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Animal Rights Extremism Meets Academia By: Jacob Laksin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, April 19, 2007

Glen Kissel did not recognize the name. Reading through the website of his employer, the University of Southern Indiana, on March 29th, the assistant professor of engineering marked that the following Monday the school was slated to play host to someone named Gary Yourofsky. By all appearances an animal-rights activist, he was to deliver a lecture on “Ethical Veganism.” According to the school’s description, Yourofsky “asks people to be kind to animals and ultimately, to go vegan.” It seemed innocent enough.

Until Kissel clicked on the Yourofksy’s website, adaptt.org, featured prominently on the school‘s online bulletin. What he found there shocked him. No common campaigner for the virtues of tofu of wheat germ, Yourokfsy, it turned out, was an animal-rights ultra who openly endorsed violence against humans and forthrightly supported eco-terrorist organizations.


What arrested his attention was an article Yourofsky had authored in 1997 under the title “Empathy, Education & Violence: A Time for Everything” and updated in 2005. A brief for the view, prevalent among the outer fringes of the animal-rights movement, that “violence” was preferable to “apathy,” the article carried the following admission: “Given the choice of apathy or someone liberating mink, burning down a research torture-laboratory, or killing a vivisectionist or other DIRECT murderer of animals, I will choose the aforesaid actions over apathy any day of the week.” Elsewhere in the article, Yourofsky declared his belief that “since violence is an essential part of activism, even if an abuser of animals perished during a fire or other form of direct action, I would unequivocally support that, too.”


Most chilling, perhaps, was Yourofsky’s call to arms: “The time has come to forcibly free our family members from their captors, even if that means injuring or killing someone in the process.” That’s when Kissel knew that there was more to Yourofsky’s story than one would gather from the school’s website. “I realized at that point that it was more serious than it appeared to be,” he told FPM last week. Indeed, Kissel had discovered only one section of a decidedly dangerous resume.


That wasn’t always the case. Born in Oak Park, Michigan, in 1970, Gary Yourofsky called the solidly middle-class suburb home until the age of 25. Once a meat-eating, leather-shoe sporting everyman, Yourofsky, by his own account, became a convert to the cause of veganism (a more puritanical version of vegetarianism) and animal rights after attending the circus with his stepfather, a professional circus clown, in his early twenties. There, as he recounted to one interviewer, he saw an elephant with “nothing but fear and hopelessness in her eyes” and became convinced that “something was wrong.”


Not only did Yourofsky walk out of the circus but, in short order, he became the ringleader of the notorious eco-radical outfit the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). In no small part, ALF owes its well-documented reputation for vandalism, sabotage, and arson in the name of “animal liberation” to incendiaries like Yourofsky. In April of 1997, to isolate just one instance, he led a gang of ALF militants in a raid on a Canadian fur farm, in the course of which the hearty band of trespassers “liberated” 1,542 mink. Canadian authorities saw matters differently, and Yourofsky wound up serving a 77-day stint in maximum security lock-up. (The freed furballs reportedly fared even worse, with many perishing in the wild.)


Yourofsky was unapologetic. The assault on the fur farm, Yourofsky would later muse, was of a piece with his mission “to do everything in my power legally and illegally to facilitate positive and meaningful changes for my planetary companions.” Particular stress should be placed on “illegally”: In the years between 1997 and 1999 alone, Yourofsky would be arrested no fewer than 13 times.


Crime not only did not pay for Yourofsky, but it left him in considerable debt. In a 2001 interview with the Toledo Blade, the self-proclaimed friend of animals everywhere confessed that he had trouble providing for his dog Rex and owed “at least $30,000 on credit cards.” Things looked bleak. In a 2002 email to supporters, reproduced on the website AnimalRights.net, Yourofsky revealed that he had “been on the brink of homelessness as well for about six months now.“ Mournfully, he added that he would be taking a temporary respite from activism in search of more gainful employment.


