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Compassion Is Not a Crime: Animal Rights Activist Avoids Jail After Conviction for Baby Goat Rescue

StoryDecember 08, 2021
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Image Credit: Direct Action Everywhere

Animal rights activist Wayne Hsiung has been convicted on felony charges of burglary and larceny for removing a sick baby goat from a goat meat farm in North Carolina in 2018. Hsiung is the co-founder of the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere. He was given a suspended sentence and 24 months probation. He describes how the prosecutor in the case hugged him at the end of the trial, and says the case revolves around a simple question: “Are the living creatures of this Earth property, or are they living creatures that deserve some form of dignity and respect?”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

In North Carolina, an animal rights activist has been convicted on felony charges of burglary and larceny for removing a sick baby goat from a goat meat farm. Wayne Hsiung was given a suspended sentence and 24 months probation. The co-founder of the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere was arrested in 2018 for taking the baby goat from the Sospiro Goat Ranch in North Carolina in a direct action that the group live-streamed in an effort to expose animal cruelty. In a moment, Wayne will join us. But first I want to go back to what happened on that night in 2018. Wayne Hsiung spoke on a live stream as he drove toward the farm.

WAYNE HSIUNG: The plan is we’re going to park the car outside of the farm, make a little U-turn, get the car ready to leave. We are going to go in, document the conditions. We’re going to have dog treats. We’ve actually tried this before in the past. But we have a huge number of dog treats in our pants, because we know these barking dogs are going to need something to calm them down if we’re going to stop them from alerting the farm. The farm security is just a few hundred feet from where the goats are, so that’s another reason this is extremely dangerous.

If we need to make a getaway, we’re actually going to have to make a run down a hill — just changed my four-wheel drive to four-wheel low — we’re going to have to make a run down a hill, jump onto a tree stump and then jump across an electrified fence in order to get out. And if we have to do that with a goat, we’ll do it. But we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure at least one of these animals gets out.

And for those of you who don’t know what open rescue is, the idea behind open rescue is we believe what we’re doing is right, that there is nothing wrong with trying to take an animal from harm’s way. And many of you know I’ve been accused of being a terrorist, a criminal, I’m being sued by a major turkey farm, all for taking animals, who are quivering in fear and pain, to the vet. And that’s all we’re going to do today. We’re going to take an animal who’s scared, who does not want to die, we’re going to take her to the vet. And the industry wants to claim that this is a crime, and we know that’s not true. And I know that many of you know that’s not true, either.

AMY GOODMAN: Minutes later, Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere entered the goat farm for the rescue operation.

WAYNE HSIUNG: There’s a baby right here, guys. OK, so there’s a baby right here. She looks like she’s pretty young. All these goats are going to be sent to slaughter. There are 1 million goats killed every year in the United States. It’s one of the fastest-growing types of meat in the United States, unfortunately, because people think it’s sustainable. But the reality is, these poor mothers have their babies taken away from them over and over again. They’re raised in these tiny pens. Look at this little pen for this mom and her baby. It’s going to be heartbreaking to take this baby away from her mama. And we’re going to say “I’m sorry” to the mama and tell her we’re going to give the baby a good life. But if we leave the baby here, she’s going to be killed. And the way they kill these poor goats is just heartless. They drag them by their hind legs. They hit them on the head with a captive bolt on. Maybe of them are not even unconscious when they’re ultimately eviscerated in the slaughter line. So this is the future for this baby. We can’t allow that to happen, so we’re going to take her out.

AMY GOODMAN: The group Direct Action Everywhere continued to live-stream after Wayne Hsiung had taken the goat from the farm.

WAYNE HSIUNG: So, we’ve got a little baby here. And she is sad because, you know, her mama — to take her from her. But we didn’t alarm. We didn’t trigger any sort of attention, which is good. But this baby is scared. She’s never been outside of that little pen. And let me turn her around the other way a little bit so you guys can all see her. But she’s very young. I mean, she’s not just born, but her fur is still kind of just developing. She’s only about, I’d say, seven pounds. So, at adult weight, goats will be 35 pounds or so. And the two breeds of goat they most commonly use in goat meat are Kiko breeds and Boer goats. She looks like probably a Kiko, which is from New Zealand, because she’s got a black head. Boer goats tend to have brown heads. And they will usually raise them for about six months, and they’ll send them off to a processing plant for slaughter.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, in 2018. He was convicted this week for that action and given a suspended sentence of two years probation. He’s a former faculty member at Northwestern Law School. And as a lawyer, he represented himself during the trial. He joins us now from Asheville, North Carolina.

Wayne Hsiung, last Monday you began your opening statements by saying, “The question of this case is really a simple one. The question is: Is compassion a crime?” Talk about why you did this, what you call a rescue, and respond to your sentence. You were convicted but then given a suspended sentence.

