Interview with Former Undercover Investigator TJ Tumasse
Animal Place interviewed TJ Tumasse, a former undercover investigator who has been inside some of the nation’s largest commercial farms, local shelters, and roadside zoos. His cases exposed the ugly truth about what happens behind closed doors, and led to groundbreaking criminal convictions for felony abuse of farmed animals. Now TJ is the manager of investigations at the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
What are your emotional coping mechanisms during and after investigations?
During my cases I would use things like motivational music and routines that made me feel empowered to cope with the emotional stress I was going through. I listened to tons of heavy metal, punk and hardcore music, much of which had animal rights messages, to get amped up to go into a facility.
Is there a psychological profile of an undercover investigator?
I don’t know that there is a single profile for an investigator, but they have to be people who are stronger than most others. I am not talking about physical strength, but emotional. I always say that strength is not a matter of muscle it is a matter of character. Investigators must be the embodiment of strength of character.
Is it ever ethically acceptable (if ever) to participate in an act of (egregious) cruelty against an animal when doing undercover work?
This is at once a very difficult and a very simple question to answer. The simple answer is NEVER. It is never ethically acceptable to participate in an egregious act. The problem is that the laws protecting animals are not ethical. They fall short, which is why being an investigator is so difficult. The work I did as an investigator was totally legal, but I had to ethically justify doing the jobs I did, such as castrating piglets, in order to keep my job and document the treatment. The reality is that no amount of justification for me could ever mean anything to the animals who were harmed by what I did. In other words all of my reasons for doing these jobs, the fact that I was documenting cruelty, the fact that it still would have been done had I not been there, the fact that I was more kind than another human would have been, none of these reasons are justification for the suffering experienced in the eyes of the animal. If it were you suffering and I said, “It’s okay because I am taking video to show others that you are suffering.” would you care? My guess is that all of us would say no. This is why we work to change these laws at Animal Legal Defense Fund, where I now work. We want animals to be considered victims, not possessions, in the eyes of the law. I can say with confidence that they ARE victims because I have watched them being victimized by the companies who exploit them.
Are you providing training in undercover work for other activists? Tell us about your work with ALDF.
At Animal Legal Defense Fund we are developing a whole new department to conduct undercover investigations, and a strategy for using these investigations to further ALDF’s civil litigation and criminal justice goals.
Why did you choose the direction of undercover investigations to help animals?
I chose to be an investigator because, for me, it is by far the most effective way to change both legislation and the general public’s concept of the realities of eating and using animals.
How did you get involved with undercover investigations?
I actually got my start in investigations with a shot in the dark email. I listed all of my skills and qualities for another job and then essentially said, “P.S. by the way I am also 6’4”, I am a tough dude and former football player, maybe if you need someone I can work undercover.” And they called me for an interview.
Who or what introduced you to animal rights and veganism?
I came to veganism through reading and studying philosophy. I have always been the type of person who analyzes everything thoroughly, and after working through several years of philosophy, my brother and I both read the book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. I did not make it through three chapters before I called my brother and said, “Hey by the way, I’m vegan now.” His response was, “Yeah, me too!”
What do you look for when screening potential investigators?
At ALDF we have an extensive screening and evaluation process for a potential investigator. This process includes everything necessary to be totally sure they can handle every aspect of investigations work. We look for signs that they can physically, mentally, and emotionally handle the strain of the work, as well as for loyalty to our cause and trustworthiness that we can depend on.
Do you ever regret working at those 15 different animal operations?
I do not regret any of the work I did. I see no more effective way to advocate for animals at this point in history. That is why I worked as an investigator then, and that is why I am managing new investigations at Animal Legal Defense Fund now.