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Smithfield is Prosecuting Me. But Their Real Target is You. (Podcast)
One week before the trial that could change our lives forever, I gather with two co-defendants to discuss what this trial really stands for: silencing conversation about factory farms.
I just landed in Utah, and I’m jumping into prep for the trial that begins on October 3. (The sequel to the blog on comebacks will thus be slightly delayed.) But I wanted to post a podcast conversation I had with my two co-defendants, Paul Darwin Picklesimer and Jon Frohnmayer (who took a plea bargain 3+ years ago), because it illustrates the central motive of this prosecution: silencing public conversation about factory farms.
Paul and I are technically the ones at trial, in relation to our investigation of the largest pig farm in the nation, Circle Four Farms. But in filing after filing, the government and industry have made clear that their real target in this case is not Paul and I, but all of you: advocates, animal lovers, and concerned members of the public.
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They don’t want you to see the evidence that led us to conclude that Smithfield, owner of the pig farm we investigated, was engaged in criminal misconduct – so they are barring us from even playing video footage of the alleged crime. They don’t want you to be swayed by our personal stories – so they are attempting to prevent us from providing any testimony as to our motive (i.e., rescuing dying animals) in investigating Circle Four. Indeed, they don’t want you to see what’s really happening at trial – so they are barring members of the public or media from attending the trial in person in court.
The reason for this is quite simple. Animal agriculture is an abomination. And when people see it, even in short glimpses of confinement and cruelty, they don’t want to support it. They want to stop it. And so the only solution, for this vampiric industry upon which the government believes the county depends, is to prevent you from seeing the truth. Prevent you from being inspired to act.
The footage we shot inside Smithfield shocked consumers — and even animal advocates — who believed that the company had reformed its ways.
They are targeting you because you are having an impact. The grassroots mobilizations nationwide have had tremendous impacts on animal agriculture’s bottom line. If you would have told me five years ago, for example, that the entire fur industry would be banned in the state of California, I would have laughed at you. Yet that is exactly what happened in 2019, despite an industry smear campaign. It took thousands of people across the state and nation — making phone calls, raising funds, and hitting the streets — to make that happen.
They are targeting you because they believe you can be intimidated. They look to the history of the animal rights movement, and in particular the prosecutions of the SHAC7, who were imprisoned for running a website to protest the conditions at a notorious animal experimentation facility.1 After those defendants were imprisoned, the grassroots animal rights movement was seemingly crushed. As a lawyer, activists would come to me, for many years after that prosecution, and ask if they could be charged with federal terrorism for merely leafleting on a public street! Campaigns, demonstrations, and even outreach virtually disappeared. The industry wants to do this to us again.
What they don’t realize, however, is that the movement has evolved, and we are no longer scared. This is partly because we have learned the lessons of nonviolence, and now have the skill and cultural temperament to ensure that their efforts to intimidate us will backfire. This is partly because the public has changed, with a shocking 1 in 2 Americans now agreeing that factory farms should be banned! But the most important reason the industry’s efforts to intimidate us will fail is that the animal rights movement is a community, not just an ideological effort. And that means anyone who faces intimidation, including Paul and I, will receive incredible support. That is exactly what’s happening right now in this case, with hundreds of people reaching out to me personally to show their support. With this much community support, I feel strong in the face of this prosecution — and I have you all to thank for that.
But the most important reason they are targeting you is because they know that, if you continue speaking your truth, we will win — and create change. I wrote a few weeks ago about why plant-based food is the future. For reasons both environmental and ethical, slaughterhouses will cease to exist within the next generation. Big Ag is prosecuting us in this case because they know this to be true and are desperate to stop it. How else can you explain the absurdity of sending a caravan of FBI agents to hunt down baby pigs who were worth, by the government’s own account, less than $50?
But here is the key bit. No matter what happens to Paul and I at trial, so long as people keep seeking and speaking truth, Big Ag’s efforts will inevitably fail. I know this because, when the fur industry came after the movement, it merely fueled our efforts to create change — leading to the historic ban on fur in California in 2019. I know this because of the academic literature on the Backlash Effect, which shows that efforts to repress nonviolent movements will backfire, if the activists can maintain solidarity in the face of persecution. And I know this, most of all, because I know that, in our hearts, we are a compassionate species. Indeed, compassion — and the ability to feel what others feel — is arguably our greatest superpower. And when that superpower is unleashed, we will become who we were meant to be:
Caretakers of this earth, and its living beings, rather than killers and tyrants.
A huge number of people on social media, including renowned philosopher Peter Singer, have been posting this week about their support for Paul and myself, and for the Right to Rescue. Go to this website to get ideas on instructions on what to post, but every bit helps!
It’s not too late to sign up for the trial convergence in Utah, which begins on October 3. Over two hundred activists are expected to converge on the state to provide trial support — and join a week of action, community, and workshops. Here’s a link to signup and find out more about the week.
Next week’s podcast may be my last, and appropriately, it’s going to be with my best friend and DxE co-founder Priya Sawhney. There were some tears shed in this one, and it could be the last time you hear my voice on the podcast in a while. But Priya is going to continue the podcast even if I’m incarcerated, by sharing things I’ve written to her from prison.
Thanks to everyone for reading! Less than one week for trial, but we’re ready to roll!
There is more to the story than this. The case involved alleged threats and home demonstrations, in addition to online advocacy. But the key point is that none of the defendants in the SHAC7 case were themselves charged with any violent crimes, just for their speech.