Getting Assaulted: Dealing with Physical Confrontation at Protests

Fashion companies who sell fur are happy to hurt animals to protect their profits. So it’s no surprise that these agents of violence can become physically aggressive against animal activists.

We have heard many accounts – and experienced some ourselves – of employees pushing, grabbing, striking, even kicking activists. And by no means have luxury retail’s elite commandos retired their traditional power move, the age-old megaphone grab.

Unfortunately, crimes like these are on the rise, the perpetrators ever more brazen. Between the stress of fashion school debt for sales staff, and the police brutality FOMO among the police academy dropouts in store security, trends are unlikely to reverse.

With sociopaths for opponents, this threat may be unavoidable. But fret not – it is highly manageable. Act with intention and prioritize best outcomes, and you can remain on top of almost any situation.

It is in this spirit that we offer these tips if you are assaulted.

Do not fight back!

A wage worker who physically attacks you for yelling – whether outright or after trying to move you – is not in their right mind. They want to provoke you. Do not give them the satisfaction.

Instead, de-escalation shows control of self and situation, and leads to superior outcomes. Keep your focus on the animals, not employees, and move away from any self-appointed enemy combatant. This does not even require lowering your volume or tone – though quietly skipping a couple chants does sometimes work to loosen an employee’s grip on your megaphone.

There is in fact a broad range of other responses to these high fashion hoodlums. CAFT campaigns are decentralized, and everyone is free to do as they wish under all circumstances. But we try to keep one bright line: Do not physically fight back.

CAFT concerns itself only with winning, continuously and sustainably. And in the circumstances of these campaigns, physical aggression is in the best interest of the abusers, not the animals:

It is likely to put other activists at risk, put you in jail, and put the movement on a diversion course to raise your bail. It is also likely to harm the campaign. You won’t be at protests on bail or probation, and similar consequences could befall your entire group. Plus on every return visit, expect police to be in peak snowflake mode.

Never talk to the police or file a police incident report about the assault.

We speak to everything here from personal experience, having witnessed how the miserable human beings at every level of this process turn it around against the activists.

The abusers: Companies take information from these police reports to find, surveil, and harass activists, and worse.

The fuzz: When a report is filed, cops immediately use it as an excuse to seize activists’ phones and cameras as evidence, giving not only law enforcement but target companies access to the contents.

The courts: If campaign activists find themselves in a courtroom, the assault will always be painted as a brawl or riot, with the activists at fault.

The assailant: The grille gangster who assaulted you will get high-fives from coworkers – and possibly the police too. What they will not get is criminal charges.

And, of course, not only in this case, but in all cases, never speak to law enforcement! Every protest should have a designated police liaison, to whom you should refer all questions to or from the cops. There are only four phrases police should ever hear from us: “Am I free to leave?” “I do not consent to a search.” “I am going to remain silent.” “I want my attorney.”

An escalation from the abusers should be matched by an escalation from us, and this may apply most to their acts of physical aggression.

But fighting back in the moment trades seconds of action for years of possible legal problems. Fighting back later can last months, and keeps the cops doing what they do best – nothing. If your assailant thinks they got away with it at the store, that smirk won’t last long when activists show up to protest outside their home. Show them that the pride of any campaign is its diversity of tactics.

And show them that physical aggression cannot intimidate us. This is most elegantly achieved by returning to the scene of the crime (safely) with surprise escalation, even just longer or more frequent visits. To go super tough guy on people and watch them just double down on you is disheartening even for the experts in personal failure, loss prevention professionals.

Legal escalation in the face of repression demoralizes the target company, ensures the campaign’s legal sustainability, and sends other employees a loud message to back up or expect problems.

Anything on social media will be used against you by law enforcement.

Cops have long been able to access your social media and other platforms, including WhatsApp, which is unfortunately treated as secure by many activists.

If video is best left private, you and others should not upload it to the cloud, keep it on your phone (or any unencrypted hard drive), or share it via social media, text message, or chat apps. As of this date, Signal is trusted if no one physically accessed the phone. (Don’t go crazy – you never know.)

Exculpatory video may be provided to an attorney for safe-keeping. If one possesses incriminating video, it is illegal to destroy, conceal, or alter this evidence of a crime. Note that this only applies if the destruction or concealment was willful and knowing, and often also requires some further condition – a contemporaneous investigation or court case, intent to impede or influence investigation, etc.

Get in touch with gratitude.

Though they can be unnerving, never let these sales floor soldiers get you down. There is no cause for concern.

We have inspired the paragons of luxury to attempt fistfights in their doorways. Their desperate acts heighten the sense of crisis we cultivate, while shoppers grimace and cross to the opposite sidewalk. The only ones they hurt are themselves.

And with each resulting victory, we are always sure to include that campaign’s assailants in our celebration toasts.


To our friends, the heroes of the Moncler and Stone Island loss prevention units.

Victory: Neiman Marcus Drops Fur After 67 Days

How long does it take the animal rights movement to defeat America’s top luxury retailer?

Turns out it only takes two months.

