(This is the fourth part of Douglas Anthony Cooper's examination of PETA. The first is "PETA's Celebs: Naked in the Name of Mass Pet Slaughter." Part two is "Ingrid Newkirk's Death Wish." Part three is "The Humane Alternative to PETA's Pet Slaughter." Part four is "Katniss Fight: Could Jennifer Lawrence Take Down PETA?" Part five is "Has Bill Maher Been Sucked in by PETA's Naked Celebrities?")
"Screw PETA," quoth Jennifer Lawrence, the actress of the moment. This is a young woman with genuine courage: a good thing, as she will likely be terrorized in the months to come.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals do not play nice. Not at all. In fact, in 2009 the US Department of Agricultural classified Ingrid Newkirk's group as a terrorist organization. I happen to think this is inaccurate, technically speaking: We know what terrorism proper looks like, and PETA do not cross the line into territory defined by, say, al-Qaeda or Hamas. Like the Westboro Baptist Church, PETA push the First Amendment to its very limits, but they are not murderous (unless you are a shelter pet).
That said, like the Westboro Baptists, PETA are some of the most vulgar, vicious bullies operating in the American political sphere today.
Jennifer Lawrence's life is almost certainly not in danger from Ingrid Newkirk. But PETA will probably make it very, very unpleasant. They may stop short of terrorism, strictly defined, but judging by the group's past behavior, they will terrorize her.
When the Brazilian supermodel Giselle Bündchen signed a contract to represent the Blackglama fur company in 2002, PETA infiltrated the Victoria's Secrets fashion show in New York. When Bündchen appeared, they swarmed the runway, flashing placards that read "Gisele: Fur Scum." The models were of course wearing lingerie, so PETA had the opportunity to combine quasi-pornography with an edifying message, which is their favorite shock tactic. Nothing sexier than thuggery.
Somehow Bündchen immediately became a fervent supporter of "animal rights." Funny how the conscience works. Never mind that the version of so-called "animal rights" she now supports -- her soul moved to pity by extortion -- turns out to be Not Very Good For Animals. It turns out to be, in fact, a nightmarish distortion of everything that animal lovers truly wish to see: the very antithesis of caring.
As I have documented now over the course of three articles, the organization currently gunning for Jennifer Lawrence has butchered almost every animal unlucky enough to find itself delivered to their headquarters. Whether that animal is healthy or ill. PETA used to routinely deposit the corpses in commercial dumpsters, until caught and charged by the police. They now have a professional walk-in freezer. This, paid for with donors' money ($9,370), is necessary to house the dead animals that their policies generate in quantities difficult to conceive: 27,541 dead pets, all slaughtered mercifully by Ingrid Newkirk's "animal rights" cult.
Giselle Bündchen, by understandably allowing herself to be bullied into support for PETA, is now in the lamentable position of having traded her fur coat for really swell new friends: a posse of pet killers.
I don't happen to think much of the fur industry -- it's a brutal business. But as many have pointed out, at least furriers kill animals with the intention of producing garments, whereas PETA kills animals because they can't be bothered to take care of them.
This unlovely truth is only now becoming common knowledge, even though it has been reported for years. (Read "Better Dead Than Fed," from 2005, a good piece by Debra J. Saunders in the San Francisco Chronicle.) I suspect Giselle Bündchen doesn't even know that she has made a pact with the devil.
We can be thankful that Jennifer Lawrence, thus far, has refused to.
And why should she? Lawrence has in fact done nothing to harm the animals of the world. She attracted PETA's baleful eye when she starred in Winter's Bone, a role for which she became the second-youngest person in history to be nominated for an Oscar as best actress. It was a virtuosic performance: emotionally intelligent, understated and moving.
Winter's Bone was also a film remarkably sensitive to the plight of animals. Lawrence plays a young woman, Ree Dolly, sunk into poverty so deep that she can barely feed her family. Still, when her kid brother brings home a stray dog, she welcomes it. When food is finally too meager for her to feed her pet horse, she delivers it into the keeping of her neighbor -- a woman she doesn't particularly like -- and the understanding is unspoken: We are a community; we take care of our own. Including our animals.
Ingrid Newkirk, however, was outraged that the performance required Jennifer Lawrence to skin and gut a squirrel in order to feed her starving family.
The actual circumstances of the filming don't often get reported. Dead squirrels were bought from a local hunter. When Lawrence was being taught to gut the animal, she broke into tears and fled from the set -- this is what evil animal abusers do, of course.
At last she calmed herself sufficiently to do her job, and she did it superbly.
PETA -- this is characteristic -- completely ignored the message of the film with regard to animals, and decided to seethe over this one visually shocking act. An act that in fact caused no suffering to any animal. An act that is in no way nearly as repulsive as butchering dozens of healthy pets, stuffing the corpses into a garbage bag, and tossing them into a dumpster (something PETA did surreptitiously on a regular basis, as documented in this newspaper report on the legal proceedings). But PETA is all about appearances, and this could be made to look Really Bad.
