Members of the rock band the GoGos declared their opposition to the use of animal fur apparel, during a promotional photo session on behalf of PETA in Los Angeles, Oct. 8, 1990. (Sam Jones/AP)
People for the Ethical Treatments of Animals (PETA) has been at the forefront of animal activism since its founding in 1980. After three decades of the "I'd Rather Go Naked than Wear Fur" campaign and countless red paint on fur wearer antics, PETA has gained a share of mind with most Americans and an even larger share of the fundraising dollar dedicated to the animals. Fueled by celebrities such as Elton John and Bill Clinton PETA received $64,000,000 in donations during the 2020 COVID year. PETA has clearly shown the veracity of their shock based model. While the world was dying PETA, was doing well indeed!
But draw back the curtains on the glitz, the money, and one finds a questionable model with atypical standards at play. While the organization is all about no testing, no eating, no use of the animals, further inquiry reveals that train of thought to go further and further until one ends with the ultimate 'NO ANIMALS ANYWHERE' caveat. Well financed and full of lawyers they play carrot and stick in order to keep the full messaging of their platform from unfurling. As a former host of a WABC Radio show, we had PETA on the line several times. It was impossible to pin down their head of public relations to speak of their broader mandate. For the broader mandate is disconcerting and troublesome to many, and that can result in a reduction in donations.
And what exactly is this broader mandate? Well it's one invented by their long time President and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk. A fine person with a kind heart, she was first in animal welfare to recognize the power of public relations and the shock value of public actions of disobedience. A marketing whiz, using controversial tactics, she took PETA to one of the top three animal rights organizations on the planet. What motivates Ms. Newkirk is not money, though she is prepared to use it to thwart her enemies. She is a true animal person! And as an opinionated and highly successful individual she has thought long and hard about the plight of the animals and has come up with her own versions of the 'solution'.
PETA's motto "Animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way," when read literally can mean a host of radicalization far beyond the mere words of that sentence. The key word is 'abuse', as a subjective word one can connote almost any behavior as such. In PETA's or Ms. Newkirks world 'abuse' also embraces the human to pet relationship itself!
The world had decided by 1860 that after thousands of years of human slavery, the ownership of a human by another was unconscionable and immoral. Even though the global economy for 5000 years was based on slavery, suddenly humanity had developed a new mantra and viewed its actions as nothing short of horrific. Thus we made it illegal planet wide, darn the economy, some things were more important! PETA's view extends this thought pattern to the animals; no human has the right to own another animal, whether farm or pet. In Ms. Newkirk's world animals roam free in the wild, some get eaten and some survive, but none at human hands. Animals such as dogs, with very weak relative offensive skills, become food fodder for the larger more powerful creatures higher in the food chain, possibly going extinct in short order.
Thus PETA coordinates this subtle dance each day. A very public animal advocacy on one hand with a quiet radicalized view at its core. The results of this radical perspective is PETA's action at its home base in Virginia. PETA has killed over 40,000 dogs and cats in the past years, in 2020 they killed 90% of intake animals within 24 hours. Hmmm, why is an animal rescue organization killing animals it rescues? It goes back to Ms. Newkirk's unshakeable philosophy --that these animals were abused by being the 'pets' of their owners. She has even proposed that all Pit Bulls anywhere in the country should be put to death immediately. Any opportunity PETA employees get, especially in low income neighborhoods, vans round up cats and dogs and kill them soon thereafter. Any contrition of PETA's action and particularly any criticism is met with legal action. Sixty four million can buy one a lot of lawyers!
So PETA is a strange animal in the midst of the animal rights movement. Run by a kindhearted, ingenious, but radicalized woman, they help set the great animal debate dialog in the country much more than say, the ASPCA does. However their underlying philosophy is a strange one, in conflict with the views of a great majority of Americans. So why is PETA so weird, because Ingrind Newkirk is weird!