People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is known for stirring controversy with their unconventional advertisements promoting veganism, its public attacks on various companies, and its admittance of euthanizing around ninety percent of the animals brought to their shelters. Ingrid Newkirk, president and cofounder, recently held a press conference to address the growing concerns regarding the foundation. Newkirk’s announcement was surprising.
On Sunday, September 14, at the PETA Headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia and on national television, Newkirk declared that PETA actually began as a social experiment. “The plan was to launch an organization that people would rally behind. Then, slowly, we began to institute more controversial even hypocritical tactics to support the cause. The goal, which we have finally achieved, was to document the change in the response of PETA’s supporters as we implemented these new methods of protecting animal rights.”
Newkirk’s finding will be published this November in her book PETA Activists: Obsession, Forgiveness and Denial. The book will also be turned into a movie, which will be released in the summer of 2015. “I am an animal rights supporter,” Newkirk continued, “But, I wanted to create an organization that took animal rights to an extreme. My colleagues, fellow psychologists and sociologists who were informed of this experiment, and I were curious to see how serious people would actually take animal activism. We also wanted to test the ‘bandwagon’ theory to see how many would simply go with the majority even when the group was making questionable decisions.”
According to Newkirk, PETA made its campaigns and advertising controversial on purpose to see the reactions of those who supported and did not support the organization. “The shark advertisement, where we suggested that sharks ate people as revenge, caused a lot of upset,” Newkirk explained. “But, we did that on purpose to see if PETA followers would continue to remain loyal in spite of such an abrasive tactic to convince people to go vegan. The same was true of the McDonald’s ad and the various other marketing campaigns we did.” As for the euthanization scandal, Newkirk explained that it was fake, “We wanted the public to believe that we were euthanizing the majority of the animals that arrived at our shelters, but we were actually sending them to shelters in Italy. We documented whether or not people within the PETA organization left because of the hypocrisy. Many actually stayed, believing the justifications we gave online and in the press.”
The response of the public was very mixed. “I was so glad PETA wasn’t real. I can’t believe people actually took them seriously,” Annalise Ramirez said, an animal rights activist who has spoken out against PETA multiple times on her online blog. Other responses were not so positive. “How could she do this to us?!” Logan Reid shouted, a PETA activist for the last 14 years. Taylor Merkowitz agreed, stating, “She wasted the last 22 years of my life! Who does she think she is?”
In a recent interview with Animal Lovers Weekly, Newkirk reported that she has received multiple death threats as a result of her announcement. Other former PETA members, on the other hand, have decided to continue PETA’s efforts. Lifelong PETA supporters Mary Jane Rojers, Ramona Peterson and Martin Vansen plan on launching a new organization called Animal Lovers for Animal Rights (also known as ALAR) to promote veganism, protest against the unjust treatment of animals and so on. “PETA wasn’t extreme at all,” Peterson said. “It was just what this world needed. Someone needs to speak up for the animals. I guess it’s up to us now.”
Monica Chen is a freshman writing major who has a foundation to raise awareness about dat booty. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.