Animal Rights Activist Won't Stand for Cruelty
By Mike Martindale
The following article appeared in "In The News" section of The Detroit News on December 23, 1998.
Who he is: Gary Yourofsky is an animal activist and substitute teacher in Pontiac. He's founder of ADAPTT.
His background: Yourofsky, 28, was born and raised in Oak Park. He graduated from Berkley High School in 1988 and Oakland University this year. He also graduated from Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts and attended Wayne State University. He has worked at a radio station and an interactive marketing agency. His mother, sister and stepfather live in Chicago. His father lives in Ferndale. He has lived with his dog, Rex, in Royal Oak the past two years. He found Rex at the side of the road after he had been hit by a car. Yourofsky began his activism through his savings. He recently appointed a board of directors and hopes to conduct some fund-raising.
Why he's in the news: Yourofsky is out front at most area protests against the use of animals for fur, experimental testing and circuses. In March he will go on trial in Canada for a 1997 raid on a mink farm.
What he says: "Animal rights is my life. There's not much else I do. I'm your average person. I like Seinfeld and Jim Carrey, but when it comes to cruelty to animals, I won't stand for that. If people had to see the inside of a slaughterhouse, I know they'd all be vegetarians. Animals exploiters do a wonderful job of keeping it out of sight. You never see the heinous atrocities."
Activist Risks Life, Liberty and Lawsuits to Protect Animals
By John Wisely
The following profile appeared in the The Oakland Press on August 1, 1999.
Gary Yourofsky has risked his neck for his beliefs. Last year the animal rights activist drove to the Michigan State Fairgrounds and stopped in the driveway. He crawled under his car with a U-shaped bicycle lock, slipped it over his rear axle and cinched it aorund his neck. "That way they can't move the car without breaking my neck," said Yourofsky, 28, Royal Oak. "Plus it makes it harder for them to get under there with the bolt cutters."
Detroit police took more than an hour to cut him loose, but Yourofsky had clogged the main fair entrance and captured attention for his animal rights agenda.
That protest and others like it earn him praise and scorn from people on both sides of the animal rights debate. Despite six arrests, one lawsuit and thousands of dollars in debt, Yourofsky continues. He currently is fighting animal-based circuses in Michigan and is working to prevent the killing of deer at Kensington Metropark.
Supporters argue that his passion is needed to give animals their rights. But opponents say he breaks the law and may do animals more harm than good.
"My experience with Gary and with people like him is that they do well in bringing attention to the animals," said Michael Killian, a former investigator with the Michigan Anti Cruelty Society. "But it's not necessarily viewed by the general public in a positive light."
Yourofsky traces his interest in animal rights to the early 1990s. His stepfather volunteered as a clown in The Shrine Circus and offered to take him on a tour. Yourofsky said he was shocked to see an elephant chained to a post with scars behind his ears. "I looked into the elephant's eyes and all I saw was sadness and despair," Yourofsky said. "There is no way to get wild animals to perform except to beat the pride out of them."
From then on, he began researching animal treatment. The more he learned, the less he liked. He believes speciesism is a form of discrimination that causes sexism and racism. "People say, 'they're just animals,' like they used to say they're just Jews or just blacks," Yourofsky said.
In 1996, Yourofsky founded a group called ADAPTT. The group, which claims about 1,000 members nationwide, hopes to stop animal use in medical research, product testing, circuses, rodeos and other forms of entertainment. Its members have been arrested for protests in Troy, Bloomfield Hills, Detroit and Canada.
Yourofsky operates the group from his studio apartment in Royal Oak. One bed, one chair, one TV and a laptop computer fill the room. Yourofsky shares it with his dog, Rex, a collie-shepherd he rescued after he was hit by a car. A shleving unit mounted outside the bathroom is crammed with newsletters and other ADAPTT literature. A bullhorn used to heckle fur wearers and other involved in the animal trade, hangs nearby. "This is animal rights central," he said. "I live and breathe animal rights. I want to speak the truth."
ADAPTT does not charge a membership fee. Yourofsky, who works as a substitute teacher in Pontiac, sends literature to anyone who asks. He publishes the church bulletin-sized newsletter whenever he can afford to send it out. "I've put over $10,000 of my life savings into ADAPTT," he said. "I owe credit card companies over $20,000. I'll probably have to declare personal bankruptcy in a few months."
Yourofsky practices a vegan lifestyle, which forbids using animals for food, clothing or other purposes. Inside his mustard-colored refrigerator is evidence: "A bowl of cherries, rice milk, soy cheese, vegetable-based food formed into bacon and turkey substitutes. "There is fake everything," he said. "I've seen fake ribs."
He is a tireless salesman for the vegan lifestyle. Two years ago, he persuaded his chiropractor, Robert Levine of Farmington Hills, to give up meat. "He gave me some information about the agriculture industry and overnight, I stopped eating 99 percent of what I was eating," Levine said. "Would I like to have him at dinner every night? Probably not. But I like Gary a lot. He's quite a rebel."
Others are less eager to be associated with Yourofsky even when they agree with him. Yourofsky wants to meet with Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer to lobby for a ban on animal circuses in the city. He hopes Detroit Zoo Director Ron Kagan can help him. "We have Ron Kagan's support," Yourofsky said.
But Kagan said he does not know Yourofsky well enough to say whether he supports him. Kagan has opposed animal circuses for years. "My issues are not founded on helping Gary," Kagan said. "They are about helping animals. I do think it's important for all of us to speak up and certainly he is a voice."
Yourofsky has a journalism degree from Oakland University and a habit of reading dictionaries in his leisure time. To ask him about animal rights is to trigger an avalanche of quotations from Gandhi, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., puncuated with words like "perfidy" and "pusillanimous." He also studied television and radio at Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts in Southfield. Yourofsky uses the media to amplify his voice. He sends out press releases announcing protest plans. He keeps his newspaper clippings in an art portfolio and displays them with the pride of a grandparent showing baby pictures.
Getting arrested helps attract media attention. Besides, penalties are usually minimal. "Will I pay a $100 fine for a front-page story? Absolutely," Yourofsky said. "I can't buy that kind of advertising."
Not all of his protests have been dismissed so easily. In March 1997, Yourofsky and members of his group released 1,500 mink from Eberts Fur Farm in Blenheim, Ontario. The owners caught the group and recovered most of the mink. But the episode disrupted reproduction and led to tiny litters. "That cost us over $300,000," said owner Tom McLellan. "We're running a legal business, we're not dealing drugs. It's been our way of life for years. He is going about it the wrong way."
Canadian courts agreed, and convicted Yourofsky of breaking and entering. He was sentenced to spend 180 days in a Canadian correctional facility, but was released after 77 days. He also was fined $35,000 but has not paid a cent. "I'm not paying mink murderers," he said.
McLellan has sued Yourofsky trying to recoup his losses, but he doubts he'll ever be paid. "The odds are pretty thin," McLellan said. "It bothers me that he basically got away with it."
Yourofsky's adversaries are not limited to fur farmers. He has publicly feuded with Gary Tiscornia, executive director of the Michigan Humane Society. Yourofsky called for Tiscornia to resign after Tiscornia agreed with a plan to allow deer hunting in Kensington Metropark. "We feel that interests of animals are best served by working within our legal system," Tiscornia said.
That's not good enough for Yourofsky, who doubts the state Legislature or Congress will pass laws protecting animals because agriculture interests have too much power. He plans to continue his protests, which have drawn wide notice. When he was in jail in Canada, he received letters of support from people as far away as New Zealand. They make up for the times he is branded a radical or a wacko. "I'm anything but a wacko," Yourofsky said. "Radical is great to me. If I don't make some people nervous, then I'm doing something wrong."
Taking it to the Limit
Driven by a Passion for Justice, Royal Oak Activist Does Whatever it Takes to Protect Rights of Animals
By Cathy Nelson
The following profile appeared in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, Michigan) on February 27, 2000.
This is part one of a two-part profile. Part two will be published next Sunday.
Although just 29, Royal Oak's Gary Yourofsky has already experienced more than many people will, or ever will want to, in a lifetime. He's picketed prominent businesses, chained his neck to the axle of his car, been arrested at least 10 times and spent 77 days in a maximum security detention center—all in the name of animal rights.
Yourofsky is founder of ADAPTT, a Royal Oak-based organization known for in-your-face tactics and an uncompromising stance against animal exploitation. Yet, by Yourofsky's own account, he's just a normal guy. "People find it hard to believe, but I'm kind of like everyone else. I'm pretty normal," said Yourofsky. "I enjoy Jim Carrey movies, I watch sports, I play guitar. I just will not tolerate cruelty to animals. I will not tolerate the way society treats them."
By all outward appearances, Yourofsky's life is not out of the ordinary. He shares a modest apartment with his roommate, Rex, an 11-year-old dog he found lying, paralyzed, on the side of the road. A collection of CDs, videos and books (Gerry Spence's "How to Argue and Win Every Time" is prominently placed at the front of one shelf) mixed with pictures of those closest to his heart—his 3-year-old twin niece and nephew, two dogs, Brandy and Bourbon, who've passed away, and Rex. Degrees from Specs Howard and Oakland University hang by the bathroom, not far from a picture of guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Yourofsky wears jeans with a button-down shirt and his manner is relaxed, even down right congenial.
But when Yourofsky speaks about animals, things change. An intensity surrounds him, his words come fast, yet firm, his arms wave often, and he barely stops to catch his breath between sentences. He liberally quotes Martin Luther King Jr. among others, using a vocabulary that could put an English professor to shame. (Knowledge garnered from another favorite hobby of his, looking up words in the dictionary and memorizing their meanings.)
For the last two years, he has been, arguably, the most recognizable and talked-about member of the animal rights movement in Michigan. Yourofsky's notoriety was heightened last year when he was sentenced to six months in prison for his part in a 1997 break-in at a Blenheim, Ontario, fur farm where 1,542 caged minks were set free.
The incarceration only heightened Yourofsky's commitment. Since his release from prison, he's protested circuses, fur stores and led a silent vigil in front of the home of someone Yourofsky calls a "a psychotic researcher" who conducts experiments on live animals.
Another brush with the law occurred in August 1999, when Yourofsky chained himself underneath his car and blocked the entrance to Detroit Animal Control Center. He was protesting what he called the center's "antiquated" use of gas chambers and its selling of animals to Wayne State University for experimentation.
It's not surprising, then, that words such as "radical" and "extreme" are often used to describe him. "I used to get upset at that," said Yourofsky. "Now actually I don't, because I know what it means. I guess it means you're too honest, too truthful, too uncompromising, too strong. I might find those to be good attributes."
There is, however, one thing he never wants to be called, and it's probably not what people expect. "I despise the term 'animal lover' because I find it to be derogatory ...whenever you put the term 'lover' in front of something that you're fighting for, it's completely derogatory. It has nothing to do with that group, it has to do with loathing injustice."
