Animal Rights and Human Murders
June 12, 2002
by Dennis T. Avery
A militant, vegan animal-rights activist, Volkert van der Graaf, has been charged with the May 6th assassination of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn. So much for the widespread impression that vegetarians and animal rights activists are gentle, slightly quirky, but well-meaning individuals.
In killing Fortuyn, the Dutch extremist joined ranks with the Sept. 11 al Qaeda airline hijackers, the whole series of Palestinian homicide bombers, and the black-clad “anarchist” shock troops of the anti-globalization movement. All have decided that their moral judgments justify taking the rights—even the lives—of others.
Van der Graaf certainly cares about animals. He consumes no animal products—not even honey, because that would exploit bees. In college, he agitated for the elimination of research experiments using laboratory animals bred for the purpose. But his respect for life didn’t prevent him from blasting five bullets into a legal candidate for public office.
We don’t know exactly what led him to murder. Based on his Internet ramblings, however, we know that banning the Netherlands’ intensive hog farming was a leading passion. He may have also been upset by Fortuyn’s campaign call for the Netherlands to resume fur farming.
Van der Graaf wrote, on the Internet, “People think it normal that you eat animals, and that you let fish suffocate in nets when you catch them. But inside me arose a sense of justice; such things shouldn’t be happening in a civilized country.”
History, of course, is full of people who believed that their high moral principles gave them some special kind of virtue—and thus validated forceful actions that interfered with the rights of others. The activist slogan “No compromise in defense of mother earth” is nothing if not a call to action.
There is no justification, however, for any “morality” that leads to murder. If eco-activists resort to personal violence and murder, they are no better than the Nazis—who were also dedicated vegetarians and believers in animal rights. Hitler and many of the top Nazis believed in both organic farming and holistic “natural medicine.” Himmler ordered the SS to create “paradises for animals and Nature” at the Nazi death camps, and the guards at Dachau and Esterwegen took care of nesting storks. In the 1930s and ’40s, however, these same people referred to Jews, Slavs, and gypsies as “weeds.” In 1999, Greenpeace founder Paul Watson was quoted as saying, “We, the human species, have become a viral epidemic to the earth . . . an AIDS of the earth.”
So far, the eco-activists have been unembarrassed by their philosophical similarities with Nazism, perhaps because so few people have been willing to call attention to them. Too often in recent years we have encouraged the efforts of “good extremists.” During the Vietnam War era, many people ordinary Americans thought that it was all right to blow up buildings and rob banks “for peace.” Similarly, in recent years animal rights activists have cheerfully bragged about burning buildings and turning laboratory animals out into the forest to starve, to no public outcry whatever. President Clinton even invited Green activists into the streets of Seattle to disrupt an international conference meant to extend free trade and higher incomes to poor people around the world. The latest Washington street demonstrations by such “anti-globalists” glorified the Palestinian bombers.
Europe applauds its extremists even more loudly, adhering to the concept that science is not the only reality but just one reality among many. This attitude, of course, gives the public a perfect excuse to reject all technologies that run counter to the extremists’ beliefs—including most high-yield farming technologies, which save both human lives and wildlife. Now this philosophy has led, if only indirectly, to a high-profile murder.
The greatest irony of all is that the hog farmers van der Graaf despises are among the most careful and considerate animal owners in the world. They have to be. Hogs are easily stressed, and when they’re stressed, they don’t put on weight.
The hogs in the factory farms van der Graaf wants to destroy are probably happier and healthier than the hogs on a typical outdoor farm. Indoor hogs are protected from summer sun (hogs can’t sweat) and winter cold (they don’t have fur). Indoor hogs don’t have to wallow in mud and their own filth to regulate their temperatures. Indoor hogs are usually grown in pens of six or eight animals, which gives them the reassurance of a herd while minimizing the fighting over dominance.
It seems highly unlikely that van der Graaf ever bothered to visit any of the factory farms he chose to hate. It is also doubtful that any citizen of the Netherlands wants to convert its public parks to hog pastures. Unfortunately, we no longer require people to have knowledge of the subjects they become passionate about. It’s enough that they care.
Van der Graaf probably believes that, too. In an Internet interview, he said that caring about animals is a civilizing influence on people. That was before he murdered Pim Fortuyn, who feared that the extremism of Moslem immigrants would destroy Dutch civility. Little did he imagine that homegrown extremism would prove even more dangerous.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.