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AGENTS OF INIQUITY: After large pig farm company was exposed for cruel killings, the FBI pursued its critics

The FBI has long considered animal rights and environmental groups among the agency’s 'highest domestic terrorism priorities', a focus that has been shaped by industry pressure.

LEE FANG: Noel Williams, the chief operations officer of Iowa Select Farms, a powerful pork company and the largest in Iowa, pulled into the parking lot of an empty housing complex typically used for the firm’s immigrant workforce. He was there to transport Lucas Walker, a former truck driver for Iowa Select, to a meeting with Nick Potratz, an FBI agent from the Des Moines office of the bureau. That’s according to Walker, who had recently tried to report Iowa Select, his former employer, for mistreating animals. After The Intercept published leaked video of pigs being killed off en masse, Walker came under scrutiny.

Now, the FBI had a favor to ask: Would Walker become an informant? More specifically, they wanted him to help in an effort to investigate and undermine an activist group that had become a thorn in Iowa Select’s side. They even asked if he’d be willing to sell drugs. The saga that brought him into contact with the FBI began when the 26-year-old grew frustrated with his former employer, Iowa Select, which is headquartered in his hometown of Iowa Falls. Walker thought the company was blatantly disregarding state “double stocking” rules, which limit the size and number of pigs that are held in an intensive animal feeding facility, letting overweight pigs crowd into pens far too small to hold them.

He was tired of what he saw as frequent rule-breaking and disregard for the well-being of the tens of thousands of hogs raised by Iowa Select. The company, in his view, seemed hellbent on expansion and profits, leading to rampant overcrowding and water pollution. That rapid expansion led to the annual production of 1.5 billion pounds of pork a year, a global leader before the pandemic. The novel coronavirus, however, closed regional slaughterhouses, creating a glut of pigs. He decided to speak out and called state regulators…

“I’m not necessarily animal rights by any means,” said Walker in an interview with The Intercept. “I have a cattle herd — small calf herd — and my wife and myself have some free-range pigs ourselves.” “It was a moral issue at the heart of it. … I’m the kind of person who knows right from wrong. It was a principled thing”… Walker, aware that he had few outlets for help, turned to the internet to research whistleblowing resources for factory farms. That’s how he found Direct Action Everywhere, the Berkeley, California-based group that has worked to expose the shocking treatment of animals in factory farms…

Soon after he came into contact with DxE, the novel coronavirus reached global pandemic status, shutting down slaughterhouses across the region. The glut of hogs, which suddenly became unprofitable, quickly ran up costs for the company. Iowa Select decided to mass slaughter thousands of pigs in a particularly brutal process called “ventilation shutdown,” or VSD. Workers sealed off airways while pumping steam into the barns, intensifying the heat — over the course of many hours — to the point at which the pigs died from suffocation and/or hyperthermia.

The process further horrified Walker, cementing his belief that Iowa Select had no concern for the animals they raised… Walker decided to expose the VSD process to DxE and the media, leading to an investigation by The Intercept, which published a video of the process showing young pigs squealing as they slowly roasted to death. The widely covered video set off a fury of controversy, bringing international attention to the gruesome mass slaughter…

The FBI has long considered animal rights and environmental groups among the agency’s “highest domestic terrorism priorities,” a focus that has been shaped by industry pressure. In the past, FBI informants have been involved in campaigns to goad environmental activists into acts of terror and violence… DxE was already on the FBI’s radar. In 2017, agents from the FBI took extraordinary steps to pursue DxE over an action in which dying pigs were taken from a Smithfield Foods-owned facility and brought to an animal shelter. A six-car fleet of FBI agents in bulletproof vests obtained a warrant to raid animal sanctuaries in Utah and Colorado in search of piglets allegedly liberated by DxE’s volunteer activists…

Walker eventually declined their offer. He found it odd that his former employer drove him to the meeting with the FBI, and that the FBI had sought to use its vast resources to go after a band of nonviolent activists. The FBI agent, Walker said, seemed to have a chummy relationship with Iowa Select’s private investigator, who identified himself as a former law enforcement official. The entire arrangement appeared to be a show of deference to Iowa Select, a company that already had far too much power in Walker’s eyes… The Intercept reached out to the FBI for comment, Walker says, he suddenly received a call from one of the agents he had met. The call came from an unlisted number. The bureau no longer needed him as an informant, the agent said. Then the person hung up. SOURCE…

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