Yourofsky wasn't always part of the animal rights movement. He was, only five years ago, a meat-eating, leather-wearing part of the general population. The child of divorced parents, Yourofsky grew up in Oak Park and Berkley with one sister, two years his senior. Hockey was his big love—in 1980 he was the number one goalie in his age group in Michigan. That year, his team placed second in a Lake Placid national tournament around the same time and place the US Olympic Hockey team skated to its "Miracle on Ice."
Still there were signs as to what the future might have in store. "I was always bucking the system," Yourofsky said. "I always had something to say. My friends would say 'You think you can save the world.' I'd never go into a situation thinking I couldn't change it."
Yourofsky's dreams were typical of many teenagers—he figured on being a rock guitarist or playing in the NHL. But, it was an incident during those same formative years that sent him on a much different path. Yourofsky's stepfather was working as a clown in The Shrine Circus and thought his stepson might enjoy going behind-the-scenes to see the animals. He couldn't have been more wrong.
"He took me backstage to see the elephants," remembered Yourofsky, emphasizing every word. "I saw them shackled in chains. I looked in their eyes and saw nothing but fear and hopelessness. I knew this wasn't right." Yourofsky has never forgotten the look in those elephant's eyes.
Driven by a thirst for knowledge, he began reading, studying and researching not only the animal rights movement, but civil rights movements throughout history. In 1995 he became a vegetarian, and, after attending a 1996 animal rights conference in Washington DC, went vegan. "The more I opened to the truth, the closer I got to the truth," he said.
While the circus experience may have started him down the path that now consumes his life, it was simple words from a friend that got him going full steam ahead. He said, "You're always talking about this stuff, why don't you do something about it, already?" Yourofsky's friend probably had no idea what he started.
It began with newsletters, phone calls, a protest here and there. It didn't take long before there were over 1,500 members.
"There's no denying once you meet Gary, you don't forget him," said Jim McNelis, who met Yourofsky five years ago and is now community outreach director for ADAPTT. "He makes a strong impression. He is a leader."
As membership expanded, Yourofsky saw the opportunity to reach more and more people. He never backed down from his straightforward approach, no matter what television station or newspaper was interviewing him, no matter who was watching or listening.
"I can't express in words what Gary means (to animal rights)," McNelis said. "The movement needed people like that. With Gary, there's no me-first. He's extremely committed, and passionate. Many people are not lucky enough to find their passion. He did."
Yourofsky's commitment meant a willingness to use what some would consider shocking tactics to get points across. ADAPTT recently drew attention for two graphic billboards it sponsored—one anti-fur billboard contained a grotesque picture of a skinned animal, another plastered the slogan "The Circus Sucks" next to a photo of a chained elephant—and a controversial television commercial featuring footage of fur farm animals being electrocuted.
"I know for me, that's what did it," said Yourofsky. "When I saw the videos, that's what pushed me over the edge. When I read the literature, when I saw photos of cats with electrodes in their heads, of primates languishing in cages, when I saw elephants in chains. As far as I'm concerned, that's what's going to work." He turns to a quote from slave abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to make his point: "I will be as harsh as the truth and as uncompromising as justice."
Yourofsky also believes in exercising his First Amendment right to assemble—and will be joined by other ADAPTT members in doing so, at upcoming protests targeting local appearances by The Shrine Circus in March and The Royal Hanneford Circus in April.
Gertrude Hanneford, 68-year-old matriarch of The Royal Hanneford Circus, said while she's "grateful" for the concerns of animal activists like Yourofsky, her animals are not abused. "I've spent many many years and half of my life taking care of animals," said Hanneford, who's had the same three elephants for more than 20 years and drives the semi truck they travel in. "Most activists don't live with animals." She said her elephants are not shackled, but kept in free-walking pens and that conditions are "constantly" monitored by the USDA and animal inspectors.
Yourofsky said he's seen the pens Hanneford's referring to. "These areas are unsuitable for a two-pound toy poodle, much less an 8,000 pound animal that walks 20 to 50 miles a day in the wild. They're still incarcerated in an area they should not be."
Hanneford said protests, such as the one ADAPTT plans, don't hurt her business. "I never have any problems. I think we get along fairly good. I respect their concerns, but my conscience is good. I love my animals."
"Animals were not put on this earth for our entertainment," countered Yourofsky. "If she loves them, she'd release them to an elephant sanctuary."
Carrying a picket sign is an experience many Americans have had, but for Yourofsky, protests don't go far enough. He believes there's an extra step that must be taken, and he's one of only a few willing to do so. "One cannot achieve goals without civil disobedience. King and Gandhi went to jail for civil disobedience. It's funny how throughout time we place certain people on pedestals, like Dr. King, Gandhi and Malcolm X and rightfully so. But when they were around, people thought that they were crazy for going to jail for what they believed in and fighting the system."
Great leaders have often used nonviolent civil disobedience to facilitate change, according to Donald N. Perkins, a Mount Clemens attorney and member of the Animal Law Section Council of the State Bar of Michigan. "Nonviolent civil disobedience is part of the American tradition going back to the Boston Tea Party," said Perkins. "Those men today are seen as heroes. When we do achieve a cruelty-free society, it will be because of the actions of people like Gary."
"You cannot work within an unjust system," said Yourofsky. "You cannot change immoral laws with moral protests. As far as I'm concerned, you have to work outside of the unjust system and come back in it. You have to break the law to make new laws. Anyone who thinks it's silly or too much or extreme to go to jail doesn't understand what it takes to liberate an enslaved group."
Taking a Stand and Standing Alone
Animal Rights Activist Vows to Live and Die for His Cause
By Cathy Nelson
The following profile appeared in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, Michigan) on March 5, 2000.
This is the second half of a two-part profile on animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky. In part one, which ran on Feb. 27, Yourofsky talked about how his views were formed. Today, he discusses how they shape his life.
"I will gladly go to jail for this cause." Those are not empty words from Royal Oak animal activist Gary Yourofsky. On April 27, 1999, he proved it. That was the day Yourofsky was sentenced to six months in Elgin Middlesex Detention Center in London, Ontario, for his part in a 1997 break-in at Ebert's Mink Farm in Blenheim, Ontario. The break-in resulted in the release of 1,542 minks and the subsequent arrest of Yourofsky and four others.
It started out, according to Yourofsky, as a way to "liberate" the minks and "economically sabotage" the fur farm. It ended up as a time of betrayal and soul-searching for the man who's dedicated his life to the animal rights movement.
It was a quiet Easter Sunday evening. Yourofsky, along with his uncle, Alan Hoffman, and fellow activists Patricia Dodson, Hilma Ruby and Robyn Weiner set out with a plan to free as many minks as possible from the fur farm. The five were well aware just how dangerous and illegal their plan was. "Just because something is legal doesn't make it just," Yourofsky said. "If someone wants to liberate animals, there's nothing quicker than opening cages in fur farms or research labs."
Knowing the likelihood of at least one of them getting caught, the five made a pact. "If something happened that night, if certain people got away, then so be it." Each person had a specific duty to perform; Yourofsky's was to open the mink's cages—all 1,542 of them. It took him about one hour and 45 minutes, and even though his arms ached, he didn't stop until he was done. Physically exhausted, Yourofsky and his uncle then crawled on their hands and knees, "like we were in a war," 1.5 miles back into the town of Blenheim, where they called a cab. It wasn't long after the taxi picked them up and pulled on to Highway 401 that things began to go wrong.
That's where police pulled over the cab and took Yourofsky and Hoffman, who were covered in mink fur and feces, back to the station. Yourofsky refused to talk, but soon was being charged with burglary, mischief and possession of burglary tools. "Since we were never apprehended on the farm, someone had to place us there," he said. Yourofsky said he was shocked by who it was—his uncle. "He sold me out to save himself."
Yourofsky said Hoffman, along with Weiner, offered information on the incident in exchange for reduced sentences and, in doing so, broke the "code" of the animal liberation movement: never tell on another. "It hurt," Yourofsky said slowly. "I'm not upset they turned me in. What's breaking my heart is they sold out the animals. They sold out 1,542 mink that were given the chance of freedom that night." He said Ruby remained the only "solid activist who understood what it took."
While the owner said most of the minks freed that night died, Yourofsky said he was only shown proof that two died. He believes the rest survived. The owner of Eberts estimates nearly half a million dollars in damage was done; the farm has since closed.
For Yourofsky, the night of what he considers a betrayal was only the beginning of tough times. It was on the fifth day of a 10-day bail hearing, during which he was incarcerated, that Yourofsky received devastating news: his beloved dog Brandy had suffered a stroke and was dying. "I laid in my (prison) bed that night and said "I've got to get out and hold my dog one last time. I just have to," he recalled. Still, to have any chance of being released, Yourofsky would have had to apologize or offer information to authorities. "I couldn't bring myself to sell out the millions of animals that needed my strength, my commitment, my empathy." Brandy died while Yourofsky was still in jail.
Two years after the break-in took place, Yourofsky was sentenced to six months in a maximum security facility. Although he served only 77 days of his sentence, it was the most difficult time of his life. For the most part he got along well with other prisoners and the guards, and even his request for vegan food was accommodated. But, because Elgin is a maximum security facility, inmates were only allowed outside (courtyard) 20 minutes a day. For Yourofsky, the prison became a world unto itself.
"You're put inside four walls, and that's your world," he said. "Jail is such a desensitization. It's such a cold, stale, sterile environment. My mind actually shut down. I couldn't write or think clearly." What got Yourofsky through the ordeal was the amount of support he received. Letters from across the country, literally hundreds of them, came in and mail-call became the bright spot in his day.
"As I write this letter, tears fall because the wrong person is being punished—the man who took those animals lives should be there, not the man who freed them," wrote a woman from Woodhaven. An attorney from Novi wrote the parole board: "He is altruistic. He is a hero. He represents what is good about the human race."
"Gary follows in the footsteps of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez, all of whom have been imprisoned for their nonviolent beliefs," said a writer from Los Angeles.
One act that greatly touched Yourofsky was a proposed resolution in support of his actions put before the Animal Law Section Council of the State Bar of Michigan by attorney Donald Perkins. "I wanted to go on record as showing support within animal law for what Gary Yourofsky was attempting to do, which was stop the indefensible action of wearing fur coats," said Perkins, a council member. Perkins ended up tabling the motion because he felt resistance among the group for a resolution which, in effect, supported the breaking of the law. Personally, Perkins stood firm. "Gary was working for a higher purpose and that should take precedence over a technical violation of the law. There will be a time when the legal community will recognize obedience to laws is not the highest form of morality. Justice and compassion are the highest form of morality."
Yourofsky said it was people like Perkins who helped him remember why he was there. "I just told myself 'I'm an elephant in the circus, a lion in the zoo, a mink in a cage.' It would intensify my empathy. I would get mad and want to free the animals even more. I lived the life of a caged animal for 77 days. I experienced what they go through on a daily basis." The only difference, Yourofsky said, was he knew one day he'd get out.
Not surprisingly, the fur industry frowns upon acts like Yourofsky's and defends the industry's practices. "The measure of success for a farmer is how well they take care of the animals, not how poorly." said Teresa Platt, spokesperson for Fur Commission USA, an organization representing 450 mink and fox fur farms. "The animals need to be beautiful."
