Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

This photo, courtesy of PETA, shows McComb being arrested at a 2014 SeaWorld protest. According to PETA, he was released without charges, and his name never even appeared on arrest sheets. (Photo: PETA)

Busted: SeaWorld's Corporate Espionage Against Animal Rights Movement

PETA investigation 'leaves no doubt that SeaWorld is a dirty tricks corporation, devoid of ethics.'

Deirdre Fulton

A SeaWorld employee posed for three years as an animal rights activist, in an apparent attempt to undermine protests against the company over its use of captive killer whales, according to an investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The group publicized evidence this week that suggests 28-year-old Paul T. McComb, under the name "Thomas Jones," infiltrated the anti-SeaWorld protest movement, allegedly joining PETA's Action Team using a P.O. Box in San Diego that was registered to Ric Marcelino, the director of security for SeaWorld San Diego.

McComb, who Bloomberg reports has worked in a number of positions at SeaWorld since at least 2008, including as a human resources representative, attended organizational meetings and "constantly 'fished' for information from PETA staffers about protests against SeaWorld," PETA claims.

SeaWorld, which owns 11 theme parks in the U.S., has experienced a public-relations backlash since the release of the Blackfish documentary in 2013, which delved into problems within the sea-park industry.

According to PETA, McComb joined a protest of SeaWorld’s float in the 2014 Rose Parade.

"But, while he was arrested and taken to jail with the other protesters who sat down in front of the float, he suddenly vanished when the other protesters were booked and later released on bail. 'Jones' was inexplicably released without charges, and his name never even appeared on arrest sheets," the investigation found.

"But most insidiously, he has repeatedly tried to incite people who object to SeaWorld to act illegally," the animal rights group reports. "He even organized his own 'direct action' protest—one advertised as 'more exciting than just holding signs'—only to be absent on the day of the demonstration. All of this leaves no doubt that SeaWorld is a dirty tricks corporation, devoid of ethics."

Or perhaps one that is running scared.

Citing research by Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild and author of Spying on Democracy, Kevin Gosztola writes at FireDogLake: "Increasingly, corporations are relying on surveillance of individuals and infiltration of groups to undermine and suppress activism," spurred by fear of how "boycotts or educational campaigns...might expose their practices and impact their earnings."

Indeed, this March, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. launched a new advertising campaign "highlighting the company's leadership in the care of killer whales," according to a press statement that indicated the effort came in direct response to animal-rights activism. "In the past two years, PETA has issued more than 110 press releases about SeaWorld, filled with inaccuracies about the company's animal care," the statement said.

And in its response to this week's allegations, the company provided a link to a PETA job posting for an undercover investigator.

"PETA itself actively recruits animal rights activists to gain employment at companies like SeaWorld, as this job posting demonstrates," said spokesman Fred Jacobs, who added: "We are focused on the safety of our team members, guests and animals, and beyond that we do not comment on our security operations. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, especially as animal rights groups have become increasingly extreme in their rhetoric and tactics."

Plus, Gosztola notes, this "is not the first time that PETA has been targeted by a corporation." Nor will it likely be the last.

"There are very few consequences for this kind of corporate-sponsored espionage activity targeted against activists, especially when it is under the guise of protecting the 'security' or 'safety' of employees," Gosztola warns. "Corporations are able to get away with all sorts of surveillance and information gathering on citizens until they happen to commit an error and are exposed."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

Pointing to 'Recently Obtained Evidence,' Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Tuesday Hearing

The announcement came less than a week after the House panel delayed new hearings until next month, citing a "deluge" of fresh evidence.

Common Dreams staff ·


Looming US Supreme Court Climate Decision Could 'Doom' Hope for Livable Future

"The immediate issue is the limits of the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases," said one scientist. "The broader issue is the ability of federal agencies to regulate anything at all."

Jessica Corbett ·


Abortion Rights Groups Sue to Block Post-Roe Trigger Laws in Louisiana

"We will be fighting to restore access in Louisiana and other states for as long as we can," said one reproductive rights campaigner.

Jake Johnson ·


Progressives Launch 'Four More' Campaign to Demand Supreme Court Expansion

"In a true democracy, power rests with the people," one campaigner asserted. "And the only way to take our power back is to take back the court."

Brett Wilkins ·


Poll Shows Majority Oppose Supreme Court's Attack on Fundamental Rights

Fifty-six percent of respondents said they're now concerned the court will attack marriage equality and the right to obtain contraception.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo