In 1997, activist Peter Young was part of a road trip from Washington state to Florida with a purpose: to liberate as many animals as possible from fur farms, and release them into their natural environment.
By the time Young and his traveling companion, Justin Samuel, reached Wisconsin, more than 8,000 creatures had been released. Also by the time Young's group hit Wisconsin, farmers had begun looking out for their vehicle, and the long arm of the law reached out to collar its occupants.
Police caught up with Young in California in 2005. He pled guilty to conspiracy and other charges involving the animal releases, and was given a two-year prison sentence. But Young wasn't what you would call remorseful.
Addressing "those people here whose sheds I may have visited," Young told the court, "[i]t was a pleasure to raid your farms and to free those animals you held captive. It is those animals I answer to, not you or this court. I will forever mark those nights on your property as the most rewarding experience in my life."
On Mon., March 31, Young will speak at the University of Pittsburgh for the program: "Animal Rights, the 'Green Scare' & the Crackdown on Social Activism." The program -- sponsored by Voices for Animals and the Pitt Law National Lawyers Group -- will be followed by a screening of the film Behind the Mask, which chronicles the work of the Animal Liberation Front.
Young's emancipations were performed under the aegis of the Animal Liberation Front. The organization's mission is "to end the 'property' status of nonhuman animals," but even some animal-rights advocates believe the group sometimes goes too far.
Young was released from prison last February. A little more than a year later, he's touring with the newly reunited band Earth Crisis, helping out at shows from behind the merchandise table.
"It's amazing," he told CP in a phone interview from Richmond, Va. "I went from total confinement to complete freedom."
Young's statements upon sentencing gave him hero status in the animal-rights movement. Young says if given the chance to go back in time, "I would definitely do it again," adding, "but I wouldn't say I will do it again. I think I can serve the world better in different ways," through education and speaking engagements. His goal is to expose the problem of animal mistreatment, especially that which is done for profit.
"Any time you introduce a profit margin, people will stretch their heads to make it work," he says. At the same time, he believes that if people really think about the ethics of wearing fur, they'll be motivated to get involved, or at least be more supportive of the activism of others.
"When I was in prison, I was considered an exotic case," Young says. "But at the same time, I had prison guards take me aside and say, 'Hey, I just want you to know ... that's a really great thing you did.'"
"Animal Rights, the 'Green Scare' & the Crackdown on Social Activism (w/ Peter Young)" 7 p.m., Monday, March 31; a screening of Behind the Mask will follow; University of Pittsburgh, 120 David Lawrence Hall, 3942 Forbes Avenue , Oakland.