In 2005, the FBI took it upon itself to identify "the number-one terrorist threat" in the U.S. No, it wasn't al-Qaida. It was homegrown animal rights activists.
It was good for a few jokey headlines in the newspapers at the time -- "Kitten huggers top threat list," that sort of thing. But in the interesting and sometimes dizzyingly freewheeling documentary Your Mommy Kills Animals, it provides the central thread for a snapshot of a movement that is rife with contradictions.
There is no shortage of disturbing footage, of dogs being beaten in shelters, animals being vivisected, etc. -- provided in many cases by groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals (PETA) themselves.
But against this emotional barrage, serious discussions ensue about whether the worst fringes of animal activism fits the terrorist profile.
With no "animal" 9/11, and no deaths officially attributed to the illegal activities, the nuisance campaigns of these zealous college students and twentysomethings seem like lame terrorism indeed. Margot Kidder and her journalist daughter Maggie are interviewed after Homeland Security officers have swooped into their Montana town to round up members of the Buffalo Field Campaign who'd been interfering with attempts to earmark wild buffalo for slaughter. The townspeople, Kidder says, were "not impressed" with Homeland Security's priorities.
On the other hand, there are others who talk a pretty good terrorist game, including an ALF spokesperson, a doctor no less, who opines blithely that "killing 10 or 15" research scientists would convince everybody else to give up the use of animals. In general, the activists have that messianic gleam, an "I-am-righteousness" that is jumped all over by some of the conservative pundits herein (including P.J. O'Rourke and Christopher Hitchens).
This is one of those narrative-free "verite" documentaries that strains mightily to not take a position. And really, there are so many themes bouncing around in this movie -- vegetarianism, animal "welfare" vs. animal "rights," the nature of terrorism -- that that's probably the right approach.
Director Curt Johnson assembles a manic pastiche of footage, interviews, accusations and disturbing imagery, against an annoying soundtrack.
Some of it is ironically funny. The Barbi Twins of Playboy fame get plenty of time to hold forth, and like PETA spokesperson Pam Anderson, they sport collagen and implants that, it's pointed out, are the result of animal testing.
Post Michael Moore, these days documentaries have to have their "gotcha" moment.
And in Your Mommy Kills Animals, it's an excoriation of PETA, a more mainstream organization that seems to be reviled by many activists.
It seems PETA kills animals at its shelters, and at a rate far higher than your average humane society. And in one incident in North Carolina, PETA staffers were accused of illegally tossing dog corpses in a dumpster
Still, PETA has the Hollywood crowd, including James Cromwell, Esai Morales, Jorja Fox and Bo Derek (although Bob Barker is seen talking up ALF).
But the real activist "success story" seems to be Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), an organization entirely dedicated to shutting down a research organization called Huntingdon Life Sciences.
Its members harass anybody who does business with the company, and apparently were able to get it delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. Naturally, they are No. 1 on the FBI's animal-hugger terrorist list.
In fact, a couple of their members face three years in prison for faxing endless reams of black paper to companies.
Take that, Osama!
(This film is rated 14-A)