When California's legislature opened hearings on a proposed ban on fur sales, they met with stiff opposition: Andrew Aguero, who described himself as a Native American student said that it was "people from a privileged culture are telling people of my culture that our culture is inhumane" (the bill exempted traditional indigenous uses of fur from the ban); they also heard from Andrew DiGiovanna, another student who said he opposed the bill on environmental grounds; Edwin Lombard said it was "an affront to the African-American community" who used furs to "show we could overcome barriers" like redlining.
At least some of these protesters were paid: Matt Gray (who complained that the regulation of fur and the legalization of cannabis were a "baffling" double-standard) got $7,000 from the Fur Information Council of America; while Aguero had published a Facebook post before the hearing reading, "Anyone in LA down to make an easy $100 this Tuesday in Sacramento and fight tyranny?"
An undercover researcher from a group that supported the bill took Aguero up on his offer and was referred to Republican consulting firm Mobilize the Message, who gave him a contract offering a system of payouts and bonuses for presenting himself to lawmakers as a concerned citizen and repeating their talking points.
Mobilize the Message was founded by Cliff Maloney, who is also president of Young Americans for Liberty, which contracts to many GOP PACs and groups, including the Stop AOC PAC, dedicated to neutralizing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
It wasn't just California that heard from a suspiciously on-message cohort of pro-fur activists who claimed than bans on fur were racist: in New York, Harlem's Rev. Johnnie Green of Mount Neboh Baptist Church offered $250 Amex gift cards to people who would attend a council hearing on the ban. Green has also published op-eds claiming that Black culture is fur culture and that a ban is part of "a pattern throughout history, of Blacks being told what rights they can and cannot have by the White majority."
At the California hearings, the opposition to the fur ban was mostly made up of college and high-school students who huddled with fur lobbyists before speaking out against the bill. William Duplissea, who retired from the California Assembly and now works as a fur lobbyist, insists that the speakers were not paid, despite the fact that one of the high school students who spoke in opposition admitted that she'd been paid to do so, while others said they couldn't answer the question because they'd been instructed not to speak to the press.
It's a commonplace that the things that other people accuse you of are the things they do themselves. Donald Trump and the far-right like to claim that progressive causes are staffed by paid protesters who are funded by billionaires like George Soros. Donald Trump paid actors to cheer for him at his campaign announcement in 2015.
One furrier, Beverly Hills' David Appel, told The Intercept that he thought the fur ban was secretly funded by Chinese synthetic fur manufacturers.
Animal rights activists argue that the fur industry is inherently inhumane and is throwing the proverbial kitchen sink as a distraction.
"This ban is absolutely not an issue of race at all. It has nothing to do with black culture or the African-American community. It's a ban on animal cruelty," said Stewart Mitchell, an organizer with Voters for Animal Rights. "I'm an animal rights activist who happens to be black," he added.
"The fur bans in Berkeley, San Francisco, and now California are all being led by people of color," said Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of DxE, the largest group testifying in support of AB 44 on Tuesday. "And the anti-fur movement has incredible support from communities of color. As people who have experienced oppression, we know how important it is to challenge systemic forms of abuse — rather than clinging to outdated and oppressive traditions."
Protesters Collect Secret Cash to Oppose Fur Ban Proposed in California, Documents Reveal [Lee Fang/The Intercept]