Direct Action Everywhere leader Wayne Hsiung on trial for allegedly stealing goat

Matt Johnson/Courtesy

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Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, co-founder Wayne Hsiung was tried in a Transylvania County, North Carolina, court on Tuesday, facing felony charges for allegedly kidnapping a baby goat from a local farm.

DxE is an animal rights group based in Berkeley and is often seen on campus protesting animal cruelty. Hsiung now faces nine felony charges related to his actions with DxE — two related to the goat incident — with his most recent charges including breaking and entering, and larceny, according to DxE spokesperson Matt Johnson.

Johnson believes publicizing “rescues” is an effective protest method and that this was proven by the public support during the Facebook livestream of the goat’s “rescue,” which occurred Feb. 10.

“Ordinary people see that you were helping a sick animal and now you’re going to be thrown in prison for that,” Johnson said. “That’s something that is positive for us from a movement-building perspective.”

Hsiung was arrested Thursday night in connection to the goat theft while disembarking from an airplane in North Carolina — DxE refers to the goat incident as an “open rescue,” which involved Hsiung leading a team investigation of a farm and removing a sickly goat, according to Johnson. Hsiung was later released on a $25,000 bail, Johnson added.

“I could walk into Salt Lake City Best Buy and take something for $14,999, and that would not be a felony. Taking a dying individual (goat) is a felony,” said Andrew Sharo, a UC Berkeley doctoral student and DxE member currently facing six felony charges. “They’ve begun to use these laws to take these … cruel and unusual charges against us.”

City Council candidate and former DxE member Aidan Hill challenged the group’s actions, alleging that they create a negative reputation for the animal rights movement by associating other activists with groups involving “crazy vegans” such as DxE.

Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, defended DxE’s actions. Newkirk emphasized the importance of nonviolent direct action in encouraging consumers to take their own action, saying it is the consumers who have the power to change the industry.

“The scariest thing that the meat and the laboratory industries fear is a crack in the armor — that people can see inside and change their habits,” Newkirk said.

Johnson also said nonviolent direct action is integral to the group’s model and has earned it a voice in the national animal rights dialogue.

Some activists, such as Hill, disagree with the effectiveness of such actions.

“Do I think they’re sustainable?” Hill said. “The answer is no. They’re very dangerous.”

The idea that Hsiung’s actions give the movement a bad name is “ridiculous,” Newkirk said. While PETA focuses more on animal rights education, Newkirk said varied action is necessary for a successful movement.

“(Hsiung) is prepared to go to jail, but he certainly shouldn’t have to,” Newkirk said. “The people who run these facilities should be in jail, not Wayne.”

Contact Madeleine Gregory and Alexandra Reinecke at [email protected].