Animal Rights

Animal Rights Group Targets NBA Team Owner by Trying To Out-PETA PETA

DxE's dumb stunts threaten to overshadow their investigatory work.


This week, an animal rights group carried out a dangerous stunt during an NBA playoff game in Minneapolis. A supporter of the group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) leapt over courtside seats behind where team Minnesota Timberwolves' majority owner Glen Taylor was seated and was tackled to the court almost immediately by a security guard, who was joined by other security in removing her from the court.

This was the third such stunt to take place on the Timberwolves' court during games this month. The others involved a woman putting glue on her hand and pretending to be stuck to the court and another chaining herself to one of the basket stanchions and tossing flyers onto the court.

In a press release, DxE identified the woman slammed to the court as Sasha Zemmel of St. Louis. "She attempted to whistle to stop play as she approached Taylor at his courtside seat, to issue a 'technical foul and ejection,' along with a 'fine' against Forbes' richest billionaire in Minnesota," the DxE release states. (Since we're being "technical," it takes two technical fouls to eject an NBA player from a game—not one—and league referees do not issue fines.)

DxE's intrusions into live, national sporting events have nothing to do with the NBA per se. The group has targeted Timberwolves games because Taylor also owns Rembrandt Enterprises, a huge poultry operation in Iowa that has, like many other poultry operations, been hit recently by an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu). In response to that ongoing, multistate outbreak of bird flu, poultry facilities in dozens of states have been forced to slaughter tens of millions of chickens—including around 5 million at a Rembrandt plant in Iowa. 

DxE opposes a culling method known as ventilation shutdown, which uses a mix of heat and oxygen deprivation to kill the birds, as particularly cruel. That's the method used to kill the birds at Taylor's facility, the Guardian reported this week. "When there are too many [birds] to destroy with [other] methods, producers use a third veterinary association-approved method, ventilation shutdown," the Des Moines Register reports. An expert cited by the Guardian says the method may be crueler than other approved alternatives, but notes the "last resort" method is the most efficient way to ensure bird flu does not spread outside a facility to other birds or to humans.

This week, on the House of Strauss podcast, which focuses on sports, business, politics, and culture, DxE spokesman Matt Johnson compared the group's protests to early Civil Rights era lunch-counter sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C., women's suffrage protests, and other historical protest movements for rights in this country.

"When you see people running on the floor of the NBA games, there's, I think, probably a lot more nuance and research and thought that goes into it than people would probably tend to assume," a bemused Johnson told host Ethan Sherwood Strauss. 

"I see people thinking you're PETA," Strauss responded. Given PETA's history of absurd stunts—I always go back to Wyatt Cenac's brilliant takedown of this PETA lawsuit—that's not exactly a ringing endorsement of DxE's methods.

That hasn't been DxE's approach—at least to date, and to the best of my knowledge. In fact, in a column two years ago, I applauded DxE's undercover investigation at an Iowa pig farm that "expos[ed] what appear by every indication to be brutal, disgusting, inhumane, neglectful, and monstrous conditions…. DxE's investigation benefits animals and American consumers alike." But I also noted that "my boisterous applause ends right about there."

That's because DxE wants, I wrote, to "outlaw all animal agriculture and completely banish meat from the American diet." Don't just take my word for it.

"The short answer is yes, we want to end animal agriculture," DxE's Johnson told me then. "We don't believe in humane animal ag."

So DxE opposes so-called factory farming. But DxE also opposes non-factory farming. It opposes all animal agriculture. It opposes the actions of all of the overwhelming majority of humans who eat meat. The group wants to end the production, sale, and consumption of all animal products.

Earlier this month, as part of an investigation by DxE, the group released footage it says came from the Rembrandt cull. That's exactly the sort of action—a contribution to the marketplace of ideas—that I applauded DxE for two years ago. And it's also the sort of action I've applauded other animal rights groups for over the years. I've also blasted attempts by government to restrict the ability (and First Amendment rights) of groups that oppose raising and killing livestock and eating their meat.

But, with these protests at NBA games, DxE appears to have moved from contributing to the marketplace of ideas to engaging in cheap, attention-drawing stunts. As both the headline and Strauss's observation suggest, DxE seems now to be embracing PETA's approach towards animal rights: to be so intentionally shocking as to bury the purpose of a protest while simultaneously robbing the protest and protesters of any credibility. For that, I condemn DxE and their actions. What's more, as video of this week's incident shows, the tackled protester entered the court while the game was in play nearby. NBA players, referees, security staff, and spectators could have been injured by DxE's preposterous stunt.

DxE claims its recent stunts are also designed to protest government bailouts for poultry owners who suffer losses due to avian influenza (or "[i]ndemnity for depopulated poultry"). Had DxE merely sent me a press release to that effect—they've sent me others—the group would've been preaching to the choir, and I might have written about it favorably. Instead, DxE took the PETA route and, along the way, lost me.