It is important to note that Francione’s theory is OK. It’s very good in fact – much of his critique of animal welfarism and the corporatised animal advocacy movement is as valid as when it was developed in the 1990s. It is also important to note that, when Francione criticises the animal advocacy movement and/or groups and individuals within it, he’s criticising what, for him, is a separate movement to the one he imagines that he has founded.
The theory is good but Francione’s personality is an absolute disaster in the context of a functioning social movement, or even a single social movement organisation. He actually revels in his “outsider” position. He loves being the “maverick” – and, indeed, his difficult, individualistic, personality traits probably helped him in the early days when he started to turn his back on the animal movement and begin to call everyone in it by a slur he invented: “New welfarist.” I happen to believe that this concept also has merit – but he uses it not only as a conceptual tool to distinguish traditional animal welfarism, but also as a weapon and a stick with which to beat people with. If one gets on the wrong side of Francione, then one is a “welfarist” or “new welfarist” forever after, regardless of whether that description matches reality or not.
There is nothing more Francione would like to believe but that the “alternative abolitionist movement” he dreams of is a reality. Like any good salesperson, he keeps saying that his movement is real – but his personality blocks it at every stage. There is NO WAY that Professor Gary L. Francione could grow a social movement, especially not a mass movement. He requires far too much social control for that to ever happen.
In the absence of a functioning social movement of his own – coupled with the fact that he rejects membership of the existing animal movement – he is left expending his energies, and the energies of his “mods,” in obsessively monitoring the campaigns of others, trying to discover things to find fault with. This obsession currently takes the shape of systematically screen-shooting what appears to be the entire internet, giving observers the amusement of reading blog entries crammed full with invitations to “click to enlarge.” The obsession is so severe that Francione screen-shoots others’ “likes” on FB posts that he disapproves of. This is not psychologically healthy.
The Recent Francione Attack on the Dublin-Based Vegan Information Project
An example of Francione seeing only the bad and never the good comes from his treatment of the group I organise for and volunteer with, the Vegan Information Project (VIP).
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m relying on memory of some of the things Francione said on FB over the last months. There is a comprehensive “statement” written by Francione in which he details his gripes about me as an individual, and VIP as a group. I have not read this “statement” – in fact, I’ve not even opened it and do not intent to. I believe that I know the contents – but I’m sure Francione and his mods will correct me if I’m wrong (or right!) on this.
On a personal level, Francione has called me a “sell-out” (his new fave insult he borrows from Bob Linden); a “failed academic;” implied that I’m getting wages from animal welfare corporations (untrue – never have, never will), and that I will happily “throw animals under the bus.”
I can live with these insults but they are a little frustrating since I’ve been an ethical vegan for longer than Francione, I’ve done my share of writing about abolitionist veganism, and agree with the idea that the rights-based animal rights movement should have veganism as its moral baseline, and I’ve done substantially more local community street advocacy than Francione will ever do.
When it comes to what Francione says against the Vegan Information Project as a group, things are complicated by the fact that some of his critique is valid – yet unfair at the same time. If he had the decency to contact VIP and ask questions, he would not have ended up distorting the truth as much as he does.
So, a bit of background. In 2013, the VIP received ONE (a single) grant from an organisation called VegFund. I first became aware of VegFund in 2012 when, as part of the ARZone team, I co-interviewed two of the three co-founders of the organisation, Rae Sikora and JC Corcoran. The VIP run regular (and in 2013, irregular) events with another group: VEGO (Vegan Education on the Go). One of the 2013 joint events was a “pay-to-view” day when people are paid to watch a short film. VegFund favour the showing of a graphic 4-minute film, whereas I’ve always been wary about the graphic nature of films and argued against using it. It turns out that this was a Mercy for Animals (MFA) film. I did not know this and had no part in preparing the showing of it. Almost three years later the VIP were attacked by Francione over this single grant and the showing of the film at a joint event. Moreover, he implied heavily (the being paid bit) that I was being regularly “sponsored” by this group, or other groups. Untrue. Because he is not a street campaigner, and that his word is law when it comes to The Abolitionist Approach, Francione has no idea about team work and the fact that, now and then, one gets out-voted and things are not exactly as one would like them to be all the time. Francione also clearly has no conception that grassroots groups might want to do something more than give out literature and plant-based cupcakes from a fold-down table – such ambition costs, and we all can’t be multi-millionaires; capitalism doesn’t work like that.
