As Glenn Greenwald reported in a May 2020 article for The Intercept, whistleblower Lucas Walker released to the California-based animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE ) candid video of Iowa’s largest pork producer, Iowa Select, slaughtering thousands of pigs using cruel methods. A follow-up February 17, 2021 article by Lee Fang for the Intercept revealed that Walker was later approached by the FBI to aid in an investigation against that same animal rights group.
Lucas Walker, a truck driving, gun-owning Trump supporter who also herds cattle, describes himself as a Libertarian with a distrust for organized power structures. He was working for Iowa Selects when the company, facing the slowdowns and stoppages at meatpacking plants across the state, decided to kill off thousands of pigs it could not process and sell by locking them in their pens, cutting off ventilation, and raising the heat. The hogs died over hours, agonizingly and in increasingly large numbers. While not an animal rights activist by any means, Walker was disgusted by Iowa Selects’ clear violations of animal welfare standards.
Walker had limited options for whistleblowing on the inhumane practices, as Iowa Select benefits from cozy relations with state lawmakers and politicians. Though he contacted the state’s Department of Natural Resources, it were not interested in enforcement against the company. The owners of Iowa Select, Jeff and Debra Hansen, are among the highest donors to Governor Kim Reynolds. This relationship means that local government has an incentive to not interfere with how Iowa Select conducts business. In fact, the company was able to help pass a law that made recording footage inside the plant illegal. The law was later overturned by a federal court, but that goes to show how much influence the company has. With limited options, Walker went to Direct Action Everywhere. The group conducted an investigation and their secretly-recorded video of the mass slaughter attracted the attention of Greenwald and the Intercept; in turn, the Intercept’s reporting eventually attracted considerable corporate news coverage.
It was after Walker’s whistleblowing that Iowa Select hired a private investigator to determine Walker’s identity. Once he was discovered, the FBI came forward to question him about DxE and its funding. Agents asked if he would be willing to spy on DxE and even asked him if he’d be willing to purchase drugs for the FBI. The FBI declined to comment when asked about this by Fang and the Intercept.
Walker ultimately declined to work with the agency. To him, the FBI seemed to be too close to Iowa Select’s interests. He decided to go to the press again, this time using his name. Shortly after he came out to the press, Walker received a call from the FBI, this time from an unlisted number. They told him they no longer wanted him to be an informant. That was the last Walker heard from the FBI.
Corporate media coverage of the FBI’s role in this story has been almost nonexistent. The gruesome video of the pigs being suffocated and roasted alive received widespread coverage in the New York Post, Des Moines Register, and The New Republic, among others. On January 29, 2021, the Associated Press ran a piece about prosecutors dropping charges against a DxE activist arrested while trespassing on Iowa Select property that made reference to the leaked video. There has been a fair amount of local media coverage of the dropped charges against DxE activists, such as by CBS Local. But even so, none of this coverage has told the story of Walker’s whistleblowing, addressed the attempt by Iowa Select to track down him down or, most importantly, discussed the FBI’s effort to enlist him to investigate DxE.
Greenwald Glenn, “Hidden Video and Whistleblower Reveal Gruesome Mass-Extermination Method for Iowa Pigs Amid Pandemic”, May 29, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/05/29/pigs-factory-farms-ventilation-shutdown-coronavirus/.
Lee Fang, “After Pork Giant Was Exposed for Cruel Killings, The FBI Pursued Its Critics”, The Intercept, Feburary, 17, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/02/17/fbi-iowa-select-pigs-whistleblower/.
Student Researcher: Antonio Barrios (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)