Emmett Tyrrell

WASHINGTON -- The legal concept of the Public Nuisance has for long been recognized throughout all the civilized countries of the world. Basically, and unadorned by the tortured language of the legal profession, a public nuisance is one who uses property to annoy or damage an individual or the general public. Occasionally the annoyance or damage is sufficiently grievous for the public nuisance to suffer some sort of penalty.

Starting at some point in the last century the public nuisance acquired a halo by claiming that his obnoxious behavior was induced by high purpose and noble values. In the 1930s pacifists tested the outer limits of public-nuisance law to oppose American entry into World War II. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini favored their labors -- to a point. In the 1930s there were also food fanatics and nudists numbered among the public nuisances. Through the years Americans have become inured to these misfits and malcontents, sympathetic as we are to the protesters' claims to higher virtue and noble purpose.

By the later decades of the 20th century many public nuisances' misbehavior moved from mere mischief to mayhem, but ordinary Americans have remained good natured, generally, so long as the nuisances are not trampling the ordinary Americans' petunias or hauling them into court. Nudists are too polite to commit such excesses, and even militant bicycle riders shun such tactics. Yet there are public nuisances who frequently engage in rough stuff. Probably the roughest of the public nuisances are the animal-rights fanatics. Some actually undertake acts of terror, blowing up laboratories and -- for some reason -- ski resorts. Just a few months back 11 were indicted on federal warrants for such crimes.

Other animal-rights groups aim at intimidation through noisy demonstrations and court action. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) engage in this sort of thing. Yet they have recently been targeting entities that enjoy the sympathy of ordinary Americans, for instance, family entertainment groups such as the circus and laboratories where scientists endeavor to discover medications for greater health and less human suffering. Demonstrating against a circus or a laboratory might sucker the weak witted but not sensible Americans, and recently when the animal-rights nuisances have dragged their victims into court they have lost. The burden of proof that exists in an American courtroom is much higher than at one of the media events the animal-rights nuisances stage.

Emmett Tyrrell

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and co-author of Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.
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