Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Bundy Rebellion and Animal Rights

We all know the issues swirling around Cliven Bundy, the Nevada poster boy for selfishness, ignorance, arrogance, and racism who instigated a modern-day Whiskey Rebellion: his refusal to pay grazing fees that are set so shamefully low that they amount to welfare for wealthy ranchers; his charges that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) shot his cattle from a helicopter and bulldozed the bodies into a mass grave; his insistence that the government of the United States is illegitimate; his resuscitation of claims of states’ sovereignty and the right of armed rebellion that were declared dead and gone with the end of the Southern insurrection; and his nostalgia for African-American slavery.

But I want to raise a different issue: the significance of the Bundy Rebellion for the animal rights movement.

Cliven Bundy’s cattle are not the issue here. Tragically, these cows are doomed whoever ultimately wins. No one involved is on their side. Bundy will send them to slaughter, and so will the BLM. Nor is the issue, at least from an animal rights perspective, the grazing fees that Cliven Bundy is refusing to pay.

The issue is that Cliven Bundy has challenged the authority of the federal government, he was backed up by armed “militiamen” who threatened to murder federal officers, and in the face of this armed threat the government of the United States backed down. Unless this turns out to have been a tactical retreat by the feds, I believe that we should regard this as a troubling outcome. At this juncture in the development of the animal rights movement, the attitude of the government toward animals is less important than the attitude of the government toward animal advocates. We are the only voice, the only support the animals have. All of society’s major institutions are against them: business, government, academia, the public, even most human rights groups. We are making significant inroads, but we still have a very long way to go. Apart from our advocacy, the animals have nothing. And our advocacy depends on the strength of our constitutional democracy, which assures us the right to freedom of speech and freedom of association. If that system breaks down, we will be silenced and the campaign for animal liberation will be over. What happened in Nevada was a direct assault on the rule of law by armed terrorists. When the BLM (and, by implication, the entire Obama administration) retreated in the face of an armed threat by militants who deny the authority of the government to enforce the law, they risked opening a crack in the system of Constitutional protections that makes an animal rights movement possible. The critical point here is that these were not peaceful protestors engaging in civil disobedience. They were armed to the teeth with assault weapons, sniper rifles and an assortment of other military hardware. They were shown on television training those weapons on federal agents and threatening to open fire If BLM staff and contractors attempted to enforce a court order. This was an armed, violent challenge to the system of Constitutional and legal protections that makes the animal rights and environmental movements possible. If people like Cliven Bundy, Mike Adams, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Megyn Kelly ever come to power we will all be dead or in prison and the animals’ movement along with the Earth’s movement will be crushed. We have a lot of issues with the federal government—their active support of the meat, egg and dairy industries, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and a host of others—and we need to pursue these issues vigorously. But it is only the protections granted by our Constitution that make it possible for us to pursue them at all. Overall, from an AR point of view (which is my point of view) the BLM are not good guys, and I am by no means comfortable defending them, but out in the Nevada scrubland that weekend, they were wearing the white hats. And when they backed down, we lost—unless, as I said, it was merely a tactical retreat.

We must oppose the government’s role in a whole host of crimes, including the human enslavement and slaughter of animals, the agriculture and energy industries’ brutalization of the Earth, the campaign of big business and finance to impoverish the middle class and reduce the poor to destitution,  the disruption of lives and destruction of families caused by our wars on women, young African-American men, and undocumented residents. But we must support our government against those on the right who try to tear down our Constitutional protections while claiming to defend them.

I worry that we may have entered an era of a double standard for protestors. Armed, right-wing protestors get their way, and peaceful, left-wing protestors (like Occupy) get rousted, arrested and prosecuted. And make no mistake, armed left-wing protestors, including AR and environmental activists, would be shot in a heartbeat. There is an Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act; why is there no Racist, Gun-Totin’, Right-Wing Militia Terrorism Act? None of this bodes well for animal liberation.  Whether we think of ourselves as part of the progressive movement or not (and I do, although I know that many do not), that is the way government, business, academia, and the conservative movements (apart from Matthew Scully and a few other outliers) see us, and the Bundy Rebellion showed how they will treat us if they come to power.




Welcome to

This site will feature short blog posts and longer articles on topics related to animal liberation, social and economic justice, and ecology, as well as book reviews and links to other sites.

This is a brand-new blog; it’s a bit lean right now, but content will be added frequently in the future.

The principles that this site will advocate are:

  • All sentient beings are entitled to have their fundamental life-needs satisfied to the greatest degree possible. Fulfilling this right is the responsibility of individuals, private organizations, and governments.
  • The weak have a right to be protected against exploitation and abuse by the powerful. This includes the right of animals to be protected from enslavement and slaughter by human beings, and the right of the Earth to be protected from excessive human encroachment.
  • There is a unity of suffering. The suffering of every sentient being is as urgent and noxious to that being as my suffering is to me or your suffering is to you. Therefore, all suffering is of equal moral value.
  • There is a unity of life. Life is the most precious gift each of us is given because life is the foundation for all other gifts. Every sentient being’s life is as precious to that being as my life is to me and your life is to you. Therefore, we must respect and protect the lives of all sentient beings.
  • There is also a unity of oppression. All exploitation and oppression stem from the same mindset: selfishness, greed, and a belief that the powerful are more deserving than the weak. Humans, for example, believe that they are morally superior to animals simply by virtue of being human, while the rich believe that wealth is proof of worth.
  • The unity of suffering, the unity of death and the unity of oppression call for a unity of compassion. We must summon into being a universal rights movement that will encompass animal liberation, social and economic justice, and the restoration of the Earth. As Henry Salt observed over a century ago, human rights and animal rights “are inseparable and neither can be fully realised without the other.” And neither can be realized unless we restore the planet that gives life to us all.
  • The best hope for a universal rights movement lies with the political left. Social progress has always been pioneered by the left and resisted by the right. It is time for progressives to put aside the human exceptionalism to which many are still wedded and recognize that animal rights and the restoration of our common home are the natural next steps in the ongoing expansion of rights that has been the progressive agenda since the Enlightenment.
  • Our vision must always be of a world in which all human people are safe, free, equal and prosperous, all nonhuman people are secure in their lives, liberty and the integrity of their bodies, and the Earth is restored to balance and health.
  • The world is not perfectible, but it is infinitely improvable. Therefore, guided by compassion for all sentient beings, our activities should be calculated to the do the most good and the least harm possible.

Thank you for visiting I hope you find the site helpful in your own campaign for compassion and justice.

Norm Phelps