As a teenager, one of my first forays into studying activist groups and their tactics was when I took an interest in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). I researched the organization extensively, reading everything on its website, especially its FAQ section, as many articles in which it is mentioned and its press releases.
I also studied a related organization, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), and its actions. I read the articles on each of its operations, trying to get an insight into its members’ minds. This was not only my first introduction to activism, but to terrorism as well.
I don’t remember exactly why I fixated on PETA. Perhaps it was a novelty, an organization so determined to force everyone to be vegans and vegetarians, so focused on ending research that was using animals to advance science. Its moral compass was so different from my own that I had to understand why and how anyone could think like PETA’s supporters do. I even contemplated joining a PETA volunteer group to get a closer look into the mind of those who truly believed in their mission.
In an attempt to gain more insight, I emailed PETA about a question that appeared on its FAQ. To summarize, the question is about ALF, a labeled domestic terrorist group, and whether or not PETA supports the group’s actions. Without directly condoning ALF, the response stated that the work that ALF does has exposed horrific animal conditions in laboratories and then weirdly transitioned to calling for activism. You can still read the question for yourself; it is on page 8 of PETA’s FAQ at the time of this writing.
I asked PETA’s representatives how they could tacitly support an organization that, according to a threat assessment, stated that the fact that ALF hasn’t killed anyone is due to sheer luck. Their response: a whole lot of doublespeak and deflection. I came to the conclusion that PETA does in fact support ALF, and by transitive property, its destruction of scientific laboratories, its burning of property, and its overall extremist views.
Over the years, I have kept tabs on what PETA is up to, especially how it is viewed by the general public. Thankfully PETA is a joke, and is viewed as such by most. Vegans and vegetarians hang their heads in shame whenever PETA makes headlines. But why does PETA do such crazy things like yelling at presidents for swatting at flies, throwing red paint on those who wear fur, and rescuing animals only to kill them later?
The answer to that is complex. It is partially an indicator of the mindset of those who work for and support PETA, and partially a way for them to keep themselves relevant (the irony that they are getting Argus space because I’m writing this article is not lost on me). PETA operates with the same methodology as insurgent and terrorist organizations: Get into the media any way, any how, no matter how extreme it is, in order to stay relevant. I’ve studied terrorist organizations from the inside out extensively, and one of the best books I’ve ever read on the topic spelled it out plainly: Remaining relevant and gaining public support are the lifeblood of these types of organizations. Even though most people are looking at the actions of PETA and laughing, the few that agree with its message and methods are then encouraged to join up, or make a donation.
But the real danger of organizations like PETA is rarely seen. They operate under the radar, protesting and terrorizing people who work in research laboratories. I don’t see article after article about how PETA and its related groups harass those who work with animals to advance science. I don’t see counter-protests shooing them away and allowing scientists to work free from harassment.
PETA is harassing the people who are trying to learn how to make those who are paralyzed walk again. These are the researchers who are trying to find the cures for diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and more. For example, they need to find out where and how the pancreas is destroyed to cure diabetes, and unless you or anyone you love is willing to go under the knife to find out, animals must stand in for humans.
But if you talk to these workers, you will find that many, especially the veterinarians, have the welfare of the animals under their care first and foremost in their mind. I’ve listened to how a veterinarian has fought tooth and nail to make sure that a study remained ethical. Listened to how many regulations are in place to make sure that there is no suffering for animals unless it is highly justified with the knowledge that will be gained.
And day after day, they go to work, passing activists who are hell-bent on stopping their work. Activists that contact their network to blacklist veterinarians and other researchers from adopting animals, who have sympathizers in the media that intentionally twist and curve facts to misinform the public (which seems to be the norm for journalists these days, but that is another article), who have set up explosives outside the homes of veterinarians (sounds a lot like the “crazy” pro-lifers, eh?).
Animal rights organizations like PETA and ALF stand against science. They stand against progress, and they will use or support any tactic that achieves their end goal. They are disgusting, despicable organizations that should be counter-protested into a footnote in history.
We all remember the emails that were sent out a couple of months ago by the University begging us to vote for Wesleyan as the top vegan school in the country. The group that hosted this competition? PETA. I was surprised that no one seemed to mind that PETA was the one putting it on. I was very surprised that the University cared so much what PETA thinks of our vegan fare. That the University would associate with PETA when Wesleyan itself uses animals in research. Hypocrisy, thy name is you.
I am not anti-vegan or anti-vegetarian; in fact, I probably could use a more vegan-friendly diet for my health. I understand that eating more plants is better for the environment, due to the amount of resources required to sustain meat consumption.
But I am vehemently in support of advancing medical science. There are a lot of veterans, victims of accidents, and those who were born with defects who would benefit greatly if we learn how to cure paralysis. And we need to use animals to learn how to do this. I am in awe and hold the highest respect for researchers and veterinarians who can go to work every day and deal with the soul-crushing moral decision to intentionally paralyze an animal in order to try to make it walk again.
So my message to PETA is this: While I condemn your actions, I respect your right to say and believe what you want. That said, I disagree with all of it in the strongest terms possible. The day your organization folds and those who think like you are ruthlessly ridiculed by the public, is a day that I can declare that the world has intellectually progressed.
Stascavage is a member of the class of 2018.