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October 2005
Remember Our Rights
By Ingrid Newkirk

 

Ingrid Newkirk. Photo courtesy of PETA

If you are active in the peace, animal rights or environmental movements, you’ve probably seen the heavy hand of government descend to stifle protest, an all-American activity if ever there was one. If you are not involved in any “political” actions (e.g., efforts to get KFC to stop scalding chickens alive in the defeathering vats or to stop old growth logging or to end the war in Iraq), you may not realize how quickly and how deeply our liberties are being eroded in this country. The disappearance of our rights and the advent of strong-arm tactics are occurring as surely as the polar ice shelf is melting into the sea. America is fast becoming the new Old Russia. 

Remember freedom of speech, that fundamental right of a few years ago? I give talks suggesting that we must stop factory farms, which flood our waterways with pig waste, and I ask people who eat chicken to realize that they are paying someone to sear the beaks off baby birds with a hot wire. I show video clips of how monkeys in laboratories and elephants in the circus are screamed at and live in metal boxes or on chains, and I show Alec Baldwin’s beautifully narrated video short Meet Your Meat. I hand out free vegetarian starter kits to anyone who’ll take one. Apparently, these actions are now viewed as a threat to national security so severe that they must be stamped out.

This summer, PETA emerged from a politically motivated 20-month IRS audit, a desperate fishing expedition to try to find anything that might justify the removal of our tax-exempt status. There wasn’t anything, but that didn’t stop the government from putting us through a sort of administrative SLAPP suit based on nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of the neo-con business owners and the legislators they have financed.

Our mail continues to be opened by the U.S. Postal Service, which denies this when served with Freedom of Information requests, yet does not explain why our mail often arrives at its destination inside USPS envelopes. Our staff and former staff members find cards from the FBI on their doors or messages on their answering machines from agents wanting to ask them “just a few questions” about who hangs out at the PETA office and who comes to stuff envelopes with us at our work parties. Remember freedom of association, that fundamental right of just a few years ago? Gone.

Key PETA staffers are met at the plane on our return from every trip abroad and taken into a back room so that everything can be searched while we miss our flight connections. Eighty percent of our staff taking a group trip to Los Angeles to help with our gala in September were searched along with their luggage. One ATF agent said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before” as the lines backed up because, apparently, when a lot of us leave our home town at once, this raises a red flag at Homeland Security, the department that stole the money to fix New Orleans’ flood barriers. Our interns have been stopped on the highway and fingerprinted, much to their confusion. And local police have photographed our headquarters from all angles “to send the photographs to Washington.” They have also followed us to peaceful demonstrations and taken video footage of our volunteers holding up placards.

But there’s much more: The Home News Tribune reported that at around seven p.m. on July 23, more than a dozen police officers—some armed with assault rifles and clad in bulletproof vests and helmets—raided the home of a New Jersey woman. Her husband and four of his friends were detained for hours by officers from the State Police Counter-Terrorism Bureau, which stormed the house while awaiting a search warrant. Why? Because they suspected that the barbecue supplies that her husband’s friends were loading into a car might be evidence in their investigation into an alleged trespassing and spray-painting incident at an animal laboratory.

“It is enraging that they could jeopardize a citizen of Highland Park over a can of spray paint,” said Tina Weishaus of the Central New Jersey Coalition Against Endless War.

Yes, it is. And no matter whether you are on the right, on the left, or apolitical, whether you think that animals should be respected and left in peace or that they’re only good to eat and wear, whether you think that innocent animals, like innocent children, don’t deserve to die in war or you couldn’t care less—if you’re an American, something is wrong with this picture. Remember democracy?

Ingrid Newkirk is President and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

 

 


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