ST. GEORGE — They were mostly young and from out of the area and came armed with signs, their voices and a pig.
The group, which appeared to be 100-120 strong on Tuesday, have gathered this week on Tabernacle Street between the Fifth District Courthouse and the Electric Theater in St. George in support of two men accused of stealing two piglets from the Circle Four Farm in Milford.
Among those supporters was Salt Lake City resident Autumn, who would only go by her first name, and her pig from the city named Cuzzie.
Cuzzie was a pig of few words or oinks, allowing himself to be pet by anyone who wanted to. When he wasn’t on a leash, Cuzzie was in a stroller sitting quietly inside the nearby theater where a feed to the proceedings was set up.
Autumn said caring for a pig herself, she has a hard time accepting them as just property.
“This is my companion animal – just like for some people, dogs, cats are their companion animals,” Autumn said. “ I just wanna be out here and support my animal here and to let people know that they’re not just food. They’re compassionate, sweet, hopeful creatures.”
The trial was moved to St. George after concerns an unbiased jury couldn’t be seated in Beaver County.
The supporters outside the courthouse, holding up “right to rescue” signs, were trying to make the case that animals in distress or being mistreated at large livestock facilities can be removed by concerned individuals. A giant head of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, at least 12 feet tall, was held up on the courthouse steps and nearly smothered lead organizer Rocky Chau as it came down.
The prosecutors inside say the two men, Paul Darwin Picklesimer and Wayne Hsuing, committed a burglary and should spend the next decade behind bars.
The men and many of those supporting them on Tabernacle are part of a group called Direct Action Everywhere, also known as DxE. It wasn’t lost on some of the organizers that the word “Dixie” was visible on the hill above them and its similarity to the organization’s name.
One of their lead organizers outside the courthouse was San Francisco-resident Rocky Chau, who himself is dealing with a legal matter stemming from animal activism. Chau is among those being sued by a horse racing track in the Bay Area for laying down on the track with three other activists and shutting down racing for part of a day last November.
One resident not with the protesters came up to Chau, mentioning that Picklesimer and Hsuing were stealing property. Chau responded that from his standpoint, the pigs were not property.
Chau said for him and many of the DxE activists, even as prosecutors say it is a burglary trial, they see it as a “landmark case” toward acknowledging animals as “sentient beings” – responsive to or conscious of sense impressions, according to Merriam-Webster’s.
“There’s a collective understanding that animals are sentient beings. And for far too long, their voices have been systematically silenced, repressed,” Chau said. “There’s no further proof of that than when these two investigators went inside us Circle Four Farms.
“This is not a burglary trial. This is a trial basically of compassion, like, is rescuing animals a crime? That’s the argument right here. If you’ve interacted with animals, whether they’re pigs or dogs, you could clearly see that these aren’t inanimate objects. These are individuals who feel pain and suffer. They have personalities just like us humans.”
Another man from the San Francisco Bay Area at the courthouse, Lewis Bernier, said that he was there not only for the animals but for Picklesimer and Hsuing who he said were close friends. He said he had been on some of the journeys into factories with the two defendants, including those owned by the same China-owned company that owns Circle Four.
“I’ve been inside Smithfield factory farms myself, and it keeps me up at night,” Bernier said. “The only way that they could bring attention to this was to actually go in, put themselves and their freedom on the line and film the conditions themselves. But I know also that Paul and Wayne knew the risks going into this. They’re really hoping that people pay attention to this.”
Court officials allowed 10 members of the group to be in the courtroom. Some were gathered either outside the courtroom, though “no loitering” signs posted outside limited the time they could be on the courthouse side of the street. A couple of bicycle St. George Police officers maintained a presence, though none of the protesters showed an apparent propensity for violence. They followed police instructions to move back to the sidewalk when one supporter was standing outside their parked car and also moved their vehicles when asked by a restaurant.
Most of the group of supporters ended up in the historic 111-year-old Electric Theater watching the proceedings via a digital feed projected on the screen.
Like a crowd at a football game, they reacted with jeers for each prosecution objection sustained and cheers for each point they felt the defense scored points.
The night before the Tuesday hearing, at an actual football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers, a DxE protester ran onto the field with a flare producing pink smoke to, according to him upon arrest, bring awareness to the trial in St. George.
But most social media said nothing about DxE or the trial in St. George, as the protester’s shirt wasn’t seen before the national Monday Night Football audience, only that he was ultimately tackled on the field by two members of the Rams.
But Salt Lake City resident Amy Mollerup said outside the courthouse that she saw the person running on the field as worth it if just one person looked up what he was protesting.
Did the guy dressed in all black at the top of the screen blow his ACL?? pic.twitter.com/4YZewOINuI
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) October 4, 2022
“A lot of people saw that video and were like, ‘Oh, it’s a gender-reveal party gone wrong,'” Mollerup said. “But there are still people who are going to see what we’re doing and that’s going to change some hearts and minds.”
Mollerup, who is between computer programmer jobs, said she hasn’t been able to reach the heart and mind of a brother of hers she said used to work at the Circle Four Farm.
“So one of my first impressions of this group was my brother comes to the dinner table one day and says, ‘Can you believe those crazy vegans? They stole one of our pigs,’” Mollerup said despite being a person who abstains from eating animal products herself.
Since showing support for the DxE cause, she said her brother doesn’t speak to her.
“I think he’s understanding that that’s who I am and that’s what I care about,” Mollerup said. “And I think a lot more of it has to do with the livelihood that he makes his living in than actually hating me as a person.
“It’s not necessarily that I want everybody to go vegan overnight, I just hope that we raise awareness and get people thinking about a little bit more about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
While most among the supporters of the defendants in the trial said they had come from either Northern Utah or out of state, Anthony Murie and Mckylee Hull didn’t have to go far themselves. They both are St. George locals.
And despite the common refrain by those jeering the protesters to “get a job,” Hull was quick to say both of them have jobs – Murie as a handyman and Hull as a thrift store clerk.
“The first step of accepting the truth is ridicule, right? People ridicule the truth,” Hull said. “I think it’s good to be open-minded and I’m totally happy that people are reacting because reacting is positive.”
Murie said something that made him less chipper than his partner was his disappointment that he didn’t see more locals among the protesters on Tabernacle.
“I would like to see more locals of the vegan community here in St. George show up to support this trial,” Murie said. “Because this is big. People are traveling from all over the country to be here.”
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