Animal Rights

Why Call Animal Rights Activist 'Left-Wing' and 'Vegan'?

| by Gary L Francione

In what appears to be an attempt to address the criticism that President Obama got when the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement and a report on right-wing extremism, the FBI has just announced that terror can come from the “left” as well: the first domestic terrorist named to the FBI’s list of “Most Wanted” terror suspects is Daniel Andreas San Diego, described as an “animal rights activist,” “left-wing terrorist,” and “vegan.”

The first problem with this narrative is that it connects the animal rights movement with the political left. That is a problem because any such connection is an exaggeration at best. Indeed, many of the prominent animal organizations and personalities, particularly in the United States, have embraced reactionary politics to the extent that they embrace any political position at all. Is there anything more reactionary than PETA’s relentless sexism or its giving awards to people like Pat Buchanan or Arnold Schwarzenegger?

One of the most celebrated people in the modern American movement is Matthew Scully, who was a speech writer for George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Sarah Palin and who, in his writing, presents a conservative Christian view that we should show “mercy” to animals but accepts that nonhuman animals are moral inferiors because only humans are created in God’s image. In any event, it is simply not accurate to make a blanket generalization that the American animal rights movement is leftist.

The second problem is that this narrative unfairly suggests that the animal rights movement is one of violence. Yes, it is true that there are some people who advocate violence but they are very small in number. The overwhelming number of animal advocates I have met over the almost three decades that I have been involved with this issue are sharply critical of violence. They understand that violence is the problem and is not the solution; they understand that violence will–can–only beget more violence.

According to the reports, San Diego, claiming to be part of the “Revolutionary Cells Liberation Brigade,” bombed two corporations in California that were involved in animal testing. “Revolutionary Cells-Liberation Brigade?” Is this some sort of joke? In any event, whether or not San Diego is guilty as charged is a matter for a court to decide. But those who promote or engage in violence do nothing to change social thinking about the issue; all they do is ensure that no one will take important ethical ideas seriously. They give others an excuse to dismiss these ideas.

In my work and on this blog (1, 2), I have argued that the animal rights position, properly understood, is inconsistent with promoting or engaging in violence.

The third problem is that the narrative goes out of the way to emphasize that San Diego is a vegan. So what? Why is this even relevant? This reminds me of the number of times over the years that someone has argued to me that concern about the moral status of animals should be rejected because Hitler was a vegetarian. Putting aside that Hitler was not a vegetarian, what logical relevance would it have if he were? Stalin ate meat. Does that mean that all meat eaters are morally like Stalin? Of course not.

San Diego may or may not be guilty as charged. But even if he is guilty and even if he is a vegan, is that relevant to the morality of veganism or does it saying anything at all about vegans? No, of course not. As far as I am aware, Osama Bin Laden eats meat.