Yourofsky's response: "The animals are treated about as well as prisoners in Thailand. Keeping animals confined in a cage is not just inhumane, it's inhuman."
Platt said most mink are killed using carbon monoxide gas, but admitted many foxes are killed by anal electrocution while unconscious. Yourofsky said none of these methods are humane and that foxes are conscious during electrocution. "Not one animal in the history of humankind has ever been euthanized using lethal injection on a fur farm. The reason why brutal methods are used is because they are the cheapest methods possible."
Platt said farmers in the mink fur industry, with an estimated $80-120 million in annual revenue, are caring, rural people. "Do farmers think they take good care of the animals? They know they do," she said. "They love their animals. Animal rights groups don't jump into debates, but just attack. We don't solve things by terrorizing people."
"Does she think incarceration and denying freedom is equal to compassion and benevolence?" Yourofsky asked. "It's laughable for people who kill and exploit animals to say they care. It's preposterous. Terrorists are people like Timothy McVeigh. Animal rights activists are the true humanitarians. She is an animal terrorist."
Far from seeing himself as a terrorist, Yourofsky simply says he's someone trying to liberate an enslaved group. While in prison he wrote the following words: "What a pathetic life I must have led before I heard the cries of the enslaved and the tumult of the animal kingdom. Activism engulfs me." It also changed the life he had only a few years ago, before becoming involved in animal rights. He worked for a while as a substitute teacher, but admits he is now out of money and describes himself using the oxymoron "broke philanthropist."
Yourofsky's "new" life has also taken a personal toll. He said his mother still wears a fur coat, but calls his father, who lives in Ferndale, "the first one to understand."
He no longer gets together with family at holidays, due partly to his refusal to dine with anyone eating meat, and partly to the ridicule he's endured at past gatherings. "My family is no different than anyone else's. They don't understand animal rights. They probably think it's silly or misguided. I'm not close with my family. We don't talk much."
The problem he said is his insistence on talking about animal rights, met by just as strong a resistance on their part. "Frankly, I'm tired of discussing it with them. I've realized over the years, you have to throw away some people who don't get it."
To explain why he's willing to sacrifice so much, Yourofsky turns to a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: "There are some things so dear, so precious, so eternally true, that they are worth dying for."
"I think anybody who leads a life without a purpose, without trying to make the world a better place, is pathetic," Yourofsky said. "And that includes everyone from family members to someone on the street."
Although Yourofsky is willing to pay any price in the name of animal rights, he is also smart enough to know the fight is an uphill battle. "I don't see animal freedom coming anytime soon and it upsets me, it bothers me, it's frustrating, it's disheartening. I know most people have goodness inside of them. If I can just tap into that. I think that's the only thing that keeps me going."
Activist Devotes Life to Animal Rights (Toledo Blade)
Activist Would Give His Life for the Animals (Oakland Press)
By Jack Lessenberry
The following profile appeared in The Toledo Blade and The Oakland Press (Michigan) on June 24, 2001.
Gary Yourofsky is not, he says, an animal lover. Never mind that virtually every waking moment of his life is devoted to fighting for animal rights. Never mind that he has been arrested more than a dozen times and served more than two months hard time in a Canadian prison for liberating mink.
No, he's not an animal lover. "I don't even like most animals," the outspoken 30-year-old said.
"Anyway, this isn't about loving them. It's about injustice. My goal is to free them. They are a disenfranchised group. They have the right to their own existence. They aren't ours to exploit. They exist for their own reasons."
Mr. Yourofsky, a slight, virtually bald young man with piercing eyes, has dedicated his life to fighting for what he sees as the world's greatest civil rights movement: Animal Liberation. Though he is of a generation that is virtually a stranger to political commitment, he is, cheerfully and proudly "an activist 24/7. This is what I do."
He isn't kidding. A large tattoo of himself wearing a hood and displaying the symbols of ALF, the Animal Liberation Front, adorns one forearm.
He isn't getting rich at it. Mr. Yourofsky is "in debt up to my ears. I owe at least $30,000 on credit cards," and gets by on donations. He lives in a tiny apartment with his ancient dog, Rex, and probably could fit all his worldly goods into his car.
Sometimes, he admits, he gets down, especially when he thinks about how much brutality there is, and how little progress he has made. But he has absolutely no doubt that what he is doing is right, and that his life would even be worth losing if it would help stop what he thinks is the most evil "ism" in human history.
"Speciesism. That is, the unfounded, unethical, and unprincipled view that the human animal has every right to enslave, torture, and murder the non-human animal."
Does he think that the life of a gnat, say, is as valuable as that of a person? He waves impatiently; he isn't going there. "What we must do is start viewing every cow, pig, chicken, monkey, rabbit, mouse, and pigeon as our family members."
"And we must be willing to do whatever it takes to gain their freedom and stop their torture," he adds. For himself, that means only nonviolent means. But Mr. Yourofsky doesn't condemn others who feel differently. "Do not be afraid to condone arsons at places of animal torture," he has written to supporters.
Matter of fact, if an "animal abuser" were to get killed in the process of burning down a research lab, "I would unequivocally support that, too."
He wasn't always out there. He grew up in the very suburban, mostly Jewish Detroit suburb of Oak Park. He ate meat, played guitar, and dreamed of someday being a goalie in the National Hockey League.
Then, one day in his early 20s, his stepfather, who was a professional circus clown, took Gary behind the scenes at the circus. He went up to an elephant and "saw nothing but fear and hopelessness in her eyes" and saw that she was chained and could barely move. "I didn't even know then how they are routinely beaten, to break their spirit. I just knew something was wrong." When they brought out dancing bears wearing tutus, he left.
That changed his life. He plunged into research on how animals are treated and mistreated; became first a vegetarian, then a more radical vegan. Though he had degrees in journalism and broadcasting, he decided to put his skills to work full-time for the animals. Five years ago, he founded ADAPTT (Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow) which now has, he says, 2,200 or so members.
Yes, he did once liberate precisely 1,542 mink from individual cages on a now-bankrupt Ontario farm, crawling through dirt and mink feces to do so. Yes, he chained himself to his car and blocked the entrance to Detroit Animal Control Center, to protest their gassing of unwanted animals and, worse, selling them to a university for experiments.
"Any real scientist will tell you we learn nothing of value by experimenting on animals. Nothing!" he maintained. "And even if we did, we've no right to do it."
Though he may be arrested again, what he really prefers doing is lecturing about animal rights. An articulate, compelling speaker, he is in increasing demand on the classroom and lecture circuit. When he's not doing that, he is heavily into other forms of "informational propaganda." Last fall, he successfully wangled $10,000 from PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—and got a commercial attacking "the animal slavery enterprise known as the circus" on local TV 69 times.
What the future holds, he knows, is more frustration. Last winter, depressed over his economic situation and the enormous task, Mr. Yourofsky dropped out for two or three months, before gradually returning to the fray. Now, however, he is pumped and ready. If he gets tired, he remembers what he tells audiences: "Picture yourself in chains, swaying back and forth as someone whacked you over the head with an elephant hook. Then tell me you wouldn't want your supporters to do anything to obtain your freedom."
In the long run, he doesn't expect to see very much animal liberation in his lifetime. "I really think I will be assassinated," he said. One comes away with a feeling that if his own death helped further the cause, it might, for Gary Yourofsky, seem worth it.
Activist for the Animals
By Jack Lessenberry
The following profile appeared in The Metro Times (Michigan) in the July 11-17, 2001, edition.
Nobody, the old saying goes, should see either legislation or sausage being made. Gary Yourofsky thinks you need to know exactly where the meat for your sausage comes from, for the same reason you need to know about Auschwitz.
To him, they are exactly the same—or maybe your local slaughterhouse is a trifle worse; the Nazis usually didn't dismember their victims while many were still conscious. (No, Muffy, whatever they told you in kindergarten, they don't put Clarabell painlessly to sleep before grinding her up for hamburger. That would cost money.)
"Enslaving and killing animals for human satisfaction can never be justified," the bald, cheerfully intense 30-year-old argues. "They aren't ours to begin with. They belong to themselves only." Yet most of us "continue to believe that the human animal has every right to exploit, enslave and murder the nonhuman animal."
We murder billions of our fellow animals each year, and that's what he has dedicated his young life to fighting. Actually, he knows he can't do much to stop it, not in the foreseeable future, anyway. But he intends to raise our consciousness. That's why he has done jail time for "liberating" 1,542 mink from an Ontario fur farm, and been arrested more than a dozen times for other "random acts of kindness and compassion."
Frankly, when I went to interview Yourofsky I expected to meet a fanatic.
Afterward not only did I find him frighteningly sane and mostly convincing, I had the rather uneasy feeling that always comes when you realize that you are a hypocrite.
Like most liberals, I always have been very concerned with the public's right to know about legislation—and never thought about sausage, except when I had to read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and when it became clear that packing plant workers in sweatshops like Tyson Foods were severely endangered by their working conditions.
Naturally, I never thought twice about what the plant did to the chickens. Yes, I would happily outlaw any use of animals by the cosmetics industry, and felt bad when I thought about the mountains of frogs slaughtered by high school biology classes. But, hey. When it comes to dinner, while I know perfectly well that I couldn’t kill anything with a higher IQ than pasta, my attitude, as I reach for the veal Marsala, always has been “don’t blame me; it was dead before I got here.”
Yourofsky hold himself to a much higher standard, and is steadily forcing more and more people to think about what just might be the last and greatest civil rights crusade- the struggle against what he calls speciesism. The turning point in his life came less than a decade ago, when a family member took him behind the scenes at a circus.
Understand that he wasn’t some wannabe looking for a cause, but just a normal, fairly athletic suburban kid who spent his childhood playing hockey and being a goalie in the NHL. But then he looked into the eyes of an elephant, and saw “nothing but fear and hopelessness,” and noticed how she was chained so she could barely walk. He did researched and learned how circus animals are beaten, to break their spirit.
That filled him with outrage, which is possibly the most encouraging thing I know about his generation. Most of my students at Wayne State University, many of whom are about his age, aren’t, as far as I can tell, passionate about much of anything. They seem to aspire to own split-levels (houses) on Ward Cleaver’s block. For them, “activism” is a term from the ‘60s to memorize before the required U.S. history final.
Yourofsky, who holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism himself, doesn’t understand how he could be any other way. What a pathetic life I must have led before I heard the cries of the enslaved and the tumult of the animal kingdom. Activism engulfs me, he wrote while serving 77 days in a maximum-security detention center.
Yourofsky walks the walk, all right, and not for a few seconds of his mug on the national news. That doesn’t mean he has it altogether; he has been living essentially off handouts and has run up tens of thousands of dollars on his credit cards. That’s a prescription for burnout and bankruptcy, not a soung long-term revolutionary strategy.
But he’s in our face, asking the difficult questions. When he was sentenced for freeing those mink two years ago, he said this to the court: “If it is NOT a crime to torture, enslave and murder animals, then how can it be a crime to free tortured, enslaved and soon-to-be-murdered animals? Humankind must climb out of its abyss of callousness, its abyss of apathy and its abyss of greed. Enslaving and killing animals for human satisfaction can never be justified. And the fur industry must understand that the millions of manual neck-breakings, anal and genital electrocutions, mass gassings, drownings, and toxic chemical injections can never be justified.”
