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The Spectre of Militance and Morgan, Utah: A Case Study

“The protests don’t scare farmers the most. They’re worried someone will sneak in and release their animals” (KSTU Fox 13 News)

"Be Thankful We Are Only Protesting"

When I faced off with police in riot gear and over 75 mink farmers and their supporters in the mink farming capital of the U.S. Saturday, it wasn’t the threat of us waving signs outside their farms that elicited their wrath – it was the threat of the Animal Liberation Front.

This is the story of the true value of protest, as revealed by the mink farmer’s own words.

Background: In August, the Salt Lake Animal Advocacy Movement (SLAAM) announced a Fur Free Saturday march through Morgan, Utah, home of 15 active mink farms. The protest would target two mink farms: starting at the Dawson Fur Farm, finishing at the S. Francis Fur Farm one mile away.

All I spoke to in attendance referred to it as the most tense and volatile demo they had every attended. The threat of impending violence from the 50+ mink farmers in attendance was palpable.

(View video clips from the demo here, and a photo slideshow here)

I followed the media and fur industry coverage closely, before and after the protest. I listened to words directly form the mink farms at the protest, had conversations with reporters who had spoken with farmers that day, and more. The overwhelming take-home message was this:

Mink farmers don’t fear protesters, they fear the implicit threat the protesters bring: that of the Animal Liberation Front looming just out of sight. Their frenzy was not inspired by the threat of sings and chants, but of the crowd charging their farms, releasing animals, and more.

Martin Luther King stated he was only able to gain ground with opponents of the civil rights struggle with the threat of Malcolm X and the more extreme tactics he promoted looming in the background.

It is a point best made in the fur industry’s own words:

“We’ve been preparing (for the protest) for months…. My gates are locked…” (mink farmer L. Scott Francis, Standard-Examiner)

“They have a right to free speech, as long as they’re not blowing up feed plants and destroying million dollar property.” (Mink farmer Smokey Dillree, Standard Examiner)

“We will probably be nervous for a very long time (after the protest), and a lot of people will spend a lot of nights watching their farms… (My husband) was out on watch with the rest of his family last night. “ (Wife of a Morgan fur farmer)

“If you believe standing on the side of the street pounding on a bucket and holding up signs is an effective way to express your opinion and convince others then more power to you. Go for it! If you feel, however, the need to take matters into your own hands and work ‘outside the law’(as many signs and chants implied) that is a different issue.” (Morgan resident)

“The animal rights activists that are protesting the mink farms in the past have demonstrated that they will take extreme measures. These measures include trespassing, vandalism of property, and releasing the caged mink.” (Morgan resident)

“In the end, the activists will enter our community, and overstep the law as they impose their will on the local ranchers. This is what they have done in the past…” (Morgan resident, Standard -Examiner)

“Francis is also worried the protest may lead to the release of mink and the demolition of pens and sheds, similar to other protests in past years in West Haven and West Jordan.” (Mink farmer S. Francis, Standard-Examiner).

“There was a lot of damage to ranches and livelihoods, so it’s something we can’t take lightly”. (Mink farmer S. Francis, Standard-Examiner)

“Mink growers, however, worry it will turn into something more, with their property being destroyed and minks being set free.” (KSL News)

“(The mink farm protest) has the potential to incite breaches of the peace” (language from Morgan County anti-protesting ordinance)

“Stan Durrant says… he’s been spending nights at his farm worried someone might try to open his cages.” (KSTU Fox 13 News)

“Couldn’t we make them supply us their names, in case they do something later? …I don’t understand why they have the freedom not to reveal who they are.” (Mink farmer Tony Jones at the County Council meeting to ban targeting protesting)

“I know Cort, I know Pete, I know Chuck (mink farmers who had their farms raided). In a matter of 10 or 15 minutes, an entire career can be turned upside down. And that’s the last thing we want to happen here…” (County Councilperson, addressing fur farmers at the County Council meeting to ban targeting protesting).

“I’m sure you people will try and protect us…. We don’t want these people up here. We realize they have rights, we need to make rules to keep them out so we don’t have to spend our time up all night. They’re up to no good. They’re breaking the law. They’re agenda was proven last fall in Kaysville, they let 7,000 mink out… “ (Mink farmer Tony Jones at Morgan County Council meeting to ban targeting protesting)

And in a region with a long-running, vibrant and prolific animal rights movement, the head of the Fur Commission USA admits it is not the hundreds of protests which they view as a threat, but direct intvervention in their industry by groups like the Animal Liberation Front. The single action described by Teresa Platt as the industry’s “darkest hour” was not a mass convergence of protesters, but the demolition of the nations largest fur feed production plant, just outside Salt Lake City:

“(The Utah fur industry’s) darkest hour was on Mar. 11, 1997, when terrorists launched an attack on the Fur Breeders Agricultural Coop, in Sandy. An incendiary bomb was detonated inside the Co-op offices, totally destroying them.” (Teresa Platt, Fur Commission USA)

And the mink farmers seemed especially sensitive to the flier passed out at the protest listing updated info on most fur farms in Utah (view here), and the mink farm photo gallery on FurFreeUtah.com. Farmers recognize their industry is so shameful, and public support is so low, that any information made public will have adverse affects. Particularly photos and addresses of their farms:

“(Mink farmer Lynn Boyce) said he fears any inside information could lead to protests that harm specific mink ranches in Morgan.” (Standard-Examiner)

“L. Scott Francis said it was difficult to see his farm pictured on furfreeutah.com, a Web site organized by the protestors. ‘But there’s not much we can do,’ he said.” (Standard-Examiner)

The Morgan mink farm protest is a case study in a lesson more conservative elements of any social justice movement would do well to internalize: Without the spectre of militant, direct action looming just out of sight of more moderate protest activity, legal protest carries little weight.

-Peter Young

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