Persistent political pressure the best tool in high-stakes battle against anti-meat activists

Persistent political pressure the best tool in high-stakes battle against anti-meat activists

Richard Berman

Last month two Los Angeles McDonald’s franchises saw the latest in a string of criminal attacks on restaurants and meat producers. Animal rights vandals smashed windows and doors, defaced walls and signs, and spray painted anti-meat slogans, including, “We won’t stop until the slaughter ends.” A Los Angeles police captain told reporters: “They pretty much tore up the place.”

Ten years ago similar attacks made national headlines. That one received only local attention. Why? Because now that animal rights militants are setting arson fires and detonating pipe bombs, mere vandalism–no matter how extensive–no longer grabs broad public attention. And attacks like that one are more common than ever before. Hardly anyone remarked on the Los Angeles vandalism precisely because it wasn’t that remarkable.

During the past year vandals painted “meat is murder” on the drive-thru window of a Daytona Beach Chick-fil-A. Animal-rights activists damaged three Kansas KFC outlets by super-gluing locks and destroying drive-thru speakers. Another outlet in Illinois was damaged by BB-gun fire. Two North Carolina barbecue delivery vans were smashed up and painted with anti-meat slogans. Arsonists leveled a university livestock research facility in Utah and a restaurant construction site in Virginia. Activists opposed to the production of foie gras threatened the life of a California restaurateur who served it.

One U.S.-based animal rights Web site describes more than 450 such attacks during 2004 alone. American businesses quietly deal with perhaps thousands more every year, fearing that negative publicity will drive away business.

There’s no question that animal rights violence is escalating. Hundreds of obsessed militants would like nothing better than to scare you away from serving animal protein and terrify your customers away from ordering it. If you serve meat, you’re a target.

In May, FBI Deputy Assistant Director John Lewis, the bureau’s chief counter-terrorism expert, testified in a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing: “In recent years, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) have become the most active criminal extremist elements in the United States.” He called them “a serious domestic terrorist threat,” marked by “an escalation in violent rhetoric and tactics.”

Lewis is right. In September the London Times described an animal rights gathering at which protesters “were taught how to kill.” American activist leader Jerry Vlasak was scheduled to travel to Great Britain to address that crowd until that country’s home secretary–roughly equivalent to our secretary of homeland security–barred him and his wife from entering the country.

England kept Vlasak out because in 2003 he publicly advocated murdering doctors who use lab rats in their research. “I think for five lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives,” he said, “we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million nonhuman lives.”

Granted, Vlasak wasn’t threatening the lives of short-order cooks, restaurant owners or cattlemen. But he was speaking on behalf of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, or PCRM, the quasi-medical front group of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. You may know PCRM as the group that uses the credibility of some doctors to drive Americans toward vegetarian eating.

Vlasak’s segment of the animal rights movement–those extremists who are willing to retard the progress of AIDS and cancer research in order to save lab animals–is beginning to embrace an anti-meat crusade. One Philadelphia group known for terrorizing medical researchers wrote in April that it would begin addressing “the social problem of factory farms.” Its leader condemned “the meat industry,” claiming that “millions of animals suffer from intense confinement, painful injuries and a slow death.” Similar language is used to denounce biomedical companies whose employees and shareholders have been targeted for violent harassment. Death threats have been issued, cars have been bombed and executives have been assaulted physically.

In August, Milwaukee FBI analyst Leslie Larsen told a Wisconsin newspaper that animal activists are acknowledging the loss of human life their actions may bring. Asked for an example, Larsen said: “Setting a KFC on fire even if a worker is still inside. That won’t stop them any more.”

And law enforcement isn’t just concerned about nameless, faceless hoodlums operating under the cover of shadowy “liberation” group names. In January the Amarillo Globe-News reported that an FBI agent told a farmer’s forum about the “three main groups the FBI watches.” On that list: the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front and PETA.

Of the three, PETA may be the biggest threat to your business. This year PETA campaign director Bruce Friedrich was convicted on criminal-trespass charges after he stalked a KFC senior executive at his home, country club and church. The executive told The Des Moines Register that Friedrich had warned in an email that he “shouldn’t sleep easy at night.”

In a written statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, PETA warned this year that those who make “peaceful change impossible” would make “violent revolution inevitable.”

PETA–with its well-documented history of funding and encouraging black-hooded domestic terrorism–ought to know. The coming year likely will see a rash of new evidence tying PETA to the most violent elements of its movement. At the same time, the organization will be lobbying restaurant shareholders to force changes in animal-welfare standards.

The Center for Consumer Freedom, supported by both businesses and consumers, presents a powerful response to PETA and everything it represents. As with international terrorists, animal-rights extremists will be stopped only when their financial backing dries up. The center, which is managed by my firm, is gathering public support for IRS action to cancel PETA’s federal tax-exempt status.

It’s working. This fall PETA’s president complained that she has “never witnessed a more organized, well-funded, multi-industry attack on animal rights and PETA than the one we’re under right now. It is getting stronger every day.”

Our success will mean a shrinking bank account for PETA, something that would benefit all of us.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors and management at Nation’s Restaurant News.

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