I can’t imagine how anyone could disagree with that. There is room for debate and disagreement on some animal rights questions. When it is clearly a case of our species against theirs, I’d probably part company with Yourofsky. Just as a hungry carnivore might eat me in a pinch. I’d happily gas malaria-carrying mosquitos to save my butt.
But I can’t think of a more honorable cause than justice for all living things. Check out the animal rights organization Yourofsky founded at www.adaptt.org.
Duty and the Beasts
By Jack Lessenberry
The following profile appeared in Hour Magazine (Michigan) in the May 2002 edition.
Gary Yourofsky believes we are all living in a new Auschwitz. Make that a world a million times worse than the Nazi death camp. The way he sees it, the vast majority of us are participants in this Holocaust.
"Aren't humans amazing animals? They kill all kinds of wildlife by the millions, and then turn around and terrorize domestic animals by the billions," he says, tenor rising and falling, rippling between razor-sharp sarcasm and the confident tones of a man utterly convinced he possesses the absolute truth.
For him, the truth is that animals have the same rights we do. Yourofsky, 31, really believes that when we eat meat, drink milk and permit circuses, we are actively committing evil. "I don't eat anything that had a face, a mother or a bowel movement," he tells wide-eyed students in any class he lectures.
When one timid Wayne State student asks hesitantly whether people weren't meant to eat meat, the answer explodes off his lips. "Okay—pick up the first dead squirrel you find in the road, and eat it! Raw. Eat the face, the eyes, the hair, the toenails and the bacteria-laden organs. That's what real carnivores do."
He believes that eating meat is murder, and we're killing ourselves by eating it. Yourofsky argues that not only do we have no right to do experiments on animals but, against the weight of most scientific opinion, that no medical research done on animals ever can have validity for humans.
Hunters are sick people filled with hate and violence, "cowards who never fight those who fight back." Rodeos are obscene. Zoos are bad—pet shops, slave markets. Even a fish tank full of seemingly content neon tetras is a moral outrage, an "aquaprison." Never mind that such are likely to live longer lives and be far better fed than they would in some Amazon stream. In Yourofsky's view, they aren't ours to mess with. "This isn't about loving animals. It's about fighting injustice," he said.
Yourofsky rarely sugarcoats it. He doesn't show his videotape of a cow having her ovaries ripped out—without anesthesia—to elementary school kids. Otherwise, he's proudly, defiantly, deliberately, in your face.
A half-blind man wouldn't have any trouble picking him out of a crowd. His most arresting feature is a completely shaven, milk-white scalp above a scraggly beard and intensely burning brown eyes. Add to that a weightlifter's arms, usually poking out from a T-shirt. Immediately, your gaze is drawn to his right forearm, adorned with a large tattoo of a hooded figure—Yourofsky himself—cradling a bunny. The man's feet are defiantly planted above the letters ALF. Animal Liberation Front.
"Abolition! Liberation! Freedom!" he says with a smile, displaying his tattoo as he eats an Ethiopian vegan meal with his hands at The Blue Nile in Greektown. Over the tattooed man and beast floats the Latin motto, Praesto et Persto—I stand in front and I stand firm.
"I got that right after I got out of prison for liberating mink from a fur farm in Ontario," he says proudly. He doesn't do "random acts of kindness and compassion" like that anymore. These days Yourofsky says he's not into direct action. Still, I expect that someday, someone will assassinate me."
Yourofsky says he has no desire to be a martyr. In his view, if he's murdered for the cause, it will be a sign that he's winning the greatest war in the history of evolution. And there are some who would follow him anywhere.
The first time I saw him, I said, "Uh-oh. Is he a skinhead, or what?" says Lana Mini, a 34-year-old writer who has been equally devoted to animal rights for longer than Yourofsky. That was six years ago, when she was doing a charity dog wash to raise money for her group, HARE (Humanitarians for Animal Rights Education).
Yourofsky came in with Rex, a shepherd mix he'd rescued (after he was hit by a car). He was just in the process of forming his own group, ADAPTT (Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow). Soon, HARE was defunct, and most of its members had joined ADAPTT. He and Mini found they had nearly identical views, and became friends. Mini went to visit him in his Canadian prison and waged a campaign to get him out of solitary in which he was placed when he went on a hunger strike. Yourofsky was in protective custody from the beginning because the hunters among the cons had threatened him. Today, she's executive director of the Michigan's ADAPTT chapter.
"He's intense," Mini says. "But he's also so convincing. He can talk to anybody. A few years ago, animal rights started as a mainly middle-to-upper class movement. Gary can reach minorities."
While in prison, he wrote: "What a pathetic life I must have led before I heard the cries of the enslaved and the tumult of the animal kingdom. Activism engulfs me. Activism is near. Activism is now."
Nobody who knew him back at Berkley High School would have imagined this. Gary Yourofsky was born August 19, 1970. His earliest love wasn't hamsters, but hockey; he was a prize-winning goalie in grade school.
Marci Culley, his first girlfriend, remembers a very "shy-boy" who had friends but wasn't part of any clique. "He had this mane of hair you would not believe," she says. Now finishing a doctorate in community psychology, Culley was shocked when she found out he's now bald. "I think his hairline was receding, and ashamed he was no longer a good Leo, he made the decision to shave his head and stay in control." Culley is also an animal rights supporter. She thinks the soft-spoken boy she knew has found his identity in a cause larger than he is.
It seems clear that even before he heard the cries of the animals, Yourofsky wanted to be heard. He took broadcasting courses at Specs Howard, then studied journalism at Oakland University. He was a normal hamburger-munching kid.
The defining moment came while he was still in college. His stepfather, who was a professional circus clown, took him behind the scenes at the circus. He went up to an elephant and "saw nothing but fear and hopelessness in her eyes. I didn't even know then how they are routinely beaten to break their spirit."
That night, he plunged into research on how animals are mistreated. He chained himself by the neck to the axle of his car to block the entrance to circuses. He got arrested, by his count, "13 times for random acts of kindness and compassion." Yourofsky gave up eating meat. The next year, in 1996, he became a vegan, abstaining from any animal products. Then he planned his greatest "action," the liberation of all those mink from a farm in Blenheim, Ontario. Crawling on hands and knees through mink excrement, Yourofsky and four other activists freed 1,542 of the animals. They were stopped by the police while making their getaway. Two years later, he was charged with burglary-related offenses and convicted after two of his fellow mink liberators turned him in.
The trial gave him a forum for his signature speech. "One day every enslaved animal will obtain their freedom and the animal rights movement will succeed," he said. Unmoved, the judge sentenced him to six months' hard time, though after 77 days Yourofsky was released and expelled from the country.
Owners of the mink farm, which has gone out of business, said most or all of the animals, unprepared for life in the wild, would have speedily suffered dreadful deaths. Yourofsky says they're lying.
"I'm following in the footsteps of other routine radical lawbreakers like Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Jesus," he tells a Wayne State class. "I'm here to uplift you morally. And to show you things you don't want to see. Then he puts in the first of a horrific series of videotapes that show where your meat and fur come from. Foxes are electrocuted anally; chinchillas get it in the genitals. Live cows are gutted. A conscious pig is tortured with a blowtorch in the name of burn research.
Slowly, almost unnoticed by the mainstream media, animal rights has been catching on across the country. One student who heard him started a satellite chapter in Tampa. Another started in Omaha. Then Ypsilanti, then Toledo. Students beg teachers to invite him. John Simicek, a special lecturer at Oakland University, has Yourofsky talk to his rhetoric classes. "Sure, there are some who think Gary is too harsh. But I think when it comes to the truth, you have to be up front," he says.
Yourofsky was a whirling dervish of animal rights activity, here lecturing, there disrupting, a deer hunt to tell one of the nimrods he'd be happy to take a bullet for Bambi. Though he has feuded with his fellow radicals at PETA, he got them to ante up thousands for anti-circus TV spots. Yet personally, he was falling apart. For one thing, he has no money. Being an animal rights revolutionary doesn't pay the bills. By last summer, he was more than $30,000 in debt. Then an attorney in California read about him, then got enamored. She invited him to come share her home. So Yourofsky moved in. And everything was perfect, except...
"There was no spark. Well, I think there was on her part, not mine," he says. By March he was still crashing at her place, but neither of them was happy about it. Reality hit when he had to wire his dad in Ferndale to send him $20 so he could buy gas. Depressed, he decided he'd had enough. Early in March, he sent a long email to all his supporters, announcing he was giving up and dropping out. Immediately, he got a flood of responses from dismayed supporters. He got a phone call, too, from PETA, the group most Americans associate with radical animal rights. They'd had their differences, but Ingrid Newkirk, PETA's head, wanted him out there. They offered him a salary to do just what he'd been doing, for six months. Yourofsky took it. For now, he plans to keep a new part-time teaching job in California—but to continue traveling and fighting for the animals.
"Picture yourself in a tiny cage waiting to be infected, surgically mutilated, blinded, burnt and killed. Picture yourself in chains, swaying back and forth as someone whacked you over the head with an elephant hook. Then tell me you wouldn't want your freedom now! Then tell me you wouldn't want your supporters to do anything to obtain your freedom!"
Yourofsky pauses, weary from a day of hunting for a landlord who wouldn't mind a tenant with supremely bad credit. "This is the way I live."
From Liberator to Educator
Man Who Freed Mink Now Lectures Nationwide on Animal Rights
By Lana Mini
The following profile appeared in The Observer and Eccentric (Michigan) on October 10, 2002.
Ever wonder what happened to the Royal Oak man jailed in 1997 for freeing 1,542 mink from a Canadian fur farm? Today he's one of the nation's most convincing and knowledgeable lecturers in the animal rights movement and works for the country's largest animal protection group, PETA.
Universities and high schools are clamoring for Gary Yourofsky. He's already spoken to students at Birmingham Seaholm High, U of M, UC Berkeley, Oakland University and Wayne State University. This week he speaks at Harvard, Purdue and soon Cornell. OU professor John Simicek invited him to lecture for his English and Rhetoric classes. "Yourofsky's passion about the necessity to unchain animals from the shackles of vile exploitation and oppression translates into a forcefully captivating presentation that's assertive, honest, documented and accurate," he said.
CAPTION: Gary Yourofsky speaks to students at Oakland University about animal rights.
Quick background: Yourofsky, who grew up in Oak Park, is a journalism graduate from Rochester's Oakland University. He's been arrested 13 times and says peaceful civil disobedience was also used by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Yourofsky, after all, is a civil rights activist for animals. Over the years we've worked together on a few projects and became friends. We took a rescued pig to his new home in Minnesota. We drove to the city of Hegins, Penn., to rescue birds wounded in an annual event where they were released one-by-one from cages and shot for so-called "sport."
