By now, you've probably heard of Meredith Lowell from Cleveland Heights, Ohio (pictured above), who set up a bogus Facebook profile in order to hire someone to murder a random person wearing fur. She was prepared to shell out $750 to $850 to get the job done.
Her scheme backfired, thanks to an undercover FBI sting operation that thwarted her. She's now getting a lot of media attention. It all began with her Facebook post last year that said: "I would like to create an online community on Facebook which would allow me to find someone who is wiling to kill someone who is wearing fur toward the end of October 2011 or early November 2011 or possibly in January 2012 or February 2012 at the latest."
The whole plot unfolded like a bad film noir. An undercover FBI agent emailed Lowell claiming to be an interested party. Lowell emailed back: "You need to bring a gun that has a silencer on it that can be easily concealed in your pants pocket or coat. If you do not want to risk the possibility of getting caught with a gun before the job, bring a sharp knife that is at least 4 inches long, it should be sharp enough to stab someone with and/or to slit their throat to kill them." (Source) She said she wanted the victim to be between 12 and 14 years old.
She wrapped up her solicitation with the following unambiguous request: "I want the person dead in less than 2 minutes (under 2 minutes or 1 minute or less would be better)." (Source) Obviously, the plan went nowhere and Meredith Lowell is now facing prison time.
Lowell's story is getting so much play in the media precisely because it is so anomalous. These days, it's exceedingly rare to hear any animal rights proponents - radical, moderate or conservative - advocating violence. Even the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which advocates very aggressive forms of direct action and sabotage, urges its followers to avoid directly harming human beings. There is some debate in animal rights circles whether their tactics - which include destroying cages, ruining equipment used in animal tests, slaughterhouses and factory farming, and setting animals free - is violent. I won't go there, because that is not the purpose of this Blog post. Suffice it to say the ALF has never advocated or resorted to the violence that Lowell sought to carry out.
Lowell is, by all accounts, a sensitive soul who is haunted by fish being trapped in the local aquarium (which she likened to a "bathtub") and the violent slaughter of fur-bearing animals. She has professed her unhappiness living in a home where her parents and siblings consume meat and eggs and dairy products. She spoke of "liberating" animals in the same way that "soldiers liberated people from Nazi camps in World War 2." (Source)
Lowell wanted to hire someone to murder an fur-wearing person because she hoped to shock the public. She said she planned to leaflet at the murder scene. Judging from the extensive media coverage of her botched attempt, had she carried out the plot successfully, she probably would've received the attention she so desperately sought.
Few people understand the truth of the statement that you can't stop violence with violence more deeply than animal rights activists. In democratic societies, violence rarely, if ever, helps to promote a cause. On the contrary, it almost always irreparably harms the causes it seeks to advance.
The consumption of animals by human beings is the most violent system on earth today. Gandhi once said the most destructive weapon on the planet is the table fork (I'd add the so-called steak knife). We animal rights advocates are well aware of the truth of this statement. And it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that the violence plotted by Meredith Lowell warrants our strongest condemnation.
But let's also put her act in perspective. She is clearly a desperate person, resorting to an extreme act with a potentially horrific outcome, in order to put a stop to a system that is murdering billions of sentient beings per year. Since you started reading this, millions of animals have had their arteries severed, their fur ripped off of their bodies, their babies separated from them, and they've been pulled out of their homes in the oceans and lakes and rivers in order to be consumed by human beings.
Most people, as I've said before, construct high walls of denial to protect themselves. But what about those of us who cannot - will not - build these walls anymore? How do we live with the enormity of the bloodletting and crimes going on around us every second of every day without going a little crazy? How fine is the line that separates us from Meredith Lowell?
A system so deeply shaped by, influenced by, imbued with, saturated with, defined by violence - at its very core, at the very center of how it operates on a second-to-second basis - is bound to have deleterious effects on those sensitive souls who eventually awaken to the savagery and become repulsed by it. How can you not be the product of the society in which you live? If you refuse to look the other way, like so many omnivores, at the constant, nonstop violence, how do you emerge with your compassion and your commitment to nonviolence intact?
Amazingly, most of us have figured out how to walk that fine line. We do this by recognizing that we love all sentient beings, and we reject the violence going on around us by trying to disengage, as much as humanly possible, from the very forces that make life such a miserable and hellish experience for non-human animals. In the process of walking this tightrope, it becomes so vital for us to find other qualities in life that bring us happiness and emotional sustenance, qualities that allow us to continue making the most out of our short time on earth. Friends, family, music, art, good movies, long walks in nature, and, yes, time spent with animals who were fortunate enough to somehow escape the maelstrom, help us heal from what torments us.
It's tempting to simply condemn Meredith Lowell and move on to other issues. But can we not find it in our hearts to feel sympathy for a misguided, ultimately self-destructive woman who could not maintain her balance on that precarious tightrope any longer?