In June 2020, an executive at the pork giant Iowa Select Farms introduced former company truck driver Lucas Walker to an FBI agent who asked him to inform on the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). Walker had become involved with the group in March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Iowa Select possessed an excess of hogs. To reduce costs, the company employed a lengthy and painful method of mass-extermination known as “ventilation shutdown” (VDS). Walker had already been concerned with Iowa Select’s illegal practice of “double stocking,” in which multiple pigs are squeezed into pens far too small to hold them. He made several attempts to report the company to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which regulates agriculture, but they were uninterested in investigating. With no legitimate means of reporting the violations, Walker coordinated with DxE to expose Iowa Select’s cruelty.
In June 2020, Walker, who had been fired for a trucking accident earlier in the summer, returned to the Iowa Select office where a private investigator questioned him about his DxE ties. Iowa Select COO Noel Williams introduced Walker to the FBI agent the following week. The agent asked him to tie DxE funding to illegal drug sales, even requesting that he buy drugs for the FBI to incriminate the group.
The FBI has a history of targeting animal rights and environmental groups under the guise of preventing “domestic terrorism.” The agency often recruits informants by coercion, employing thinly-veiled threats of legal action if they refuse. Unlike agents, FBI informants—as many as 15,000—do not require probable cause to infiltrate organizations. The Intercept’s Lee Fang explains, “This loophole effectively incentivizes the FBI to use informants to infiltrate political or activist groups.” Once informants infiltrate groups, they often provoke members into illegal acts, which the agency then uses to justify crack downs on the entire organization.
Iowa Select has donated nearly $300,000 to Governor Kim Reynolds. Reynolds appointed DNR head Kayla Lyon, a former agribusiness lobbyist who advocated for a 2012 “Ag Gag” law that prohibits recording factory farms. According to Walker, Iowa Select’s private investigator identified himself as a former member of law enforcement, and enjoyed a friendly relationship with the FBI agent. “The entire arrangement appeared to be a show of deference to Iowa Select,” wrote Fang.
Establishment sources including the Des Moines Register, the Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press covered the horrific ventilation shutdown. Only The Intercept, which had previously published a leaked video exposing the VDS in March 2020, has covered the FBI’s attempt to recruit Walker, as well as Iowa Select’s ties to political figures and law enforcement. The FBI frequently targets animal rights and environmental groups through informants, which goes widely ignored by the establishment press. The vast political power big agribusiness wields also goes under-reported among corporate media outlets.
Source: Lee Fang, “After Pork Giant’s Cruel Killings Exposed, FBI Pursued Critics,” The Intercept, February 17, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/02/17/fbi-iowa-select-pigs-whistleblower/.
Student Researcher: Sam Mercer (Saint Michael’s College)
Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (Saint Michael’s College)