Yourofsky and his girlfreind are vegans who neither eat nor wear animal products. He has locked himself at circus entrance gates and chained himself in front of fur stores to fight against animal exploitation. He served 77 days hard prison time for freeing mink, went on a hunger strike and was deported. At his trial, Yourofsky said, "If it is not a crime to torture, enslave and murder animals, then how can it be a crime to free tortured, enslaved and soon-to- be murdered animals?"
Today, though, no more jail. He's moved from liberator to educator. His speech begins with a thought-provoking paraphrase from author C. David Coats: "Aren't humans amazing animals? They kill all kinds of wildlife by the million—deer, birds, coyotes, cats, groundhogs and beavers. Then they terrorize and kill these animals to protect domestic animals and the feed of these domestic animals. Then, humans terrorize and kill domestic animals by the billion—cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys—and eat them. This in turn kills humans by the million because eating animal flesh causes fatal and degenerative health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease and many cancers. So then humans torture, terrorize and kill millions of other animals to search for treatments for these illnesses—which by the way will never work because animal research is unscientific. Elsewhere millions of humans are dying of hunger and malnutrition because the food they could eat—like corn and wheat—is being ised to feed the animals that most people eat."
I attended his lecture last month at Oakland U. which I've heard before. The students' reaction was the same as others. First they laugh. Then they watch videos of animals dismembered alive for food and the laughter stops. Then they debate to justify eating meat. At the end, each talk. Some go vegan. Others leave at least understanding the animal rights movement.
"Before I met Gary I was a vegetarian for health reasons. I had never looked into animal rights," Oakland graduate Meghan Bogden said. Now she's vegan and also an animal rights activist.
Years ago, Yourofsky went backstage with a family member who worked for the circus. He saw an 8,000-pound elephant swaying frantically, chained to the cement ground. At age 23 he had an epiphany. "From then on, I wanted to know what else was going on with animals. Common sense and decency took over from there. I became vegetarian and then vegan. I eat nothing that had a face, a mother or a bowel movement. What a pathetic life I must have led before I heard the cries of the enslaved and the tumult of the animal kingdom."
He also told students that he asked himself: "Who taught me that animals were put on this earth for food? Who taught me to disrespect animals and view them as mere commodities? Who stole my compassion, my empathy and my conscience? Who lied to me? Who instilled this vicious mind-set of human-to-animal exploitation as standard operating procedure?"
He quotes Dr. William Roberts, editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Cardiology: "When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us because their flesh—which contains cholesterol and saturated fat—was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores."
Students ask if jail time impacted him. "I briefly experienced vicariously what a caged animal goes through. My empathy for every mistreated animal intensified." They also ask why he risked his own freedom to give the minks a chance for survival. He quotes from his courtroom speech: "Enslaving and killing animals for human satisfaction can never be justified. And the fur industry must understand that the millions of manual neck-breakings, anal and genital electrocutions, mass gassings, drownings and toxic chemical injections can never be justified."
He lectures to educate, partially because he doesn't believe the Animal Welfare Act of the 1960s protects animals. "The AWA allows people to enslave and murder all animals, even endangered ones if you apply for the proper permit. Enslave like this. Don't enslave like that. Kill ‘em this way. Don't kill ‘em that way."
Yourofsky is also a fighter for human rights. Speciesism, or valuing one species over another, is as callous as sexism or racism, he says. "Someday people will understand that speciesism is the root of all hatred, violence and discrimination. If we, as humans, want to survive, we must dole out rights, compassion, equality and simple decency to our planetary companions."
Gandhi proclaimed, "All throughout history, the way of truth and love has always won."
Yourofsky proclaims: "This planet should be a replica of the most beautiful place imaginable. A place where humans views animals in awe. And animals view humans with a curious aloofness."
Extreme Measures: Animal Activist Promotes the Freeing of Animals
By Dana Parker-McClain
The following article appeared in The Collegian (Fresno State's school paper) on February 12, 2003.
"The first form of hatred that human beings are taught is to eat the animal, mistreat the animal, hate the animal, view the animal as an inanimate object and a mere commodity," said Gary Yourofsky, animal rights activist and national lecturer.
As a participant in the upcoming "Revolutionary Activism: A Dialogue Between Activists and Academics" event, Yourofsky will discuss spirituality in environmentalism and revolutionary environmental activism. Yourofsky, who is paid by PETA, lectures in schools, colleges and universities across the nation. He fervently advocates the benefits of a vegan lifestyle, traveling to as many schools as time will allow.
A typical week for Yourofsky consists of five days on the road. He plans to lecture 70 times this semester. But the travel doesn't bother him. "I am the luckiest person in this movement by far," he said. "I am blessed that PETA is behind my work and fortunate enough to be able to deliver the message of animal freedom with passion and eloquence."
PETA is a nonprofit organization that believes animals are not disposable products for humans to eat, to experiment on, or to use for clothing or entertainment. Most of their efforts go to educating the public about animal rights and opening eyes to animal abuse that so often goes unnoticed in the world.
Yourofsky's eyes were opened in Detroit, at the age of 23, when he was invited backstage at The Shrine Circus. "I'll never forget standing face-to-face with an 8,000-pound chained elephant," he said. Her front left leg and back right leg were chained to the cement floor of the warehouse. She was swaying neurotically back and forth. I later found out that circus elephants' neurotic behavior is caused from being completely immobilized backstage when they are not on stage performing."
Yourofsky said he felt something was inherently wrong with the picture in front of him and began to dedicate time to learning about animal oppression. By 1996, Yourofsky founded ADAPTT, a grassroots organization, after attending The March for Animals in Washington, DC.
Arrested 13 times, Yourofsky received much notoriety for his role in the raid of a Canadian fur farm in 1997. That night Yourofsky, his uncle Alan Hoffman and three other activists freed 1,542 minks from Ebert's Mink Farm in Blenheim, Ontario. Yourofsky and Hoffman, covered in fur and mink feces, were later apprehended by police while riding in a cab.
Yourofsky found himself charged with burglary, although he refused to talk. He learned that his uncle and another activist, Robyn Weiner, had offered the police information in hopes of lighter jail sentences. The incident landed Yourofsky in prison, where he served 77 days of a six-month sentence in maximum security. Yourofsky's jail time changed his life, but said he doesn't hold personal grudges against his former cohorts.
"They let the animals down, not me. They sold out the enslaved mink for their own happiness. They are selfish, weak humans to me. I simply don't think about them at all any more," he said.
A statement on the Fur Commission USA Web site says, "Animal rights activists have launched a campaign to deny us the freedom to choose fur. They oppose the consumption of meat, reject the use of animals in medical research, view pet ownership as slavery. And their goal is to impose that value system on the rest of us."
But Yourofsky thinks people may not understand actions taken by animal rights groups due to selfishness. "People have a tough time understanding a group of people who act unselfishly, on behalf of animals who unfortunately are treated like property," he said.
"Just because certain tactics are illegal, does not make them the wrong pathway for achieving change," he said. "Just because certain tactics are legal, does not make them the best avenue for facilitating change. The quickest way to make an animal free is to open the cages and let 'em go, not to write your senator or hold a protest," he added.
Yourofsky will continue to speak in support of animal rights until people understand that "nonviolence through animal liberation is the only ethical and acceptable way to live on this planet."
Animal Rights Activist Changes Tactics But Still Stands Firm (Oakland Press)
Lonely Life of an Animal Rights Activist in the Midwest (Toledo Blade)
By Jack Lessenberry
The following excerpts appeared in The Oakland Press and The Toledo Blade on June 15, 2003.
Oak Park native Gary Yourofsky likes to call himself the "most radical animal rights activist in the Midwest." It is hard to disagree. He regards slaughterhouses and factory farms as the equivalent of Nazi death camps. He thinks zoos and aquariums are evil penitentiaries for innocent creatures who have done no wrong. Pet shops are slave markets. Restaurants serving meat are an atrocity. He passionately believes animal research is not only immoral, but also useless when it comes to human beings.
And he is convinced that meat-eaters are slowly poisoning themselves. "Aren't humans amazing animals? They kill all kinds of wildlife by the millions and then turn around and terrorize domestic animals by the billions," this muscular 32-year-old intones to college, high school and elementary classrooms all over the nation, voice rising with messianic zeal.
Nobody who meets him ever forgets him. Completely bald, he has pale white skin, round glasses, piercing brown eyes and a giant tattoo of himself wearing a mask and holding a rabbit, covering most of his right forearm. "Praesto et Persto," it says in Latin. It means, I stand in front and I stand firm, he explains.
That he does. For years, he's grabbed headlines by chaining himself to cars blocking entrances to circuses, leading demonstrations against furriers and staging other "outrageous acts of compassion." He did hard time in Canada a few years ago after "liberating" 1,542 minks from an Ontario fur farm. For years, he cheerfully predicted his own assassination.
But things have changed. Yourofsky has given up overt action and is devoting himself to the lecture circuit, speaking mainly in college classrooms across the country. That doesn't mean he has mellowed: "I am always supportive of people who do the right thing by taking unjust laws into their own hands. The quickest way to free an animal is not to write your senator—it's to open up a cage."
Trouble is, he no longer thinks such stunts do much good. "I think protest has lost its luster. Look at the war," he said. "Millions of people protested going to war, and the government said: 'So what. We don't care.'"
What he has decided to do instead is spend his life promoting veganism. "The average person eats 3,000 land animals in their lifetime. Every time I make a convert, I save that many animals," he said. He does seem to be developing a following. This year, he's given around 76 talks in 17 states.
That has led, he says, to a brisk demand for the basic version of his speech, "From Liberator to Educator," which he sells on CD, DVD and VHS for $10. (Contact him at GaryTofu@earthlink.net.) The video isn't for the faint of stomach; it is interspersed with scenes of animal atrocities in slaughterhouses, circuses and research facilities.
But he is, nearly everyone agrees, a powerful speaker. If his style is a bit closer to Joseph Goebbels' than to Winston Churchill, still, he generates nearly as much fan mail from professors as students. "Your presentation was an intense emotional experience both for my students and for me personally," Jennifer Keys, a sociology professor at Kenyon College, wrote after he appeared there this winter. "Academically, I think there was tremendous value in the students seeing the way a social activist frames an issue with powerful imagery and rhetoric. This was a perfect illustration of how a 'moral entrepreneur' can raise the consciousness of individuals and sweep them up," she added.
His own consciousness was raised a bit this winter, he admitted, when he spoke in St. Marys, Ohio, and managed to have a civilized conversation with a teenage pig farmer. It did not begin well—Gary started by screaming at the top of his lungs, "Why do you hate animals?" but after a while, they shook hands. "I remember thinking, 'Here I am with Greg the pig farmer, and I don't want anything bad to happen to this guy.'"
What he does intend to do is go on hitting the road, trying to make more converts to a vegetarian diet. It is a lonely life. For a brief time, he was on the staff of PETA but he found that too confining. So now he is just on retainer.
His only home is a couch in his retired father's suburban Detroit home. His only other immediate family is a 15-year-old shepherd mix named Rex, who is too elderly to travel much these days. He's had girlfriends but nothing permanent.
