My relationship history + why activists are calling the police on each other
[Update: I went on Facebook Live to discuss the below, and answer any questions. You can watch that video here.]
There have been a number of rumors spreading through the animal rights community in the last few weeks, in a fashion that has drastically affected the work that I and others at The Simple Heart and Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) are doing for animals.
Most notably, a group of activists were involved in reporting a recent mass action at the Animal Liberation Conference (ALC) to the police, after discovering that a few hundred other activists were gathering at a location in the Bay Area. Their goal in calling the police was to stop a possible mass open rescue from happening. This is a fundamental breach of both movement ethics and solidarity. When activists turn on one another to the police, it not only destroys trust within movements but also endangers activists, many of whom might be particularly vulnerable to a police report even if they have done nothing even arguably unlawful (e.g., because of their immigration status). Perhaps most sadly, calling the police on other activists risks the success of the attempts to aid animals, as the authorities – who are often beholden to special interests in the local community – could very well have prevented the rescue of 18 animals on that evening. Those 18 living beings would have been subjected to the horrors of a slaughterhouse instead of being given the happy life they deserve.
I was shocked to discover, moreover, that the activists who called the police explained their actions by claiming they were protecting women from me. In chats that were leaked to DxE leadership, there are claims that I was attempting to rescue animals with women who I would subsequently prey on sexually in criminal cases. The specific individual who called the police stated, “Wayne poofed from the Earth” after making the call, apparently believing that the action had been stopped, and that I had been arrested (or worse).
Those rumors are disconnected from reality. In fact, I had no involvement in or even knowledge of the mass open rescue at the Animal Liberation Conference this year and have had no involvement in organizing such actions since I stepped down from leadership of DxE in 2019. (I found out about the action at ALC on Twitter the next morning.) The people hurt by the call to the police were the DxE activists, mostly women themselves, who actually participated in and/or organized the action. Moreover, as I describe below, my relationship history is limited – including 5 sexual relationships in the last decade. And none of those relationships had anything to do with criminal cases.
The rumors nonetheless have gained traction, fueled by a number of misguided individuals. The call to the police last week was only the most recent example. A woman within DxE (who has apparently since left the local chapter) publicly called me out for sexual harassment, alleging at a talk by Peter Singer in late May that I had sexually harassed many women, and specifically mentioning “a few women that you have had sexual relationships with are currently in federal prosecution cases with you.”1 (The women in those cases deny that they were harassed or otherwise victims of any form of sexual misconduct.) I have heard from dozens of people who have been contacted (without my knowledge) about similar rumors, including people in key positions (e.g., defendants, legal team members, etc). This has caused tremendous damage to our legal defense strategy, as major trials are just over 2 months away.
To end this cycle of rumors, I am therefore publishing the below statement accounting for my full relationship history, to the best of my recollection, since Direct Action Everywhere’s (DxE) founding in 2013. (DxE is the organization that I am most associated with, though, as mentioned, I have had no involvement in operational decisions in the org since 2019 and have moved most of my work to The Simple Heart.)
I will also go live on Facebook at 2 pm PT today to answer any questions others might have about the details within. I have reached out to all individuals described below to ensure accuracy and minimize any intrusion on privacy, and all have consented to the publication of these anonymous details (with the exception of one person, whom I indicate below). I have attempted to remove details or examples that are not material to public allegations. However, given that each of the relationships described below has been the subject of rumor – escalating to the point that the police are being called – transparency is necessary.
I have written previously about my sexual history, given that it has been the source of public controversy. However, given that there have recently been more rumors of various forms of harassment and misconduct – including by the group that called the police on activists, and separately during a public call-out at an event with Peter Singer – stakeholders of the work I do justifiably may be interested in greater transparency. I am trying to write the below from a purely factual perspective, without adding any judgment.
