RAPID CITY, S.D. — Protect the Harvest, an advocacy group that opposes the radical animal rights movement, premiered a movie during the Black Hills Stock Show based on a North Dakota man's experience in having his horses and cattle impounded due to a law passed with the backing of animal rights groups.
A former law enforcement official who worked for animal rights groups before leaving to speak out against the organizations said the movie is an accurate depiction of how animal rights organizations work.
“Their hidden agenda is to end animal ownership, period. They’ll go to great lengths to do that," said former U.S. Marshal John Bolin.
Bolin worked in law enforcement for years and then in 2014 went to work for the animal rights group The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"Part of my duties were to train law enforcement officers with the ASPCA’s curriculum on investigating animal cruelty," he explained.
He eventually left the organization and now speaks out against such animal rights groups. Bolin said the actions portrayed in "The Stand at Paxton County, a movie released by Protect the Harvest and produced by Forrest Films, is very common and is happening all over the country.
The movie is based on the case of Gerald "Gary" Dassinger, a Gladstone, N.D., man who in 2017 was charged with four Class C felony counts of animal cruelty and six Class A misdemeanor counts of animal neglect. The charges stemmed from a complaint from a Wisconsin resident who drove by his ranch and reported his cattle and horses were undernourished and a veterinarian's report of animals in need of care.
“The law says that if somebody drives past and sees something that’s suspicious, they have the right to go in and investigate," Dassinger said.
The Stark County, N.D., Sheriff’s Office temporarily seized 70 of Dassinger's horses and 25 head of cattle, but a judge ruled the state could not seize the animals and released them to his care. Dassinger pleaded guilty to the six misdemeanor counts, which he said he did to prevent his ordeal from setting case law. He received a deferred imposition of sentence and remains on probation until later this year. He had to pay $5,412.92 in court fees and restitution in the case.
The law under which Dassinger's livestock were removed from his care passed the North Dakota Legislature in 2013 as an update to animal neglect statutes. It had the backing of many ag groups, since it required law enforcement consent to remove animals whereas previous laws had allowed a broader scope for who could remove animals. However, some groups remained concerned about the lack of due process afforded to animal owners under the law. Animal rights groups backed the changes.
"The Humane Society came in, convinced the legislators that you’ve got to do this to protect these poor animals. So, they got that law passed, then the Humane Society came in and trained all the law enforcement in the state, especially the sheriffs," Dassinger said.
Dassinger never thought something like that would happen to him, especially in an agricultural state like North Dakota, and he said he would have never made it through the ordeal without the help of Protect the Harvest. The organization’s National Strategic Planner David Duquette said their organization has been on the front lines for more than a decade, defending the way of life for producers and exposing the activists and special interest groups.
“Really we’re the only one of our kind in the ag world. So, we saw a pretty major need to go after the animal rights groups and the environmentalists who are trying to take away our food supply," Duquette said.
Most of the activist groups have big bankrolls they use to attack farmers and ranchers and their way of life, Duquette says.
“They have billions of dollars a year they get in donations, whether its donations or corporate money. Some of them we’ve found are even getting money from overseas,” he explained.
He said they have traced back funding to countries such as Russia.
“If these environmental groups stop us from producing our natural resources here, then Russia gets to sell all their natural resources on the world market,” he said.
Dassinger is just one of many farmers and ranchers targeted by animal activists’ groups, in this case the Humane Society of the United States.
“The ultimate goal of the Humane Society is not to have any animal being controlled by any human. It’s crazy and it’s happening all over the United States. They’re taking away our right to do what we want to do with our property," Dassinger said.
Duquette said Protect the Harvest was effective over the years at stopping the activist community in Washington D.C. and then the groups shifted their strategy.
“So now they’re doing it at the county level, the state level and the federal level. So, now we're really running hard," he said.
The purpose of the movie, which will be in theaters across select cities in the U.S., is to get the message out about what animal activist groups are doing.
“It’s a movie we made about a situation that happened in North Dakota over the Century Code. We’re able to effectively go in, enlighten everybody, get to the legislators, get them to change it and help the man Gary Dassinger that was having the problem,” Duquette said.
Bolin, the former law enforcement officer, said the best way for farmers and ranchers to protect themselves is to build a relationship with local law enforcement.
“Have a very good working relationship with your local sheriff and if you have a Humane Society or animal control or anything like that have a good working relationship with them," he said. "And make sure that they’re not being influenced by one of these organizations.”