"I'm still looking for my vegan princess," he says, devouring cantaloupe, getting ready to take off for a lecture series in Florida. "But I can't seem to find her."
A wonderful speaker, a humane and sensitive man; or a radical activist who condones violence—next month marks the arrival of Gary Yourofsky, who will try to explain that
to eat meat is to be part of a genocide.
By Naomi Darom
The following article appeared in The Haaretz (the third largest newspaper in Israel) on August 3, 2012. Here's the Hebrew version of the piece: http://haaretz.co.il/magazine/1.1792123.
Going to the circus is what led Gary Yourofsky toward his calling—fighting for animal rights. That was twenty years ago: Yourofsky's stepfather, who worked as a clown, was volunteering in the Shrine Circus that was collecting donations for children injured in fires. When the circus came to his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, he invited Yourofsky to a backstage tour. Yourofsky, then a 23 year old student, jumped at the chance. "Like most people, I too was blind, and it seemed exciting to me", he explains via Skype. "Then I went backstage. There I saw elephants scared and chained to a post, monkeys screaming in agony, and tigers pacing nervously from side to side in the cage. The cruelty of it stunned me. Suddenly it seemed more like a slave show".
Yourofsky started wondering about the animals whom he ate and whose skin he wore. Instead of staying to see the end of the show in Shrine Circus, he went home, located a slaughter house in his hometown and started frequenting it every day for six weeks. Security there was loose, and he was free to walk around as he pleased. "On the Slaughter Floor there was a glassless window. They were trying to air out the stench of death. I saw them hang pigs upside down, squealing—cutting them until there was nothing left". Those days he was still eating meat: but one day, while he was filming the trucks that were delivering the animals for slaughter, his glance fell on a pig glaring at him. "It was as if he were saying, why are you doing this to us? I did not have an answer. I began wondering—is the slaughter house the problem, or the pig who's being slaughtered there? I could not understand how when animals are killed, people look the other way, but if Jews were killed, everyone would be horrified. It would be the same for dogs or cats. But when it is cows, pigs or turkeys, people think it's fine. It's not fine".
It is no accident that Yourofsky, one of the most known activists for animal rights in the United States, is mentioning the Jews as an example. This example is not especially crafted for an interview to an Israeli newspaper. Yourofsky, a Jew himself, calls the slaughter house an "extermination camp" and the trucks are "concentration camp trucks". He often quotes Isaac Bashevis Singer—a holocaust survivor and a vegetarian, wrote in "The Letter Writer", when the main character Herman Gombiner, whose family was killed by the Nazis, while thinking about a mouse he befriended and whose death he thinks he caused, eulogizes in sadness his friend: "They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an Eternal Treblinka".
Charles Patterson, a historian who studies the holocaust, wrote in 2002 a book titled "Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust" in which he claims that inspiration for genocide, slavery and mass torture comes from the treatment of animals. There is more here than a mere provocation, Yourofsky argues; most people are guilty of Speciesism—discrimination not based on race, but on species: indifference to the fate of animals, simply because they are not human.
From Yourofsky's perspective, he is a freedom-fighter and the year is always 1939. Perhaps the Jewish obsession for WW2 is what makes him so successful in the smallest country in the Middle East. If no one has sent you the link to "the best lecture you will ever hear"—a lecture given in 2010 in Georgia Tech, where Yourofsky offers his view on the killing of animals, and attempts to convince the audience to become vegan—it is only a matter of time before you will find it on your Facebook feed.
Over 336,000 people have already seen it in Israel—more than in any other country, except for the United States. Only in Israel, celebrities of all kinds stand in line to praise Yourofsky, and his influence on their lives. "It is important that everyone see this lecture, its effect is amazing!" says Miki Haimovich on the site hosting the lecture and uses her quote to promote the agenda against the consumption of meat. "This lecture rattled the foundations of my soul...this guy is so intelligent, charismatic and inspiring. I was devastated how blind I had been." says Achinoam Nini.
Yourofsky is arriving in Israel on September 5th and will stay until September 14th. Every day he is expected to give two lectures along with a few large events. He will appear in high schools, universities and public venues. This is his first time lecturing outside of the United States. "You know, I don't really understand why it works so well in Israel", he says, "but I find that people that were oppressed or have a historic recollection of this—Jews, Blacks, Women—respond better to the lecture, they understand what it means to be tortured cruelly, to be treated like you are nothing".
The apple and the rabbit challenge
Yourofsky is a charismatic speaker. An hour of watching the bald man wearing a white shirt and shorts, talking in a quick pace sipping a bottle of water, passes quickly and is not boring even for a second. He is reminiscent in the strength of his conviction of religious preachers, the way that he pulls on the heart strings evoking empathy, shock and shame one after another. He opens with the commandment "thou shalt not kill", goes on to comparisons to slavery and eventually gets to the holocaust of course. The entire speech is framed by the theme of cruelty towards animals, and universal moral dilemmas.
He however does not forget who the audience is. "I understand your lifestyle", he emphasizes, "it was once mine. Twenty years ago I even owned a fur coat". He stresses that he understands what he refers to as an "addiction to meat, cheese, eggs and milk", and asks from his audience only one focused change; you don't have to make a big change; "you can keep your friends, your political views, your patriotism, you can still watch your favorite television shows". He shows horrifying videos taken at slaughter houses and cattle ranches, and recommends soy burgers and soy dogs. "If you think people are carnivores, take a two year old baby and put an apple and a rabbit in his crib", says Yourofsky, "if the baby plays with the apple and eats the rabbit—I will come back here and eat a steak sandwich".
I finished watching the lecture with a sense of shock and felt sick, even though a bit later I heated up some meatloaf. But the sounds and sights had stuck with me for much longer, especially the question, towards the end of the lecture—"what is your excuse now?"
Very few of the viewers are aware that the kind man with the glasses and shorts, is a radical activist that was arrested 13 times and imprisoned for 77 days at a maximum security prison, after breaking into a fur farm and freeing 1,500 minks, was tagged "an international terrorist", and banned from entering Canada and the United Kingdom. Most of his fans, certainly the Israelis, would not associate him with the following sentences, given in an interview given to the Abolitionist in 2006, "Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever. While every man entrenched in fur should suffer an anal raping so horrific that they become disemboweled".
Needless to say, that these sentences and the entire quote are repeatedly quoted in every story about Yourofsky: and that the North American Fur Association made sure it would appear in every search that is related to Yourofsky in Google. This despite that fact, as Yourofsky insists on mentioning, that it is only one quote from over 40 articles he has written.
In our conversation Yourofsky seems slimmer than in the Georgia Tech lecture. He sits on the couch in his apartment, while his wife Erika walks around the room. He is nice and kind, though the pain and passion are apparent every time he speaks of animal suffering. He does not deny the violent death he wishes upon all that are involved in the fur, meat, milk or egg industry—or upon those who eat or wear animals.
"I don't believe that anyone really objects to violence in every situation", he explains. "No one objected when the allies entered the concentration camps and killed Nazis. You can't go to the Nazis with signs, you have to go at them with guns. If someone is kept in a concentration camp, killed or captured—it's self defense. You can kill. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing. I am not happy about needing violence to achieve this, but there is a myth that love prevails over hate. It is not true".
"The chickens didn't commit a crime. They are killed because they are a commodity. Sometimes I think that the only way to destroy Speciesism is to make sure that bad things happen to bad people. Anyone who pays for fur, needs to be anally electrocuted with a pole—just like the way they kill foxes. But please remember that I never committed an act of violence".
Why use such violent rhetoric? It could distance people from your cause.
"Until now the rhetoric didn't affect the activism—the lecture has already been translated into 27 languages. People appreciate the fact that I am not a liar and not a politician. The truth is. Violence is an appropriate tactic, but not always. I'm not asking people to blow up McDonald's".
If it is so effective, why do you give lectures instead of using violence?
"So far I find education is more effective. But maybe one day I will, I don't know. I'm frustrated. There are people who only want to fight me. Right now I am affecting more people through lectures".
"I hope you will not focus too much on this", he later writes me in an e-mail a few days later. "The issue is the violence caused by the meat eaters, fur wearers, scientists vivisecting animals, hunters, etc. Don't judge people like me who are trying to stop a holocaust, but those who started it and take part in it (meat eaters) and actively defend a violent genocide".
My mother is a holocaust survivor. The comparison you make to the holocaust is very troubling to me, especially when in Israel it is used far too lightly.
"The comparison is valid. In America today, thirty million innocent animals are killed each and every day. That's five times the number of Jews who died in the holocaust. It is the longest-running genocide in human history. We brand the animals. We deprive them of life, liberty, freedom, put them in the slaughterhouses and on extermination trucks. I am not saying animals are more important than your mother, but you can't just ignore the murder. To say laws can't be broken is silly. If the laws are unjust and someone becomes a victim, we need to break those laws. Gandhi was arrested more than a dozen times. Nelson Mandela wasn't very loved in the days he was an activist (because he supported violence)".
The Great Mink Show
As mentioned, Yourofsky did not always side with breaking the law only in theory: in 1996 he formed Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow (ADAPTT). He started protesting businesses that took advantage of animals and in 1999 chained his neck to his car, and blocked the entrance to the Detroit Center for Animal Control, where animals were killed in gas chambers, or sold for experiments. In the late 1990s, when he was active against deer hunting, he received so many death threats that he had to be escorted by 17 police officers to make a speech, "I don't know who threatened me, probably hunters who didn't want to give up their game".
After he freed the minks from the mink farm in Ontario he crawled, with other activists, through mud and piles of feces, after they opened the cages. "I decided I would free these animals no matter what. It's pretty easy—there are a few thousand animals in grave danger, with very little security. There are many concentration camps like that. They are never in town as no one wants concentration camps in their backyard. Behind the farm there was around 600 acres of forest, there is where the minks escaped to".
"A friend warned me the minks would attack me", he adds, "but I said they would know why I was there. All the minks wanted to do that night was to escape. I remember them screaming with joy. One of them even landed on my chest as I opened a cage, I looked at her, and she tilted her head as if to say 'I thought you were the other guy". The screams of joy started to alert the neighbors, Yourofsky was arrested and put in jail. "If I were to break the minks' necks, I would be a hero, but since I stopped the torture, they called me an international terrorist".
The break-in made Yourofsky an overnight celebrity. "Before I broke into the farm, no one cared. Suddenly the media, college professors—they all wanted to talk". That is when the lectures were born: Yourofsky began traveling across colleges in the United States. He recorded advertisements against animal abuse and put up billboards. The first high school he was invited to, he stayed four and half hours over schedule answering Q&A.
Yourofsky however refused, and still refuses to charge money for lectures, and around 2001 the money ran out. In an interview at that time he admitted to owing thirty thousand dollars in credit card debt. He announced his retirement from activist work, and the rumor of his retirement reached PETA, known for its activity against the fur and leather industry. The organization funded Yourofsky's television ads against circuses, and the heads of PETA realized the value of Yourofsky's oratory skills. They paid him a salary until 2005 to keep touring and giving lectures. But the relationship fizzled: "PETA wanted to make money, and I refuse to charge money to give a lecture. I wouldn't even take people's emails. They aren't really into education, there is no money in it".
