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Cover Story

Animal Activists Fight for Their Own Rights Page 1

Some Utah animal advocates fear being put in a legal cage.

By Jesse Fruhwirth
Posted // May 12,2010 -

In June 2008, Jeremy Beckham took a day trip from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, with his girlfriend and brother to visit famed Capilano Suspension Bridge. The longtime Salt Lake City animal-rights activist had no problem entering Canada, but his name was flagged by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection when he returned.

“They brought me in a separate room, so it was clear they were singling me out,” he said. He gave the agent his name, told him he was a student at the University of Utah and that he was just visiting Canada as a tourist. “Then [the agent] said, ‘What student groups or political organizations do you belong to?’ ” Nervous already, Beckham was now alarmed. Why should his political beliefs have any bearing on his re-entry?

Beckham, 25, refused to answer the question, and all others.

The agent asked if he was refusing to cooperate with a “national security investigation.” Beckham’s answer was not what the agent wanted to hear: “I’m not refusing to [explain] why I was in Canada, [but] I’m not going to answer questions about my political beliefs.” Beckham was cuffed, and he recalls the agent saying, “You can sit there until you’re ready to answer some questions.”

He sat handcuffed for an hour or more. Eventually, a “good cop” with a kind demeanor—to contrast the previous brusque “bad cop”—came into the room and uncuffed Beckham. He asked the same questions as the first agent and Beckham explained, for a second time, his trip to the Capilano bridge.

“Let me tell you a bit about why you were stopped,” Beckham says he was told. “We looked into you, and we know that you are an animal-rights activist. … That’s your right. You might not be aware of it, but Canada is a hotbed of violent animal-rights extremism. … We don’t think you’re a violent animal-rights activist necessarily, but we have to ask these questions. Did you speak with any animal-rights activists [in Canada]?’” Beckham remained silent.

Twenty minutes later, he was free to go.

It’s not clear whether Beckham was listed in the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, or “watch list” as it’s frequently called. Beckham has never been charged with any so-called “eco-terrorism,” but people he knows have, and activist associates of his have been convicted of picketing-related charges. Beckham believes the government hypes the threat of animal-activist crimes in order to disrupt the entire movement and that merely being an animal activist can make you guilty by association. Beckham and others believe animal exploitation is the moral equivalent of human torture or murder, and they’re incredibly earnest and uncompromising in their beliefs that breaking the laws to free animals is similar to the Underground Railroad.

"They brought me in a separate room, so it was clear they were singling me out. Then the agent said, ‘What student groups or political organizations do you belong to?’ ”


Agree with them or not, understanding their motivation is key to understanding tactics that some find unsavory: picketing at animal researchers’ homes, for example, or publicly praising illegal mink releases. While some activists have purposely violated the law in defense of animal rights, those who are not willing to cross legal lines face anxiety-inducing quandaries: When does free speech become illegal support of others’ crimes, and what are the consequences of being an “eco-terrorist” sympathizer?

Law enforcers from the FBI down to Salt Lake City Prosecutor Sim Gill remind these activists that ignorance of the law is no excuse for violating it, and yet refuse to issue legal opinions that clearly distinguish illegal behavior and free speech. An FBI official recently told City Weekly that the activists have nothing to worry about if they “don’t push the envelope.” But activists are almost sure to keep pushing. In which case, they may face more detentions at the border, FBI informants in their midst and more revisions to the legal understandings of free speech and assembly.

Animal-Rights “Rock Star”

Peter Daniel Young, 32, is certainly the most prominent animal liberator/convicted “eco-terrorist” in Utah. The son of a radio disc jockey, Young was born in California and mostly raised in the Seattle-area community of Mercer Island. Already a hardcore music fan and Straight Edge kid—meaning he loved aggressive, angry music but disdained drugs and alcohol— Young became only the second vegan in his high school and hasn’t eaten meat or dairy since, not even in prison.