Jennifer Lawrence, to her credit, refused to lie about the incident: Yes, it was an actual squirrel. An admission punctuated by her immortal words: "Screw PETA."
The crime itself -- gutting an already dead animal to prepare a meal -- is approximately as grave as preparing a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner: a crime that has been committed on film more than a few times. The difference, of course, is primarily a matter of economic status. Turkey-stuffing, while lamentable, does not make for exciting propaganda. Squirrel-eating, however. Now that's vulgar. Socially aspiring Hollywood will sympathize: "Not our class, dear."
Note that Ingrid's bold warriors at those protests tend to be dressed in the latest tasteful clothes. The Washington Post has observed that "PETA interns have beautiful skin and lovely teeth. They have shiny hair." While it's not true that Ingrid Newkirk pays herself a huge salary from donations -- her salary is modest -- a workingman's heroine she is not. Yes, she likes to style herself a revolutionary, but let's cut the princess some slack: You can't expect a former stockbroker to be on the vanguard of the proletariat.
If we wish to compare Jennifer Lawrence's non-crime to PETA's very real crimes, we can dig deeper than the corpse-dumping scandal. We're best to examine the incident which I have now repeated three times, without apologies, because it is the canonical story of PETA's unconscionable cruelty:
A former PETA employee spoke of one particular incident that burned into her mind forever: A teary-eyed man showed up at PETA headquarters one day with his beloved pet rabbit. The man had grown old and sick and was no longer able to care properly for his friend. He supplied a cage, bed, toys, and even vet records for this pet. He was assured by PETA workers that they would take 'good care' of his rabbit and find him a home. The man left distraught but no doubt believing that his friend would be able to live out the rest of his life in a loving, compassionate home... PETA workers carried him to the 'death house' immediately and ended his life.
The most telling testimonials are these: accounts by former PETA members and employees. These are the stories hardest to deny, and are especially impervious to PETA's habitual all-purpose slander: Every attack on their saintly organization is a war by proxy on the part of the meat industry. Here is a collective statement made by outraged activists who are manifestly not meat conspirators -- they are Ingrid's former comrades:
We are animal advocates and were PETA members until the facts stated below were unveiled....
We do not relish publicly criticizing an organization striving to help animals. BUT, when one has engaged in a pattern of conduct so egregious as to threaten the credibility of the entire animal rights community, a strident disapprobation is not only warranted, it is mandated.
More importantly, when an animal 'defender' is in fact a lethal perpetrator killing innocent animals, they must be stopped! It is with grave disappointment that we call for Ingrid Newkirk's resignation. We believe an investigation is warranted to determine if Newkirk committed any criminal acts resulting in animal deaths. If she did, she should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, the same as any other animal abuser. PETA wouldn't have it any other way, right?
This is sufficient information to measure Jennifer Lawrence's supposed crimes against PETA's, for which the group has been condemned in the strongest legal terms by people who were once members. Let's weigh these in the balance, shall we? Jennifer clearly has. The relevant markings on the scales of justice, if you look closely, read: "Screw PETA."
"Screw PETA." A pithy sentence, perfectly direct and accurate, as you should expect from an arrow aimed by the magnificent Katniss. Poetic, with truly interesting scansion. "Screw PETA" is an antibacchius, which is a rare foot in English: stressed + stressed + unstressed. There is nothing about these words I do not like.
"Screw PETA" is in fact a deeply American challenge to battle: a worthy member of a genre with an honorable history. You think I'm joking.
In 1944, America's 101st Airborne Division was under siege in the French town of Bastogne, and was ordered by the Germans to surrender. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe delivered a famous response: "Nuts."
(Less famous is the suspicion that the word he employed was considerably stronger. History tends to polish its gems.)
The word "nuts" inspired General Patton as he wheeled the Third Army in to the rescue: the ensuing Battle of the Bulge was one of the most impressive and improbable Allied successes in the war. In the film version, George C. Scott's Patton announces: "A man that eloquent has to be saved."
This is how you should feel about the words "Screw PETA." Jennifer Lawrence has invited hellfire, and animal lovers owe her their firm and unwavering support. How can you not rally to this eloquence?
Ingrid Newkirk has already issued the first salvo, weaponized as always with potent name-dropping: "We have our bet on Jennifer ending up joining the ranks of other young celebrities like Natalie Portman, Lea Michele, and Kellan Lutz, who are using their influence to help animals."
Translation: Nice reputation you have there, Jen. Shame if something were to happen to it.
A truly great irony would be if this barely-veiled threat did in fact inspire Jennifer Lawrence to take up the cause of animal rights. Actual, real live animal rights. Beginning with the right not to be slaughtered by Ingrid Newkirk. Nothing would aid the shelter animals of America quite like having today's It Girl decide to become the public face of the No Kill movement.
It would take vast reserves of courage, but I sense that she possesses these: Jennifer Lawrence has suggested that she is in fact very much like Katniss Everdeen, the character she plays in The Hunger Games. Ingrid Newkirk may finally have met her match.
