The Animal Rights Movement is Getting Bolder, Thanks to Direct Action Everywhere

GUEST WORDS-Oppressive institutions routinely paint activists as “extremists.” This tells the public to fear change and helps those in power to maintain the status quo.

While it’s unsurprising that multi-billion dollar industries like Big Tobacco and Big Ag will try to destroy the reputations of activists, it is sobering to realize just how much they’re able to weaponize the media.  

In a world of online media that is focused on getting clicks, it’s hard to know what or whom to trust. Truth, journalistic ethics, and common decency are increasingly sacrificed for profit. We’ve been invited to publish this piece about our animal rights activist network, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), in response to one such case, a previous article in CityWatch that called DxE a “sex cult,” based heavily upon the account of an individual who has never been involved in DxE and publicly directs people to Activist Facts, a website set up by our corporate adversaries to falsely smear animal rights activists.  

The animal agriculture industry frequently calls DxE “extreme” and has even referred to us as “the most dangerous animal rights organization out there.” Why are our actions so threatening? Because they are the same kinds of actions that have succeeded in social movements throughout history, even when they weren’t popular.  

In the fight for women’s voting rights, Emmeline Pankhurst was called “militant” for her confrontational activism, which often resulted in arrests of activists. In the Civil Rights Movement, the four student activists who performed the first sit-in against segregation in Greensboro, NC were met with ridicule, even in the Black community. Yet these are the changemakers that history remembers. Challenging extreme injustice requires disruptive tactics, and that’s why DxE takes nonviolent direct action at the frontlines of animal abuse.  

In September, seven DxE activists were arrested at Smithfield’s Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon, California while attempting to rescue a pig from inside the facility. Just days later, hundreds of activists united at the slaughterhouse to keep up the pressure. One team made it inside to lock down at the kill floor, while others climbed on the roof, dropping a banner and lighting smoke flares. At the main entrance to the facility, people chained themselves to the gate to prevent trucks from carrying pigs inside to be slaughtered.  

Were these acts of nonviolent civil disobedience extreme? That’s simply the wrong question. It shifts attention away from the indisputably extreme systemic violence present inside the slaughterhouse, where thousands of pigs are sent into gas chambers every single day and more than 300 workers have contracted COVID-19. Despite the massive number of workers infected, the facility has not closed once since the pandemic began, with the exception of several hours during DxE’s lockdown. 

Smithfield sees both the pigs and the workers as disposable, and it’s disheartening that certain media outlets are more concerned with vilifying the activists who speak up for them than addressing the real problem: an inherently destructive industry that brews diseases in filthy, overcrowded factory farms, then spreads infection among vulnerable populations of workers, while torturing and needlessly killing billions of sentient beings, and don’t forget, accelerating the climate crisis, too.  

So we could talk about the rumors and point out the underlying anti-Asian racism of the “cult” allegations or the fact that women fill the majority of leadership roles in DxE. But then we’d just be talking about ourselves, and animals would still be suffering behind closed doors. Whatever one may think about DxE, those of us at DxE can only hope we’re making you think about real issues, too.  

If you want to help end animal exploitation, you can sign our open letter calling for a moratorium on new factory farms and slaughterhouses here. ]


(Cassie King is writing on behalf of DxE.)