center for Consumer Freedom based in Washington, D.C.