I've had a couple of additional thoughts about a recent post ("PeTA: Why the Off-Putting Propaganda?"), in which I argued that PeTA's sequel to the odious "Holocaust on your Plate" campaign wasn't intended at all to sway public opinion, but rather to recruit fence-sitters to the AR cause by force of emotion, to cement the righteousness of the AR cause in the hearts of True Believer converts, and to entice a small proportion of them into "direct action" of the sort celebrated by SHAC and ALF (meaning vandalism, arson, intimidation and harassment).
Two additional questions bubbled up in my mind: why now, and why so over the top?
I suspect it is because PeTA is in "reactive mode" — they are playing defense, reacting to events they cannot control. Worse, they have to play defense based on two separate and irreconcilable philosphies — Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare (read this for the crucial distinction, and this for the significance of the distinction).
I think the recent revelations by CCF that PeTA's "shelter" is a mass killing facility has hurt them badly with their ideological core. While it is perfectly consistent for Animal Welfare people to regret but accept as a practical necessity that animals be killed should there be too many of them and not enough resources to keep them alive, such practical matters are antithetical to Animal Rights ideology, which claims moral purity.
When you combine the fact "of" an ideological violation — bad enough, but possible for the faithful to ignore, perhaps, on a small scale — with the sheer number of animals killed (10,000 between 1998 — 2003, or greater than 75% taken in, which is several times greater than a couple of nearby shelters), PeTA's credentials shatter amongst AR true believers .
Nor does PeTA help themselves when they claim that it's necessary to kill some animals because they are unadoptable, made that way by human abuse. Animals shouldn't lose their rights simply because they are unadoptable, and any animals made intractable by human agency are exactly the ones most deserving of AR protection: they are already victims, and PeTA violates a cardinal AR principle by victimizing them more.
The fact that PeTA president Ingrid Newkirk herself claimed that their facility "could become a no-kill shelter immediately" doesn't help things for PeTA — with an annual budget, as nearly as I can tell, somewhere between $23 million and $27 million, PeTA isn't forced by financial exigencies to kill. PeTA kills by choice.
Indeed, CCF posted snippits from AR fora in which Animal Rights believers were taking PeTA to task for the unusually high rate at which they killed animals, in comparison to a couple of other shelters nearby.
Now combine the reality of PeTA being every bit as bad — or even worse — as those it rails against in sheer numbers of animals killed, with the recent disclosure that one PeTA employee (Adria Hinckle) and a PeTA trainee (Andrew Cook) allegedly were killing additional animals (not included in the official PeTA body count . . .), including adoptable animals, in the back of a PeTA van and tossing their carcasses into dumpsters.
One can further understand the AR faithful abandoning PeTA in droves, and looking elsewhere for leadership and a home for their betrayed loyalty. And that's a big deal to PeTA.
Given these two revelations, PeTA doesn't have the option to ignore the perfect storm they have created for themselves. They simply must react.
PeTA must fight two separate battles, each with its own ideology, where the ideologies are irreconcilable (AW vs AR): first, PeTA must convince the public that they were only doing what was reasonable — that they were merely handling a problem that the public had created by allowing their pets to breed unchecked. PeTA's strategy here was to take a pragmatic, expedient Animal Welfare approach: it's unreasonable to expect us to keep alive animals that it is impossible to adopt. It doesn't make any sense economically for us to keep alive a bunch of animals that are spoiled and/or that cannot be adopted out, even though we can afford to do so. It's a cost benefit thing, where the cost of keeping the animals alive outweighs the benefits.
But the AW approach doesn't work for the AR true believers. They are not interested in the practicalities of the situation, the fine calculus of cost versus benefit — they are interested in ideological purity. PeTA knows this: what to do about it?
Go on offense, and parade your extremism for the most radical of the radical to see. State in unequivocal terms — as in their odious sequel (op cit) to the "Holocaust on your Plate" campaign — your commitment to the core principle of Animal Rights: that the life of a "non-human person" is as worthy as the life of a "human person."
Try to persuade the hard core that you really are just as radical as they are, that you are entirely sympathetic to their concerns, you see the struggle just as they do, your ideology is congruent with theirs — and remind them that it is in their best interests (see above) to (at least) remain silent because of the clout you can bring in support of the extreme edge of an already extreme system of beliefs.
If nothing else, you have the money and propaganda apparatus to move the middle towards the most extreme arm of the AR movement, and help prepare young minds for the likes of SHAC and ALF to channel according to their agenda.
In short, all PeTA needs from the really violent arm of the movement — ALF and SHAC — is their silence.
To what extent will their bifurcating campaign be successful? I don't know. I don't think PeTA will collapse immediately, but I do think they've suffered a pair of body blows that it will be hard for them to overcome, but overcome them they will.
PeTA's defensive campaign to win back the public won't, by itself, be successful. But PeTA won't count only on defending themselves from the mess they've created, and CCF and the law have revealed. PeTA will attack, attack and attack again. It's what they do — they will want their name associated with stopping (what they claim to be) animal abuse, and they will go to their usual lengths to find it everywhere.
PeTA's aggressive but publicly little-noticed (as yet — the display will tour) PR campaign places ALF and SHAC sympathizers in an interesting position. Should they stand their ideological ground and criticize PeTA out of ideological purity, or remain silent and allow PeTA's propaganda campaign to run its course, knowing that they stand to benefit from a strong PeTA?
I know where I'll put my money — I don't think PeTA's killing facility is in much danger of an ALF "direct action." I think the ALF and SHAC and other such groups will remain silent — they know which side of the bread their margarine is on. ("That's my prediction — I'll stick with it!" Jamie Lee Curtis, "A Fish Called Wanda")
But perhaps we should contact one of the self-appointed ALF Press Officers — Dr. Jerry Vlasak springs to mind — and ask him for his reaction.
(Parenthetically, my inquisitive mind also wonders if Dr. Vlasak would find it morally acceptable to assassinate a couple of PeTA employees to stop PeTA cold in their killing tracks, or go further and actually advocate the practice of assassination itself!)