However, let me preface those more objective remarks by saying that, while it has been a dream of mine to start a family from the time I was a teenager, I am very far from that dream and have spent the vast majority of my life focused entirely on animal rights. The sense of loss I feel, from not having been able to pursue that dream, has been one of the most painful parts of my life, as I have not only missed out on many things I wanted to personally achieve, but sacrificed the emotional foundation that relationships and family can bring. This has been particularly difficult in recent years, as I’ve suffered great personal loss, with multiple family members dying in a time where we have all been isolated from anyone but our spouses and family by COVID-19. I say this only to explain my motivations in dating. I’ve had limited time for anything other than my life’s main focus, animal rights, and I have begun to realize that has compromised me significantly, even as an activist. It is hard to continue standing for animal rights when one feels so weak and broken in one’s personal life. Recent events have been another painful demonstration of that.
My relationship history
Each of my recent relationships has been characterized as predatory and/or sexual harassment by third parties with no knowledge of them, and often against the publicly-stated views of the women themselves. I describe each of these relationships in detail, in light of these rumors.
I have had sex with 5 women over the last ~11 years, since DxE was founded in Jan 2013.2 I am on good terms with 4 of these women, and bad terms with one. Because age differences have been a source of controversy, I give the approximate ages of the women at issue. (I avoid specific ages to provide a degree of anonymity.) Of those 5 women, 2 women were in their 20s, 2 were in their 30s, 1 was in her late 30s when the relationship started and in her 40s when it ended. Three were volunteer DxE organizers, and two were not. The relationships lasted anywhere from ~1 month to one year. The only woman who has asked to be named publicly is Priya Sawhney.
The first relationship was with Priya Sawhney in 2013, who was in her 20s at the time (while I was 32) and a fellow core organizer and co-founder of DxE. In 2013, DxE had no funding, following, or organizational structure; we were simply a band of vegans who wanted to do something for the animals. The relationship ended in 2014, and we remain on great terms. Her story has been used to allege that I harassed or abused her, most recently in a question at a talk with Peter Singer, apparently to imply that I coerced her into risky activism via a sexual relationship. (The reality is that Priya and I ended up in a criminal case together 4 years after our relationship ended.) She has objected to this usage of her story and indicated that she believes they are part of a smear campaign.
The second relationship was someone I dated in 2019, when I was 37 and she was in her early 20s. The woman was a fellow member of the 5-person elected Core leadership team at the time, which has executive authority over all DxE matters, as well as a co-defendant in a case dating back to May 2018. By this point, DxE had organizational structure and significant funding. Before dating her, I notified the Core leadership team and the relationship ombudsperson, and we held a public, multi-hour chapter wide meeting to discuss (among other issues) whether dating between two members of leadership was appropriate, whether we should have a new relationship policy, and whether there were any concerns over a relationship where there was a significant age difference. We also provided avenues for anonymous feedback. I promised that I would not move forward if there was meaningful dissent in the chapter. There was no significant dissent at the chapter meeting, and the only anonymous disagreement we received focused on the fact that I had too much power (without referencing the specific relationship). We therefore began dating in April 2019, with a nepotism policy and agreement in place, and I indicated privately to our leadership team a couple months later that I was planning to step down from all leadership roles partly because of the relationship.
My resignation was announced publicly in early August 2019, and I formally left leadership on September 1. For most of our relationship, accordingly, my partner was in a formal position of authority over me within DxE, though I retained substantial informal power in that community due to my status as a co-founder of the organization. On nearly all occasions during our relationship that I can recall, her formal power proved more influential than my informal power, such as when she successfully advocated (with support from other core organizers at the time) for prohibiting me from hiring support staff in legal cases where I was a defendant, much to my chagrin. She had good faith reasons for doing so — she felt that the decision should be made by elected leadership and not by the defendants – but, right or wrong, it was a demonstration of the power dynamic that existed between us. (I can think of no instances during our relationship when my view on a significant issue in DxE prevailed over hers.3) We broke up in March 2020 and are on professional terms. She maintains that she does not view our relationship as predatory or improper.
The third person, who was in her 30s, was someone I hung out with initially on a friendly basis in 2020. We connected by Zoom after the pandemic began, where she kindly provided me support when I was struggling due to COVID-induced isolation. While she was a dedicated animal rights activist, she was not regularly involved in DxE, and lived a significant distance from the Bay Area. We had sex one time in the summer of 2020, after lockdowns were lifted and she came to Berkeley for a visit. We did not end up in a relationship for a variety of reasons, including time and distance. We are on good terms, and this woman has indicated that she is willing to (privately) relay her experiences with me to anyone with concerns.
