Animal Rights Activist Gets Rammed by NFL Player

By Michelle C. Pardo

The video of NFL linebacker Bobby Wagner tackling an animal rights activist who had charged the field with a smoke bomb at last week’s Los Angeles Rams – San Francisco 49ers game in Santa Clara was the subject of much (and some amusing) color commentary.  But Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), the radical animal rights group behind the dangerous stunt, raises significant issues regarding player, referee, security staff and spectator safety.

The DxE activist was protesting and trying to bring attention to criminal charges against two of his fellow activists who are facing trial for the “open rescues” – the act of illegally entering and stealing animals from farms to “save” them and prevent them from entering the food supply.  Wayne Hsiung, the founder of DxE (who stepped down from his leadership position due to his multiple criminal cases (see our blog post, here) is currently on trial in Utah for a 2017 raid of a pork production facility.  Hsiung was previously convicted in North Carolina for another “open rescue” but received no jail time, a sentence he actually had wanted according to his social media postings.  (Read our blog post about it, here).  Hsiung and DxE member Paul Picklesimer are currently on trial in St. George, Utah, on felony burglary and theft charges for “Operation Deathstar” — their infiltration of a Smithfield owned pig farm in Utah.  If convicted, they could face more than 10 years in prison.  Other DxE protestors accepted pleas deals, but the two remaining defendants sought to go to trial to raise awareness of their cause.

Wagner noticed that security was having trouble intercepting the protestor and stepped in to stop him, with linebacker Takkarist McKinley giving him an assist.  According to DxE’s press release, the protestors were cited and released from custody that night.  A similar protest occurred at the season-opener Bills-Rams game, which, according to DxE, resulted in a head injury to one of its protestors.  DxE also took responsibility for a protest at a Minnesota Timberwolves game back in April.

It has been reported that the protestor subsequently filed an assault complaint (with the Santa Clara police) against the Rams players, describing their conduct as “blatant assault.”  But was the conduct justified under a theory of self-defense or defense of others?  While an unruly fan charging the field may have done so “merely” for publicity, an unauthorized person, running onto the field and near other players and personnel, while waiving an unidentified smoking device, and resisted attempts to stop him, could reasonably be interpreted as someone who could do harm.  As Wagner later told media, you “never know” the intruder’s intentions or whether they are carrying or concealing a weapon.  In California, self-defense (or defense of others) is a valid defense to assault where the individual reasonably believes that he or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury.  In acting in self-defense, however, one may only use the amount of force that is reasonably necessary to defend oneself or others.

While some may view Wagner’s action as excessive force, as the video shows, prior to the tackle, others had tried to stop the protestor and failed.

Apart from self-defense, under a theory of assumption of the risk – if you run onto a football field during a game, it is reasonably foreseeable that you could be tackled and suffer injury (particularly if you choose to storm the field in a t-shirt without pads or a helmet).

For DxE members, the threat of injury or prison goes with the activist territory.  In a recent Harper’s Magazine story about DxE’s press coordinator, Matt Johnson said that it made “practical sense” to go to prison for a piglet – presumably more practical than his 2018 idea to set himself on fire in order to gain attention for climate change.  But for the NFL – or  other sport teams or high profile entertainers that pack venues across the country – these publicity stunts can create real threats to the safety of players, security guides and even participants.  This time, it may have been just a smoke bomb, but a copycat seeking to “one up” this stunt could use something far more destructive to bring attention to a cause.

In California, employers may seek a Workplace Violence Restraining Order (WVRO) on behalf of an employee, which prohibits unlawful violence or credible threats of violence against an employee.  Cal. Civil Proc. §527.8. An employer must prove that the employee has suffered unlawful violence (like assault or battery) or a credible threat of violence.  WVROs can order the restrained person to stay away from the employee’s workplace or not go near the employee.

