Rick Berman
Rick Berman

I really hit a nerve in a recent column. I pointed out that HSUS Food Policy Director Matt Prescott devised a PETA campaign a few years back comparing American farms to Nazi concentration camps. Given that Prescott is often personally contacting retailers and restaurants and asking them to make anti-pork farmer comments, it’s important that these companies understand just who they’re dealing with. In this case, it’s a guy who has stated radical and ridiculous beliefs about farming.

HSUS must hate being compared to PETA, because Prescott seemed to trip all over himself to tell Pork Network that his “views have since evolved” (before attacking me for most of the rest of his rambling reply). But what may have changed could simply be this: Prescott still believes farms are concentration camps, though his new view is that he won’t be open about it while at HSUS, as he was at PETA.

Let’s cut through the nonsense: This wasn’t just a one-off. This extreme vegan rhetoric is something that Prescott has spouted over time. For example, he said in 2007 that “there’s never an excuse to kill and eat an animal.” That’s pretty clear. (The Holocaust Museum also stated that Prescott was “not honest” in obtaining permission to use its pictures in PETA’s Holocaust on Your Plate campaign, so it’s more than fair to be skeptical of his assertion that he’s had a change of heart.)

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the convenient “my views have changed” defense at HSUS.  John “J.P.” Goodwin is now a director of animal cruelty policy at HSUS, where he was hired in 1997. In the 90s Goodwin was also a spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front, which has been designated by the FBI as a domestic terror threat. Goodwin referred to a fire that caused almost $1 million in damage by telling the Deseret News, “We’re ecstatic.” Goodwin has also said, “My goal is the abolition of animal agriculture.”

But again, we have a supposed change of heart, with HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle saying Goodwin has reformed. (Pacelle also said that convicted dogfighting kingpin Michael Vick “would do a good job as a pet owner”—after HSUS had received $50,000 from Vick’s employer—so you can decide for yourself how credible Pacelle is.)

There’s even more. A number of HSUS staffers were contributors to the now-defunct magazine No Compromise, which was a sort of terrorist-cheerleading publication that disseminated information on building incendiary devices. A number of current HSUS employees were listed at various points as “contributors” to No Compromise, including Michael Markarian, Chief Program & Policy Officer at HSUS; Heidi Prescott, a senior VP; and Paul Shapiro, HSUS’s farm-animal VP.

Shapiro was even listed on the “Steering Committee” of the magazine at one point alongside a press officer for a terrorist group and a convicted arsonist. No Compromise, meanwhile, described Shapiro’s group Compassion Over Killing as one of the “grassroots animal liberation organizations that support militant direct action.”

We shouldn’t write off the influence of No Compromise as a gathering place for the militant underbelly of the animal rights movement. Writing recently on the website “The Talon Conspiracy,” Josh Harper, who was convicted of animal enterprise terrorism in 2006, stated that “No Compromise shaped who I am today. Each new issue contained articles that helped me and thousands of others to evolve our own style of resistance.”

HSUS’s Mike Markarian even seemed to justify illegal activity in a 1997 essay in the now-defunct publication The Abolitionist. Markarian wrote, “A perfect example of effective rebellion is an Animal Liberation Front raid on a laboratory… Sure, the activists broke the law, but all of their activities focused directly on saving animals and exposing cruelty.”

The Abolitionist was the magazine of Paul Shapiro’s group Compassion Over Killing. And that publication featured on one occasion an article announcing that “members [are] needed” for “MF-ALF,” which stood for “Miller’s Furs–Animal Liberation Front” (Miller’s was a fur store in D.C.). The article included suggestions to “smash a window… throw a paint bomb… burn Miller’s Furs down.” (COK did publish a disclaimer that the group “does not endorse (nor condemn) any illegal acts.”)

So what do Shapiro, Markarian, H. Prescott, and others have to say about their involvement with No Compromise? Probably nothing. Or possibly another convenient assertion that their “views have evolved.”

Maybe they have. But doesn’t it seem strange that HSUS is a congregating ground for these people?

They’re not stupid. While “direct action” may have been the rage back in the 90s, the writing was on the wall as law enforcement cracked down. And they have enough P.R. savvy now to understand that running around with “Meat is Murder”-type signs isn’t going to win people over.

But they haven’t changed their goals. There’s not a single animal product that HSUS endorses, no matter how the animal is raised. Folks like Paul Shapiro and Matt Prescott may have grown older but they haven’t grown up. They may sometimes wear suits and make more moderate demands, but it’s important to keep in mind where they have been and where they want to go.

And it’s important for the pork industry to make sure its customers understand this, too.