I mentioned on FB that I wasn’t even sure whether VegFund were associated with MFA in 2013. Francione saw that comment because he commented on it. His problem now was that a VegFund sign had been left on the VIP website which is true – and it could have been – and even should have been – removed much earlier. However, at the time, the website was a mess because the Vegan Information Project had transformed into the Vegan Intersectionality Project, and back again. The reasons for these changes are not important for this blog entry – I might get to explore the issue at VegFest Bristol 2016 when intersectionality is one of the subjects up for discussion.
One important part of the name change is important to mention. When VIP moved to the Intersectionalty Project, the old Information site was bought by one of these website banks that seem to scoop up available websites. That did not stop Francione attacking me and the VIP because the old site - that we no longer controlled or owned - had some vegetarian references on it. Again, if Francione had sent an email rather than acting as an internet troll, this issue could have been resolved in minutes. Indeed, a search on the internet would reveal that VIP no longer owned the site that he was nevertheless attacking us about.
As if to prove how removed Francione is from real campaigning, his second complaint about the VegFund sign was that one of the employees of VegFund, executive director Leslie Barcus, is also on the board of Humane Society International, which is part of the Humane Society of the USA (HSUS). This is classic Francione “guilt by association” stuff which has recently turned around and bitten him on the bottom when some animal advocates decided to apply Francione’s own criteria to Francione’s annual conference, the World Vegan Summit, organised by Bob Linden.
However, let’s go back to the fact that the VIP had a VegFund sign on its website. This is how ludicrous and out-of-touch Francione is. We have to imagine that someone goes to a VIP street event in Ireland, likes what they see and hear; then goes to the VIP website for a look-see; then sees the VegFund sign, then goes to VegFund’s website; then are interested enough to check their staff members; then they discover Leslie Barcus is employed by VegFund; and then they discover that she’s on the board of Humane Society International and make something of that information. We are asked to believe that this tiny possibility negates all the street work that was done on the streets of Dublin due to one VegFund grant in 2013!
Francione is talking out of his hat. If he had any experience of street campaigning, he would see how ridiculous his accusations appear in the real world.
However, we’re not done yet. The VegFund sign on the VIP website was NOT an internet hyperlink – in other words, one could not “click” on it and be transported to VegFund. No, interested parties would have to google “VegFund” to get their website address.
Contrast that with Francione’s World “Vegan” Summit. Its sponsors’ page has been discovered to contain lots of dodgy websites and internet links – which are, each and every one, hyperlinks and, thus, very easily accessible. It is far more likely that a person would find themselves in the arms of those organisations Francione hates by visiting his site rather than the one I’m associated with.
For example, until recently, the World “Vegan” Summit hyperlinked to Farm Fresh to You. A couple of clicks into their prominent recipes page revealed that they were recommending ingredients such as “fish sauce,” eggs, honey, dairy yoghurt, and at least two types of dairy cheese. This particular sponsor has now been removed after being there promoting animal ingredients for weeks and months past. Although both Francione and Linden are claiming that they weren’t aware of these recipes, they were easily accessible from the World “Vegan” Summit website – and a thousand times more accessible than tracing the Vegan Information Project to Humane Society International through convoluted scenarios.
Current Situation: More Bluster
Gary Francione appeared on the Go Vegan Radio show on 10th April, 2016, to discuss sponsorship of large conferences. Without naming me, or the VIP, Francione referred to the issue he has with me (see audio clip above). The context of the audio clip is the recent criticism of the World “Vegan” Summit. It was found that the Francione conference is promoting Farm Sanctuary via one of their sponsors, VegKids. Again, remember that this is Francione’s criteria being applied. In addition to his “guilt-by-association” standards, Francione also abides by a do-as-I-say,-not-as-I-do criteria. Therefore, it is no surprise that Francione thinks the World “Vegan” Summit has nothing to answer. Really?
If you listen to the clip, you’ll hear Francione first claim that Farm Sanctuary are merely “mentioned” via the VegKids website. A few seconds later, he corrects himself because VegKids are taking groups of children on trips to Farm Sanctuary. Just consider what Francione would say about any other group or organisation that was taking lots and lots of children to Farm Sanctuary. He would go ballistic – but not when it’s his own event in the stew.
