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What the Smithfield Trial Really Stands For (Podcast + NYT)
Details of the courtroom drama – and jury deliberation – are being published today in The New York Times. And on my podcast.
It’s very rare that the Gray Lady, the New York Times, publishes even a single piece on animal rights. But just a few moments ago, the Times published their second story on animal rights in the span of a week: “I Did Not Steal Two Piglets. I Saved Them.
A Jury Agreed.”
The piece, which was drafted by me with the support of the DxE press team,1 is perhaps the most important thing I have ever written. The reason is not just that it is being published in the Times, widely seen as the most influential media outlet in the world, but because it makes an important point about the true meaning of the Smithfield trial:
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People, even in places like southern Utah, are increasingly uncomfortable with the slaughter of animals for “meat.”
Here’s perhaps the most important excerpt:
Perhaps the jury verdict in our case is a sign that more people are rethinking whether their diets should include meat. Historically, many social movements have experienced sudden upswings in support, often in response to people taking risky actions that force the moral issue to the fore.
Our rescue in March 2017 revealed the tension between slaughtering animals for food and having compassion for them. The jury made the right choice. Our society eventually will, too.
At the same time as this Times piece is published, I’m going public for the first time with my analysis of the psychology of the trial, in a podcast conversation with Jeremy Beckham. Jeremy, a long-time animal rights activist, has had his own battles with the government, including approximately a dozen cases where he has sued the government — and won — over violations of his constitutional rights. He has also been among the most important Utah residents supporting us in this trial, and he had a literal front-row seat to the action.
What ties the NYT piece and the podcast together is an understanding of the bigger significance of this trial. The outcome in this case was not just unexpected. As Smithfield itself has noted, it will have consequences far beyond the defendants, or even DxE. This case will send waves across animal industry that will empower activists across the nation — and world — to take action for animals facing cruelty or violence.
Take, for example, an incident that unfolded in New York earlier this year. Tracy Murphy, who runs a sanctuary in the Buffalo area, came across two cows who wandered onto her farm. She called animal control to report what had happened. But for many days, no one responded or came looking for the cows. So she took them in, fed and gave them shelter, and cared for them for around 10 days. She formed a connection to them, and gave them names — Ishmael and Willow. They were no longer just stray animals. They were her friends.
Then a local rancher came by, after being notified by animal control, and demanded return of the cows. He presented no proof of ownership, and he clearly planned to slaughter the animals. So Tracy refused. But there was one thing about this particular rancher that made what would otherwise be a pretty standard “ownership” dispute into something that became a felony criminal case: the rancher was a state trooper.
So, one week later, he came back with his friends, executed a search warrant to seize the animals, and arrested Tracy on felony charges. All because Tracy did not want to give up two cows who had become her companions, and her friends.
The right to rescue, in our trial, might have seemed remote to many readers of this blog. You probably will never find yourself in a massive factory farm in the middle of the night, witnessing thousands of animals trapped or suffering in cages. You may, however, find yourself in a position where you find a stray or neglected animal, who has wandered from a farm or slaughterhouse. And the “owner” of that animal may find out that you’ve taken his commodity, and turned that “thing” into a friend. Should the law protect you, after you’ve given your money, labor, and heart into aiding your new friend? Or should it imprison you, for the act of simply giving aid?
Tracy’s case will answer this question. And, as the prosecutors in Niagara County, New York may soon learn, ordinary people do not want to see animals abandoned or slaughtered. They want them protected. Indeed, when an agricultural economist recently polled the public’s perceptions of slaughterhouses, he was shocked to find that roughly 1 in 2 Americans want to see slaughterhouses banned.
But I was not. Because I have always believed that we, as a species, have compassion for animals. That is exactly what was shown at the Smithfield trial and perhaps Tracy’s case will be the next demonstration of that fact.
Even more importantly, however, these cases will push our institutions to change. After all, if an animal rights activist in Utah can walk into a factory farm with two sick piglets, and if a woman has the right to care for two wandering cows, and be protected rather than prosecuted when she doesn’t want to send her new friends to slaughter, then animal rights activists will see that we have the right to rescue everywhere.
And, once that right has been established, the world will never be the same.
Some updates for the week.
I’m in DC for two more days, and flying back to the Bay Area on Thursday night. I might try to do a quick hangout somewhere in DC tomorrow night. I’ve only had one person write to me, saying they were interested, but if you are, let me know!
Friday Night Hangouts will resume this Friday, for the first time in a couple weeks. The topic will be “The Secrets of the Smithfield Trial.” I will share some persuasion strategies that were crucial to our courtroom win (and also some strategies that failed). If you want to learn how to become a more persuasive person, don’t miss this! And while this is mostly for folks local to the SF Bay Area, we do have an online component. Reply to this email or post a comment below if you’d like the link. Here’s the Facebook event page.
We’re having a big celebration in Berkeley this coming Saturday, at the DxE meetup. I’d love to see you all there! And share some stories about what happened in Utah. Here’s the event page.
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading!
Huge shout out to Crystal, who originally pitched me on the idea, and Carly for putting together a first draft and providing extensive edits. Other folks also helped; some asked not to be acknowledged (but you know who you are!). We could not have done it without you!