FBI Bulletin Highlighted “Extremists” Who Vandalized Butter Cow

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At the Iowa State Fair in August 2013, an animal rights group calling itself Iowans for Animal Liberation hid in the Agriculture Building until after it closed to douse the butter cow, a perennial main attraction, in red paint symbolizing blood. On a window, a message was added: “Freedom for all.”

Iowans were pretty outraged. “This is not protest,” Edible Iowa River Valley editor Kurt Michael Friese wrote in response, channeling their anger. “This is breaking and entering, vandalism and criminal mischief. What’s worse, it does nothing for the cause of animal welfare, and harms only the artist who worked many hours on the sculpture and the thousands upon thousands of ordinary folks who simply enjoy the quaint tradition of seeing the butter cow (not to mention the fair workers who had to clean up the mess).”

The protest was harmless; the butter cow was quickly cleaned up so fairgoers could continue to visit it. Nevertheless, Iowa newspapers were quick to liken the desecration of the beloved sculpture to more destructive acts carried out by animal rights activists. “It is unclear if Iowans for Animal Liberation is the same group or related to The Animal Liberation Front,” the Des Moines Register speculated, before listing past events where the latter group released animals from Iowa fur farms or research labs. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier launched an over-the-top, three-part series with an article titled “Butter Cow incident a reminder of animal rights extremists’ presence.” The article compared the paint attack to actions by the “extreme” ALF (there was no evidence the State Fair protesters had any ties to the group) and unrelated protests around the country and globe, including a recent incident at an unspecified location in the U.S. in which, for unspecified reasons, “three Molotov cocktails where thrown at a Burger King location in addition to two last week.”

And the feds got involved.

The results of a December 2014 Freedom of Information Act request for FBI “ecoterrorism” documents published Monday on MuckRock shed more light on that. In November 2013, three months after the butter cow’s besmirching, the incident was included in an FBI intelligence bulletin titled “Recent Upsurge in Animal Rights Extremist Activity in the West and Midwest May Encourage Future Criminal Actions”:

FBI via MuckRock
FBI via MuckRock

“Nothing is safe from the ecoterrorists – not even ‘art,'” snarked Evan Anderson, who filed the request, in the MuckRock post.

It wasn’t the first time the butter cow was targeted. In 2011, two years before it was bloodied up, activists hid around and stuck a message reading, “Go vegan” on the buttery beast (which is re-carved every year). In an email to the Register, a guy who said he was from a group called the Iowa Citizens for Animal Liberation attributed the brief protest (the message slipped off the cow after a couple hours) to another group, the Militant Vegans Against Factory Farming.

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In both cases, the protesters remained anonymous.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.