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If we are no better, who can the animals count on?

by Steve Hindi, SHARK President
2003

It has happened again. Thugs operating under the cover of “animal rights activism” have struck another blow against all animal advocates and the nonhumans for whom they toil. This time the crime occurred in Chicago, where brake lines were cut on trucks owned by a company selling lobsters.

The people responsible for this act have once again allowed those who abuse animals to paint everyone who cares about animals as terrorists. I hope these criminals, whoever they are, are caught and convicted. With a little luck, it wasn’t anyone within the animal protection movement, but I’m not feeling too lucky today.

Some fourteen years ago I ventured onto a new life path, born of my rage over the use of live pigeons as shotgun targets at Hegins, Pennsylvania.


Steve Hindi

Since then I have watched, documented and exposed more animal abuse than I want to think about. I live with the rage of what I have witnessed every day, along with the knowledge that my past as a former hunter includes a world of abuse for which only I am responsible.

It took me a while to realize that losing control and giving over to anger and contempt for animal abusers was the surest way to lose opportunities to help nonhumans. Even today, self control can be very difficult, but there can be no question that violence begets 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 of society opposes animal abuse. There have been enough examples of public outrage over individual animal abuse stories to prove that society does not endorse cruelty if it is educated and informed. Animal protection legislation is making strides in many places across the country. 

As animal protectors, educating and informing the public is our job. In large part I believe we have failed to execute our duties. Educating the public is not accomplished by threats and intimidation. A teacher who does not win some degree of respect from his/her students has little chance of educating them. If our movement cannot demonstrate the compassion we preach, we need not expect it of society. If we do not behave in a civilized manner, do not ask for civilized conduct in return.

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 told, I also take pleasure in watching the opposition squirm when the pressure is on.

I have witnessed and I daresay enjoyed immensely the long-term effects wrought upon SHARK’s opposition by documenting and exposing their misdeeds. I have had my appetite whetted by those telling us that we can’t win, and then gorged on their shame when they have utterly lost. I have watched with the greatest satisfaction when those in positions of power are brought low by the truth of our footage. I have laughed when the supposed strong run from our little videocassettes. Not only does violence work against us, it is letting the opposition off far too easily. If you really want to reduce your opposition, there is nothing more effective than exposure, shame and public ridicule. 

Are the thugs who claim to employ violence for compassion merely thoughtless, or are they agents for 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 opposition.

Whether the crime is cutting brake lines, arson, sending razor blades to exploiters, threatening their families, etc., those in the animal protection movement who have committed 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, very public stand against those tactics that imperil this great cause. 

The acts of the lunatic fringe in the animal protection movement strike me in the same way as, when as a hunter, I first saw the Hegins pigeon shoot. I saw more than pigeons being blown away. That was just the most immediate image. A longer view of what I was looking at was the death of hunting, 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 the animal protection movement. 

As anyone who ever witnessed it knows, there was no way to put a positive spin on the Hegins slaughter, and for the NRA, hunting organizations or anyone else to even try was only to worsen the public relations nightmare. The Hegins killers operated outside any ethical boundaries whatsoever. These were slob shooters who violated every supposed hunting or conservation ethic, and their arrogance and don’t-give-a-damn attitude left me certain that their demise was inevitable.

If hunters had even half a collective brain, they would have turned out in overwhelming numbers and physically taken the shotguns from the killers at the Hegins pigeon shoot. Their failure to do so proved to many people, including me, that hunting and so-called conservation ethics were a joke. As a result, I terminated three decades of involvement the hunting/fishing fraternity.

In a similar vein I have always felt that Ted Nugent, as reprehensible as he is, is one of the best tools of anti-hunters have. Nugent, living in his incredibly small, blood-smeared world, hasn’t the sense to realize that he has likely done as least as much damage to the hunting fraternity as the animal protection movement. Anyone with more than a dozen active brain cells who listens to this guy for more than 30 seconds realizes that if he embodies hunting, hunting is something to avoid.

The question is -- does the animal protection movement have any more brains than the idiots of Hegins, or those who brownnose for a lunatic like Ted Nugent. Unfortunately, in far to many instances, the answer appears to be a resounding NO.

When are the thugs and terrorists of this movement going to figure out that their terrorist acts are as damaging to animal protection efforts as pigeon shooting and Nugent are to hunting? 

Society simply will not swallow high-minded rhetoric when terrorist tactics follow our words. Give people credit for more brains than that. We cannot preach one set of principles for others, only to completely abandon those principles ourselves.

The real irony of all of this is that today as never before, there are so many nonviolent ways to promote a better world for nonhumans and the environment. One example was that direct action of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition (UARC) in its recent expose of the Circle Four Farms pig and cow factory farm. UARC activists spent their time documenting horrendous conditions with still and video cameras. Their only “crime” was to remove two young, sick piglets and found them veterinary care and a new home.

