If Michael Vick was a Sociologist

December 9, 2009 at 5:16 pm 12 comments

Would his ‘exploration‘ of the dog fighting world have been defensible?  Maybe even commendable?

Yesterday’s edition of Inside Higher Education reports the story of Scott DeMuth, a University of Minnesota sociology graduate student who is studying radical animal rights and environmental groups.  DeMuth has been ordered to appear before a grand jury to testify on a 2004 attack on the University of Iowa allegedly conducted by members of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

During the raid hundreds of mice, rats, pigeons and guinea pigs were released from a research laboratory.  ‘Cause, you know, animals bred and raised in laboratories survive so well out in the wild. 

DeMuth has been  indicted under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act for conspiracy.  The indictment states that “Scott Ryan DeMuth did knowingly and intentionally conspire with persons unknown to the grand jury to commit animal enterprise terrorism and cause economic damage to the animal enterprise in an amount exceeding $10,000,”.   The damages actually totaled nearly half a million dollars – not including the loss of data.  And in a twisted bit of irony, more animals will undoubtedly be used to collect data to replace that which was lost.

Inside Highter Education reports:

[DeMuth] maintains that his knowledge of animal rights groups is based on his pledges of confidentiality to the individuals who talk to him. After he was released from jail, he was indicted on charges that he conspired to commit “animal enterprise terrorism” and to cause “damage to the animal enterprise.” These charges are under a new federal law designed in part to give authorities more tools to go after those who vandalize animal research facilities.

A group of professors, led by DeMuth’s academic advisor David Pellow, have organized a petition drive and new organization – Scholars for Academic Justice – to support DeMuth.  Why is a professor defending student who is withholding information on a group that has damaged university property and threatened other academics?  Possibly because he’s sympathetic to ALF’s cause too.   In a guest post at GreenIsTheNewRed, Pellow (who describes himself as a ” vegetarian, animal rights and anti-racist activist” in advance praise for a book on the politics of animal rights posted prominently on the ALF website) writes:

My own research on movements for racial justice, labor rights, environmental justice, and animal and earth liberation suggests quite clearly that the state and corporations spare no expense and rarely hesitate to engage in surveillance, infiltration, and other efforts to neutralize the power and reach of these groups. As a publicly outspoken scholar and activist, Scott DeMuth is at the center of these dynamics and is quickly becoming a force for common ground among people across various movements, organizations, and universities who believe that government power should always be checked and that scholars, citizens, activists, and ordinary folks must enjoy basic rights and freedom from coercion and repression. Support Scott, protect academic freedom, and let’s work to abolish the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act!

About that “freedom from coercion and repression” thing Dr. Pellow – do you believe it should apply to everyone?  Or just to the people whose ideals are as  lofty as yours?

DeMuth can hardly be described as a dispassionate observer of animal rights extremists.  He was one of the founding members of Earth Warriors are OK! (EWOK), a group that directly supports animal rights and environmental activists facing criminal charges and prison sentences.  Speaking of criminal charges, it’s too bad this story didn’t come out sooner.  If DeMuth’s defenders are successful, Michael Vick’s attorney could have used it as a case study on how not only to prevent Vick from being charged, but to help get him published too!

Given where his sympathies lie, it isn’t surprising that even though DeMuth was offered immunity, he refuses to testify.  He claims that because the time he spends with them is part of his research, his work with ALF is protected by academic freedom.  I wonder how he feels about United States vs Stevens?

Is the politically incestuous, university-sanctioned “research” of a an avowed animal rights activist who takes notes during felony crimes more worthy of first amendment protection than the artistic, educational, historic “research” of a dog fighting aficionado?

And if it is, who gets to decide whose speech is more worthy of protection?

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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. H. Houlahan  |  December 9, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    I cannot find any papers by Scott DeMuth using Google Scholar.

    There is a sociologist named Stephen DeMuth who has published on delinquency — different guy.

    So at what point does “academic freedom” become a thin cover for someone whose googles reveal someone whose “activist” footprint is much larger than his (actually nonexistent) academic one?

    If he was directly involved in the attack in Iowa in 2004, it’s entirely possible that he was underage at the time. Not sure how relevant that is, but it is interesting.

    He could have only been in graduate school for a year or so — he’s only 22. Is it plausible that he has been acting as a “researcher” for years before entering graduate school? Is student status a cover for a life, not of activism, but of conspiracy and criminal conduct? I can tell you from personal experience that a first-year graduate student is NOT A SCHOLAR yet, and is not treated as such by his university. I think his academic advisor’s “support” is a political calculation, not a defense of academic freedom.

    This all said, I think it is troublesome that he has been indicted under the AETA, because that is a BULLSHIT LAW that treats some criminals differently than others who do the exact same crime. It’s right up there with laws against maligning beef. The NAIA dittoheads who think it’s dandy are mostly the same people who think hate crime laws are a commie plot.

