On Monday, June 3, 2019, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) activists gained access to Reichardt Duck Farm in Sonoma County, CA, where about a million ducks are slaughtered every year. Activists used U-locks to lock themselves to the kill line, where ducks’ necks usually hang, limp and lifeless, as they are pulled along a conveyor belt and turned into meat. One of the activists, Thomas Chiang, was dragged by his neck after a slaughterhouse worker turned on the kill line. This is his story.
I woke up at 6 a.m. on the morning of the action. I was nervous. I took a shower, put on clean clothes, and slipped booties over my shoes.
Before I left to meet up with the rest of the team, I grabbed a towel to cover my mouth. It was going to be a hot day, and the smell of the bodies inside the slaughterhouse was going to be hard to bear.
We were all given Sharpies to write a phone number on our bodies for our jail call if and when we got arrested.
Everyone was tense. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t know whether or not we were going to be approached with violence. So we went forward in peace, trying not to escalate the situation.
At the same time, we were there to save lives.
They handed me a marker, and I remember thinking, I’m not going to call anyone. So I wrote “ANIMAL LIBERATION” in big black letters on my forearms. Then we finally jumped in the vans and started driving.
There was some talking and joking on the way to the farm, but all in all, we knew what we were getting into. We were prepared to stop the kill line, and that was not a laughing matter.
The vans pulled up to the edge of the farm, and we started running towards the slaughterhouse. As we approached the facility, I could see the workers. We slowed down and told them to stop what they were doing.
The scene inside the farm was frantic. I could see a red button, so I went up and hit it. I thought it was the button to stop the conveyor belt on the kill line, but it was actually the electric stun bath, which I could see right in front of me. There was a worker there too who was slitting throats.
I walked up to her and said, “Please, please stop this,” pointing to the kill line.
She said, “Okay,” put down her knife, and turned off the conveyor belt.
Then I walked around to the other side of the conveyor belt where the duck pen and the kill line were and prepared to lock myself in.
Before we set up our locks, we tried putting a small padlock and other safety measures in place. That didn’t work. The padlock was too small, so we had to use a U-lock to secure the conveyor belt and stop the line from killing us.
With the proper safety measures in place, I locked myself in and held up my key. One of my teammates came around and took the key from me. Moments later, someone turned on the conveyor belt.
Hundreds of activists gathered outside the facility to bear witness.
I realized immediately as I started getting pulled down the kill line that there was no way I was getting out of the lock around my neck. The power of the machine was too strong. It was probably rated to pull 30-50,000 pounds. I couldn’t do anything about it. There was no way I was getting out unless someone stopped the line.
While I was being dragged down the kill line, eventually it got to a point where there was no space for me to be dragged any further. There was a pole in the way that was small enough for a duck to get by but not small enough for me. The conveyor belt kept pulling me into the pole, and the lock was choking me. I started to lose consciousness.
I lost consciousness right before the machine turned off.
What I was told is that the U-lock we put in for safety purposes actually saved my life. A second or two later and I would have had spinal damage. The doctor says I’m extremely lucky. I think I am, too.
The first thing I remember being asked after the line stopped was, “Are you okay?” and I said, “Yes,” because I could still feel my legs.
I’ve been involved in near-death experiences before. When it’s really bad, you know. This time, I knew it wasn’t really bad, but I still had shooting pains from my neck all the way down to my hands. That wasn’t right.
So my teammates got me out of the lock and sat me down. I remember I was looking at the doorway where the workers were standing. They kept looking at me. I couldn’t believe that they had turned on the kill line. What the fuck just happened? Are you kidding me?
My throat was throbbing. I almost died.
I have almost died four times in my life, but no one has ever pushed a button before and said, “Let’s see if this kills you.”
That was probably the closest I’ve been to dying.
The other activists freed their locks, and we made the decision to leave the slaughterhouse and join the group at the gate. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on. I was in a lot of pain, and there was trauma involved, but I was determined to show the world what had just happened to me.
So I proceeded to lock myself onto the gate outside the facility where everyone else was gathered. As soon as I started locking myself in, I felt pain around the lock around my neck and tingling in my fingers. Clearly, I needed medical attention, so we called an ambulance.
When the paramedics arrived and put me on the gurney, they tried to strap my arms down and tuck them under a blanket. But I threw my arms up and started chanting, “What do we want?”
I shouted a couple of times before the crowd caught on.
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
The paramedics closed the doors to the ambulance, and I kept chanting. “What do we want… When do we want it?!”
It took me a long time to look at modern society’s treatment of animals and see it for what it is. I’m not a young guy. I spent 45 years exploiting animals before I really understood how much pain they endure because of us. It took me a huge effort of research and reading everything I could about animal exploitation before I realized that I’d been living a lie.
All of a sudden, the veil dropped. I realized that almost everything I’d been taught about animals was not true. A flood of emotions rushed over me.
Animals have a heartbeat. They have feelings. They don’t want to live in factories. They don’t want to die. I’m not talking about some animals. I’m talking about all the animals.
I want to show the world that veganism isn’t just a diet. It’s the right thing to do. That’s why I said, “We have to lock ourselves to the machine,” and that’s why I risk my life to stand up for animals.
I want animal liberation and I want it now.