Some people will argue that Jennifer Lawrence is the wrong woman to take up this role. She's hardly the vegan picture of political correctness: she was raised in Louisville Kentucky, and has expressed her desire to purchase a house, "a big dog, and a shotgun." Crucially, however, she is also a young woman who broke into tears when required by a film role to skin a squirrel.
I would argue that, far from the wrong woman, she is the perfect candidate.
I know something about the culture of the world she comes from. It is similar territory to Norfolk Virginia, where PETA's headquarters is housed. The difference is that Jennifer Lawrence is the real thing, unlike PETA, which is an absurdly alien transplant and is in fact loathed and feared by its neighbors:
Lydia Netzer lives next door to the PETA intern house down in Norfolk. Netzer used to have an indoor-outdoor cat. PETA has concerns about outdoor cats.
"It seemed like every time a new intern moved in, they would come over and say they needed to talk to me about the dangers of cats living outside...."
Netzer tried to keep Hoity inside, but he began clawing the furniture, "pooping all over things," and going, as far as Netzer could tell, completely insane. When she would put him out again, some or another intern would stop by again, implying, she says, that Hoity might be happier and safer in a shelter. Afraid that the PETA interns would take her cat, she eventually had him put to sleep.
A terrible reaction, but it speaks volumes: locals are chillingly aware of what "happier and safer in a shelter" means in this context.
I know about this area because my girlfriend Anielka was raised in Appalachia; she's the one who first introduced me to animal welfare. For some time she devoted herself to saving local horses from the slaughterhouse: she would buy supposedly untrainable horses, often Thoroughbreds on the verge of being ground into meat. Some had sold as colts for five figures, but had failed to perform on the track. Anielka would buy them for fifty dollars, then train them and find them homes.
(PETA, unsurprisingly, has just come out in favor of horse slaughter.)
Because the area is the poorest in America, few people can afford veterinarians. Anielka taught herself at the age of ten to become a (truly gifted) amateur veterinarian, and was soon the go-to girl for animal woes across the county. The local vet would in fact refer cases of parvo and distemper to her, because he considered her more reliable than his own staff.
She is adamant: "I look at the photos on PETA's blog, of their worst-case, incurable dogs -- the ones they insist they have to euthanize -- and I could cure many of them. Anybody who studied this could. Sorry, but heartworm is no reason to put a dog to death. An ingrown collar is a simple matter: Remove it, give the dog antibiotics, and be nice to it. I took in a cat missing half its face: It had brain swelling, severe infection; it took a lot of work and care, but it's now just fine. PETA would have euthanized it without thinking twice."
Yes, people eat squirrels in that part of America. Anielka has never partaken, but she is not about to condemn a family too poor to afford anything better. Meanwhile -- unlike Ingrid Newkirk, with her faux righteousness -- she has devoted herself to personally saving animals in need. Instead of spitting on the habits of the starving.
Anielka has been keenly following the war between PETA and Jennifer Lawrence; she instantly recognized a kindred spirit. While it is generally difficult to judge the soul of an actress behind the layers of publicists and Photoshop, Jennifer Lawrence is a refreshing exception (a publicist's nightmare), and Anielka sees the girl next door.
I in fact tracked down the people who do publicity for Ms. Lawrence, hoping I might interview her for this piece. I spoke to her publicist's assistant, who was extremely friendly and polite to me. While she gave me no indication of this -- she really was very nice -- I suspect I was approximately as welcome as Ingrid's hypodermic.
At any rate, after mulling it over, her publicity department told me that Jennifer Lawrence was too busy with her current production to give me an interview. I wonder if they told her of my request. I was very open about how I wanted not simply to interview her, but to bring her up to speed on the true nature of PETA. It struck me as important that she be at the very least aware of the ethical and proven alternative to PETA's doctrine of slaughter: the No Kill movement. Yes, I believe it is crucial, for the sake of the four million shelter animals that will otherwise be butchered this year, to get to Jennifer Lawrence before Ingrid does.
If her publicists are in fact protecting her from my nefarious influence, then I can hardly blame them: they may well be right. Taking up a cause like No Kill is hardly a foolproof ticket to being universal loved, the way that many innocuous charities are. Depending upon how viciously PETA fights back, things could prove ugly. Whereas rolling over and expressing support for Ingrid Newkirk's All Kill agenda is probably quite safe.
If I were Jennifer Lawrence's publicist, I'd quietly keep her a few miles away from me at all times. If I were Jennifer Lawrence herself, on the other hand, I might think differently.
Most people hope to accomplish something truly good with their lives, and Jennifer Lawrence has the unique opportunity to be an integral force in saving those millions of shelter pets that will otherwise be slaughtered this year, and next year, and the next.
At the age of ninety, I imagine Ms. Lawrence will be sitting on her porch, with her gun and her dog, and reminiscing. She will likely have been the face of Lancôme in her time. Perhaps the face of Chanel. Those will provide pleasant memories.
I can assure you, however, that nothing will give her the same sense of having changed the world for the better -- of owning a crucial part of history -- as having been the face of No Kill.