San Francisco (AP) -
The worldwide furor over controversial political cartoons spread to the United States on Wednesday as thousands of animal rights activists took to the streets to protest a new cartoon that they say is a direct insult of their beliefs.
The cartoon in question depicted Garfield the Cat devouring several pans of lasagna that some claim appear to be meat-based. "You can clearly see the chunks of hamburger," explains People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) spokeshuman Lisa Lange. "It's against our beliefs to eat meat or allow depictions thereof. The publication of this cartoon is a slap in the face for trillions of PETA members nationwide."
Thousands of activists protested today at a PETA-organized rally at the Embarcadero. Many chanted together or beat drums; others wore handcuffs and chains to symbolize the oppression they say the cartoon represents. Among the many signs and banners present, oft-repeated slogans included "Freedom of Speech does NOT mean Freedom to Insult!" and "Down with Intolerant Fascist Lasagna-Peddling Carnivores!" The protest was mostly peaceful, although one youth was arrested for lobbing a molotov cocktail at Il Fornaio, an Italian restaurant on Battery Street.
Similar protests took place in Seattle, New York, and Washington DC. In New York, riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at an angry mob as they pelted the headquarters of Garfield publisher Random House with raw lasagna noodles. In Washington, the Italian Embassy was hurriedly evacuated after an arsonist attempted to set the building on fire. The culprit was quickly arrested; his identity is unknown, although sources say he is a member of the Earth Liberation Front.
State and federal government officials are urging citizens to remain calm and not to take matters into their own hands. "These activists cannot be denied their right to free speech," explained Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "As for the newspapers," he continued, "they should use more sensitivity in deciding what to publish. They should've thought before publishing something so hurtful to our bunnyhugging friends." Several senior Bush administration officials met with PETA leaders today to express their regret for the unfortunate Garfield cartoon.
Reaction throughout the press was varied. The New York Times responded by pulling future Garfield strips and printing an apology. "We are truly sorry for the pain that this venemous cartoon may have caused the non-animal eating community. As a token of our respect, we will be contributing $250,000 to PETA's action fund," reads part of the statement released today by the Times. Tomorrow's Washington Post will feature an op-ed by a PETA spokeshuman. The New York Sun, however, said it would include a free plate of meat lasagna with every newspaper sold tomorrow.
PETA's newsletter editor, Jo Miller King, said she would be soliciting cartoons depicting animals eating humans. "These [expletive] newspaper want to exercise free speech, we'll see how comfortable they are when the tables are turned!" King said. Meanwhile, PETA leadership is warning of a reactionary backlash against it's members and will hold a candlelight vigil for their safety tonight in Golden Gate Park.
Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis was unavailable for comment as he has gone into hiding after multiple threats on his life.
Update: More cartoon-related disrest in the US, reported by Iowahawk