The fourth person, who was approximately the same age as me and is a dedicated and accomplished animal rights activist, is someone I began dating in the Fall of 2020. She was involved in DxE, but not on any teams that I was involved in. (She was, however, a volunteer on my Berkeley mayoral campaign, which ended in late Fall 2020, and also volunteered to help occasionally with the Green Pill Podcast. Neither were DxE projects.) Our relationship ended in July 2021. We were on good terms after the break up and continued to hang out (as friends) regularly, until I informed her about a year later that a woman I was seeing on the East Coast was not comfortable with me hanging out with my ex-girlfriend 1:1. She subsequently stated to me for the first time that she was concerned I was flattering people who were younger than me in order to secure sexual relationships and therefore abusing my power. (The woman on the East Coast was in her early 30s and approximately ten years younger than me. I describe my relationship with her below.)
My relationship with this fourth person has since become adversarial. She has reached out to all the people I’ve been in a relationship with over the last decade, and many people whom I have not, to express her concerns that I am manipulative and deceitful in relationships. She typically characterizes my relationships with the other woman in this document as some form of abuse of power, often contrary to their stated views, e.g., claiming that I “hurt Priya a great deal.” (Priya denies this account and has asked for people to stop sharing it.)
This fourth person also reached out to someone she believed was a disgruntled staff member at The Simple Heart in an effort to access some of private communications with my then girlfriend (the staff member declined to assist her, and later warned me about the effort to obtain my private communications) and has regularly spread false rumors about me (e.g., implying that I engaged in sexual misconduct with a woman with whom I had no sexual or romantic interactions at all). She has asked me not to divulge information about our relationship, but given that a dozen+ people (including many in sensitive legal positions, such as fellow animal rights defendants or legal team members) have shared with me that they have observed her spreading false information and rumors, it seems necessary to publish the facts above.4 I am regretful of any intrusion into her privacy.
The fifth person, who was in her early 30s, was the woman on the East Coast referenced above. She is a dedicated and accomplished animal advocate who has since moved to California but has no involvement in DxE. We explored a relationship by communicating online, and began a brief sexual relationship when I visited the East Coast in July 2022. At the end of the trip, we mutually decided a relationship was not a good fit. We remain on good terms.
There have been rumors and concerns that, even aside from these sexual relationships, I am asking women on too many dates, or inappropriate dates. In addition to these five women, I can recall asking out on dates around 5 women in the last 11 years within the animal rights movement. The total number is around 1 date request per year, by my estimate, which has led to 4 other dates with animal rights advocates from 2012 - 2023 beyond the relationships above. (I have also gone on around 4 dates with non-animal rights advocates in that time period, via online dating, and had intimate contact, though not sex, with one.)
Two of those dates are of particular note, however, given that they have led to controversy. In March 2022, I asked a former legal volunteer in LA, who had also volunteered for my mayoral campaign in 2020, to have dinner with me. (I did not know her age at the time, but I now understand she was in her mid 20s.) The woman at issue had not been on a team that I led, but I clearly had the most power on the team, due to my experience in the law. She left the team around the summer of 2021. We had stayed in touch over the years, and she contacted me after my dog Lisa died in October 2021 to express condolences. I wrote back asking her if she was still thinking about law school and told her that I’d be happy to help however I could, including writing a letter, but that I might not be the best person to write one (as a convicted felon who was myself going through disbarment proceedings, due to industry efforts to prosecute me for rescuing animals). I added that I might have some influence with a professor at one school, who had been supportive of our rescue efforts. I never wrote a letter to the school but I did put her (along with another potential law student) in touch with the professor I knew.