He found it at the animal-rights left’s flagship organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), where he was promptly appointed a “humane education lecturer.” Taking the former ALF radical into college, high-school and even middle-school classrooms, the job boosted both his pay and his profile as an activist.


But it was not to last. Although PETA’s politics can not reasonably classified as moderate -- the group opposes seeing-eye dogs for the blind and likens family farms to Nazi death camps -- it was too conciliatory for Yourofsky’s fanatical tastes. Before long he was decrying PETA as a “hindrance to the animal liberation movement” for its insufficiently militant tactics and denouncing PETA co-founder and president Ingrid Newkirk as a “serial cat killer” who “has turned PETA into an efficient killing machine mirroring the companies…she claims to despise,” a reference to reports that the organization occasionally euthanizes some of the animals it takes in.


Instead of returning to the wilderness of radical activism, however, Yourofsky has found a comfy new racket as an ambassador of “ethical veganism.” As a representative of ADAPTT (animals deserve absolute protection today and tomorrow), a Royal Oak-based non-profit Yourofsky founded in 1996, he has become a mainstay on college campuses.


Evidently titillated by his radical credentials, professors have routinely invited Yourofsky, who in his rectangular glasses and fashionably glabrous pate could effortlessly pass for a graduate student, to counsel their students on the evils of eating meat and the concomitant righteousness of veganism and vegetarianism. The ADAPTT website devotes a whole page to the testimonials of these fawning professors. (“Thank you for teaching my students more in one day than I've been able to teach them all semester,” gushes one enamored educator). Meanwhile, Yourofsky boasts on the site that, as of 2006, he has given nearly 1,000 lectures in 130 schools and enjoyed the audience of thousands of “carnivorous students.”


There is one thing, however, that you will not find on Yourofsky’s website: a repudiation of his past support for violence and lawbreaking in the service of animal rights. And with good reason. Even as he has been welcomed into universities nationwide, Yourofsky remains an unreconstructed supporter of animal-rights extremism as practiced by the ALF.


One need only look up Yourofsky‘s essay “Abolition, Liberation, Freedom: Coming to a Fur Farm Near You,” featured in the 2004 book Terrorists Or Freedom Fighters?: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals. (To convey the ideological flavor of the book, it is sufficient to note that the foreword is penned by far-left sage Ward Churchill.) In a billet-doux to the eco-terrorist group, Yourofsky writes: “If people truly want to end terrorism,” they need to “support the courageous ALF activists and liberate animals from places of terror.” In defense of his view that “ALF activists are not terrorists,” Yourofsky insists that “it should never be viewed as a crime to try to forcibly stop” the supposed “animal exploiters.” On the contrary, according to Yourofsky, “It is an act of compassion and courage.” For Yourofsky, the ALF is carrying on the proud tradition of American abolitionists: “Without question, ALF liberations are akin to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, which assisted in the liberation of blacks from white slave owners.”


Perhaps ironically, in view of his maximalist faith in animal rights, Yourofsky has little sympathy for the lives of his own species. When asked in a 2001 interview whether he would object to the death of an “animal abuser” while burning down a research lab, he said: “I would unequivocally support that, too.” A similar question in a 2005 interview prompted an eruption of exceptionally malignant bile from Yourofsky:


I hope that fathers accidentally shoot their sons on hunting excursions, while carnivores suffer heart attacks that kill them slowly. Every women ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever. While every man entrenched in fur should suffer an anal raping so horrific that they become disembowelled. Every rodeo cowboy and matador should be gored to death, while circus abusers are trampled by elephants and mauled by tigers. And, lastly, may irony shine its esoteric head in the form of animal researchers catching debilitating diseases and painfully withering away because research dollars that could have been used to treat them was wasted on the barbaric, unscientific practice of vivisection.


To Glenn Kissel‘s astonishment, it was to this Gary Yourofsky -- a known criminal and unabashed supporter of animal-rights terrorism who winced at the plight of mink but blithely advocated the worst cruelty for man -- that the school would be providing a forum.


