In this interview I speak with The Vegan Punk, an animal rights activist and hunt saboteur, who also runs a popular vegan blog and digital marketing company online. When not working from his base in Leeds, The Vegan Punk can be found actively taking part in anti-hunting demonstrations, as well as activism in general.
When did you first become involved in animal rights activism and why?
I first became involved in political activism back in 2003, when I was living in Bristol and I took part in anti war protests and non-violent direct action against the impending invasion of Iraq. Participation in animal rights activism came much later however, in early 2013, when I began attending protests outside of a shop in Leeds that sold dogs bred on horrendous puppy farms. Since then I’ve attended many more animal rights protests, fundraisers and awareness campaigns, as well as becoming involved with the Hunt Saboteurs Association – who take non-violent direct action to stop wild animals being killed.
Can you explain more about the Hunt Saboteurs Association?
The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) was set up in 1963 with the aim of taking direct action to disrupt hunts, in order to stop foxes and other wild animals from being killed. Tactics used by saboteurs include tailing hunts so when the trained hounds pick up a fox’s scent, they can use voice calls, hunting horns, and a ‘gizmo’ – an audio recording of a pack of hounds ‘in cry’ – to draw the hunting hounds safely away from their prey and prevent them from killing. Saboteurs give up their free time to disrupt hunts and they put their own safety at risk in doing so; whilst saboteurs, or ‘sabs’ as they are known informally, adhere strictly to a policy of non-violence, hunters and their supporters often do not.
Wasn’t fox hunting made illegal in Great Britain during this century?
Hunting foxes with a pack of hounds was made illegal in Scotland in 2002 and in England and Wales in 2005, but unfortunately the Hunting Act has not brought about the end of fox hunting and the law is routinely disregarded. Under the pretence of ‘trail hunting’ (where hounds supposedly follow a scented trail around the countryside), hunters ride out and kill foxes every week during the hunting season, because they know that the authorities simply do not have the resources to monitor them. Since the ban, the police have shown themselves to be at best ignorant of the law, and at worst, sympathetic towards hunters and prejudiced against hunt saboteurs. Despite fox hunting being illegal saboteurs are as active out in the fields as they ever were, because the sad reality is that they need to be.
As I am sure you are aware, the Conservative government plans to reinstate fox hunting under their new term in parliament. What are your thoughts on this?
Theresa May’s support of fox hunting is abhorrent, but shamefully an opinion that’s shared by many Tories. Although the Hunting Act is routinely breached, a repeal would still be a huge backwards step. It would serve to again normalise bloodsports and allow hunters to operate with impunity. It would again criminalise the actions of saboteurs, leaving us at risk of being fined, or even sent to jail for defending animals. We absolutely oppose this government and demand that the Hunting Act be greatly strengthened rather than repealed.
With this said, where do you see the future of hunt saboteur work going?
Out in the fields saboteurs’ work will carry on pretty much as it always has, because unfortunately there will always be people trying to kill wild animals. Saboteurs will continue to disrupt hunts and gather evidence of illegal hunting, as well as maintain and increase pressure on the police to prosecute criminal activity. As many people think that fox hunting has been banned, it’s very important that we continue to make the public aware that foxes and other wild animals are still being persecuted and killed. As in all fields of activism, we will need to effectively use the internet and social media to get our message out there, in order to pressure the authorities into taking action, and recruit new supporters to the cause.
Has the rise in veganism in the U.K. had a positive knock-on effect to causes like saboteur work?
In terms of the growth of veganism positively effecting animal rights activism, I think it works both ways. Some people become vegan and then become activists, but others actually get involved in activism first and then go vegan. Veganism is not a requirement for involvement in the HSA, but getting involved often prompts non-vegans to make the switch. Nearly all of the sabs I’ve met have been vegan, and when a vegetarian (or even a meat eater) gets involved in sabbing, it would be surprising if they weren’t positively influenced by their colleagues’ beliefs and lifestyle.
What other forms of direct animal action have you been involved in?
I’ve successfully sabotaged several grouse, pheasant, and duck shoots. Myself and friends will walk into the area where the hunting party are shooting, forcing the hunters to break their guns and preventing them from killing any more birds.
I’ve joined West Yorkshire Save at some of their protests and outreach events outside slaughterhouses, and recently I was part of a group who protested at a Waitrose in Leeds; in opposition at their refusal to show compassion to pigs involved in a truck crash during transportation to a slaughterhouse that they use. Waitrose refused to allow the injured pigs to be sent to sanctuaries, of which several had offered to take in the animals, and instead they shamelessly sent the pigs to be killed. We entered the store and stood in line at the meat counter, holding placards and educating shoppers about the incident with the pigs and the horrors of the meat industry more generally.
What about online animal activism?
Online activism can really work and in the past I’ve had some success with digital activism campaigns, mobilising people to take online action against companies supporting animal cruelty. One example from a few years ago is when I set up the ‘Boycott Marks and Spencer for selling angora’ Facebook page and encouraged people to leave critical comments on the company’s own Facebook page. M&S very quickly announced that they would no longer be selling angora.
With being constantly on the front line of animal rights activism, what dangers or backlash have you encountered from doing this type of work?
I’ve been pretty fortunate as whilst I’ve been pushed about and had horses ridden at me whilst sabbing, I haven’t yet been injured. Friends however have been punched, had their teeth knocked out, and had ribs cracked by violent hunters and their thuggish supporters. I receive quite a lot of abusive comments and messages online, mainly when a social media post goes viral, but I find them pathetic rather than intimidating.
You can find out more about The Vegan Punk and animal rights activism online at: http://theveganpunk.com/
Or ‘like’ The Vegan Punk Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheVeganPunk/
West Yorkshire Hunt Saboteurs are organising a protest against fox hunting, which will take place in Leeds City Centre Saturday, May 27th. The Vegan Punk encourages everyone to attend to help show the depth of public opposition to fox hunting. More information can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1970686293169067