A Report from Behind Enemy Lines

This morning, one of our young colleagues was asked to leave a lecture hosted by Humane Society University in Washington, DC. He had registered to attend using his own name, and when HSUS staff asked him who he worked for, he told the truth. Apparently, that was reason enough to throw him out.

HSUS promoted the event itself on Facebook, writing: "This is an open event. Anyone can join…"

Here's his story. We find the whole episode to be more than a little Big Brother-ish. If HSUS is so proud of its anti-meat philosophy, why not invite everyone in to hear about it. Heck, they should be willing to pay us to videotape the lecture and post it online.

Hello everyone! I’m one of HumaneWatch's young researchers who will (for the time being) remain anonymous. This morning, I had the opportunity to attend a class at Humane Society “University.” HSUS Vice President Michael Greger was schedule to give a lecture about the H1N1 virus (that so-called “swine flu”).

The lecture was scheduled for 11 am near the Capitol here in Washington. I arrived a little bit early to the classroom and was met by a nice young lady from HSUS who shook my hand and asked me my name. For some reason I wasn’t on the list (I registered Wednesday evening), so I wrote my name at the bottom and noticed that there were several people whose listed affiliation was PETA. Interesting.

There were probably about five or six people in the room at that point, including Greger and HSUS’s Erin Williams. Near the front, a man was setting up a camcorder to tape the lecture. I walked around the tables arranged in a rectangle and chose a spot about 20 or so feet from the front. I set up my own camera on the desk and took out some Chinese homework and a copy of Wesley Smith’s new book, A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy.

Eventually, Greger came by and noticed the book. He asked me how it was, and I said “interesting” (that wonderful all-purpose adjective). He came by again a moment later and asked to look in the index, and I let him. (Moments later, he said “Oh, darn!”—I assume because he’s not in there.)

At this point, I’m sure Greger put two and two together. Here’s a young man in a button-down shirt, pants, and leather Bostonians—not exactly a “PETA outfit”—who’s reading a book subtitled “The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement.” So I wasn’t surprised when—after a hush-hush conversation in the corner between Greger, Williams, and someone from HSUS’s marketing department—Williams came over to my seat. Here’s (roughly) how our brief conversation went:

  • Erin: Hi, I’m Erin.
  • Me: Hi, I’m XXX. (We shake hands.)
  • Erin: It’s totally cool that you want to videotape, but I’m going to have to ask your affiliation.
  • Me: CCF.
  • Erin: Okay…I’m going to have to check about that.

Williams left the room. A rather awkward silence ensued for most of the next 20 or 25 minutes. (Yes, it took Williams nearly a half-hour to come back. Even Michael Greger went out to look for her and see what the deal was, while the rest of the audience waited uncomfortably.)

Eventually, Williams came back and sat down next to me again. She told me they weren’t letting in “outside groups” and that I would have to leave. I asked her if I had to completely go, as opposed to simply not filming. She replied pleasantly that yes, I would simply have to leave.

Apparently, HSUS higher-ups decided during a half-hour confab that it wasn't "totally cool" for me to openly videotape what Greger had to say—even though someone else was already there videotaping him. Maybe it's only "totally cool" when undercover HSUS employees have hidden cameras.

I packed my things and headed back to HumaneWatch headquarters. But first I looked at my cell phone. The time was already 11:39. HSUS had held up the lecture that long just to deal with me.

If I learned one thing today, it’s that Humane Society University doesn’t tolerate a diversity of viewpoints. Or people who hold other viewpoints. Even if they're just sitting quietly, listening, and not expressing those viewpoints. No free exchange of ideas there.

And since Erin Williams told me “outside groups” weren’t welcome, I'm left to wonder why PETA staffers were there. Is HSUS tacitly admitting PETA is an “inside" group? It wouldn't surprise me.

Photo: Library and Archives Canada