An exception exists where the accused person is engaging in constitutionally protected activity, which can be a significant barrier to obtaining a WVRO against a protestor.  But for those protestors that repeatedly target a business or organization or its employees, and their conduct advances from peaceful protest to threatening or engaging in bodily harm, the constitutional protections will not insulate their actions.  The California WVRO procedure has been used to stop individual animal activists whose protests resulted in conduct that threatened a business’s employees.

Unfortunately, the threat of legal action against its members may not concern DxE, which reportedly saw the “biggest spike” to its website following the NFL stunt.  Unfortunately, until sidelined with legal action or an actual criminal conviction with prison time, DxE protestors may continue to threaten the safety of players and other employees in pursuit of their goal: to “achieve revolutionary social and political change for animals in one generation.”

North Carolina Jury Hands Down Felony Convictions for Animal Activist’s “Open Rescue”

by Michelle C. Pardo

Wayne Hsiung, animal activist and co-founder of Berkeley, CA-based animal rights group, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), was found guilty by jury of felony larceny after breaking and entering and felony breaking and entering, for taking a goat from the Sospiro Goat Ranch in Transylvania County, North Carolina, back in 2018.

Hsiung, who had spearheaded DxE’s “open rescues” – illegally entering agriculture properties without permission and taking animals to liberate them – had been charged with criminal conduct in multiple jurisdictions.  In the North Carolina case, Hsiung claimed that he and the other DxE “investigators” entered the ranch to identify animals that were diseased or suffering from neglect.  According to the goat ranch, at the time of the “rescue” the baby goat was living with its mother and healthy and nursing well at the time of its theft. Continue reading “North Carolina Jury Hands Down Felony Convictions for Animal Activist’s “Open Rescue””

Animal Activist Group’s “Open Rescue” Violates California’s Unfair Competition Law

by Michelle C. Pardo

Animal activist group Direct Action Everywhere (“DxE”), which made headlines for its members’ multiple criminal charges as a result of trespassing and removing animals from agriculture operations, has been enjoined for its violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) for its “open rescue” actions against Diestel Turkey Ranch.  After targeting Diestel’s turkey farms with its tactics, and launching an “investigation” of its turkey raising practices, back in January of 2017, DxE sued Diestel in the Alameda County Superior Court under the UCL and the False Advertising Law (FAL).  DxE alleged that Diestel Turkey Ranch’s marketing had made misleading and deceptive claims about how its turkeys are raised.  Direct Action Everywhere SF Bay Area v. Diestel Turkey Ranch (RG17847475) (Superior Court, Alameda County). Continue reading “Animal Activist Group’s “Open Rescue” Violates California’s Unfair Competition Law”

Animal Activist Leader Steps Down In Advance of Multiple Criminal Trials

by Michelle C. Pardo

The leader and co-founder of West-coast based animal activist group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), Wayne Hsiung, announced yesterday that he will be stepping down from his leadership position at DxE and explained to his followers “why that’s a good thing.”  DxE had become known for its “open rescues” — essentially stealing farm animals in order to “liberate” them — and mass arrests of the activist participants.  In these raids, activists openly enter farms, usually at night, and “rescue” animals.  They often videotape the incident and release it to various media forums.  DxE’s “Organizer’s Handbook” states that the activists involved do not hide their identities so as to avoid being compared to “criminals, vandals and terrorists.”  DxE has also favored storming into restaurants and yelling at patrons about eating meat and entering grocery stores and climbing into food cases to protest.   One particular disgusting protest involved a DxE activist covering herself in feces at a San Francisco grocery store to protest that eggs come from laying hens that allegedly sit in their own waste.   Many of DxE’s members have boldly embraced these extremist techniques even if they involve criminal activity, such as trespassing or stealing.  Former leader Hsiung has asked fellow activists before such raids if they are “comfortable” with the possibility of doing jail time. Continue reading “Animal Activist Leader Steps Down In Advance of Multiple Criminal Trials”

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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