The roots of his radical respect for animals can be traced to John Robbins’ markedly unradical Diet For a New America television special from 1992, which Young saw in a high school class. The 60-minute film barely mentions animal rights and focuses on Americans’ unusual levels of meat and dairy consumption relative to other countries. There’s just a brief scene about the conditions of animals on factory farms, but it’s presented as more of a gross-out to eaters than an argument that animals deserve better treatment. Nevertheless, those images stuck with Young.

Young graduated from high school in 1995 and continued his practices of picketing businesses that exploited animals. He quickly grew intolerant, however, of the slow pace of progress and moved on to criminal acts of activism, often referred to as “direct actions.” “We were under the illusion that this [picketing] was building up toward some crescendo where all the animals were free, and it just wasn’t working.”

His first illegal direct action was to smash the windows of a Seattle ham store and paint “Meat is Murder” on the walls. That made the news, as did other crimes he committed anonymously. Before long, though, both cops and news crews recognized him as an activist. He felt “marked” and needed anonymity to continue his illegal work, so he headed for the Upper Midwest in 1997.

“The road trip that lead to my indictment was to be my last stop before college,” he said. “I wanted to do one last, great thing.” That thing was to assist in the release of thousands of mink from their cages at six ranches in South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, sort of an epicenter of mink farming. Wisconsin is the top producer of mink pelts with 71 farms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Utah is the second highest, with 65 farms.

Mink are among the best animals to liberate, Young says, because they’re scrappy survivors who have the instincts for life in the wild. The fur industry disagrees about minks’ chances of survival after a lifetime in a small cage—which is usually only months long—never having time to run around, much less hunt or swim. Each side has anecdotes and scientific research to back their mortality/survival claims.

Young and a co-defendant were caught—their red Geo Metro with Washington plates had been spotted at mink farms and was seized by a Wisconsin officer—but he was not indicted until the next year. Young went underground and stayed on the lam until 2005, when he was arrested in San Jose, Calif. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison and $254,000 in restitution, most of which went unpaid because he stopped making payments after his one-year probation expired.

Young became a convicted eco-terrorist, though he never intended to nor actually did hurt anyone—except financially. He sees mink releases as akin to interrupting a rape in progress, so he doesn’t have any mixed emotions about harming animal-exploitation businesses. He says he’s now engaged only in above-ground, legal activism because, as a “marked” man, he attracts a lot of law-enforcement attention.

Young also drew attention of animal-rights activists, becoming a “rock star” among local groups, at least according to a woman who once dated Young and is now suspected of working as an informant for the FBI.

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Posted // February 9,2011 at 05:40

"He sees mink releases as akin to interrupting a rape in progress, so he doesn’t have any mixed emotions about harming animal-exploitation businesses."

Ironic statement considering this:


Posted // May 25,2010 at 15:28

Sarah Palin? You need meat to stave off heart attack. Ever heard of good cholesterol? There's other things involved but it's the constant eating of red meat that gives you heart disease. A balanced diet which is mostly meats like chicken, fish and anything but cow meat all the time is very good for you. Stop the killing? Start eating dirt then dumbass because plants are alive. Look up a botany website and read up a bit if you even passed comprehension. Yes, that's part of an education, not just reading and repeating like a parrot. You have to understand and apply what you learn not just open your mind so your brain falls out. Plants are just as alive as animals, they're just a different kind of animal and a plant is just another scientific classification for something that's alive.


Posted // May 25,2010 at 21:41 - Plants are alive but they are not sentient beings. In macrobiotics it is said that plants have "energy" and should be treated gently when handling so as not to disturb the energy to greatly before eating, such as cutting the vegetables in a certain way that is peaceful and orderly.


