Lee Hall, notorious defender of state oppression of animal activists and author of the ridiculous ‘Capers in the Churchyard, Animal Activism in the Age of Terror’ was scheduled to give a talk today (Sunday Sep 6th) at the London Vegan Festival. Things didn’t work out quite as she, or the festival, had planned however. If Hall was seriously entertaining the notion that she could fly to England and hold forth for fifty minutes at an event like this, with SHAC activists present, on the subject of her choice, without being confronted about her statements on direct action, then I suggest she is in need of a psychiatrist.
At the appointed time some friends and I entered the room, which was almost full, and seated ourselves with others who had a few questions for Ms Hall. Soon there was standing room only as she began by stating that this was to be a flexible, question-and-answer’, inclusive type event, (more evidence of her complete lack of awareness of any chance of a hostile reception) and there then followed a stunningly tedious opening peppered with Biblical quotes and delivered in what must qualify as the most brain-numbingly uninspiring drone it has ever been my misfortune to listen to. This is no thoughtless insult – it was torture! Hall’s voice has the kind of monotone that makes George Bush Sr sound like Malcolm X, and I feel that even if I had been her greatest fan I would have had to create a disturbance simply to end the misery. It struck me that her insouciant drawl betrayed an arrogance rooted in her own self-importance and sense of entitlement. Here is a woman, I thought, who is so used to an obedient audience hanging on her every word that she feels no effort whatsoever is required in holding its attention.
After ten minutes or so of being subjected to her yawnsome ‘The Peaceable Kingdom, a discussion of spirit, nature and animal rights’ a fresh-faced young man put up his hand; Hall invited him to ask his question; he obliged. Why was it, he enquired, that she condemned the AR movement for using direct action whilst seemingly supporting the right of other movements to use it? Hall looked at him blankly for a few seconds as the reality that she may be addressing mostly wolves rather than sheep (apologies to sheep here) began to dawn.
After a pause she suggested that as her talk wasn’t about that she should continue with her original theme, but this simply set off a flurry of demands that she answer. Realizing she must at least appear to engage she stated that ‘Donald Watson has already answered that’. Watson was the person who coined the term ‘vegan’ in the 1940’s after setting up The Vegan Society in England, and now Hall launched into a soliloquy about his conscientious objection in wartime, pointedly remarking that ‘although he disagreed with war, he never judged those engaged in it.’
Laughter and derision greeted this totally inadequate response which had completely side-stepped the question, and more questions were fired, just about every one answered with a variant on ‘Donald Watson said…’ until a girl right at the front finally asked: ‘Have you got any views of your own or are they all Donald Watson’s?’ Hall faltered. She fully understood at last her predicament but I was amazed at how poorly she defended herself. It confirmed my earlier suspicion that she was simply unused to having her ideas scrutinized.
She was attempting to retain an air of calm but her eyes were full of fear as she offered: ‘What we are talking about here is vegan values.’ ‘I am vegan’ countered the girl, but the rest of her sentence was lost in the din of disgusted comments aimed at Hall. The atmosphere of the room was highly charged. This was supposed to be an appreciative and attentive crowd but there was now a suffusion of antagonism that had reversed the energy so that Hall sat, no longer in control, but unsure and vulnerable. Her discomfort was palpable.
A middle-aged woman then made a short speech of her own: referring to ‘Capers in the Churchyard’ she quite reasonably asked why Hall had not thought it necessary to speak with a single activist involved in the events she had written about? She added that individuals misrepresented in the book, such as Joan Court, had written letters to her which had remained unanswered. ‘Why didn’t you speak to us? We are nice people and perfectly capable of having a conversation about this.’
Hall again failed to answer the question, managing only a rather pathetic: ‘I respect Joan Court.’
‘Why didn’t you answer her letters if you respect her so much?’ I enquired. No answer. I tried another. ‘In your book you compare ‘animal extremism’ as you call it to the Ku Klux Klan, can you explain this?’ A gasp went around the room. I had the book open on the page should she attempt a denial but I saw in her face that she had no reply. As more barbs flew, and I realized I would never get an answer from Hall anyway, I asked the shocked girl next to me if she’d like to read the quote:
‘Eerie as the restrictions might be (new legislation drafted to deal with far-right hate groups and ‘groups promoting animal-welfare militancy’) eerier still is the public image of animal advocates as adding energy to the mass of threats normally posed by right-wing vigilantes. Underscoring the parallel, Scotland’s Herald reported in 2005 that animal-rights extremism borrowed a ‘leaderless resistance’ model from the Ku Klux Klan.’
This, being from the introduction, sets the tone for the entire work. Total reliance on press reports and police statements to support her assertions betrays a complete willingness on Hall’s part to abandon even the basics of journalistic integrity in her attempt to smear those she has in her sights. And the breathtaking audacity of using governments’ draconian legislation targeting activists as PROOF of their ‘guilt’ shows an incredible ability to turn reality on its head. ‘They must be terrorists or these laws would not be needed’ goes this line. Enquiry this shallow from a woman of supposed intelligence reveals a self-inflicted myopia which sacrifices any notion of objectivity, or, indeed, professionalism, on the altar of her skewed agenda. No acknowledgement of any wider context exists for Hall; certainly not one in which vested interests are threatened by effective action, or governments draft unjust laws to protect them. Here, the police always tell the truth and the press is never biased. How lovely. How dishonest. Because Hall is not deluded, we might forgive her that; no, she is a liar, plain and simple.
Back to the room at the Vegan Festival now where a portly guy with a walking stick is telling Hall; ‘I have been an activist for twenty years. I’ve been arrested thirty-three times and one of my best mates is in prison serving fourteen years. I can’t jump fences anymore but I know that I have influenced people to become vegan by my actions. I know that for a fact.’ He is adding that he ‘also respects the little old lady giving leaflets out on a street corner’ when a grey-haired man enters the room and is ushered to the front by a very flushed festival steward. He announces himself as the organizer stating that Lee Hall has come ‘all the way from America’ to give her talk and should be allowed to give it ‘without SHAC hijacking it.’
Jeers and derision ensue as someone helpfully points out that Hall herself declared the event an interactive one during which she would welcome questions. The man with the walking stick tells him that ‘if Tony Blair was here and this was my only chance to talk to him I’d do exactly the same thing.’ I mention that Hall refuses to engage with her critics and so we will hold her to account. The man asks Hall if she is able to give her talk. ‘Not the one I intended’ she answers. A thin man at the back says he has taken part in many ALF actions but that she has five minutes left of her time so she had better use it wisely and that he would listen. I point out to him that, as he was still speaking, she turned away, ignoring him. He makes a face of disgust.
A few disgruntled people complain that they have been prevented from hearing a talk they wanted to hear but we argue our case vehemently until the time is up. The flushed young steward stands up and angrily tells us ‘you can leave now’. A male voice behind me shouts: ‘I’ll leave when I’m ready!’ ‘Fine, enjoy the room’ the steward spits. We laugh. It’s over.
I never got to ask Hall why she contrasts in her book Nelson Mandela’s support for ‘controlled use of violence’ with the actions of SHAC et al. On what basis is she making this distinction? I would have enquired. Oh well. Stop press: I am informed Hall’s book signing has been cancelled – I wonder why?
Alison Banville, TPC’s UK Editor of Total Liberation, is a long-term campaigner on rights for human and nonhuman animals, the environment, and political issues. She is committed to showing how they are all interconnected. Alison is also a singer, lyricist, and teacher, and she has a keen interest in vegan health and fitness.