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WAYNE’S WORLD: Animal rights activist now faces years in prison for saving a sick baby goat from a farm

The aim is to establish a 'right to rescue'. That is, not only would a person have a right to rescue an animal from a factory, but also the animal themself, understood as a sentient life, would be deserving of the right be rescued.

NATASHA LENNERD: The trial of attorney and animal liberation activist Wayne Hsiung begins in rural North Carolina. He faces felony charges of burglary and larceny, carrying potentially over three years in prison. All this for the act of removing a sick baby goat from a goat meat farm. The action was filmed and broadcast on social media as an example of what the animal rights movement calls “open rescue” — a tactic by which activists publicly rescue animals from factory farms and bring them to animal shelters.

Saving individual, typically ailing animals is an end in itself, but the broader aim is to bring attention to the brutalities of factory farming, especially farms that brand themselves as cruelty free… The hefty charges Hsiung and others now face underline the activists’ point: that current legal standards elevate property over life to an extreme degree. The so-called Green Scare of the 1990s and 2000s, in which the government’s conjured notion of “eco-terrorism” led to the years-long imprisonment of nonviolent animal rights activists, has evidently not ended…

“For two decades, corporate interests and state and federal government have undertaken substantial efforts to criminalize and prosecute animal rights activism,” said Lauren Gazzola, a longtime animal liberation activist who served 40 months in federal prison in the mid-2000s after being convicted of “animal enterprise terrorism” alongside other members of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign. Gazzola and other members of the SHAC Seven, as she and her co-defendants were known, were persecuted for what should have been constitutionally protected speech…

Hsiung and other open rescuers have faced charges in the past, as The Intercept has reported; until now, his charges had been dropped by prosecutors. The North Carolina trial will be Hsiung’s first. It is part of a rash of other recent felony cases against open rescuers around the nation heading into court… Hsiung, who co-founded the animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, which uses open rescue as its central tactic, told me. “More and more people are ready to conclude that animals, including farm animals, have lives worthy of protection.”

His hope — and it can be no more than hope when facing trial in an agricultural community in a deep-red jurisdiction — is that a jury will affirm the value of saving a suffering animal and thus create an aperture for legal precedents around further animal rights to be established. “We need a change in the paradigm of seeing animals as commodities,” he said. “I’m a believer in the possibility of evolving standards in law”… At the very least, Hsiung’s case presents an opportunity to make arguments in court that could bring to bear the tensions and inconsistencies surrounding animals’ legal standing.

“A trial is where rubber hits the road,” Hsiung’s attorney, Jon Frohnmayer, told me. “If we want a place to really examine what human beings are doing to nonhuman animals, this is it.” Frohnmayer believes that these cases can highlight the “inherent contradictions in our system,” in which laws criminalize actions like open rescue. The laws themselves that pertain to animals, such as laws defining animals as “property” or livestock exemptions to animal cruelty laws, he argues, should be seen to lack democratic legitimacy for excluding the interests and perspectives of nonhuman life.

An array of animal cruelty laws have been on state books for over a century. In several states, however, animals who are to be killed for food are exempt from these cruelty protections. North Carolina is not such a state. Legal scholars have also argued that a so-called necessity defense, which in certain circumstances would allow for a person to break into a stranger’s car with legal justification to save a suffocating dog, could apply in open rescue cases; the logic is the same, and the only difference lies in the power of the agriculture industry.

Meanwhile, nonhuman animals in this country lack the designation of legal personhood, a category enjoyed by corporations and ships… “A successful necessity defense would fashion limited personhood rights for animals,” Frohnmayer said. He explained that the aim is to establish a “right to rescue” in which “rescue” is “understood as a noun”; that is, not only would a person have a right to rescue an animal from a factory, but also the animal themself, understood as a sentient life, would be deserving of the right be rescued.

Those who undertake the tactic of open rescue would no doubt prefer that the law comes to recognize animals as lives worthy of saving. The movement opposes the meat industry, tout court. Through the rescues of individual, harmed animals, it seeks to also bring attention to what it sees as the impossibility of animal welfare within even supposedly ethical farms. And it is through the cases of these individual animals that precedents could be set around the legal standing of animals… As public opinion shifts in favor of animal welfare, networks like DxE believe that it will be harder and harder for the industry and government to criminalize animal rights activists without public backlash. SOURCE…


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