Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Trouble in the Old Home State

I grew up in Utah. I lived there most of my life. And much of my family - parents, brother, nieces and nephews - are still there. So it was with much interest that I read the story of William James Viehl (pictured right), sentenced to two years jail time yesterday for setting minks free at a farm in South Jordan, a town just south of Salt Lake City. Viehl set more than 600 minks - 425 female, 225 male - free and was subsequently arrested. U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson called Viehl's actions an "act of terrorism." (Source) But supporters of Viehl wrote letters to Judge Benson comparing the animal rights activist to Harriet Beecher Stowe, World War II anti-Nazi resistance fighters and Mahatma Gandhi.

As for the minks, their ultimate fate remains somewhat confusing. According to the Salt Lake Tribune:
Vehicles hit and killed seven, seven died of stress and 20 were never recovered, said the farm's owner, Lindsey McMullin.

So it sounds like most of the minks were returned to the farm (although the story was unclear on that, as were other stories I've read about the incident; the Tribune's competitor, The Deseret News, also wrote a story about Viehl that was even less clear about the fate of the minks). The so-called "bandits" also spray painted "Animal Liberation Front" inside of the mink farm.

Whatever you might happen to think of Viehl's actions, to call what he did "terror" or "terrorism" is absurd. Yet foes of the animal rights movement are carelessly tossing around the word "terrorism" to describe militants. When an overzealous animal rights activist threw a tofu pie at Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, a Liberal MP, Gerry Byrne, referred to the unfortunate incident as an "act of terror." (Source) Nobody has condemned that pie-throwing incident more vociferously than I have, yet to call it an act of "terror" renders the words "terror" and "terrorism" utterly meaningless. The attacks of September 11, 2001 were acts of terror and terrorism. Tossing a tofu pie and setting minks free must never be lumped together with 9/11, or the catastrophic losses of that day will forever be trivialized.

If your really want to slap labels on something, "mass extermination" and "extreme violence" are terms that can be used to describe the factory farm system and businesses that tear the skins off of animals for clothing. Unfortunately, foes of animal rights will always try to steer attention away from the main issue. As Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer said, "In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka." (Source: Singer, Isaac Bashevis. The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer. p. 271.)

That's the main issue. And those of us who love animals mustn't let the system's defenders convince people otherwise.

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