    If he was involved in breaking and entering, vandalism, and theft, charge him for it. And for cruelty to animals, for that matter. If he knows about crimes committed by others, charge him as an accessory before or after the fact, whichever applies. If he’s a conspirator, charge him with racketeering. Don’t play into a thin defense of “academic freedom” OR railroad him under a bullshit law that puts agribusiness on a more protected footing than any other victim.

  • 2. Rob McMillin  |  December 10, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Green Is The New Red, indeed. Without reading his five-year-old Organization & Environment article, “Interrogating the Treadmill of Production: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Treadmill but Were Afraid to Ask” — it’s locked behind the pay wall (what on earth for?) at his publisher’s — the guy looks like an academic nutjob a half step away from lobbing frag grenades at the biosciences department. I mean, seriously? The guy is in bed with the whiners who want to run things but haven’t managed more money than it takes to buy a latte at Starbucks in their lives. Don’t get me wrong, I hate, hate, hate the overloading of the word “terrorist”, which has really become a slur meaning, “somebody I want to send to Gitmo and waterboard”, but what a buncha wackjobs.

  • 3. Rob McMillin  |  December 10, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Ack, third link fail. PDF.

  • 4. EmilyS  |  December 11, 2009 at 4:20 am

    Don’t get what this has to do with the Stevens case. Stevens was not accused of dogfighting or destruction of property or terrorism. It’s clearcut free speech case, and the USSC will almost certainly rule in his favor.

    People have the right to learn about the horrors of slavery, the horrors of the Holocaust and the horrors of dogfighting. Even if they actually support slavery, genocide and dogfighting…

  • 5. Rob McMillin  |  December 11, 2009 at 4:37 am

    There is a Fifth Amendment exemption to self-incrimination, but as Heather observes, the problem here is that he knows about the crimes of others and can be arguably charged as an accessory. None of this has anything to say about the merits of the law (which, I agree, is pretty damn stupid) under which he’s being charged. The problem is this isn’t quite about free speech; he knows about actual crimes. If this were a murder case, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

  • 6. SmartDogs  |  December 11, 2009 at 5:09 am

    The link to the Stevens case is a dig on the illogic of the radical ARs. I’m guessing that DeMuth and Pellow would argue that Stevens’ speech is not protected. Just DeMuth’s.

  • 7. SmartDogs  |  December 11, 2009 at 5:13 am

    Yup. It’s one, big, ugly box of crazy. I’m horrified to think that as a Minnesota taxpayer, I am, in some small way supporting this…

  • 8. SmartDogs  |  December 11, 2009 at 5:25 am

    Mostly, it’s about hypocrisy. That’s what put my knickers in a knot.

    Animal rights activists scream that Stevens needs to be prosecuted to the fullest for making a historical documentary on a subject they abhor (no freedom of speech for you, scumbag), then they turn around and scream that DeMuth shouldn’t have to face any consequences for his possible involvement in illegal activities because his activist research is meritorious.

  • 9. EmilyS  |  December 11, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    oh, ok. I thought you were making the other argument, which wouldn’t make sense.

  • 10. Rob McMillin  |  December 11, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Also, for the pedantic grammar Nazis out there, it’s “If Michael Vick were a Sociologist”.

  • 11. Amy Katz  |  December 15, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    As the chair of the Sociology Dept. said in the Insider Higher Ed article, he would have a problem if a student was involved in the crime – but DeMuth learned his information after the fact.

    A reporter or a social scientist who writes about something about a crime after it has occured (DeMuth) is different (in my opinion) than being present and documenting a crime as it is occuring (Stevens).

    Anyone remember the reporter a couple of years ago who was doing research on child porn and was sent to prison for accessing illegal images (I don’t think he even downloaded them)? To me that’s the same thing – he wasn’t writing about the crime after the fact – he was active in the commission of a crime

  • 12. Pai  |  December 16, 2009 at 12:34 am

    “During the raid hundreds of mice, rats, pigeons and guinea pigs were released from a research laboratory. ’Cause, you know, animals bred and raised in laboratories survive so well out in the wild. ”

    They’re EXPECTING them to die, and that fact doesn’t bother them. They just want them to ‘die free’. It’s the same death-worshipping lunacy that PETA practices, where killing domestic animals is considered the ultimate ‘kindness’ and ‘liberation’. If you believe that humans owning animals = abuse/slavery, killing animals is not morally problematic at all, since you’re ‘saving’ them from a fate WORSE than death by ending their lives.

    n other words, it’s not hypocrisy on AR folks’ part when they kill animals…. it’s a logical conclusion of their twisted belief system.

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