First there was ag-gag, then there were the camera drone laws and now it seems that it is getting increasingly dangerous to film at rodeos. Is this the Nag-Gag? The arrest of Washington resident Adam Fahnestock at the Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo in Oregon for videotaping the horse-tripping event on May 18th has caused a ruckus on the Internet. Not so coincidentally, the Oregon state legislature is currently considering a bill that would ban horse tripping. SB 835 was co-sponsored by Senators Bill Hansell and Mark Hass, in part inspired by a video taken by animal protection group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) at the 2012 Big Loop Rodeo. The video, which logged over 200,000 hits, caused a public outcry. Nevada is also currently considering a similar bill (SB72), which is moving closer to passing. Horse tripping, an event held at some rodeos where horses are lassoed by the legs whilst running at high speed, is already banned in California, Florida, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The film and television industries saw fit to ban it as it can cause serious injuries such as broken legs, broken necks, and spinal damage. A number of the injured horses end up being sent to slaughter.
Fahnestock, who is an investigator for SHARK, was sitting in the stands filming with another SHARK investigator, when he was approached by a Malheur County Sheriff's Officer and told to stop filming. The officer then grabbed Fahnestock and wrestled him to the ground where burly rodeo officials then also set upon him. Fahnestock was handcuffed and arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Fahnestock's companion was threatened and forced out of the event. It seems that again, animal rights activists are on the front lines when it comes to having their civil rights violated. There were plenty of people in the stands using cameras and phones to video the rodeo who were not arrested.
A letter written by a spectator at the event and recently posted on Eugeneweekly.com stated, "There were signs prohibiting taking videos, however the announcer said that this just applied to, 'people from Western Oregon, animal rights activists, and the media.'" Apparently, the announcer went on to say that if any of the above mentioned was caught videotaping, they would be arrested.
So, let me get this right: Rodeo officials and Malheur County sheriffs are going to arrest a TV station like NBC if they dare to film at the rodeo? Just like the animal agricultural industry doesn't want undercover investigations revealing horrific abuses at farms and slaughterhouses, rodeos have long been wary of activists filming the abuses that occur in their arenas -- but refusing media? What excuse can anyone have for that if it's all just good old family fun?
The pen used to be the object that was mightier than the sword but perhaps now, in the era of social media, it is the camera that wields the mighty power. Perhaps it is even mighty enough to have cowpokes quaking in their boots.
On a side note, it is quite interesting that the Jordan Valley Big Loop rodeo takes place in a county called Malheur. Malheur is the French word for misfortune or tragedy, as in the tragedy of the rodeo, and the misfortune of its animal victims. How appropriate.