The current lecture is the fruit of years of labor, traveling across the United States with his wife Erika, also a vegan, who accompanies him almost everywhere. "I enter a class and start giving the lecture, and people look like this at first". He demonstrates sitting in a hostile position with his arms crossed. "Five minutes later they lean forward. After the slaughter house movie, I see the change beginning. They come up to me after the lecture and say: 'tell me what to do".
But the audience is not always friendly. "The worst audience was at Ohio State University, in agriculture classes. Don't ask me why, but they invited me five straight years to give lectures to students who are going to work in a slaughter house. It's probably their way to show that they were open to criticism. But it was like The Jerry Springer Show—they were yelling, and I was yelling. I got tired of it. I don't want to fight, I want to educate".
In 2010 Yourofsky uploaded his lecture to YouTube. A while later, he remembers, "Things started to go crazy. People began to listen. I started getting emails saying, 'I want to make a local version of your speech, can I translate it?' Today it has reached over 3 million views".
Since then, somehow, destiny—and the internet—have attracted a sponsor. "Somehow, I always get a weird mail around December, offering help. From 2008 to 2010, my primary sponsor was a meat eater. At first, I thought he was a vegan, but when I met him in San Francisco, I was shocked to discover that he wasn't. I asked him why he wanted to help me. He said, 'Because you have the best speech I have heard in my life. I think people should hear you'. I always have one big donor, and a few people send me some money". Yourofsky needs just $25,000-35,000 a year to live: he lives in a small apartment and drives a Toyota. "Not having money doesn't bother me. I think that my speech works so well because I am not trying to sell anything".
With skills like that you could have been rich
"I'm very rich—I have the best wife in the world, there are a few squirrels out here on my porch who take nuts from me, I have a good friend who is a raccoon and another who is an opossum. Of course the thought of money has crossed my mind, if only I had more, what I could do with it. But I can't change the fact that I don't know how to make money. I'm brilliant in activism, but an idiot when it comes to making money".
The person Yourofsky has most difficulty convincing is actually his best friend. "For some reason, friends and family are the most difficult to talk to when you are an activist. I don't know why. It's odd because I am great with strangers: they cry, hug me and say I have changed their lives. But my best friend, Darin, whom I have known since we were eight, told me only three days ago he is finally going to become vegan. We'll see if it happens. Darin says all the right things, but does nothing. He uses all the same excuses that meat eaters use, but meat eaters are not rational".
Yourofsky is lucky enough to be lecturing in an age when meat eaters are beginning to listen. "Probably this lecture would not have been as welcomed five years ago", says Hilla Keren, the spokesperson for Anonymous for Animal Rights. "A combination of a few things is responsible for the change: the awareness of animal abuse in the meat industry, the health advantages of vegetarianism and veganism, and the environmental damage caused by the meat industry. These are all factors in the decline of meat consumption in the United States". In Israel there hasn't been a thorough survey in over a decade, but Keren offers the results of the financial group CME, which found that in 2012 the average American—the world biggest meat consumer—will consume about 12.2 percent less meat than in 2007, the lowest number in 34 years in the United States.
The decline in consumption is in all types of meat, although the most steep decline is in the consumption of chicken. The CME report calls the decline "amazing in the historic context". That said, it is important to mention that the number of animals killed on Earth continues to rise as the human population continues to increase. And the decline in meat consumption cannot catch up to the pace of the demographic expansion.
"We still eat way more meat than is good for us or the environment, not to mention the animals", writes Mark Bittman of the New York Times. "But a 12 percent reduction in just five years is significant, and if that decline were to continue for the next five years—well, that's something few would have imagined five years ago. It's something only the industry could get upset about. The rest of us should celebrate". Bittman also mentions "Flexitarianism"—an eating style that reduces the amount of meat without "going vegetarian"—is one of the top five consumer health trends for 2012. And according to the "Independent", May 2012, from 2005 to 2010 the meat-replacement food industry has grown by 18 percent.
Eating meat of course also has dramatic environmental aspects. According to a UN report, the meat industry is responsible for about 18 percent of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions, more than the greenhouse gas emissions from all cars combined. Health-related reasons for not eating meat are also in abundance.
But as environmental journalist and anchor on Galei Zahal radio, Aviv Lavie, reports, "the majority of Yourofsky's rationale and motivation stems from moral arguments. Veganism has a few other ingredients or motivations that can be entirely separate from the moral issue. The environmental aspect is much more complex, and the health aspects are beginning to interest people—mainly when they have at least reached their parenting age or after they have experienced a health-related trauma. Besides, we were taught the exact opposite: that you need to have at least three glasses of milk a day and that you can't give up eggs. It is difficult to let go of the myths. Therefore the really powerful motivator is the moral issue. Once you have realized that what you have on your plate is not a 'piece of meat', but a dead chicken or a slaughtered cow, it is easier to say 'I want no part in this'".
A study by Kansas University, which looked at the connection between media coverage and meat consumption in United States between 1982-2008, found that every time the media reports on abuse towards animals in the meat or dairy industry, the meat consumption in the United States decreases. Jonathan Safran Foer also generated much support for veganism in his book, "Eating Animals", published in 2009. Among other things, he describes in his book the appalling conditions in slaughter houses. The book inspired actress Natalie Portman to become vegan and compare meat eating with rape. In an article she wrote for the Huffington Post in 2009, she asked "If we don't tolerate rape, why do we tolerate eating meat? Even in complex issues, nothing beats a horror story".
Just like the success of Yourofsky in the world is attributable to more than charisma, his success in Israel—and the seal of approval he gets from its celebrities—also is no coincidence. Hovav Amir, 32, and his partner Daniel Erlich, 33, an actor and narrator, saw the lecture online, and realized Yourofsky may be the answer to the years of activist work which bore little fruit. Amir has been a vegan since his early 20s. He moved to Tel-Aviv and began manning stands for animal rights activism and passing out pamphlets: quickly he realized that it doesn't really work.
"You can stand on the street for four hours, maybe one person will consider veganism, and even he may not fully commit", says Amir. "People just don't care. At first you think you are going to make a change, all you need to do is show them the truth and they will be convinced, but people are in their own world; there is huge repression. And you realize that it's not going to do anything". Amir moved to online activism, and two years ago came across Yourofsky's lecture. "The first time I said wow, everyone needs to see this". Amir and Erlich translated the lecture and built an online site for it, and began publishing it on Facebook. They had 3000 views in three days. Amir began spending more and more time, until he left his work as a programmer. Gradually they began to receive donations to fund their activity, mostly from "new vegans", as Amir refers to them. At a certain point they had trouble furthering the promotion of the lecture for technical reasons, but then came across Achinoam Nini's quote. And like many before them, they realized that one celebrity is worth a thousand shares. They sent the lecture to celebrities, and the rest is internet history.
"There is something about celebs, that works tactically as a middleman", explains Aviv Lavie. "People see someone, on the one hand who is very convincing, charismatic and moving; on the other, they may think, maybe I'm just delusional and don't understand who these weird tree huggers are. Once a person who is struggling sees an actor he knows from TV, he says, 'great, I'm not alone'".
Now Amir and Erlich are bringing Yourofsky to Israel and are funding it through donations. Yourofsky, for his part, is taking a lecturing-sabbatical this year—the first break he has taken in fifteen years. "I am always frustrated and depressed, because I know what is happening to the animals. It's a lot of stress and that can kill you. I feel guilty, but I have to step back a bit". He also avoids giving interviews in the United States. "I had good media coverage, but in America there is such a focus on entertainment, that issues like slavery and murder go in one ear and out of the other".
For his Israeli audience Yourofsky is planning to put an emphasis on the holocaust, and also stress the process of Kosher slaughter. And like Anne Frank, he has not lost hope. "I know that most people are good. They want to re-examine their lives. But they're addicted to meat, milk, eggs and cheese, and addicts are irrational. I'm open and willing to battle the addiction. We claim that humans are an ethical species, but if you are a good person, you can't be good only to certain species. Murder is murder".
What do you see, when looking at a meat eater?
"Someone with blinders on, a secret vegan. I ate meat for 25 years—so I also see myself. I want to give you a chance, to give you a hug, to have you say: 'I want to change'. I see meat eaters everywhere, and I'm frustrated. I want to bring out the wonderful person that is inside of you".
The following section appeared as a sidebar to the main piece:
Who are you, Gary Yourofsky? The combination of education and empathy with statements about violence makes it difficult to decipher who this warrior for the animals is
It is difficult to figure out the kind and empathetic man who gives the Georgia Tech lecture—the one who claims to understand the meat eaters and wants to show them the light—with the violent rhetoric when he talks about the necessary methods to fight those who torture and kill animals, as well as those who eat and wear them.
Yourofsky himself asks to make it clear he is not a violent man. He deals only with education through lectures and advertisements on the radio and TV, and does not promote violence in his lectures or through any other means. Nevertheless, when it comes to stopping animal abuse, for him all means are acceptable. He sees himself as fighting an injustice on the scale of genocide, and often quotes Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and even Gandhi, as those who support violating the law when it is unjust.
"It's very convenient for meat eaters, fur wearers and other violent bullies—who kill and torture as much as they like—to turn around and condemn people who intend to stop their murderous ways", he writes. "It's like the Nazis screaming 'massacre' after the allied forces stopped the holocaust with the mass killing of Nazis. Murderers can't claim that it is unjust to be murdered. Oppressors can't claim to be subject to oppression".
In an article he wrote in 1997 he clarifies: "Undoubtedly, I prefer non-violent activism like giving speeches in classrooms, giving out pamphlets, protesting and writing opinion columns. But a wide array of tactics is required to achieve a significant change. Given the choice between empathy on the one hand, and freeing minks, burning laboratories where cruel research is conducted, or killing someone who vivisects animals on the other—I would rather have these actions taken over empathy any day."
The quotes that will forever be remembered come from the interview he gave to The Abolitionist in 2006: "Sometimes I think that the only effective and productive method of destroying speciesism would be for each uncaring human to be forced to live the life of a cow on a feedlot, or a monkey in a laboratory, or an elephant in the circus, or a bull in a rodeo, or a mink on a fur farm. Then people would be awakened from their soporific states and finally understand the horrors that are inflicted on the animal kingdom by the vilest species to ever roam this planet: the human animal!"
"Deep down, I truly hope that oppression, torture and murder return to each uncaring human tenfold! I hope that fathers accidentally shoot their sons on hunting excursions, while carnivores suffer heart attacks that kill them slowly. Every women ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever. While every man entrenched in fur should suffer an anal raping so horrific that they become disemboweled. Every rodeo cowboy and matador should be gored to death, while circus abusers are trampled by elephants and mauled by tigers. And, lastly, may irony shine its esoteric head in the form of animal researchers catching debilitating diseases and painfully withering away because research dollars that could have been used to treat them were wasted on the barbaric, unscientific practice of vivisection."
