Many of us are reeling from the news about the end of Ringling shows. But, it comes as no surprise after constant battery and slander from animals rights groups that resulted in this decision about the circus by the Feld Entertainment. However, this is not the end of the circus! Their choice is exactly that: theirs. Much like SeaWorld, attendance dropped once Ringling decided to give in to extremist demands and take elephants off their shows. Other shows that made splashy headlines about going without animals fell to similar fates. These failures prove that the animal rights extremists do not speak for the public at large. People want to be filled with wonderment and be inspired by the well-cared for performing animals they can see at the circus.
The following article gets right to the point: a lie, when repeated enough, becomes the truth.
Surrender is not an option!
The Cavalry Group Team
How Liberals Killed the Circus
by Dan O’Donnell
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been an American institution for nearly 150 years, surviving two World Wars, the Great Depression, and a dramatically changing entertainment landscape, yet it couldn’t survive modern liberalism.
Officially founded in 1919 when the Ringling Brothers Circus formally merged with the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth that it had purchased in 1907, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus became phenomenally popular in the 1920s, but the Depression threatened to put it out of business.
It managed to survive, though, but by the 1950s it faced an even more pressing threat–television. Once Americans could have hours of entertainment beamed into their living rooms, they no longer needed to head to the big top.
In fact, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey abandoned the big top altogether in 1956, leaving tent performances for indoor arenas and, as Life Magazine put it at the time, signifying the point when “a magical era had passed forever.”
While that was undoubtedly true and television had forever supplanted the circus, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey stayed afloat for decades by taking itself public, forming two national touring companies and an international tour, and even building an ill-fated Circus World amusement park near Walt Disney World.
The 1990s brought even more competition for circuses with the advent of the internet, and although Canada’s more artistic Cirque du Soleil became very successful in the United States by catering to a higher-end crowd, traditional circuses like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey continued to struggle.
Still, though, it survived–until it faced the enemy that would ultimately destroy it: Activist liberalism.
Elephants had been a part of circus performances for more than 100 years–ever since P.T. Barnum purchased and began exhibiting a large African Bush Elephant he named Jumbo in 1881.
Jumbo was an instant hit, and Barnum added more elephants to his shows and had trainers teach them tricks to create ever more elaborate performances. The elephants were so popular that they became the symbol of Barnum’s circus and synonymous with circus performances in general.
After Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was purchased by Irvin Feld in 1968, his company, Feld Entertainment, made elephant (and all performing animal) care a top priority. The circus employed a full-time veterinary staff and made sure that at least one vet accompanied the animals on each tour.
This wasn’t just humane; it was also a commonsense business practice, as the animals represented a significant investment and were a vital part of each performance.
Each animal saw not just a vet for basic care, but also trained, professional handlers who didn’t just work with them; they loved them.
The elephants in particular were a focus of concern, and in 1995, the company founded the Center for Elephant Conservation–a 200-acre preserve in Polk City, Florida. It serves as a retirement home for elderly circus elephants, a breeding compound to help maintain the population of an endangered species, and a research facility.
For more than 20 years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has brought other endangered species used in its performances to the sanctuary in an effort to stabilize their populations as well.
More common performing animals such as dogs and cats were routinely saved from death at animal shelters and trained to do tricks in various shows, yet by the late 1990s, radical left-wing animal activists began targeting the circus.
Despite the fact that to this day, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has never once been found to be in violation of the Animal Welfare Act (despite near-constant inspections), these activists nonetheless seized on an elephant’s death in 1998 as evidence of widespread animal abuse.
Kenny, a 3 year-old Asian Elephant, died of unknown causes following a performance. Animal rights activists were outraged and demanded an investigation. Actress Kim Basinger started a letter-writing campaign and, in response, the Clinton Administration’s Department of Agriculture brought two charges of violating the Animal Cruelty Act against Feld Entertainment.
However, upon investigating the death, it became apparent that there was not enough evidence to secure a conviction, so the Agriculture Department reached a settlement: Feld would donate $20,000 to elephant causes in exchange for the federal government absolving the company of all blame for Kenny’s death.
Since then, there has not been a single shred of evidence that the circus was in fact responsible for Kenny’s death, but the case was a turning point in the left’s war against Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Instead of seeking regulatory relief from the federal bureaucracy, activists began trying to find sympathetic federal judges to battle the circus in court.
At the same time, the rise of the internet and social media allowed organizations like the Humane Society, PETA, and the ASPCA to wage a public relations campaign against Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey that played to both the public’s sympathies and lack of knowledge about animal handling techniques.
