Is animal rights terrorism around the corner?

Terrorist ideology and motivation takes many, many forms: is violent extremism for animal rights next?

We have a love-hate relationship with animals. Many of us keep pets (dogs, cats, fish, snakes – yes, my son once had a snake much to my wife’s horror) and our relationship with them can be seen as a form of love.

We also eat animals: cows, pigs, chickens, fish, even deer and bear for those who hunt. The meat-producing business is a multi-billion one worldwide I’d imagine, or even bigger. We have also been taught that the protein from meat is an essential part of our diet.

Today, however, there are pressures to cut back on meat consumption. Some of the advice we see is that the industry is a huge emitter of greenhouse gases and hence should be curtailed. There is also the destruction of forests to raise cattle: the government of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro has been particularly criticised in this regard.

One of the many Amazon rain forest fires in Brazil (Photo: Greenpeace)
Heading in a more serious direction?

A small percentage of those who are climate advocates or who just don’t eat animal-based products join animal rights groups. They believe that the conditions under which modern agricultural practices hold animals is cruel and must be stopped. Some go so far as to try to free caged creatures: I recall reading in high school Bless the beasts and children, a book about a group of kids called the ‘Bedwetters’ who try to rescue buffalo destined to be ‘hunted’.

What if this movement heads in a more serious direction?

Recall that violent extremism, or terrorism as it is better known, stems from an underlying cause that can be any – or several – of a political, ideological or religious type. Animal rights activism is certainly political and most probably ideological (I will leave religious aside). Hence any act of violence carried out by such activists would meet the definition of terrorism.

Anita Krajnc, the women who came to the aid of pigs (Photo: Toronto Pig Save)
The fight for animal rights is heating up.

The government of Ontario has just drafted a bill that aims to crack down on farm trespassing, often by animal-rights activists, and interfering with agricultural operations, including livestock trucking. Fines for a first offence will be set at CDN$15,000, rising to CDN$25,000 for a second such transgression. Ontario farmers welcome the move as they say they have seen a ‘ramping up’ of illegal activity by animal-rights activists in recent years.

Not surprisingly, animal rights activists are opposed to the law, labeling it the “ag-gag” (‘agriculture gag’) bill, arguing it will stifle dissent about farming. A few have taken concrete action in the past. In 2017, a judge dismissed a charge of criminal mischief against a woman who gave water to a truckload of pigs bound for a slaughterhouse in Burlington: if convicted, she could have faced prison time. Two years earlier, mink farms in Perth and Wellington counties were hit by break-ins in which some 6,000 animals were released by anonymous activists (hundreds died, including those killed by cars).

Violence in India associated with cow vigilantism (Photo: Getty Images)
Will it get worse? That is hard to say.

An ad from the Animal Defence League of Canada (ADLC) says it is opposed to all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty but maintains its job is to increase public awareness. Unlike the Deep Green Resistance, a far left group featured in a previous perspective, it does not advocate violence on its Web page. This is not to say a member could not go rogue.

Animal Defence League of Canada (ADLC)

If you need any proof that animal rights proponents can kill you need only to look at India. Hindu extremists have targeted anyone who eats beef, as cows are considered sacred in Hinduism (I looked at that issue at some length in my latest book When Religions Kill). Several gruesome lynchings have been carried out against (primarily) Muslims suspected of eating meat.

Any movement can turn violent under the right (wrong?) conditions. Proponents who grow frustrated over a lack of progress on an issue they hold dear may conclude that violence is the only way to get their message across. This extends to many groups across many ideological spectrums.

The fight for animal rights is not going away. It remains to be seen what form this ‘fight’ will eventually take.


When Religion Kills: How Extremists Justify Violence Through Faith (2019)

Christian fundamentalists. Hindu nationalists. Islamic jihadists. Buddhist militants. Jewish extremists. Members of these and other religious groups have committed horrific acts of terrorist violence in recent decades. Phil Gurski explores violent extremism across a broad range of the world’s major religions.

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