Stop The Animal Holocaust
By Eyal Megged
The following article appeared in The Haaretz on September 7, 2012. Here's the Hebrew version of the piece: http://www.haaretz.co.il/opinions/1.1818647.
The charismatic animal rights preacher, Gary Yourofsky, arrived in Israel two days ago to win over devotees to the cause. As part of his lecture tour, he was due to visit the Experimental High School in Jerusalem where my son studies. A time had already been fixed for his lecture, but meanwhile the students were informed that the Education Ministry had sent out a circular forbidding the holding of the lecture since "the material that is conveyed is not suitable."
This is a dry turn of phrase that suits to a tee the inspirational circulars disseminated by the ministry. At my request, my son was able to squeeze out a few more words from the document received at his school, and the most salient argument there was that the lecturer is "a vegan who has an extreme influence on his listeners."
That's strange, I thought. According to that logic, it is possible to say about anyone who describes horrors he has endured that "he has an extreme influence on his listeners." Yourofsky indeed describes in horrifying detail what he has seen in slaughterhouses, in chicken coops, in sheep pens and in cattle farms; but after all (with all the obvious, countless differences ), Holocaust survivors who go to the schools every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day also include "extreme contents" in their lectures that are likely to shock the innocent souls of their young listeners.
But perhaps the difference lies in the horrors of the past and the horrors of the present. Between the Holocaust that happened in the past and the holocaust that is taking place now. Perhaps it is easier to digest a memory than to digest a reality that it is still possible to change. I have no doubt that I lost a lot of outraged readers already in the previous paragraph: How is it possible to compare the Holocaust of the Jews at all, The Holocaust with a capital T, to what is happening in the valley of death of the helpless animals at our mercy?
However, from the point of view of an extreme vegetarian like me, the prohibition imposed on Yourofsky about describing, at my son's school and other schools to which he was invited, the horrors that we perpetrate on the helpless animals is no less grave than a situation in which Holocaust survivors would be prevented from describing what they underwent in the death camps.
From my point of view, the ongoing holocaust of animals is as terrible and horrific as the Holocaust of people. Both were perpetrated on living creatures. The one group suffered and the other group continues to suffer. Then the world declined to intervene and now the world declines to intervene.
In my eyes, there is no difference between one kind of suffering and another. The only difference is that the holocaust of the animals can be stopped. The anger that motivates Yourofsky to sabotage torture farms and monstrous laboratories stems from that same holy feeling that motivated justice and freedom fighters throughout the generations to intervene on behalf of the wretched and miserable of the human race.
I still can't comprehend how an enlightened person is capable of ignoring the scandalous gap that exists between the amount of suffering caused to animals when they are being murdered, and the amount of pleasure such an enlightened person gets from eating their flesh. I have not understood, and I still do not understand, how a conscientious person can be completely shut off from the subject on the agenda. How cultured people ignore the daily bloodshed in the slaughterhouses, the legal extermination of helpless animals that is carried out because of the human lust for meat.
It is possible to think that at at any rate, high school students are not exposed to extreme content at any juncture. In a short while, though, they will not merely be exposed to extreme "content," but to an extreme reality. How absurd and stupid it is to decide to prevent these youth, who in another year will be joining the army, from listening to a person who is trying to put an end to violence and torture, only because he wants to try to persuade them to stop eating steak.
Yourofsky – One Of The Righteous Among the Nations
By Eyal Megged
The following article appeared in The Haaretz on January 3, 2014. Here's the Hebrew version of the piece: http://www.haaretz.co.il/opinions/.premium-1.2206594.
The Righteous Among the Nations, those saintly non-Jews who are presented as role models for every Jewish child around here, were fanatical people who performed fanatical acts. The decision to save persons and families right under the Nazis' noses in occupied Europe was not just an extreme fanatical act but an almost certain act of actual suicide. I use this metaphor -- which is bound to arouse immediate outrage in many of the readers, when they find out that this article is not about Jews but about animals; not about innocent children but about innocent calves – in order to demonstrate that sometimes, in an unbearable reality, certain people go off the rails and do things which most of us regard as extreme and illogical.
In my opinion this is what happened to Gary Yourofsky. This is probably what I would have done as well, if I had his courage and his strength, which enable him to be exposed on a daily basis to the horrors which he wishes to end. This is what happened to the Righteous Among the Nations when they felt they could no longer stick their heads in the sand in view of what was being done to their Jewish neighbors.
I purposely avoid using the trite "you can't compare the two atrocities argument" since I do not believe in this reservation. I am entitled to the shaking emotional identification that befalls me (e.g. last Saturday in a Kibbutz cow shed) when I saw baby calves which were soon to be mutilated and beheaded, even if they are "only" animals. I shudder at the thought that these unforgivable acts are done, among other reasons, so that the food critic of the paper I write for will in due course muster his poetic inspiration to describe the roast prepared by a supreme chef from one of those sweet lovely calves.
Like Bashevis Singer, I too am bound by the duty to compare the Zoglowek [animal slaughterhouse] to Treblinka. I guess Bashevis Singer, Yourofsky and I have the same emotional range, and I don't see any fault in this. On the contrary: I'd even say that by comparing it to the animal's holocaust I can better and more deeply understand "our" holocaust, from different aspects, which this is neither the place nor the time to elaborate.
On this occasion I would like to use this fanatical column of mine to persuade the members of the interministerial committee -- appointed by the Prime Minister to examine the issue of transferring the Animal Protection Laws' enforcement from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Environmental Protection – to not miss this opportunity that has befallen them. There can be no exaggeration in the change they can make happen. The Ministry of Agriculture, which naturally represents the meat and dairy industries, has so far made a laughingstock of farm animals' rights. The Minister of Agriculture should be in charge of the cows' well-being just as Shari Arison should be in charge of the Bank of Israel.
Such a change, if it does happen, is by no means an extreme act. It shouldn't have anything to do with any vegetarian or vegan tendency, God forbid. The committee members will be permitted, while debating the issue, to feast on chicken thighs, schnitzel or shawarma. All that is required of them is to rectify a legal and governmental wrong, to put an end to an atrocious injustice. Their right and just decision, which will undoubtedly require standing up to mighty economic forces, will be a small step for humanity but a great step for the animals.
How animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky ‘turned 8% of Israel vegan’ after comparing slaughterhouses to the Holocaust
By Deni Kurkova
The following article appeared in METRO, a British news outlet, on September 28, 2015. The images, with captions, have been reproduced directly from the article.
Gary Yourofsky is a name that will ring a bell with most vegans.
The animal rights activist, from Detroit, Michigan, is credited with singlehandedly turned more people vegan – including 8% of Israel – than anyone else in the world, after an hour-long speech he gave at Georgia Tech was recorded, translated into Hebrew, and shared on social media.
In it Gary, 45, who is Jewish himself, controversially calls slaughterhouses ‘concentration camps’ and compares the treatment of animals to the Holocaust.
The speech, which was recorded in the U.S., is now the most-viewed in Israel’s history, and is thought to have been the cataylst for a large portion of Israel’s population to go vegan.
Indeed, according to Israeli media, Yourofsky is responsible for increasing Israel’s vegan population from 5% to 13%.
Gary has also been arrested 13 times, is banned from entering Britain (despite never having been convicted of a crime or visiting) and Canada and has spent time in a maximum security prison after raiding a fur farm.
Here, in his own words, Yourofsky tells Metro.co.uk his argument for a meat-free lifestyle – and explains why he thinks his words have converted so many.
‘As a so-called intelligent and civilised species, how can we justify artificially impregnating/raping female animals so we can steal their babies after birth so those babies, along with the mothers, can be enslaved, raped and eventually murdered, too?
‘The great Jewish humanitarian Isaac Bashevis Singer once explained: “What do they know – all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world?
‘They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”
‘Singer’s indictment is probably the most damning statement ever about humankind.
‘It establishes the fact that violence is violence and murder is murder even if the victims have beaks, horns, gills, feathers or fur. Animals were the first victims of slavery, oppression and murder, which is how humans perfected these psychotic techniques for use on each other.
‘The fact that Heinrich Himmler, the Gestapo commander who created the Jewish Holocaust’s gas chamber system, was a mass murderer of chickens before orchestrating the mass murder of humans makes the aforesaid point impossible to impugn.
‘If you drove to the nearest cow or chicken slaughterhouse and removed the animals and replaced them with Jews – or mentally-retarded people, black people and Gypsies – Birkenau would be resurrected. So the question I want you to ponder most is how come when cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and fish are victims, everyone forgets how to think clearly and be compassionate?
‘The global atrocity of eating animals and wearing animal skins is responsible for the mass murder of more than 150 billion innocent animals annually. If you added up all the humans who have been enslaved, raped and murdered since the beginning of time, you wouldn’t even approach the 1 billion mark.
‘The Animal Holocaust remains the most massive and longest-running murder campaign of all time. And it makes veganism the most important aspect of animal rights because almost every animal who is abused and killed on this planet is abused and killed by the meat, dairy, egg and honey industries, despite the fact that humans have no right – nor need – to commodify animals and turn them into sandwiches and shoes.
‘The fundamental rights of life, liberty and bodily integrity – rights that every person reading this piece demands or takes for granted – should not be exclusive to humans.
‘Small groups of people should not have to constantly convince the masses to stop enslaving and murdering groups of innocent beings, animal or human.
‘Fortunately, the Holy Land has been listening to the animal rights message and responding with sanity, compassion and clarity. And that’s because in 2010, a few Israeli activists put Hebrew subtitles on my 70-minute vegan lecture (recorded at Georgia Tech) and shared it extensively on social media.
‘That speech is now the most-viewed speech in the history of Israel with well over 1 million hits. With a population of 7 million, that means one in seven Israelis has seen it.
‘Since so many people were yearning for more information, I embarked on one of the most effective animal rights campaigns ever for six weeks in 2012-13, giving around 25 lectures in packed theatres and colleges in Jaffo, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Be’er Sheva, Givatayim and Haifa.
‘I also conducted more than a dozen interviews with newspaper, radio and TV outlets. The results have been astounding.
‘Before Hebrew subtitles were added to my speech, Israeli media reported that 5% of the population was vegetarian/vegan. The estimates have now risen to 13%, with meat and dairy sales dropping 7%.
‘The demand for vegan products forced T’nuva, the largest dairy producer in Israel, to release four soy yogurts, while Domino’s added vegan cheese to all of its 50 locations, and more than 700 restaurants converted 25% of their menus to vegan fare.
‘Many people have asked me why the vegan message resonates so much in Israel.
‘After giving 2,660 lectures in America to more than 60,000 students, I discovered that Jews, along with black people, women, homosexuals, Hispanic people, and other oppressed people, have little difficulty understanding the evils of discrimination as all oppressed beings understand what it’s like to be marginalised and treated like nothing.
‘I never thought I would see such a massive shift to veganism in my lifetime.
‘Israel will, one day, become the first nation to abolish animal concentration camps once and for all. And while my speech got the ball rolling in Israel, the Israeli activists are the ones making The Holy Land truly holy.
‘They are without a doubt the most effective animal rights activists on the planet.’
You can read more from Gary on his website adaptt.org.