The Company We Keep: Kessler’s Ties to Radical Group
Ellen Kessler posted a photo of herself to her Facebook page, which has since been removed, taken the same day police were summoned to remove her and other Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) activists from an Arvada, Colo., Costco location. Kessler, Gov. Polis’ appointee to the State Board of Veterinary Medicine, has posted anti-agriculture sentiments to her social media account in recent months, including one post claiming that “4-H teaches kids that animal lives don’t matter.” That post led over 13,000 people to digitally sign a letter asking for her appointment to be retracted.
In the recent social media photo, Kessler is holding a sign with an image of a piglet and another of a sow in a farrowing crate with the words, “No horror movie compares to life on a factory farm!” In a video of what she called a “disruption,” she could be seen standing in the store’s meat department holding the sign in the photo.
“The fact that she is volunteering with and affiliated with DxE creates a situation where she is now harassing other businesses in the state,” Kay Johnson Smith said. “It’s no longer just supporting legislation or supporting animal welfare. DxE has a history of criminal behavior in Colorado and this creates yet another example of Kessler’s conflict of interest.”
Smith is the president and CEO of Animal Agriculture Alliance. She said DxE’s Project Counterglow, reported on by The Fence Post on June 11 (https://www.thefencepost.com/news/beyond-reproach-denying-bandwidth-and-youtube-proofing-ag/) and June 19, 2020 (https://www.thefencepost.com/news/of-activists-and-journalists-what-dxe-taught-a-main-stream-journalist-and-what-he-can-teach-ag/) encourages members to map the locations of agriculture operations including farms, ranches, feedyards, and fairgrounds. She said the extremists have been documented staging “disruptions” at large grocery stores, dressed in hazardous material suits and placing yellow crime scene-type tape around the egg department in some instances.
Wayne Hsuing, the group’s founder, told attendees at the National Animal Rights Conference in 2016, that “confrontation works” and calls disruption “the most powerful tool in history.” At the same conference, he said the goal of DxE is to “destroy animal agriculture.”
Smith said those in agriculture and consumers alike ought to be concerned with Kessler’s involvement with DxE. She said she is alarmed by the possibility of Kessler’s potential access through her position on the State Board of Veterinary Medicine to specific or sensitive information about agriculture operations that could be used for nefarious purposes.
“Having someone who participates in criminal activities – protesting is a right but not at someone else’s business – is troubling,” she said. “Affiliating with and volunteering for a group that is known to break into farms, steal animals, and destroy property is inappropriate and calls into question her suitability for the honor of serving on the veterinary board.”
Ben Rainbolt, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union said he took an opportunity to express his concern about Kessler’s suitability to Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg, who he said shared his concern. The board itself falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Regulatory Agencies and not the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
“This is something that members of the public and the agriculture industry should be paying close attention to and they should be attending those meetings to keep a close eye on Kessler,” Rainbolt said. “If she’s aligning herself with groups like DxE, then that is deeply concerning. That removes any impartiality, any objectivity that she may have and it appears that she doesn’t have much to begin with.”
In the video Kessler also posted, the “disruption” is a quiet one, with one activist approaching shoppers and the others, including a mother and her child and a man with an infant in a stroller, standing quietly between shoppers and the store’s meat coolers with signs. When the store’s management asked them to leave and advised them law enforcement was en route, the group walked extremely slowly to the exit and reconvened outside, displaying their signs to passing traffic. The following day, Kessler’s posts put her at Superior Farms “bearing witness” to meat goats arriving to be processed.
Bill Hammerich, Colorado Livestock Association’s CEO, said Kessler has publicly demonstrated her strong bias against animal agriculture.
“Members of the Colorado Board of Veterinary Medicine need to be able to fairly judge not only small animal veterinary work, but also livestock and food animals, Hammerich said. “Because of Ms. Kessler’s obvious conflict of interest, we believe she will be unable to serve in a fair and unbiased manner on issues related to veterinarians who are vital to Colorado’s livestock industry.”
Smith said that including children in “disruptions” is a tactic to influence the behavior caught on camera by the group or, if the situation becomes heated, reflects upon the person being targeted by the group who behaved poorly when children were present. She said it’s unfortunate that children are involved and subjected to this behavior by members of DxE.
Known for “animal liberation” DxE members have faced numerous federal charges and served prison time for trespassing, removing animals from farms in the name of rescue, and filming undercover videos. Smith said DxE is typically opposed to any sort of animal ownership, engagement, or manipulation, making Kessler’s bird breeding and ownership particularly unusual.
Terry Fankhauser, the executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, said his concern, and that of CCA members who depend upon the state’s veterinary professionals, is Kessler’s inability to objectively carry out her duties on the board and to reflect the professionalism expected from an individual appointed to one of the state’s boards and commissions. Kessler, he said, has been and continues to be an example of the how those entrusted with these responsibilities should not conduct themselves.
A statement from Conor Cahill, Governor Polis’ press secretary said, “The Governor has appointed many Coloradans to the various boards and commissions based on their professional and life background, not their social media engagement or dietary habits – which is a personal matter – to ensure that diversity of voices are represented.”