Alex Pacheco is often described as the Father of the Modern Day Animal Rights Movement in the United States.
As co-founder of both the world’s largest animal rights organization (PETA) and the world’s largest non-profit animal adoption organization (Adopt-A-Pet), his 30-year track record of victories for animals is arguably unequaled. He has received many awards, ranging from induction into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame to The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award, though his favorite is being voted Crew Member of the Year by the Sea Shepherd. From an early age, Pacheco was outraged by social injustice, and very motivated to fight against it. He grew up in the Midwest, watching the Vietnam War on television and becoming passionate about defending democracy against communism.
Too young to enlist and in high school, he wrote to the CIA asking if he could become an agent. They wrote back saying he was too young and don’t call us, we’ll call you. He then applied to the FBI and was accepted to work at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Just days before leaving for Washington, he was talked out of it by his two mentors, Father Thomas and martial arts expert Steve Adams. It was the year of The Concert for Bangladesh, and they convinced him to instead pursue his other passion: helping impoverished children. Accordingly, he enrolled in the Scholastic Program for Ecclesiastical Students and for the next year studied to become a priest while living with three priests and seven brothers. After one year in the Ecclesiastical Program, he took a behind-the-scenes tour of a large slaughterhouse, where his passion for defending animals was unleashed.
Witnessing the brutality firsthand, he dedicated himself to defending the most helpless of all, and within days
he founded the activist organization The Ohio Animal Rights Committee at Ohio State University, and in the first month he received his first three death threats from trappers and hunters. Since then his commitment to defending animals has incited violent opposition and death threats in many shapes and sizes, from an angry man waving a loaded .44 handgun and screaming for Pacheco while in the PETA office, to anonymous packages mailed to Pacheco, containing written death threats atop the blood-soaked body parts of mutilated animals.
Over the years he has received so many death threats in the line of duty that he stopped counting early on.
In 1979 Pacheco left college to work as a crew member aboard the Sea Shepherd under Captain Paul Watson
on the Sea Shepherd’s first whale protection campaign. Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, their mission was to ram the world’s most notorious pirate whale-killing ship, the Sierra.
Before embarking on the voyage and in anticipation of the ramming, the bow of the Sea Shepherd was fortified
with tons of concrete. In the end, both ships were sunk in Portuguese waters. Prior to the sinking and while the crew was still in Portugal, Portuguese authorities confiscated the passports of Watson, Pacheco and a few others to prevent them from leaving the country, pending possible prosecution.
To avoid capture by the Portuguese Border Patrol and under the cover of night, Pacheco swam across the border into Spain, hitchhiked to Madrid and spent three days in an airport waiting for a passport and a ticket to London,
where he then worked with Ronnie Lee, founder of the underground Animal Liberation Front. Pacheco was later named Sea Shepherd’s Crew Member of the Year.
While in England, Pacheco also worked with the British Hunt Saboteurs Association, disrupting hunts and physically clashing with up to 40 hunters at a time, who hunted from horseback and used whips to strike the saboteurs; some saboteurs were scarred for life with whip scars across their entire face. When Pacheco’s visa expired, he returned to the U.S. and moved to Washington, D.C. to become a lobbyist for animals, where he also organized the first animal rights civil disobedience training sessions in the U.S. In 1980 he co-founded PETA and for 20 years served as Chairman of the Board, specializing in undercover investigations, litigation and lobbying, before leaving in 2000.
The campaign also led to the American Medical Association commissioning a study by Harvard University on
how to defeat the animal rights movement. The study described Pacheco as "a national folk hero to the animal rights movement." In 1989, a secret Animal Research Action Plan by the American Medical Association called for divide-and-conquer tactics to counter PETA and other animal groups. After the plan was leaked, the AMA publicly acknowledged their plan and boasted about budgeting $21 million to carry it out. The Silver Spring Monkey campaign fueled an unprecedented amount of activism and a flood of national media, with activities
ranging from illegal break-ins into animal laboratories, to peaceful protests and civil disobedience which continued to rise for almost two decades. In the process, Pacheco was arrested over 60 times. Spearheaded by Pacheco, the campaign produced numerous precedents, including: The first and only laboratory animal case
to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The first and only arrest of an animal experimenter for cruelty to animals.
The first and only criminal prosecution and conviction of an animal experimenter on charges of cruelty. The first termination of a federal research grant because of cruelty. The first and only confiscation of animals from a laboratory. Introduction of federal legislation, signed by over 100 members of Congress, to force the federal government to terminate funding for the laboratory and to release the Silver Spring Monkeys. In addition, fifty-five U.S. senators, ranging from Senator Jesse Helms and Senator Barry Goldwater to Senator Ted Kennedy, signed a joint statement calling on the government to terminate funding for the laboratory, end the experiments
and free the Silver Spring Monkeys. Pacheco was called to testify as the lead witness before Congressional Hearings by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology. He was called to testify as the star witness for the State of Maryland in the criminal trial and prosecution of animal experimenter Dr. Taub,
in State of Maryland vs. Dr. Edward Taub. The campaign paved the way for passage of federal animal protection legislation – the 1985 Amendments to the Federal Animal Welfare Act. In 1991 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Silver Spring Monkeys, and in defiance of Congress the NIH immediately killed half of the surviving monkeys and the conflict continued.
Apart from the Silver Spring Monkey case, while Chairman of PETA, some of Pacheco’s most significant accomplishments came from the wide range of roles he played in helping convince many of the world’s largest corporations to dramatically improve their policies concerning animals. From leading a high-profile three-year successful campaign against the world’s largest corporation at the time, General Motors -- in which Pacheco destroyed his own GM car by setting it afire in public during a press conference in downtown D.C. -- to his undercover work in the Texas oïl Fields owned by Exxon, his track record of victories for animals is remarkable.