As with the actions of ALF and similar organizations, UARC activists were declared terrorists. The difference is, given the nonviolence of the UARC action, the government spokesperson making the “terrorist” charge looked like what he is – an idiot. 

After the peaceful, educational UARC action, two former workers at Circle Farm came forward to give firsthand testimony of the horrors of the company’s treatment of animals. Had UARC’s action been violent, this would not have happened. As a result, the public has been treated to a multistage coverage of agricultural animal abuse in Utah and beyond, and there is a high likelihood that farm animals, which currently have no protection in Utah, are now much closer to receiving consideration. 

UARC’s action is an example of how direct action can and should work. A positive action is one that results in exposure, education and positive change. A negative action results in the perpetuation of ignorance, the victimizers becoming the victims, and the cause of compassion being retarded or worse.

I have read about the children of animal exploiters being threatened. That is a tactic that is as low as anything committed by the exploiters we claim to oppose. Beyond the heinous nature of the act itself, has anyone bothered to think that those kids might be completely opposed to what their parent(s) are doing? 

I recall such a case some years back during the battle against Pennsylvania pigeon shooters. The attorney for the shooters was himself a pigeon shooter, and as low a piece of humanity as one might find. On one occasion he brought his son to court, and it was clear to me that the son had no regard for his father than I did. He had it bad enough 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, which 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 those who are 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 who could have victimized others, by way of a brakeless truck, having nothing whatsoever to do with lobsters or any other form of animal abuse.

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.

In addition to the public demonstrating a willingness to literally make a world of difference for animals; we have never had so many tools available to us. The media, while far from perfect, is often willing to publicize animal issues. The Internet is a fantastic tool that can educate people worldwide. Technology now enables us to bring animal issues directly and graphically to the streets with mobile animal displays such as SHARK’s Tiger video truck. 

The public has proven that if it is truly educated on an issue of animal abuse, it is usually willing to take steps to make positive change. It could even be suggested that the public is evolving faster than the animal protection movement. We can’t operate as if the public doesn’t matter. Bringing the rest of society into this effort is the only way to succeed! 

When SHARK and other advocacy organizations campaigned to stop the Olympic rodeo at the 2002 Winter Games, we did so in a lawful and nonviolent manner. It was the rodeo people who demonstrated terrorist tactics, and we used that to our advantage. It was certain police agencies, including the FBI that demonstrated a willingness to violate our rights and generally take the low road. We exposed them, and will continue to do so.

As our Tiger truck shadowed the Olympic Torch across the country, we educated hundreds of thousands of people, and gained converts even in states such as Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado. In Salt Lake City, Utah, rodeos enjoyed overwhelming support. Local animal activists went to work educating the public.

SHARK member Colleen Gardner made a professional presentation to the mayor of Salt Lake. Colleen used the Tiger truck for a few weeks around the city, and people saw the truth with their own eyes. By the time the Olympics came together, the public was almost evenly split on the rodeo issue. Such a change over so short a period of time in Utah of all places was unthinkable to the Rodeo Mafia, which was beside itself.

When there was no other alternative, our opposition resorted to claiming we were terrorists, and they looked like the fools they are. We didn’t stop the Olympic rodeo, but in the process of campaigning we did tremendous damage to a Rodeo Mafia that had intended to use the Olympics as a springboard. Violence and terrorism would have played into the opposition’s hands.

A few years earlier, we were able to push both Pepsi Cola and Coca-Cola advertisements out of bullrings. The power of images cannot be overestimated. So why doesn’t this movement make far more use out of this tactic? If we have not used all the nonviolent tools at our disposal (in fact we have not even scratched the surface), how can some rush so quickly toward terrorism? 

At the AR2002 conference in Washington D.C., I heard a young man glorifying arson campaigns and other acts of terrorism. To my amazement, I watched a ballroom of people applaud this individual. I felt like I was back in Hegins, watching helplessly as this time the animal protection movement, as opposed to hunting, lie dying at the hands of those within its own ranks.

The mission of SHARK is to nonviolently battle animal abusers whenever we can, and wherever we may find them. I consider those who commit terrorism in the name of animals to be among the greatest threats to future gains for nonhumans. SHARK stands against terrorism wherever it is to be found, no matter the banner behind which it hides. That especially includes the banner of animal protection.

I encourage animal protectors to look beyond their exclusive vegan potlucks and social gatherings, and get a picture of the real world. We cannot claim to represent compassion while dealing in terror. We cannot hope to gain respect for our cause while completely disrespecting the very society on whom we are dependent for positive change. 

There is no question that we in the animal protection movement must push for change, but there should also be no question that a nonviolent world for animals is not one that can be taken by force, but rather by example. I’ll be the first to admit that a nonviolent hard work ethic will not bring about the change we seek nearly as fast as we would like, but history and common sense makes clear that the path of terrorism leads to the utter failure of any movement, and that includes this one.