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Animal rights activists planned two separate protests in conjunction with the May 20-22 Fur Fashion Week designer shows, but neither was effective in making the news media take their eyes off the fashions and pay attention to increasingly bizarre and desperate extremist stunts.

In New York, on the sidewalk in front of Parson’s School of Design, where a built-in crowd of journalists and photographers were attending the shows, a sprawl of about 30 costumed and “bloodied” protesters kept police busy but got scant news coverage. They splattered red paint on the sidewalk and were allowed to exceed their designated barricaded area before police took action. They eventually made nine arrests for disorderly conduct.

People for the ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) organized the protest with Friends of Animals, and Ingrid Newkirk of PeTA got into the fray, along with German singer Nina Hagen. PeTA’s Dan Mathews played master of ceremonies, skirting the edges.

While the barricades were left up all week long for possible protests, only two or three people were there most of the time. The main demonstration took place before the Karl Lagerfeld show.

Reports appeared on two local tv stations (though on one, the segment malfunctioned and was cut short) and in the New York Post. Most of the retailers and press were slightly amused by the display; it added to the excitement of the day. Oddly, the activists even seemed to realize the crowd’s response. Later, when they inexplicably moved their protest down to the fur market, where they chanted in front of 345 Seventh Avenue and were heckled by a couple of furriers, they shot back, “You love this, don’t you.”

The only sense of frustration came when some people in the trade noticed that tv cameras were interviewing activists but not industry spokespeople, who steered clear.

Stephanie Kenyon, FICA’s director of media relations, told Fur Age, “The more bizarre the activists look, the better we look — and what they had outside were freaks.”

Inside, a few reporters tracked down supermodel Veronica Webb to see why she wouldn’t rather go naked than wear fur. Webb was succinct and even blas : “It’s clothes, whatever…It’s hard for me to get worked up about it. There are so many other issues…” She added that she owns a couple of fur coats and doesn’t see what the big deal is.

In many cities across the United States on the day before Fur Fashion Week opened, the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade (CAFT) failed to disrupt business despite illegal and increasingly violent tactics employed by these militant animal rights activists. CAFT planned a nationwide day of demonstrations against Federated Department Stores to protest its sale of fur garment.

According to CAFT, at least 44 protesters in Los Angeles, Boston, Cincinnati, Memphis, Minneapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, Portland and Indianapolis were arrested for illegal actions ranging from disorderly conduct and trespassing to arson.

Fur Commission USA, which tracked the event, said that business disruption was minimal and media coverage was virtually nonexistent. In at least two major metropolitan areas — Minneapolis and Chicago — the protests were not covered in any major newspapers nor in any television broadcasts. Frustrated by a lack of coverage of previous protests by major media, CAFT organizers and members have been resorting to illegal actions and violent stunts to gain public and media attention.

Skip Lea, president of Fur Commission USA, said that acts of civil disobedience and illegal are backfiring on activists and damaging the credibility of the animal rights movement. “According to a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 96% of Americans disapprove of the tactics of the animal rights movement. Stunts that include arson and trespassing give the public even more reason to reject their extreme, anti-human agenda,” he said.

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