Today, Tuesday, June 29, Neiman Marcus Group announced that they are going fur-free, just six days before the upcoming Neiman Carcass National Week of Action.

In nine weeks, Neiman Marcus saw 61 actions across 18 cities – nearly one a day. The amazing activists at Texas Animal Freedom Fighters alone did 15 actions in Neiman’s home state. In Southern California, there were 18. Boston did seven, and the list goes on. This victory is the hard work of every activist that came together for the campaign.

So what factors were at the heart of this historic victory? The same ones that have now been proven again and again: movement unity and strategic focus.

Coordinated national action

The grassroots animal rights movement is multitudes stronger when we work together. Our opponents are national and international. They thrive when we are divided. By choosing a common target, we achieve real results for animals.

This victory is thanks to the dedication of independent local groups in Texas, Florida, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Phoenix, New Jersey, Boston, the Bay Area, North Carolina, Las Vegas, and Southern California.

We did this together. We did it for the animals. And with movement unity, we will do it again.

Results-based campaigning

It’s official: gone are the days of marching up and down high-end shopping districts randomly yelling at stores known to sell fur. If you hold a demo lasting an hour and spend fifteen minutes at each store, or protest a different retailer every weekend for a month, you have had one quarter the impact on each company. What could have been hard-hitting pressure becomes a symbolic exercise.

With results-based campaigning – smart strategy, relentless focus, and winnable goals – our movement becomes stronger and our victories larger.

This is not always intuitive. We choose targets based on research, not popular appeal. We focus on what works, not what feels cathartic. We promise incremental success, not utopian social transformation.

And the result is that we win. As one might expect, winning is popular. It is cathartic. And it is transformational. In 2021, grassroots anti-fur activism has become a national powerhouse.

Timing and escalation

In the case of Neiman Marcus, while we of course hoped for swift victory, we had to be prepared for a lengthy campaign timeline. Neiman had seen remarkably consistent and hard-hitting national action from 1997-2002 and did not budge on fur. It had cut off contact with the national nonprofits. When the campaign began, it sold over 500 fur items from eight different species – many times more than its competitors when they went fur-free. And Neiman’s March 2021 debt refinancing scheme greatly reduced the financial risk of its new owners, decreasing activists’ leverage against them.

At the start of the campaign, only 42% of Neiman stores were within 60 miles of a highly active anti-fur group, and 30% were not even near an active organizer. Thus, the initial focus had to be building up storefront activity – to wear Neiman down, fortify and spread the campaign, and thus maximize the impact of future escalations on Neiman’s organizational and financial pressure points.

From the beginning, there were calls from passionate activists for immediate home demonstrations. But experience dictates otherwise when preparing for a campaign that may be long-term. Let us review two reasons.

First: if our target is likely to hold out against activist pressure, it’s a needless gamble to escalate quickly. Beginning with everything we’ve got leaves us with nowhere else to go strategically or tactically. Escalations are precious. They should be carefully timed to surprise and demoralize a target when they feel weary, or overly confident. They should precipitate turning points when appropriate circumstances develop. And they should re-energize activist enthusiasm over a long campaign. In the age of social media, “likes” for store actions may lull after a few weeks, and those attached to these platforms may call for escalation after this short period. We disagree. What counts in a pressure campaign is whether our timing impacts our target, not a Silicon Valley algorithm.

Second: escalation must be measured against risk. During this campaign, there were two cities in which police or store security called out activists by their full names, to indicate that they knew their identities. In one instance, activists were so intimidated by this gesture that they sat out the rest of the campaign. The lesson here is that we must educate one another about security culture and repression. Home demos are effective when needed, and CAFT shares the excitement around them. But they are also more likely to result in arrests, lawsuits, and other repression, particularly if a quick victory is not certain. CAFT organizers have extensive prior experience with police, federal agents, private investigators, and process servers tailing us in our cars and showing up at our homes, our schools, our jobs, and those of our family members and partners. These consequences are tolerable, but they are never fun. With Neiman, they weren’t needed at all.

A personal note

We at CAFT are rarely sappy, but feel compelled to speak personally here. We look back to the days when we began our campaign against Los Angeles designer Monique Lhuillier, and cannot believe that a mere seven months later we are watching Neiman Marcus topple.

Our joy is deep, and our gratitude is deeper. We are grateful to all of the grassroots activists out there who achieved this victory together, from those who brought fire at large disruptions to those who leafleted or chalked by themselves. We are grateful to the passionate, hard-working organizers with whom we proudly walk as colleagues. We are also grateful to Lydia Nichols, who began the first Neiman Marcus campaign in 1997, with the first incarnation of CAFT. Lydia, your support and belief in us has meant the world.

And of course, we are happiest for the animals on fur farms, animals whom we have seen with our own watering eyes, whose cries we still hear in our dreams, who are now this much closer to liberation.

We did it, everyone. Let’s all take a moment to celebrate. But not too long – there is still a reckoning to be had for a few designers in the States, and many more across the Atlantic.

For every one of those designers still using fur: let this be a warning. We are coming for you – and we will win.