Many of the claims about circus handlers’ treatment of elephants focused on their use of a “bullhook,” a tool used to guide the animals’ movements. Activists claimed that the bullhook is used to intentionally inflict pain upon the animal so as to punish it for, say, incorrectly performing a trick, but the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Humane Association, and the Elephant Managers Association all determined that a bullhook was not only proper to use for working with elephants, it is often vital for the safety of both trainer and elephant alike.
The ASPCA and other radical animal rights groups (including a subsidiary of the Humane Society) didn’t limit their dishonesty to YouTube videos, however. They also paid a disgruntled Ringling Bros. employee $190,000 to make false and defamatory allegations about elephant mistreatment in a federal lawsuit the activist groups filed against the circus in 2000.
Tom Rider, a former circus employee, alleged serious violations of the Endangered Species Act, claiming that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey routinely abused its elephants.
The only problem? He couldn’t provide any actual evidence to support this and the groups therefore couldn’t demonstrate that they were actually harmed by this alleged (and unproven) animal abuse.
Because of that, a federal judge dismissed the case in 2001. Two years later, an appellate court sympathetic to the animal activists’ cause reinstated the case to give them a second chance to prove their sensational claims.
Once again, they could not.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Rider’s allegations were entirely without merit, and because he was being paid by the ASPCA, his testimony was not to be believed at all.
So badly did these animal rights groups lose that they were ordered to pay Feld Entertainment a staggering $9.3 million.
But that paled in comparison to what they would have to pay next. Because the ASPCA and its affiliated groups had paid Rider, Feld brought a lawsuit against them for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
In that case, it was determined that Rider lied under oath and that the organizations were not honest about their payments to him in exchange for his testimony against the circus, and they were ordered to pay Feld an additional $15.75 million.
All told, the false allegations against the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus cost these activist liberal groups more than $25 million.
In spite of this massive and unprecedented loss, they managed to win the public relations campaign, and in 2011, the Obama Administration’s Department of Agriculture responded to growing public pressure and reached a $270,000 settlement with Feld over alleged non-compliance with the Department’s standards for animal care.
However, the Department noted in its settlement that it “has not instituted an administrative enforcement action based on the results of these inspections and investigations.”
And those inspections and investigations took place up to four years earlier. If they were so egregious, why did the Department of Agriculture take precisely zero action against them–including even a strongly worded letter?
Yet Feld wanted the show to go on, so it agreed to settle even though it admitted no wrongdoing and the Department of Agriculture never detailed what specific standards the circus had failed to meet.
Even though it seemed clear that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was most certainly not abusing its animals (and, in fact, it was learned during the lawsuits that the organization spent more than $6 million a year on animal care), the public’s mind was made up.
Years of negative press from what turned out to be a fraudulent lawsuit had convinced far too many people that the circus was abusing its elephants, and in 2015 it announced that within three years, all 12 of its touring elephants would be retired to the Center for Elephant Conservation.
Liberals across the world rejoiced, as finally the elephants would be free from their cruel masters in the circus and live a life of luxury…at a conservation site owned and operated by the cruel masters in the circus.
It’s a paradox that no one seems to have thought too much about: If Feld Entertainment cares so little about its elephants, why does it operate a multi-million dollar facility to care for its elephants?
In spite of this obvious contradiction, the animal activist left had won a battle that ultimately ended the war. The circus moved up the 2018 retirement date for its elephants to early 2016, but that decision proved to be fatal.
Without the elephants in the show, ticket sales plummeted. 14 years of lawyers’ fees combined with an already shaky industry hampered by decades of waning public interest meant Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey simply could no longer compete, and Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld issued a statement that he said broke his heart:
After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May of this year. Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop. This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.
Even though the animal activist left had failed in its effort to show that the circus had abused animals, and failed so miserably in fact that it was forced to pay more than $25 million for its lies, it had won.
And even though Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey had never been proven– not once– in its 146 year history to have violated the Animal Cruelty Act, its spotlight will be going dark for good.
Such is the power of the radical left–that it can without ever proving its sensational charges destroy an entire company, really an entire industry, and for many decades a way of life and a piece of Americana.
That is, however, the left’s show: Make a sensational charge, repeat it enough in a compliant media so that the public believes it to be true, and then make sure the public never finds out that the charge was completely discredited and debunked.
It’s a show that’s repeated over and over again and seems to work with each repeat performance. And for the innocent people it victimizes, it just may be the saddest show on earth.