You’ll also hear that Francione is once again focused on the alleged VIP “promotion” of Mercy for Animals. So let’s do our in-real-world test again. We have to imagine that someone comes up to a VIP event on the streets of Dublin. They like what they see and hear. Then, they decide to go to the VIP website; then they see the VegFund sign; then, because they cannot just click because there was no hyperlink, they must google VegFund and go to their site; then they see the Mercy for Animals connections – but wait, in the audio clip, you’ll hear Francione imply that VegFund mentions or links to MFA, “on every single page.”
I tested Francione's claims.
- VegFund Home Page. Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “About Us, Introduction.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “About Us, Results.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “About Us, Our Team.” Mentions of MFA: ONE, in connection to board member Matthew Goodman.
- VegFund “About Us, General FAQs.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “Grant Programs, Overview.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “Grant Programs, Food Sampling.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “Grant Programs, Video Outreach, Pay to View.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “Grant Programs, Video Outreach, Screenings.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “Grant Programs, Video Outreach, Online Campaigns.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “Grant Programs, Merit Awards.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “Grant Programs, Apply.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “Donate.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
- VegFund “Contact Us.” Mentions of MFA: ZERO.
Then there is a very disappointing section of the VegFund site, entitled “Why Veg,” with three subjections, “For the Animals,” “For the Planet,” and “For Your Health.” The title, “Why Veg?” does bother me – especially since it links to the MFA “Vegetarian Starter Kit.”
I would certainly like to see changes in that part of the site. A vegan starter kit, for one, and perhaps the links to MFA is not for the best. However, this immediately raises a question: how best to influence VegFund, attack them and call them names, Francione/Linden style, or engage with them asking for vegan changes?
However, I think my point is made. Francione is mistaken – BIG TIME – that MFA are mentioned “on every single page.” Do you think Francione lies like that because he’s never been placed under the same scrutiny that he places others in the other movement he constantly attacks?
Double standards anyone?
 Just a couple of recent examples. The all-singing “Grumpies” (both Francione FB page moderators) appeared on Go Vegan Radio not long after the show’s host, Bob Linden, had interviewed Sandra Higgins who had launched an amazing poster campaign in Ireland and new website based on abolitionist veganism. Linden was very excited by this campaign, so when the Grumpies appeared on his show, also from Ireland, he expected them to rave about the Go Vegan Ireland campaign. However, they seemed reluctant to do so, presumably not fully knowing whether Francione, their “leader,” would approve. Being too scared to speak up is not healthy. Similarly, Frances McCormack has a blog site which contains at least two statements to the effect that any mistake she makes in relation to Francione are not his fault. “Any errors in my understanding of that theory are unintentional…” from the “about” page and, “This page is indebted to the work of Gary L. Francione, but not endorsed by him. Any errors or misinterpretations in my attempt to apply Abolitionist theory to vegan advocacy are entirely my own,” on the front page. When McCormack appeared on a podcast, she was asked to outline the abolitionist position. She began with an apology! They, his own moderators, are bloody terrified of Francione. No social movement can function under such social control.
 There is some truth in this. I was never much of an academic and much more, first and foremost, an animal advocate who was fortunate enough to get involved with the academy for a while. When I entered prison on my 4-year sentence for “animal related activities,” I had no educational qualifications to my name. I was – and am – an animal rights campaigner, but I used my time well in prison and left there going straight into university. During the time when most high-salary academics like Francione are building their careers and wealth in their 20s and early 30s, I was either a full-time volunteer for various grassroots animal groups, or else in jail. None of that counts when Francione is on the attack.
 Possibly much longer. I went vegan in 1979, Francione claims that he went vegan in 1982. However, 14 years later, in March 1996, he published a paper in which he described himself as a “vegetarian” and says that he ordered a “vegetarian meal” in a restaurant. Now, this could be a language issue – lots of vegans in the USA would describe themselves as vegetarians, or “pure vegetarian.” I find it unlikely that Francione would (but it is possible). Only a few months later, Francione was featured in the Vegetarian Times, described then as a full-on vegan. So, maybe 1996 was the time when Francione finally went vegan, or near the time when he started to call himself vegan after 14 years of being one. Personally, I would never call myself a vegetarian. I mentioned in a VegFest Brighton talk that I was once arrested in the 1980s and the cops asked if I was a vegetarian. I said “no.” Of course not, I’m a vegan.