That it did not do so is a testament to the professor‘s quick-thinking. Recalling that USI’s university handbook made it a condition that an invited “speaker does not advocate violation of any federal or state law,” Kissel emailed USI Provost Linda Bennett several statements by Yourofsky justifying violence and illegal activity. As further evidence, he noted that in 2000, Yourofsky’s organization, ADAPTT, had been stripped of its tax-deductible status by the IRS for supporting illegal activity and sabotage under the guise of “civil disobedience and direct action.” (In explaining its loss of tax-free status, the ADAPTT website alludes conspiratorially to “government harassment.”)


Helping Kissel’s case was that he was not waging a one-man battle. USI alumni, alerted by the professor to Yourofsky extremist record, rallied to his side. So did Indiana Right to Life, the state’s leading anti-abortion group, which issued a statement highlighting Yourofksy’s support for violence and murder and condemned his appearance at USI. In the end, the school had little choice but to cancel Yourofsky’s lecture.


Not everyone is pleased with that outcome. The world of academia is not infrequently the refuge of political extremists, and USI does not appear immune from the general trend. Yourofsky’s biggest supporter on campus, and the man responsible for inviting him, is Maurice Hamington, an assistant professor of philosophy at USI. Hamington, who lists his academic interest as “feminist care ethics,” has on several previous occasions invited Yourofsky to address students in his philosophy courses. In a January 2006 email reprinted on Yourofsky’s website, Hamington writes that “[y]ou are always welcome in my classroom” and expresses his hope “that someone comes to their senses and funds your important work.”


If the professor is alarmed about his guest’s demonstrable support for violence and lawbreaking, he does not advertise his concerns. Indeed, following the cancellation of Yourofsky’s speech on April 2nd, Hamington took pains to stress that this move was just a “precaution.” As he told USI’s campus newspaper, The Shield: “We could have easily made the case that this was one statement made 10 years ago and that he gives speeches across the nation all the time and does not incite violence.”


That defense strains credulity. As any review of his recent writings would reveal, Yourofsky continues to champion animal-rights militancy; the notion that his support for violence is limited to a single, decade-old statement is pure fiction. It is not even clear that Hamington believes in Yourofsky’s newly non-violent disposition. According to Kissel, at a faculty meeting last fall, Hamington candidly referred to Yourofsky as an “international terrorist.” (Hamington did not respond to several requests for comment from this magazine.) Moreover, as Glen Kissel observes, USI’s policy does not center on incitement, but on the issue of weather speakers advocate the violation of any federal of state law. By that standard, Yourofsky manifestly has no place on campus.


It bears noting that in his on-campus appearances, Yourofsky himself has been a security concern. In an April 2003 appearance at East Tennessee State University, for example, Yourofsky became hostile -- even before his lecture -- when a professor circulated pamphlets presenting a view on animal rights contrary to his own. According to one report, Yourofsky “became abusive toward” Shannon Miller, a biology professor who organized the lecture, and even upset a cart containing the pamphlets. Campus police had to be called in to restore order, and the lecture was cancelled. The irony of Professor Hamington inviting someone like Yourofsky to campus is not lost on Kissel. “Here we have an ethics professor inviting the most unethical spokesman for vegetarianism that you can imagine,” he observes.


Ultimately, the fact that an extremist in the mold of Yourofsky could be welcomed by a university is a symptom of a deeper problem plaguing higher education. USI is no exception. Although the administration defied left-wing voices on campus by canceling the recent event, that independence is a rarity at the school. On poring over past press releases and talking to alumni, Glen Kissel found a startling “lack of intellectual diversity in the kinds of speakers that are brought to campus.” By way of illustration, he notes that the school has hosted only two conservative speakers in the last 17 years.


Certainly such intellectual disparities are cause for concern. But perhaps nothing demonstrates the ills of modern academia so well as the following fact: At thousands of schools across the country, Gary Yourofsky remains a guest of honor.


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Jacob Laksin is managing editor of Front Page Magazine. His email is jlaksin -at- gmail.com

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