Posted // May 24,2010 at 16:49

Animal rights activists also terrorize scientists, break into their homes and vandalize, leave death threats to them and their families, and have bombed their homes. Also, ever seen 28 days later? That's a realistic scenario you do not know what they are testing in those labs 100% of the time. Do you think if there's any odd biological testing they'll advertise that like yesterday's news? Hello? So yes, it's pretty comparable to bombing an abortion clinic to save babies especially when not all of it is merely for make up etc. Some of it is for life saving medicine/disease analysis. Granted, a rat or a dog/cat is not that close to humans on the genetic scale, but chimps match human DNA by 98%. Even some things tested on rats work on humans. It's the basic principle of fire burns rats and humans, and yes pretty simplistic comparison but we do have the same types of physiology even if much of the chemistry is different etc we do have the same organs for a reason. I've read about this in the past in regular newspapers. Besides, it impacts real people's jobs/ability to work, feed their kids and themselves, their wives or even ailing parents and pets. Yes they have pets too. I eat meat but I wouldn't eat my pet as an example. It's similar to spiking trees by tree huggers. Those have killed loggers when they are cutting trees. Pretty silly to put a tree above a human life, and basically it's murder. It's why Osama had those dolts fly the planes into the twin towers on 9/11. Cutting off a money supply is a choke hold and he even stated this in a video saying it would divide the USA and we'd tear each other apart pretty well before he hit us again and it's coming true. Thanks but no thanks for your "activisim." True activism is like altruism and philanthropy. Peaceful assembly is not throwing rocks and bottles at police etc. That might be a privilege that's granted but it's not a right. The right is meeting in a town hall and addressing the issue intelligently, or writing a book that makes sense, getting a Masters or PhD or even Bachelor's and doing lectures etc. Grow up and quit trying to play spies or something.


Posted // May 25,2010 at 10:50 - Well, it was nice of sarah palin to weigh in on this issue. I wasn't aware she was so active in internet commenting. I'm impressed, lots of your words are spelled right!! Somebody's getting smarter :-) GO VEGAN you stupid son of a bitch, pull your head out of your ass, stop the killing, and stave off your heart attack a little longer. What a moron.


Posted // May 24,2010 at 18:09 - The article also mentions straight edgers, classified as an extreme and violent gang. I remember the days they gave curb sandwiches to those that smoked, drank, had sex etc to "enforce good values" I suppose. Now that's real sweet. Also, many are Vegans but even plants share a small percentage of DNA with humans, so you're still somewhat cannibalistic when you eat only plant matter. Oh, and studies show they react to disease with their own "immune system" and release pheramones when attacked by insect, disease or herbivores to warn other plants and activate their own defenses. Oh and studies show that plants react differently to Mozart vs Metallica, the latter having a negative effect on their growth and health. Also, Art of War shows that not just an economic war is waged before other types of attacks (or as part of the main attack and that attacks are made to look like they're really not attacks but just normal every day activism for example), and winning the people's hearts and minds is a precursor to some sort of major attack, well, you know what I'm getting at. Since supposedly these activists are college educated, have been in prison with other domestic terrorists, it makes me think that it's a front for something else or a distributed set of attacks that are separate in method but have the same result, which is death by a thousand paper cuts of the good ole USA. On animal rights crap, I call bullshit just like I do on Greenpeace and Japanese whaling for example. They currently hunt a whale the breeds faster than rabbits and what are they supposed to eat? Going to take down house cats next for eating mice? Lions for eating Gazelle? Wolves for eating deer? BTW, meat is needed by the human brain and soy not only makes you ill but is not the protein you need to have a healthy brain. Your brain will actually shrink if you don't eat meat. Same goes for fatty foods like bacon etc since the brain is made of a fatty material so, being a "fat head" is actually a compliment.


Posted // May 20,2010 at 22:25

I think that if you succeed it getting the word -- and video -- out to the public about the truth of these places, you will succeed in destroying the market for their products.


Posted // May 16,2010 at 16:24

I think it's funny that this article paints Jeremy Beckham as some sort of saint. There is at least some reason to him being on that list. There is a difference between cutting open cages or breaking into labs to free animals, and actually threatening the safety of the people who happen to work in the labs. He took the discourse we had with the lab people and completely shut it down with his extremism, and we have wasted many animals' lives and much time trying to get back to that discourse. Now they have the right to keep EVERYTHING from us, using the threat of violence as an excuse. How does that help the animals at all? This is pure ego.

- a pragmatist surrounded by all- or- nothing extremist