The unsettling history of the group behind fan incidents at T-Wolves games

Members of controversial Bay Area animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere have disrupted three separate Minnesota Timberwolves games in the last two weeks, protesting the methods used to “cull” millions of chickens during an avian flu outbreak at Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor’s egg farm.

In response to the latest incident, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green tweeted“They have to start prosecuting these people.”

Such brazen protests may be unusual at NBA games, but they’re standard practice for Direct Action Everywhere (also known as DxE), whose members pledge to protest all forms of farming and meat-eating “until every animal is free.” Many of the protests include what the group calls “open rescues”: stealing animals directly from farms. The practice has gotten several members of the group — including a co-founder — arrested and charged with felonies.

DxE also encourages its members to pressure friends and family into veganism. One document published by the group, “Making the Liberation Pledge Work for You,” suggests asking family members: “Would you sit at a table where someone is eating the body of an abused human baby?”

The group’s goals go far beyond an end to factory farms. One document from the group has a planned timeline that begins with “open rescues” becoming widespread around the country by 2025 “as vegan culture spreads,” and culminates in an “Equal Species Amendment” being passed “in one or more countries or states” by 2055. To work Towards this goal of species equality, the group says it seeks to establish “animal rights seed cities” where meat is restricted.

One of DxE’s co-founders, former corporate lawyer Wayne Hsiung, ran for mayor of Berkeley in 2020 in a bid to establish the first such “seed city.” He actually made it into the general election against the incumbent Jesse Arreguín. He lost, but managed to earn 14,000 votes. Hsiung, the longtime public face of DxE, told SFGATE in an email that he stepped down from DxE leadership in 2019, and that “the recent NBA protests surprised me as much as many folks on Twitter.”

Many activists who have interacted with Hsiung over the years have openly criticized Hsiung’s tactics and interpersonal style. During his mayoral campaign he, a former associate, James Davis, wrote an oppositional piece for Berkeleyside that accused Hsiung of being a “self-aggrandizing” bully.

An activist chains herself to the goal during the first half of Game One of the Western Conference First Round between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves at FedExForum on April 16, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee.

An activist chains herself to the goal during the first half of Game One of the Western Conference First Round between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves at FedExForum on April 16, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Justin Ford/Getty Images

“Over the years, Wayne has gaslit and assailed the character of those who disagree with him, while promoting ‘yes men’ who see him as the Second Coming,” Davis wrote. “If Wayne wins the race for mayor, I have no doubt that he will pursue a similarly divisive agenda that ignores rather than unifies the community in common purpose.”

Hsiung has faced significant legal repercussions for stealing farm animals, including the suspension of his law license in California. Leading up to the election, he was charged with “two felonies in connection with a ‘rescue’ of two goats in Transylvania County, North Carolina,” according to berkeleyside.

He’s also been charged with five felonies and one misdemeanor in connection with “Operation Death Star,” where DxE members reportedly entered Utah’s Circle Four Farms in 2017 and left with two piglets; eight felonies and seven misdemeanors in connection with two operations in Petaluma in 2018; and “third-degree felony accounts of burglary and theft in connection with the removal of a turkey from Norbest farm in Sanpete County, Utah.” (The case in Sanpete County was dismissed in November 2021). The California State Bar cited the felony charges, which Hsiung pleaded not guilty to, in North Carolina and Petaluma in their decision to suspend his law license.

A jury trial over “Operation Deathstar” for both Hsiung and Paul Darwin Picklesimer — another DxE member who faces charges and ran unsuccessfully for Berkeley City Council in 2020 — is set for September of 2022. Neither have entered pleas yet.

The activist group has often targeted Whole Foods, alleging that the chain supports animal mistreatment. In 2016, members covered in fake blood interrupted a ribbon-cutting at a new Silicon Valley store; in 2018, their protests outside a Berkeley location were so disruptive to judge granted Whole Foods to restraining order against the group.

DxE also spent four months in 2017 protesting outside a Berkeley butcher every Sunday, often covering themselves in fake blood and wrapping themselves in plastic wrap, according to Eater. The shop eventually agreed to display a sign that read “Attention: Animals lives are their right. Killing them is violent and unjust, no matter how it’s done,” in exchange for an end to the protests.

“We certainly don’t relish making people uncomfortable,” DxE organizer Matt Johnson told Eater after the sign was posted. “But if you want to talk about intimidation, or the word bullying, which is sometimes used, well, we’re talking about a world in which animals are languishing in captivity and suffering horrible fates.”

Despite — or perhaps because of — their aggressive tactics, DxE has a significant following around the country, with 423,000 followers on Facebook and another 64,000 on Instagram.

“Glue Girl” and the woman in the referee uniform protested at Target Center in Minneapolis, while “Chain Girl” struck at FedExForum in Memphis. The series returns to Memphis for Game 5 Tuesday night.

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