Animal rights activists have gotten smarter. In the 80s and 90s, extremist tactics were in vogue, such as throwing paint on fur coats or breaking into laboratories. The passage of strong federal laws helped curtail this, but the true believers realized that honey attracts more flies than vinegar. They wisely “matured” in their image from angry activist to suit-wearing moderate.

The image has helped them make inroads with some restaurant companies as they try to “befriend” corporations to make public statements against individual maternity pen housing of sows. Their demands and demeanor seem reasonable. But to get the true story, it’s important to see what they say when they are “off the record” and among friends.

Several of my staff recently attended the Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) “Taking Action for Animals” conference in Washington, D.C. This was a gathering of the “Who’s Who” of the animal liberation movement.

I’ll get into that in a moment. But for all of the organization’s posturing as a group that wants to help restaurants serve “humane” animal products, know this: Not a single animal product was on the menu at HSUS’s conference. HSUS has an office vegan policy. Its key leaders are vegan and don’t believe in ice cream, butter, meat, cheese, or any product that has its genesis in farm animals.  

This is representative of a fundamental and philosophical duplicity that any company should beware of.

HSUS talks a good game of soft accommodation but behind closed doors its real agenda is apparent. Just look at the speakers list for HSUS’s conference. Among them was Bruce Friedrich, who has said that “blowing things up and smashing windows” is “a great way to bring about animal liberation.” Further, Friedrich offered that “I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories, and the banks that fund them exploded tomorrow.”

The rest of the conference was essentially a pep rally for activist leaders like Friedrich to spread their propaganda.

In a raucous session, Farmageddon author Philip Lymbery told the crowd that they could end modern farming. The intellectuals also got their time to shine, with professor Timothy Pachirat speaking about major social change. (“Social change,” for the HSUS crowd, means moving to a totally vegan society.)

There were speakers with criminal records, such as moderator John Goodwin (a former spokesman for the FBI-designated terrorist group Animal Liberation Front) and Nick Cooney (convicted of making terroristic threats to corporate employees).

A PETA alumnus—a fellow who created PETA’s campaign comparing modern farms to Nazi concentration camps—gave a talk on corporate advocacy on HSUS’s behalf. (A former PETA “lettuce lady,” who did street theater in a veggie bikini, represented HSUS’s “Meatless Monday” campaign at the also-radical “Animal Rights 2014” conference in Los Angeles a few weeks later.)

Then came a “town hall” session with HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle, where the big cheese adamantly announced that the current level of animal agriculture production can't continue.

What Pacelle encourages in his sales pitch is self-righteousness. The attendees are told that not only do they occupy the moral high ground, but that history is on their side. That their cause is analogous to civil rights movements. Pacelle presumably sees himself in the role of Martin Luther King. In truth, he is actually more like Al Sharpton.