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PETA vs PETTA

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has always mixed outrageousness and humor into its activism on the theory that the more outrageous the group's attention-getters, the more people are likely to take notice.

The group has put up billboards claiming "Jesus was a vegetarian." A few years ago, PETA tried to put up billboards in the middle of cattle country, including Rapid City, to promote the claim that eating beef clogs arteries. The billboard showed a bikini-clad model holding a string of sausages with the caption: "I threw a party but the cattlemen couldn't come." Cattlemen weren't amused by the suggestive pun, but PETA's message got publicity.

In fact, many of its ads are rejected as too controversial or too racy. A rejected billboard in the South's "Bible belt" showed the Virgin Mary breast-feeding baby Jesus. Another ad campaign - "Got Beer?" - tried to promote drinking beer instead of milk to college students. PETA, however, thrives on the publicity.

Now, another group is fighting back. Putting an End to Absurd Activism (PETAA, get it?) is gathering signatures to petition the Internal Revenue Service to revoke PETA's tax-exempt status on the grounds that the group has supported illegal activities. Last year PETA was found to have given $1,500 to Earth Liberation Front. The FBI says ELF is a terrorist organization that is responsible for more than 600 criminal acts since 1996, mostly vandalism and arson, and causing more than $43 million in damage to private and public property.

Losing its tax-exempt status could be expensive for PETA, which earned $13.87 million in 2001.

PETA, though, isn't too worried by PETAA's petition drive. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk told MSNBC News, "Since most hunters and trappers shoot animals because they are too stupid to play chess or bridge, we rejoice that at least the sheer intellectual challenge of signing their names on this meaningless petition keeps them out of the woods for a while."

Knowing the animal-rights group's penchant for publicity, it might welcome a public scrap with the IRS. It's not as if PETA is hiding its donation to ELF, because it was listed on its IRS form 990.

PETAA's IRS petition probably won't result in any change in PETA's tax-exempt status. But PETA should be forced to explain why it has supported a group that is listed as a terrorist organization by the FBI. Dreaming up outrageous ad campaigns to publicize the plight of animals is one thing, but setting fire to government research labs and destroying private property is dangerous and illegal, even if done in the name of animal rights.

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