Animal Rights Extremists Take Their Cause to the Courtroom


While some animal rights activist organizations rely on tactics like “undercover” video campaigns where individuals misrepresent themselves in order to get hired on farms or plants, others are much more brazen in their approach. Groups like Direct Action Everywhere (DXE) rely on strategies such as “open rescue,” where they film and/or livestream themselves entering farms or plants to steal (or “rescue” as they claim) livestock and poultry. 

DXE says its “open rescues” are “seen by millions” and “force the issue of animal rights into the public consciousness.” They’ve made a name for themselves by conducting these stunts across the country – primarily in California but also in states like Utah, Iowa and North Carolina.

You might question the wisdom of choosing to broadcast yourself and announce your identity while committing a crime. Despite DXE’s fervent attempts to claim otherwise, trespassing and stealing are in fact crimes. Getting caught and facing charges are actually another part of the “open rescue” strategy. DXE activists want to go to court so they can make their arguments in support of “animal liberation” and “open rescue” in front of a broader audience, and hopefully someday get a court to decide in their favor, opening up additional opportunities for them to claim they have a legal right to enter farms and take animals – what they call the “right to rescue.” 

After years of employing this tactic, DXE is finally now having its day in court after many delays and some earlier charges being dropped. In mid-November, preliminary hearings began in Sonoma County, Calif., in cases dealing with two “mass open rescues” at an egg farm and a duck farm held in conjunction with previous Animal Liberation Conferences, as well as a demonstration and “rescue” at a broiler farm. 

At the end of November, a trial began in North Carolina in which DXE co-founder Wayne Hsiung faces charges for stealing a goat in 2018. In December, 13 DXE activists are set to go to trial in Merced County, Calif., for charges relating to a protest and attempt to “shut down” a poultry processing plant earlier this year. In 2022, DXE activist Matt Johnson will be going on trial in Iowa for charges relating to a campaign targeting the pork community in 2020. 

During each of these trials, DXE is calling for activists to “pack the courtroom” and conduct protest activities in support of those facing charges.

It will be important for the animal agriculture community to pay attention to the outcomes of these trials and how DXE attempts to defend itself, as they could set a concerning precedent and embolden more animal rights extremists. In North Carolina, the defense filed a motion to dismiss all charges because they believe the goat that Hsiung took is a person, not property, therefore it could not have been stolen. The judge denied this motion, but there will certainly be additional attempts by DXE to find a way to obtain a legal “right to rescue.” 

Regardless of the outcome of these trials, groups like DXE will be learning from the experience and adjusting their strategies accordingly, along with gaining media exposure for their cause. The Alliance will be keeping a close eye on these proceedings, and I suggest anyone interested in safeguarding the future of animal agriculture do the same. 

UPDATE: The North Carolina trial concluded on Dec. 6. Wayne Hsiung was convicted on felony charges of breaking and entering and larceny. He was sentenced to two years of probation. 

Read More from Hannah Thompson-Weeman:

Things Animal Rights Activists Say: 2021 Edition

Food Systems Under Scrutiny at UN Food Systems Pre-Summit

Nutrition: The Next Activist Battleground?


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