WAYNE HSIUNG: [inaudible] to be out of jail right now. I very much expected to be in a North Carolina jail facility. And I think the reason I’m out of jail is because of media attention from places like The Intercept and Democracy Now!

But the reason we’re doing this is because there is an incredible amount of animal cruelty unfolding in states like North Carolina, which has a very powerful agricultural industry. And when citizens have complained about this, including employees at some of these farms, the government has consistently, instead of trying to create some transparency or accountability in corporate animal agriculture, passed laws to prevent undercover investigations, passed laws preventing local citizens from suing pig farms and other facilities for polluting the local air and the water. And so activists have started resorting to direct action tactics to expose what’s happening and to try to give some direct care to the animals who are suffering.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And during your trial, the judge repeatedly sustained objections from the prosecution when you tried to explain your past animal rescue efforts, including of a goat named Lenny?

WAYNE HSIUNG: Yeah, that’s right. It was a strange trial, you know, because there are so many folks on the right who are advocating for free speech, which I think is a worthy cause to advocate for, but in this case, even when I was trying to present a defense in my own criminal case, we were prevented from talking about our reasons for being there. The state filed a motion on the first day of trial saying, “You’re not allowed to talk about the conditions the animals were facing, the veterinary care you provided them.” And so my opening statement was cut off mid-sentence, and I was not allowed to talk to the jury about why we were there.

One of the strangest things about the state’s motion was the way they phrased it was “witnesses at this testimony — at this trial are not allowed to talk about efforts they made to protect the life of the property at issue.” And that’s just such a strange non sequitur, the idea that we’re talking about the life of property. And I think it goes to the central issue: Are the living creatures of this Earth property, or are they living creatures that deserve some form of dignity and respect?

AMY GOODMAN: Wayne, what’s happened to the goat since then? If you could talk about that? And then, do you see your case as setting any kind of precedent? And can you talk about animal farmers?

WAYNE HSIUNG: Yeah. So, the goat was immediately rushed to a veterinarian when we removed him, and he had pneumonia. And unfortunately, we were not allowed to talk about this at trial. The veterinarian we called was stopped mid-sentence from describing the treatment the goat received. But he’s happy and healthy. And unfortunately, because the authorities attempted to return the goat to the farm, I don’t actually know where he is. Activists had to abscond and take him away, somewhere where I don’t know, but I’ve heard he’s in good shape.

But I think this is going to set a precedent, because the prosecution thought this was going to be a very easy and quick trial. They thought it was going to be a one-day trial, would convict and hopefully incarcerate me for a long time. But there were dozens of local residents who came out and protested. My understanding is thousands of people wrote to the local district attorney and complained and said, “Why are you protecting property more than protecting life?” And partly as a result, I think they decided, “We don’t want to turn this guy into a martyr,” so they didn’t put me in prison. They said, “Let’s just let him go and tell him to get out of North Carolina.” So, that’s what I’m planning to do.

AMY GOODMAN: And the animal farmers?

WAYNE HSIUNG: Yeah. So, one of the things that came out in court is that a lot of the animal farming industry has been describing us as terrorists. And you can see on the live stream what we did. All we did was take a sick animal to the veterinarian. And the fact that we live in a political system where trying to help a suffering living creature is terrorism, while exploiting that same animal is just business as usual, is an indication of how the political parties of the system and the industry of animal farming are just out of whack. I mean, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So, I think that if we had gotten a chance to talk in a trial openly about these issues and present the evidence of what actually happens on animal farms, the jury might have been swayed. But at the same time, we got a wonderful chance, not in the court of law but in the court of public opinion, to talk about these issues openly. And in that way, I think we are setting a very important precedent.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And at the end of the trial, the prosecutor gave you a hug? Do you think you changed some minds during the process of the trial?

WAYNE HSIUNG: Yeah, it was a strange thing, because the prosecution, the judge were all very hardened and thought, “This guy is a radical. He’s an extremist. Let’s throw him in jail and throw away the key.” And the jury didn’t get to hear most of the evidence of animal cruelty. The judge and the prosecution did. And I think my sense was both the judge and the prosecution, when we were arguing about what evidence should be allowed, we had to talk about that evidence, and even they, when they heard about how much a baby goat suffers when they have pneumonia, when they heard about the fact that one of the baby goats was covered with lice and unable to stand, they were swayed, because I think the reality is, when any of us are confronted with the reality of what happens in some of these industrial slaughterhouses and farms, or even small-scale facilities, even the thought of cutting one animal’s throat, killing one animal, is disturbing. And they were swayed. And that’s a victory for us, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Hsiung, we want to thank you for being with us, animal rights advocate, co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere, just convicted on felony charges of burglary and larceny for removing a sick baby goat from a goat meat farm, got a suspended sentence of two years.

Thanks to everyone who tuned in for our 25th anniversary celebration Tuesday night. You can watch the full event at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks for joining us.

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