The Animal People

I’ve written before about the role animal rights “extremists” like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) had in my journey toward veganism. Seeing as I no longer actively seek out videos or articles covering direct action in defense of animals, I haven’t had that feeling — the persistent, burning motivation to do whatever I can to improve animal lives — I get when I read about or watch the ALF and organizations like them.

That changed when I watched “The Animal People,” a late-2019 documentary covering the extraordinarily effective — and sometimes troubling — activism of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) organization.

I’ve read about the SHAC-7 — a reference to the seven individuals originally arrested for running the operation — in books like Green is the New Red by Will Potter. But to see their faces and hear them talk about their actions years later is another experience entirely.

By way of backstory, Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) runs three animal-testing facilities — one in the US and two in the UK. Covert footage shot inside the labs showed cruel experiments on all sorts of species, including beagles and monkeys. In addition, some footage showed research staff heaping on additional abuse in the course of carrying out their experiments.

The outrage from organizations like PETA was to be expected. But there soon emerged a more underground resistance — an organization callings themselves Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. They deployed fiery protests outside HLS, many of which are shown in the film. And not only did they target HLS directly, they scrutinized and protested all businesses that contracted with them, and sometimes all businesses that contracted with those businesses.

Rather than being spread thin by the enormity of the cause, the support behind SHAC was a force to be reckoned with. They were relentless. It appeared that success was inevitable.

But their passion got them in trouble. SHAC was a leaderless organization whose home base was a website. This meant that just about anybody could do something in the name of SHAC. It wasn’t long before threats were made against HLS leadership and staff. There were protests outside of homes. There was lots of vandalism, too.

Although no one was hurt (that I can remember — I watched this a couple of months ago, so some details are fuzzy), things were leading down a path where violent acts seemed only a matter of time. Things turned a corner when someone set off a bomb.

To make matters worse, even though they themselves never advocated for any illegal actions, SHAC offered their public support on their website to just about every action taken in support of the cause. It’s not illegal to cheer on crimes, and the SHAC organizers were always careful to avoid incriminating themselves, but the justice system had to stop them one way or another.

I won’t spoil what happens, but even if you can add two and two, you’ll enjoy the film nonetheless. I will say that when you see the vivisection footage, you will understand completely why they did what they did.

It’s a great film, especially if you’re nostalgic for the sort of direct action animal rights activism that took place in the 90s and early 2000s. Also inspiring is the journey of Kevin Jonas/Kjonaas, one of the SHAC-7 who continues his activism in the form of rescuing beagles from (willing) animal testing facilities.

Anyway, if you want that absolute gut-punch of a feeling of “I’m not doing enough to help animals,” maybe to kick-start a new project or renew your commitment to a lifestyle that aims to exclude the exploitation of animals, check out “The Animal People.” You won’t regret it.

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