Animal Rights Activists – Hypocrites or Extremists?

Can You Protest the Circus While Eating A Pepperoni Pizza?

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This article was updated and re-written in part by Michelle A. Rivera, About.Com Animal Rights Expert


Are Animal Rights Activists Hypocrites?

According to, a hypocrite is "a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, esp. a person whose actions belie stated beliefs."

When it comes to animal rights, the label "hypocrite" usually refers to someone who wears leather but protests fur, or someone who eats meat but opposes hunting.

Wearing leather and eating meat are inconsistent with animal rights, so these individuals probably do not see themselves as, and should not be called "animal rights activists." But are they hypocrites? No.

A fur protestor is not necessarily saying s/he believes in the concept of animal rights. S/he may believe in an animal welfare position where certain uses of animals are acceptable as long as the animal is treated humanely. A person at a fur protest is just saying s/he opposes fur. That's all. There is no contradiction between this person’s beliefs and actions. S/he can be called a hypocrite only if you see him or her buying or wearing fur. The same goes for hunting. If a hunt protestor then eats a hamburger on the way home, he is not a hypocrite because he never pretended to support animal rights.

Similarly, a person who brings their cat to the veterinarian while eating meat cannot be called a hypocrite.

Are Animal Rights Activists Extremists?

The definition of "extremist" is "a supporter or advocate of extreme doctrines or practices," and the definition of "extreme" is "of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average."

Missing from the dictionary definition of "extremist" is the negative connotation and the fact that the term is pejorative.

The word is almost always used as a criticism. If you look it up in a thesaurus, the synonyms include "fanatic" and "zealot;" hardly words to describe someone who has chosen to peacefully defend the rights of innocent beings.

However, in the case of animal rights, there is nothing wrong with seeking solutions that are "extreme" and far from the ordinary. In the United States, the ordinary treatment of animals causes them to suffer and die on factory farms, in laboratories, on fur farms, in leghold traps, in puppy mills, and in zoos and circuses. An extreme change is needed to save animals from these fates.

All the leaders of the great movements throughout history engaged in what could have been viewed as extreme. Malcom X was labeled the most dangerous man in America because he promoted furthering the civil rights movement “by any means necessary.” This was taken to mean violence. The Animal Liberation Front has gone to extremes in their struggle to free animals from oppression and exploitation. They’ve been added to the domestic terrorist watch list. Who is to say what actions are too extreme? Breaking the law in order to get your point across may appear extreme, however, humane laws are broken every day on factory farms, puppy mills, dog and horse tracks, circuses, zoos and more.

 Undercover videos of the daily operations of these ventures show horrifying extreme animal abuse. When an animal rights activist breaks the law, s/he gets arrested. When factory farm workers break humane laws, the agricultural lobby goes to work and gets a bill passed barring undercover videos of their nefarious actions. 

Because of the negative connotations of the word "extremist," the term is not appropriate for animal rights activists who are peaceful advocates for a social justice movement. 

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Lin, Doris. "Animal Rights Activists – Hypocrites or Extremists?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2016, Lin, Doris. (2016, September 1). Animal Rights Activists – Hypocrites or Extremists? Retrieved from Lin, Doris. "Animal Rights Activists – Hypocrites or Extremists?" ThoughtCo. (accessed November 22, 2017).