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Oct 10

Animal rights activists target Asheville sustainability school with death threats

Natalie (Bogwalker) Nicklett Killing Sheep


Asheville Citizen-Times

Natalie Bogwalker, the woman behind the sustainable skills school at the heart of the debate, said she’s receiving emails and phone calls threatening her with physical harm, and even death.

“(There are) a lot of people hoping we die a painful death, wishing people would slit our throats, and saying that we’re sick and demented,” said Bogwalker, director of Wild Abundance. “I try to keep a good attitude about it, but it’s pretty challenging.”

Wild Abundance is a Barnardsville school teaching skills including carpentry, basket weaving, wild-food cookery and soap-making. In early November, the school plans to host a weekend class, Cycles of Life, that teaches students how to slaughter a 100-pound sheep and then use the entirety of the animal.

A release from the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which circulates statements from often-anonymous animal rights groups, earlier this month expressed outrage over the class. 

“Innocent sheep will be coldly and cruelly murdered November 4th by two women who apparently are unfamiliar with the term oxymoron,” the unsigned release said. 

The statement asserted that the idea of “humane slaughter” is a contradiction in terms, and positioned animal rights activists as coming from a place of compassion. 

The release also urged other activists to “register disgust and outrage with the perpetrators of this senseless, needless and bloody violence,” publishing contact information for Bogwalker and others involved with the class.

Meanwhile, a petition on Care2 Petitions calls for the shutting down of the school. To date, it has around 800 signatures.   

Last year, The Let Live Coalition urged Bogwalker to cancel a similar class and release a sheep to a sanctuary, launching a call to action on social media and starting a petition that garnered about 10 times the signatures.

The Let Live Coalition has also purchased wildabundance.org — the Wild Abundance school’s website is wildabundance.net — which redirects to a pro-animal campaign page.

Bogwalker makes no bones about the fact that the Cycles of Life class can be brutal for some. After thanking the animal for its life, she dispatches it with a knife to the throat in front of the class. The animal is then skinned and gutted, with any unused parts buried in a garden on the school grounds as fertilizer. One person who took the class went fully vegan, she noted.

The upfront nature of the class is part of the point, Bogwalker added. “One of the reasons we offer the class is so people can really and truly understand the repercussions of their choices to eat meat and take responsibility for it.”

Will Hazlitt, a spokesperson for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, said animal rights activists think there’s no such thing as responsible meat eating, and labeled the class an “abhorrent activity.”

He also defended the right of some activists to threaten violence on the teachers. 

“We sympathize deeply with the people who are extremely upset about this and their deep-seated emotions in this regard, and we have no sympathy for the people who are cruelly murdering this sheep,” he said. 

“I think all efforts to stop it are worthy and laudable,” he continued. “Different groups go about things in different ways.”

Even though the whole-animal class represents a small part of the Wild Abundance curriculum, Bogwalker said she did not plan to cancel it. “The service that we offer is something I believe in, something that’s really important to me, and I don’t like being bullied. For me to give in to being bullied feels inauthentic.”

Meredith Leigh, local author of “The Ethical Meat Handbook: A Complete Guide to Home Butchery, Charcuterie, and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore,” also will be a teacher at the Cycles of Life class, despite a few “bizarre” voice mails and “annoying” Facebook messages from activists.

Leigh was slated to teach a similar class at Wild Abundance last year, but dropped out after being flooded with threats of violence. She said her decision was based on concerns about her ability to be present for the animal. “It was an intentional act, rather than I was getting death threats and was afraid I was going to die.”.

Both Leigh and Bogwalker said they thought other issues, including threat of nuclear war and climate change, were perhaps better suited for the protesters’ attention.

Still, Leigh said she was able to put herself in the mindset of the protesters.

“I understand the impetus for their position and, to a certain degree, I understand why they think their tactics are impactful,” she said. “But I’ve seen evidence that in fact their tactics are harmful, especially right now where there’s already a lot of division in the world.”