Horrific photo reveals some people’s hatred for wolves
This bone-chilling photograph appeared in my email inbox Monday morning. Circulated by the Center for Biological Diversity, the photograph, which first appeared on Facebook, depicts eight armed individuals, six of them wearing Ku Klux Klan-style hoods, and most displaying weapons. Two of them hold an outstretched American flag, while another dangles a dead wolf in his arms.
“Let’s be clear,” writes Todd Wilkinson in The New West. “This is not how real sportsmen act. Nor does it reflect the spirit of ethical hunting in which wildlife is respected and valued, a lesson taught to our children who are required to take state hunter safety classes.”
The organizers of this “hunt” — eight hunters against one wolf hardly seems consistent with sportsman-like ethics — were a couple of Wyoming outfitters who operate in the area where the Bridger-Teton National Forest joins Yellowstone National Park. It’s a good place to hunt because animals frequently wander from their protected environment in the park into the sights of waiting hunters.
Since the government delisted wolves from the Endangered Species Act, it has been open season in some locations on these magnificent predators. The hunt depicted in the photograph is legal, according to the outfitters.
But there are levels on levels of meanings in the gruesome celebration in the forest.
This picture is not really about hunting. The photograph is an icon packed with Western and American symbols and ideas. The American flag proudly displayed in the center of the photo suggests that this wolf killing is some sort of patriotic act.
The typical hunting-group pose in the photograph is familiar to anyone who likes to look at old pictures. Think, for example, of Theodore Roosevelt. Any illustrated article or book about TR is almost certain to have such a picture of him posing with his hunting companions and guides just as these killers are.
However, rather than traditional sport hunters, these masked killers resemble a western vigilante lynch mob, proudly claiming credit for its latest victim. According to the outfitters leading the hunt, the killers “prefer to call the hoods the sign of ‘Vigilantes,’ a way of “Trying to make a statement! ... Frontier Justice! Wyoming hunters are fed up!”
Despite legends to the contrary, western vigilantes were more often lynch mobs than upstanding citizens defending their community. Often they became the force tyrannizing the community. Like the wolf killers, these champions of “frontier justice” typically hid their faces.
Regardless of whether the hunters mean to or not, their masks clearly link them with the KKK and its racist and anti-immigrant values. One comment on Facebook even suggested that next time the killers should wear full Klan regalia.
But it is not a Confederate flag in the center of the photo. These masked crusaders clutch the American flag to make sure we know they are red-blooded American patriots.
In an article on wolf-haters on the Cascadia Wildlife blog, Bob Ferris makes explicit the connection between wolf haters and hate groups. “Do I go too far in linking bigotry against wolves with the same attitudes toward individuals?” he asks. “I don’t think so ... I strongly suspect that bigotry is a related syndrome and behaves the same way.”
Idaho State University Professor Emeritus Ralph Maughan posted a June article on the website, The Wildlife News headlined, “Wolf controversy is personal and cultural, not over biology.” To wolf haters, Maughan said, “the entire wolf project is a giant conspiracy to bring a huge non-native beast to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming ... The purpose of the great conspiracy is to end hunting, bring more federal control (or perhaps United Nations control) ... destroy gun rights, and the like. All these things are supposedly based on malice.”
Although the offensive picture has been taken down from the guides’ website, it remains readily available from dozens of websites. It has backfired on the wolf vigilantes and will do far more to help those working to save the wolves, than those dedicated to their destruction.
As Earth Island Journal put it, “Perhaps this latest wolf snuff photo will bring a ... kind of justice and force the public to declare, in no uncertain terms, that wolf killing is un-American. Maybe it will force people to ask: When will this indecent killing come to an end?”