I subsequently reached out to her to ask if she knew anyone who could help me record some podcasts in LA in early 2022. She replied saying that she would be able to help and also indicated to me that she needed the distraction because her long-term partner had broken up with her. She apologized for sharing something so personal. I told her that it was no problem, that she was a great person, and that she would find someone better for her. She replied, roughly, “You have no idea how much that means to me.” I wrongly perceived this to be a possible indication of romantic interest, and, shortly thereafter, asked her out on what I thought was a date and dinner while on the podcast trip to LA. She agreed. I indicated after dinner that I liked her and would like to spend more time with her, but also that we might not be a good fit because she had told me at dinner that she was uncertain if she wanted to have kids. She smiled and seemed excited to me, but she has since stated it was a nervous smile due to feeling blindsided. She stated she was confused about why I would be interested in her, given that we were on different levels of accomplishment in the animal rights movement. I told her that I did not think that that mattered, and wrote to her later that night explaining many things I loved about her, even if she did not have formal accomplishments. I texted two friends that night to indicate that I thought the date had gone well.
The next morning she wrote back to me and indicated that she’d prefer to remain platonic and did not want to risk our working relationship. I replied that I understood and accepted her decision, and later that day, she suggested someone else could help with the rest of the podcasting. I said I was sorry if what I shared made her uncomfortable. She replied something to the effect of, “...it's ok. All good." About 1-2 days later, she wrote to me again and said that while she appreciated my apology, she felt it was insufficient for a number of reasons. She said that she felt shocked and preyed upon by the romantic attention, given that she had recently gone through a breakup and perceived me as a mentor-figure, among other factors. I apologized for that impact. She filed a report to the DxE report team, and they subsequently contacted me and asked me if I could reach certain agreements with her. (See the footnote below.) I replied to the report team that I did not think the agreements were appropriate, given that some of them were based on factual events that did not happen (e.g., I did not hit on anyone in a car, as the report team suggested I had). But I also indicated that I would agree notwithstanding the factual inaccuracies. After the report, I believed that I was on good terms with this woman, and when I reached out to her to chat about a legal case she had helped work on a year prior, she indicated she was interested in getting involved in volunteer DxE legal work in the summer of 2022. I replied that I would be grateful for her support. I put her in touch with the relevant point person. My understanding is that she continues to have concerns about power dynamics in relationships/dating, including a possible concern that I violated the agreement I made after her report by asking a legal team volunteer on a date.
This second controversial date occurred in late March 2023, approximately one year after the first. I asked out on a date a woman who had been particularly supportive of me when my cat Joan died in February. She was an accomplished professional in one field but made a switch to law and entered law school during the pandemic, at which point she reached out to DxE and asked if she could volunteer for our legal team. I was not the leader of the legal team she was volunteering for, and had not worked with her on any significant projects when we began chatting. I did, however, have significant influence on the team, due to my legal experience and reputation. I indicated to her when we went on a date that, if we ended up in a relationship, I felt that I should probably leave the team. We decided ultimately not to continue with a relationship, after the date, and remain on good terms. While many have stated that I sexually harassed her, or otherwise violated the DxE dating and relationship policy, she has denied this and has asked others to stop falsely using her story.5 Unfortunately, this has not prevented her story from being used, including in a false sexual harassment report filed on her behalf, and against her will, in the last couple weeks. While neither I nor this woman believe the report has any validity, I voluntarily left all DxE legal teams after the report was filed, and I am scaling back all of my work with legal volunteers. By the end of the year, the intent is for all of my legal work to occur with professional attorneys or staff at The Simple Heart.
There have been other rumors involving harassing behavior outside of dates. One rumor involves harassment of an unnamed woman at a dance party or club. I do not know who this woman is. However, those who have seen me dance know that I generally avoid dancing with women at parties, to avoid allegations of impropriety. I dance to relieve stress, in times that are hard, and typically dance with other men rather than women. I do not drink, do drugs, or engage in other risky personal behavior. (I have been sober my entire life.) But the allegation against me is apparently that I “gave advice” to a woman at a dance party with the intent to pursue a sexual relationship. I do not recall giving advice to anyone or even desiring a sexual relationship with a fellow activist, much less attempting to pursue one, at any dance party or club. I apologize if I gave anyone that impression.
