YouTube Shooter Was Vegan PETA Activist. Will PETA Disavow?
The perpetrator of yesterday’s shooting at YouTube’s office in San Bruno, California has been revealed to be Nasim Aghdam, a 37-year-old PETA activist and outspoken vegan with an apparent grudge against the social-media company. Reportedly, she was very active on social media promoting animal rights and was upset at a new YouTube policy that de-monetized her channel and others.
So far, we haven’t seen anything from PETA condemning Aghdam’s actions. PETA is quick to jump on any opportunity to promote veganism; in one instance, PETA used a serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, in a campaign to promote veganism. What’s so hard about condemning something like this, even if it doesn’t fit PETA’s narrative?
This isn’t an attempt to score political points. There’s a serious question about whether PETA’s heated rhetoric goes too far. Does it encourage hateful attitudes—and perhaps even violence?
There’s evidence that it does. For example, PETA has launched a campaign singling out a Yale postdoc researcher who uses birds in studies, accusing her of “tormenting” animals and “kill[ing] sparrows in cruel tests.” The woman subsequently received threats and has been living in terror.
PETA might say that it can’t be held responsible for what its followers do. And generally, we might agree. But PETA’s rhetoric of calling people animal abusers who are not, in fact, animal abusers—such as researchers whose proposed work has gone through an animal care and ethics committee—creates a perilous situation.
After all, if you care about animals, and PETA tells you that so-and-so is a horrible animal abuser, it’s not a stretch to think some activists will do whatever it takes to stop the “abuse,” including violence. That was the thinking of the Animal Liberation Front, which committed felonies to liberate animals and earning the label of a domestic terrorist group from the FBI. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk, however, said: “I will be the last person to condemn the ALF.“ PETA also gave a grant to the Earth Liberation Front, a sister group to the ALF. And more broadly, if one adopts the PETA mindset that 99% of the public is animal abusers—because they aren’t vegan—then it’s easy to see how someone might lash out against society and become increasing spiteful.
PETA’s rhetoric may help them get in the news or raise funds, but it goes too far. If PETA really is about the ethical treatment of animals—including people—then it needs to condemn its supporters’ bad actions, even when it isn’t convenient. Otherwise, it’d be fair for people to say PETA is, at minimum, a hate group.