Born in England in 1948, Ingrid Newkirk was raised in New Delhi, India, where her father worked as an engineer while her mother volunteered for Mother Teresa in a leper colony. In 1970 Newkirk found employment at an animal shelter in Maryland, where she claims to have witnessed a great deal of animal abuse. “I would go to work early, before anyone got there,” she recalls, “and I would just kill the animals myself. Because I couldn’t stand to let them go through that [abuse]. I must have killed a thousand of them, sometimes dozens every day.”
Following her tenure at the shelter, Newkirk worked variously as a deputy sheriff, a Maryland state law-enforcement officer, the director of cruelty investigations for a humane society, and the chief of animal disease control for Washington, DC’s Commission on Public Health. In 1980 she was named “Washingtonian of the Year” for her anti-cruelty crusades and her creation of America’s first spay-and-neuter clinic in DC.
Inspired by ethics professor Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation, in 1980 Newkirk and fellow animal activist Alex Pacheco founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Echoing Singer’s view that it is wrong to assign greater inherent value to human beings than to any other form of animal life, Newkirk says: “When it comes to feelings such as pain, fear, hunger, and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” Newkirk has likewise echoed Singer’s defense of bestiality: “If a girl gets sexual pleasure from riding a horse, does the horse suffer? If not, who cares? If you French kiss your dog and he or she thinks it’s great, is it wrong? We believe all exploitation and abuse is wrong. If it isn’t exploitation and abuse, it may not be wrong.”
In September 2003, Newkirk articulated PETA’s foremost objective: “Probably everything we do is a publicity stunt…. [W]e are not here to gather members, to please, to placate, to make friends. We’re here to hold the radical line.” Central to that vision is a contempt for humanity and its inherent destructiveness. Says Newkirk: “I am not a morose person, but I would rather not be here. I don’t have any reverence for life, only for the entities themselves. I would rather see a blank space where I am…. [A]t least I wouldn’t be harming anything.” This low regard for people is consistent with Newkirk’s views on procreation: “I’m not only uninterested in having children. I am opposed to having children. Having a purebred human baby is like having a purebred dog; it is nothing but vanity, human vanity.”
Newkirk deems it immoral to use animals for food or entertainment, and maintains that even disease-carrying pests have a right to live out their natural lives without mankind’s interference: “I consider it radical to eat corpses,… make elephants live in chains in the circus, and poison animals we consider a nuisance,” she says. Likening the meat industry to the Nazi Holocaust of the 1930s, Newkirk states: “Six million people died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses.” In a 2001 interview with Reuters, Newkirk was asked about the Foot-and-Mouth Disease epidemic, a highly contagious malady that was affecting Europe’s farm animals at that time. She said:
“If that hideousness came here [to the U.S.], it wouldn’t be any more hideous for the animals—they are all bound for a ghastly death anyway. But it would wake up consumers…. I openly hope that it comes here. It will bring economic harm only for those who profit from giving people heart attacks and giving animals a concentration camp-like existence. It would be good for animals, good for human health, and good for the environment.”
Newkirk and PETA likewise oppose all animal testing in laboratories, regardless of its purpose or context. “Even if animal tests produced a cure for AIDS, we’d be against it,” says Newkirk. Thus has she criticized such organizations as the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the March of Dimes, and the American Cancer Society for using laboratory animals in research aimed at finding treatments for various diseases. “Even painless [animal] research is fascism, supremacism, because the act of confinement is traumatizing in itself,” Newkirk declares. When asked if she would oppose an experiment on 5,000 rats if it were to result in a cure for AIDS, Newkirk replied: “Would you be opposed to experiments on your daughter if you knew it would save fifty million people?” In a similar vein, Newkirk said on another occasion: “If my father had a heart attack, it would give me no solace at all to know his treatment was first tried on a dog.”
Newkirk has candidly advocated the destruction of animal research facilities, stating, “I wish we all would get up and go into the labs and take the animals out or burn them down.” In 1999 she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “I find it small wonder that the laboratories aren’t all burning to the ground. If I had more guts, I’d light a match.”
Newkirk and PETA have lent both vocal and financial support to the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a domestic terrorist organization whose acts of vandalism and violence are carried out in the name of animal rights. In her 1992 book Free the Animals!, Newkirk writes that ALF members are justified in seeking to “cause economic injury to the exploiters” by “burn[ing] down their emptied buildings and smash[ing] their vehicles to smithereens.” Proclaiming that she would be “the last person to condemn [the] ALF,” Newkirk says she would be happy to see “the research lab that tests on animals … reduced to a bunch of cinders.” These sentiments are consistent with Newkirk’s 2002 assertion that PETA’s “nonviolent tactics are not as effective” as violent measures. “Someone makes a threat, and it works,” she explained.
In December 2005, it was reported that, for some time, Newkirk and PETA had been subjects of a long-running “domestic terrorism” probe by the U.S. government. Specifically, authorities were investigating PETA’s cash donations to ALF and its sister organization, the Earth Liberation Front.
In the aftermath of a 2003 news report that a donkey laden with explosives had been blown up in a Palestinian terrorist attempt to kill Israeli soldiers, Newkirk penned a letter to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, politely asking him to refrain from involving animals in any future attacks. When the Washington Post subsequently asked Newkirk if she had considered asking Arafat to persuade his followers to stop blowing up people as well, she replied: “It’s not my business to inject myself into human wars.”
In December 2005 in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Newkirk was a featured speaker (along with Mahmoud Abbas) at an “International Nonviolence Conference” co-sponsored by Nonviolence International and the Holy Land Trust. She declared: “[T]o allow one form of violence to exist while asking for the eradication of the other is painfully hypocritical…. Every day, millions of animals, who pledge allegiance to no flag, and who have done nothing to provoke aggression, are the victims of the longest running undeclared war in human history: the war on the animal nations.”
Newkirk’s legal will stipulates that “[w]hile the final decision as to the use of my body remains with PETA,” she would be happy with any or all of the following “suggested directions”:
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