All of the above factual statements can be verified. Subject to appropriate confidentiality and consent, I am happy to share all communications I’ve had with the above women — and any other women — with any party that has a legitimate interest in investigating the claims further, including the DxE Report Team. Priya Sawhney and many of the other women described above (anonymously) have also indicated that they are willing to speak about these rumors, given that they are the alleged victims of harassment/misconduct.
A final thought (and, here, I will go back to offering my subjective voice): I do not enjoy writing or publishing the above statement. I say this partly because what I have written above is both deeply personal, and indicates mistakes I’ve made in dating, e.g., being insufficiently attentive to perceived power dynamics. But even more important, I think the necessity of writing this statement – in the face of people literally calling the police based on wild rumors – is a sign of a culture that has gone deeply wrong. Suspicion, vengefulness, and cruelty dominate the animal rights community and cause toxic infighting that harms all parties and distracts us from our mission. I have had serious thoughts about leaving the animal rights movement, as a result of these rumors, and I imagine others on all sides of these rumors have felt similarly. Perhaps most darkly, these rumors are threatening our efforts to help animals. Eighteen beautiful and gentle creatures might have lost their lives earlier this month — and all because of a false rumor that, to an increasing number of people, somehow became a dark reality. However, the antidote to darkness is light. Light, of course, is often painful. It exposes the ugly warts on society, and on us. I am confident that many of the warts above are unpleasant for people to read. They were unpleasant for me to write. But I think the light is still necessary for wounds to be healed.
I will go live at 2 pm PT today on Facebook to answer any questions about the above.
Thank you for reading all the way to the end, and for your support for making the world a kinder place.
The full question asked, in relevant part, was: “What would you describe as your responsibility to women as men in powerful positions in the animal liberation movement? (…) Wayne I’ve also spoken to multiple women, some 15 years younger than you, who have claimed that you have harassed them sexually. One, um... a few women that you have had sexual relationships with are currently in federal prosecution cases with you, so I would like to hear your response to those questions.”
My history as an animal rights leader is most relevant. But to the extent that people are concerned that I might be hiding a sordid sexual history prior to DxE, I have had 4 other sexual relationships in my life prior to 2013, over the first 32 years of my life.
For example, I strongly advocated for offering severance to a co-founder of DxE who was leaving the network on bad terms. My ex disagreed strongly, and her view prevailed. I also recommended against settling a civil lawsuit filed against me and DxE by Whole Foods in 2019. I felt it was strategically important to show that we were willing to fight. My ex disagreed, and, once again, her view prevailed and we settled the case – despite the fact that I was the only individually-named defendant in the case. Indeed, I can think of very few, if any, instances in recent history where I have had significant influence on DxE decisions, despite popular perception to the contrary.
I debated whether including any of these details, e.g., her intrusion into my private life post-breakup, was necessary. However, failing to include these details, when they are a significant part of the story, would be deceptive. Readers, especially those who have had interactions with her, might question the legitimacy of the entire account if I failed to provide factual information regarding an ex I am on bad terms with. Given that she has had direct interactions with at least dozens of people, who have then spread her account to many others (often citing her as the source), that would be a significant gap and, in my view, undermine the effort at transparency.
There have separately been claims that I (a) violated the DxE relationship policy by asking her out on a date; or (b) violated other agreements I had made with DxE’s Report Team, including an agreement to “refrain from professing love or making romantic declarations to any DxE community members who you are in a mentor/mentee relationship [with] or who have reasonable belief they are your mentee.”
With respect to (a) the relationship policy expressly allows for team members to ask one another on a date, and only requires reporting if the date turns into a relationship. I did not hide the fact that I went on a date, and in fact consulted with a number of individuals, including a lawyer who was involved in the drafting of the relationship policy, who stated that I did not have to report it. Nonetheless, I did report the date to the ombudsperson in early June, about 2 months after the date. The ombudsperson agreed that it did not need to be reported.
With respect to (b), I was not in a mentor relationship with the woman and I did not “profess my love” for her. I was not the point person on the team — and had virtually no discussions with her about her volunteer work. Moreover, the woman was a former television broadcast journalist (who I have sought advice from on media issues), and a powerful person in her own right. I have confirmed that neither of us would characterize our relationship as “mentor/mentee.”