Ag-gag may be overturned, but the industry is still desperately trying to hide the truth.
These stories - the story of Smithfield, the story of Lily and Lizzie, and the story of government and industry collusion - are too important to tell for us to just give in to intimidation and bullying.
In four weeks, hundreds of activists will gather in Utah for DxE’s biggest trial yet. Wayne Hsiung and Paul Darwin Picklesimer, two DxE investigators, are facing felony charges and up to 10 years in prison for investigating the largest pig farm in the country, Smithfield Foods’ Circle 4 Farms, and rescuing two piglets, Lily and Lizzie, from certain death. It’s been over 5 years since this investigation and it feels surreal that the trial is finally happening.
When Paul, Wayne and the rest of the investigatory team set out to investigate Circle 4 Farms, Utah still had an ag-gag law on the books. In fact, the presence of this law was a key driver for choosing this facility as the target of the investigation. When the industry tries so desperately to hide in the shadows, it’s our job to shine a light on the truth. The 2017 investigation revealed why Smithfield would be so concerned with transparency: hundreds of pigs were seen languishing in gestation and farrowing crates, unable to turn around and forced to lay in their own waste, despite a company proclamation earlier that year that they had almost completely moved away from gestation crates. Investigators also saw mother pigs whose nipples were so frayed from giving birth over and over again that their piglets were nursing blood instead of milk.
Two days after this investigation was published widely in The New York Times, the U.S. District Court of Utah declared Utah’s ag-gag statute unconstitutional. Thanks to the hard work of activists and attorneys, ag-gag in Utah was no more.
But despite this massive legal victory, the industry is still succeeding at preventing transparency and stifling free speech. The investigation of Circle 4 Farms resulted in the felony prosecution of 5 activists. With the threat of up to 60 years in prison at the time, three activists took a plea deal that involved a gag order that prevented them from publicly criticizing Smithfield, even if those criticisms were completely grounded in factual information. The two remaining defendants - Paul and Wayne - have been prevented from showing any video footage of the investigation in court, talking about the conditions of the animals, or presenting a necessity defense to the jury.
These are two jarring examples of how the government and the industry are working together to prevent the public from knowing the truth. And it gets even more ridiculous...
In anticipation of the trial, 5 activists went to Beaver County to talk to local residents about Smithfield Foods and the legal case. They sought permission to set up a booth at a local Pioneer Day festival and came prepared with an open mind to have conversations and share perspectives. They didn’t even have their canopy set up before they were told that they couldn’t, in fact, be at the festival. Trying to play nice, the activists then set up on the sidewalk and began their outreach.
It wasn’t long before the Beaver County Sheriff, Cameron Noel, came to the table and literally yelled in one of the activist’s faces that she “would definitely get killed” if she continued her outreach and that he “wasn’t going to do anything about it.” He also threatened to press charges if she continued. Other officers also came, telling activists that they “weren’t welcome here” and that the content of their speech was creating discord in the community. At no time did they cite any laws, but instead just repeated that the activists needed to stop and that they weren’t wanted in Beaver. The officers loudly told passersby to not speak to the activists and blocked the activists from walking down the sidewalk. One activists was cited for disorderly conduct while handing out flyers on public property. All other activists were forced to cease their outreach due to fear of arrest or worse.
This is an absurd overreach and a violation of the activists’ first amendment rights, not to mention a clear display of bias from the Sheriff's Office - an office which is supposed to be “neutral” and one which will be armed and at the ready in the courtroom throughout trial despite contrary requests from the defendants. And it’s yet another case of the government siding with industry to prevent the public from being informed about animal agriculture. Ag-gag appears to be alive and well in Utah, just disguised as court orders and protestor harassment.
That is why DxE SF Bay Area, the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, and three of the outreachers filed a lawsuit last week against the individual officers and the county. We are demanding an injunction against the office so that we may freely exercise our first amendment rights leading up to and during trial. These stories - the story of Smithfield, the story of Lily and Lizzie, and the story of government and industry collusion - are too important to tell for us to just give in to intimidation and bullying. As trial gets closer and closer, we’re ensuring that the whole world sees the grim reality of animal agriculture.
Help us fight the industry’s attempt to silence activists, whistleblowers and animal rescuers. Sign our petition at righttorescue.com and share this post with a friend.