Sunday, March 9, 2014

The southern Ontario animal rights community has a new scapegoat

Last summer, the southern Ontario animal rights community was rocked by serious accusations against one of our own. This man was accused of serious crimes, including rape; if this is indeed the case, the crime(s) should be reported to the authorities to be investigated, tried, and punished. Instead, a small group of activists appointed themselves judge and jury, deciding behind closed doors that this man must be guilty and should be ostracized; they responded with fury to requests that the police be notified, and were unwilling to explain how they determined this man's guilt.

Now, something similar is happening, although the accused and possibly the accusers this time are different people.
A person (or group of people) has organized an online cyberbullying campaign against another local animal rights activist. These people are arguing that since this activist has made videos and online comments about sex that they disapprove of, he should be banned from all animal rights activism.

First they started a Facebook group, ostensibly to “out” vegans who have done bad things, but which is focused almost exclusively on this one person. Now they have started a petition to have Vegan Outreach ban this activist from distributing their leaflets.

Now, I am not one of these people who thinks that all animal rights activists have to agree with each other and we should never criticize another activist. I became involved in animal rights to help animals, not animal rights activists, and if someone is promoting something that harms animals, such as so-called “humane meat”, I will certainly call them out on it even if they self-identify as an animal rights activist. I think it is important to discuss which strategies are most effective.

However, this campaign against this one man has gone far beyond a healthy discussion.

  • They demanded he remove all the Facebook posts and videos they disapproved of, yet when he did delete some of them, they reposted screenshots they had taken of them. If these people are concerned about his videos and posts turning away non-vegans, why are they archiving and reposting them?
  • They repeatedly make false, indeed libellous, accusations that this man is a pedophile, promotes bestiality, and thinks it's okay to murder people, despite the fact that he has repeatedly explicitly said that he is opposed to all of these. Although this activist is an atheist, he seems to subscribe to a “hate the sin, love the sinner” philosophy, which these people are sadly twisting. In their paranoia, they interpret a brief childhood experiment, quickly ended and regretted, as a sign of lifelong deviance which can never ever be forgiven (the experiment was one many people have probably attempted and harmed no one). One video, which explained that masturbation is normal and okay, is being misrepresented as being an attempt to “teach children to masturbate” (as if they need to be taught); the activist removed the video after people said that this material should be left to professional sex educators, but the haters keep their distorted interpretation alive online.
  • They make personal attacks based on his age and employment history (he devotes most of his time to unpaid activism), which have nothing to do with improving his activist work.
  • When this activist apologizes (sometimes unnecessarily, I think), they refuse to accept his apologies. It is clear there is nothing he can say or do that will end their campaign; they just want to vent their hate and ostracize him.
  • Now they are trying to stop him from distributing Vegan Outreach leaflets. This doesn't make sense, unless their goal is to dramatically reduce the number of people reading VO leaflets (but then why just target this one person?).

The irony is this one activist is one of the most prolific Vegan Outreach leafletters, and has probably done more to help animals than all his critics combined.

It seems to me that this campaign is not motivated by a sincere desire to help animals, since just about anything you could do would help more animals than spending hours obsessing over one activist. Might I suggest donating to a sanctuary, such as Cedar Row, or distributing leaflets from Vegan Outreach or another animal advocacy group, or organizing an information table in your community, or protesting against a practice which actually harms animals, such as meat eating. I think rather it is either the result of some kind of personal grudge against the activist, or due to general anxiety about sex. Lots of people are uncomfortable talking about sex and that's fine, but the rest of us aren't. You have no right to censor everyone to try to make us conform to your vision of sexuality (or asexuality, perhaps), especially when you can very easily ignore this one activist's postings and videos about sex by not following him on Facebook, and not watching his videos (the ones about sex are easily identified by their titles).

Some of the critics may be survivors of sexual abuse who find discussions of sex triggering. I would encourage anyone in this category to get help in overcoming the trauma you have experienced. I am sorry that you suffered abuse, however campaigning against an innocent man will not help anyone.

As for the activist involved, I think he should stop apologizing in cases where he has done nothing wrong, block commenters who are unreasonable and abusive, and get back to his activism and art. (Also if he ever wants a new career he could consider training as a sex educator, since he is one of a very small proportion of the population who is comfortable with public speaking and is comfortable talking about sex.)


Alex Greenwood said...

Thanks for this, Rosemary. I totally agree that the actions of this group do not match their stated intentions and seem to be based only on personal dislike rather than what is best for the animals.

Joang said...

Well said! I couldn't have expressed it better. Thank you for writing about this travesty. Let's take the high-road and stay the course. Let's continue to move forward with the important task of saving lives, and bringing awareness to animal welfare issues, and bringing about real change. Thank you! Joan

Rosemary Waigh said...

I received a comment from someone who says she is the creator of the petition but has nothing to do with the Facebook page. Obviously since the petition and Facebook page creators have chosen to remain anonymous I have no way of knowing if they are made by the same or different people, and I don't think it is really relevant. I'm not publishing the petition creator's comment because she named the activist and I do not wish my blog to be a platform for harassing him.

Rosemary Waigh said...

I will also not be posting comments which repeat the libelous accusations against this activist.