Animal Protection > Activist Index
Peter Young Speaks, Oct 2007

On Saturday night, when some students were dressing as animals for a Halloween weekend, Peter Young was in the Hall of Languages discussing animal rights and liberation.

Young, a renowned animal rights activist, was released from prison six months ago after spending two years behind bars on charges of animal enterprise terrorism. Young was the first person to be charged with such a crime.

He was brought to Syracuse University by the Syracuse Animal Rights Organization (SARO).

"A lot of people talk, but he is one who actually acted on right and wrong," said SARO member Ben Gazda, who attended Young's lecture.

Young and SARO had previously been on a weeklong tour on the East Coast going to colleges and other venues. Syracuse was the final stop.

Young had been imprisoned for taking part in a two-week period of mink releases in 1997. Young and crew released about 8,000 to 12,000 mink and foxes, which were valued at more than $100,000. This resulted in two farms closing and an FBI-wanted status.

His message to the small crowd of about 40 people focused on his experience releasing caged animals, his motivation to be an activist, his experience in prison and what it is like to have a politically charged case.

Young stepped up to the podium in front of the white projector screen where he showed graphic photos of why activists are motivated to do what they do. He introduced the photos by saying "This is why activists break the law for animals."

The slideshow included a picture of a cat with something embedded in its head and a skinned mink lying on a silver table with a skinning tool next to it.

His experiences in activism started in 1996 with his "point of no return." He defined this as the moment when a person has seen too much to let things go on without a change.

In early 1996, a friend of Young came to his house at 3 a.m. covered in chicken feathers and told Young about the wholesale chicken slaughterhouse in their Seattle neighborhood. At 4 a.m. they both went to the slaughterhouse and in two to three minutes saw hundreds of chickens hung up to be whisked away to slaughter. After this night, Young and his friend would go visit these chickens every day to talk to and feed them.

Young later decided he could no longer just sit and watch the slaughter of animals.

In October 1997, Young and some friends went on a two-week road trip through South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa to release thousands of mink from farms.

In 1998, the FBI found Young and his friends after receiving a tip from suspicious farmers. The FBI impounded the car and indicted Young. He faced six counts; four counts of extortion and two counts of animal enterprise terrorism.

A court day was scheduled, but Young fled. In 2005, Young was arrested at a Starbucks in San Jose, California, and he said his lawyer was able to cut his prison sentence from 82 years to two. Because the case was political, he said he was treated as a high-risk prisoner and was housed with murderers most of the time.

Young said being a vegan was also a difficult experience while in prison. His supporters would call the prison to alert jailers of Young's dietary needs, reminding him of the encouragement that he had from allies in the outside world.

Young said his prison experience was well worth it.

"It's better to save thousands of animals than to lose some years of your life," Young said. He also used the words of another activist to describe the length at which someone will go for a cause.

"Going to prison is like going to the DMV - it's something you have to do," he told the audience.

Young ended his presentation by emphasizing the importance of the power a single person has and how activists should not be afraid to fight for a cause.

"If (prison) is the worst thing they can do to us, then we're doing fine," said Young, referring to officials and the government.

Young told listeners to "please go out there and make it happen."

With that in mind, audience members said they gained some initiative.

"I'm taking it to heart. It's something that catalyzes me more," said Bryan Graczyk, a senior wildlife science major.

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