Last week, in a PETA-style bid to get media attention, a member of a group called Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) stormed the stage where Vice-President Joe Biden was giving a speech after his Super Tuesday victories in the Democratic primaries, carrying a sign that said “Let Dairy Die.”

DxE got their media coverage. But did the incident help cows?

A new study out of Stanford University and the University of Toronto says No. In fact, it suggests they harmed them, undermining support for what is, in truth, a noble cause: stopping the abuse of cows.

“Activists, and the social movements they build seek to change society, address social problems, and correct injustices in the law, institutions, and social relations,” write the study authors. “One of the primary ways they achieve those goals is by “shaping public opinion” because “when movements win greater public support, they… wield more political, cultural, and institutional influence.”

Did DxE “win greater public support” with their Super Tuesday attention seeking protest? According to the study, support for a cause is “greatly reduced, even eliminated,” when the group engages in extreme behavior, such as storming a stage and screaming at patrons in a restaurant, signature DxE actions; or by the use of “inflammatory rhetoric” that PETA likes to engage in.

In addition to conducting its own, the authors canvassed prior studies which reviewed protests from 1900 to 2006 and found that non-invasive protests “were twice as likely to be successful” as those of the type groups like DxE and PETA champion. This is true even among people “that are sympathetic to a movement’s cause.” So not only do they fail to gain converts, they actually turn off those who are inclined to ally with the cause.

Unfortunately, if past experience is any guide, information about how the actions they engage in may be harming animals is not likely to matter to DXE leadership or its members. Past appeals to DXE asking them to stop partnering with PETA — an agency that kills thousands of healthy animals every year — have been ignored. Despite being presented with evidence that PETA rounds up to kill healthy cats, kittens, dogs, puppies, as well as chickens and other animals exploited for food, defends even abusive pounds, has called for the killing of every dog identified as a “pit bull” in every “shelter” in America, fights legislation to reform pounds and thus save more lives, demonizes cats to encourage their killing, has a history of stealing and killing animals, lying to people in order to kill their animals, and lying about the amount of barbiturates it uses to kill animals so it can kill more animals “off book,” and kills or causes to be killed upwards of 99% of animals they impound, while only adopting out 1%, and despite a petition from over 10,000 animal lovers nationwide emploring DXE to stop legitimizing PETA, DXE continues to celebrate, promote, and partner with Ingrid Newkirk and her deadly, dangerous organization.

So if promoting the well-being of all animals is not what is motivating DXE leadership and its members, what is? Once again, the study is instructive.

Protesters of the DxE/PETA-ilk gain “social identity” by creating an “‘us’ versus ‘them’” mentality. And being part of “us” is directly linked, according to the study, to their feelings of self worth. In other words, it is about them, not the cause.

Laura Lee Cascada, a PETA employee turned whistleblower who described the stifling, cult-like atmosphere that pervades PETA; a culture she described as “terrifying and desensitizing,” explained that questioning the decision to kill animals by PETA “meant being booted from the tribe.” As such, most employees do not. In fact, many of them embrace the killing enthusiastically, because being apart of the tribe is directly tied into their self-esteem.

Cows, and other animals raised, abused, and killed, for “food” deserve better. From the moment they are born to the moment their necks are slit, the vast majority of animals raised and killed for food will experience lives of unremitting torment. They will not know contentment, respite, safety, happiness, or kindness. Instead, they will live a short life characterized by inescapable discomfort, social deprivation, the thwarting of every natural instinct and constant stress, all punctuated by moments of agonizing pain, terror, and the deliberate infliction upon them of harm, cruelty and eventually, a brutal and untimely death. Animal agriculture is the single, greatest source of suffering on the planet. Beings who bear such a tremendous burden should not likewise have their plight hijacked, exploited, and undermined by those more interested in being part of a crowd than being part of a solution.

Also deserving better are the dogs, cats, rabbits, and other animals that PETA staff and supporters help round up to kill every year and who they betray with equally inflammatory rhetoric to likewise garner media attention; media attention that hinders the very sort of public support necessary to eliminate the harm they suffer at the hands of some humans.

And for what? To give DxE and PETA members social identity.

The study, “The Activist’s Dilemma: Extreme Protest Actions Reduce Popular Support for Social Movements,” is here.

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