The animal-rights group PETA has a long history of using undercover activists to document what it considers cruelty to show animals and in agriculture. It even advertised for an undercover investigator.Now People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is accusing SeaWorld of planting a spy in its own ranks — one who tried to incite violence.
First reported by Bloomberg News, media around the world are telling how a PETA backer using the name Thomas Jones was a frequent presence in anti-SeaWorld protests, even being arrested at the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.
But PETA says Jones was really a 28-year-old SeaWorld employee named Paul McComb, who reportedly held several jobs at SeaWorld since at least 2008, including in San Diego’s human resources office.
McComb, as Jones, has been “going so far as to post inflammatory messages on social media, such as ‘burn [SeaWorld] to the ground’ and ‘drain the new tanks at #SeaWorld,’ in an attempt to incite illegal actions,” said a SeaWorld statement Tuesday.
But the Jones Twitter account had little reach — with only 16 followers as of Tuesday afternoon and only 64 tweets between August 2012 and August 2014.PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange said: “SeaWorld knows that the public is rejecting its cruel orca prisons and is so desperate that it created a corporate espionage campaign. Instead of creating a dirty tricks department, SeaWorld should put its resources into releasing the orcas into coastal sanctuaries.”
David Koontz, communications director of SeaWorld San Diego, provided this statement Tuesday to Times of San Diego:
“We are focused on the safety of our team members, guests and animals and beyond that we do not comment on our security operations. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, especially as animal rights groups have become increasingly extreme in their rhetoric and tactics.
“In fact, PETA itself actively recruits animal rights activists to gain employment at companies like SeaWorld. … Safety is our top priority, and we will not waiver from that commitment.”
McComb (as Jones) signed up for PETA’s Action Team on its website, PETA said, and his information listed two addresses.
“The first address, in Jamul, California, doesn’t exist,” PETA said. “The second, a post office box in San Diego, was registered to Ric Marcelino, director of security at SeaWorld San Diego.”During a protest of SeaWorld’s float in the 2014 Rose Parade, he was arrested.
“But after being handcuffed and taken to the police station, he mysteriously disappeared, his name, real or otherwise, never appearing on arrest sheets,” PETA said. noting that it has filed public records requests with the Pasadena Police Department to obtain documents related to his arrest.
Bloomberg News quoted SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs as saying: “We are focused on the safety of our team members, guests and animals, and beyond that we do not comment on our security operations. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, especially as animal rights groups have become increasingly extreme in their rhetoric and tactics.”
The Bloomberg report, followed by dozens of others, said it called McComb, but he declined to say if he was a SeaWorld employee and “hung up when asked if he used the name Thomas Jones.”
PETA alleges that McComb has repeatedly tried to incite animal advocates to act illegally, stating that it’s time for SeaWorld protesters to “get a little aggressive,” to engage in “direct action,” to “grab your pitch forks [sic] and torches” and to blow horns outside the homes of SeaWorld vice presidents at night.
McComb also organized a “direct action” protest — calling it “more exciting than just holding signs.” But PETA says he never showed up.
PETA posted a series of photos at SeaWorldOfHurt.com that it says document the Jones-McComb connection.
Hal Weiss, an activist who sat next to Jones in a police van after the Rose Bowl protest, said he is certain the pictures of McComb are of the same man. Lisa Lange, a Peta spokeswoman in Los Angeles, said she met Jones three times and that the photos on Brittany McComb’s Facebook page matched those of the activist. “It’s definitely him,” Lange said in a phone interview.
PETA spokeswoman Lindsay Rajt told The San Diego Union-Tribune that that PETA “does engage in undercover work to advance its mission but has never done so in the case of SeaWorld.”
“The only bad behavior in the end was by SeaWorld and this individual,” Rajt was quoted as saying. “He seemed to be trying to incite confrontational and illegal actions against SeaWorld and distract from SeaWorld’s own wrongdoing and smear people that may reflect poorly on our cause.”
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: