Pelted!

When an animal rights activist came up against Neiman Marcus, she had more than some dead fur to contend with

CAFT has grown into an international operation, with 10 chapters in cities from San Diego to Atlanta to Boston to London. "My goal is to become more involved on the political level, to create an animal rights interest group that operates like the NRA [National Rifle Association]," Goodwin says. "I want CAFT to have influence on elections and basically to say animal rights is something you don't want to mess with." Though CAFT has grown rapidly, and though Goodwin has become a more prolific activist since his girlfriend got beat up, his business is still small-time. Tax records indicate the group took in less than $25,000 last year, $11,000 of which went for his personal expenses. Goodwin also designs T-shirts for his cohorts, such as the one that says "Furs are Lethal Luxuries" in a red, dripping-blood font.

In addition to coordinating protest actions among 50 animal rights groups and spreading information about the movement, Goodwin trains CAFT volunteers on legal matters regarding civil disobedience. Anti-fur advocates tend to wear their arrests like Purple Hearts, and he teaches them what they can do to ensure that the police will cart them away from a protest--blocking a store doorway or driveway, refusing to leave the store's premises after being asked. But Goodwin says that recently he has noticed some overzealousness on the part of police and security officers. "CAFT is finding the same thing happening around the country that happens in Dallas whenever they protest Neiman's," Goodwin claims. Protesters simply standing in picket lines are being snagged and thrown into paddy wagons along with those who plan on getting arrested.

Two days after the September incident with Neiman's, Nichols became Goodwin's cause celebre, and he milked her alleged assault for all the propaganda value he could. He sent out a press release, and KRLD-AM, in turn, ran a story about Rodney Lewis' arrest. Goodwin posted news of it on his website and sent an e-mail account of the fight to 150 animal rights leaders across the country, encouraging them to focus their attention on Neiman Marcus. Anti-fur contingents in San Diego, Minneapolis, and Washington D.C. began weekly protests outside Neiman's stores there. And in Beverly Hills, an animal rights group redirected a campaign aimed at Bloomingdale's to target Neiman Marcus. For Lydia Nichols and J.P. Goodwin, the local institution had become the incarnation of evil they were seeking to further their crusade.

Fort Worth attorney Don Feare learned of the September skirmish between Nichols and Lewis on KRLD and contacted Nichols by phone. She and Goodwin had heard of him, most likely from his work with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, so they met with him at his office. After discussing details of the skirmish, Feare agreed to file a civil suit against Neiman's, attempting to force the retailer to compensate her for damages--both actual and punitive.

Feare, who lives on a wildlife refuge for waterfowl in an unincorporated nook of southern Tarrant County, wrote a letter to Gerald Sampson, president and CEO of Neiman Marcus. In it, he recounts the incident and some of the conclusions Feare had reached. "Rod Lewis...was assisted in this attack by another man who previously informed my clients that your store had paid him to follow them," read the letter. "The persons who attacked my clients were acting in their capacity as employees of your company." Left unstated was the fact that any physical contact Lydia might have initiated against Lewis was insignificant when measured against the violent behavior of someone twice her size.

Last October 1, Nichols and Goodwin met with detective Evelyn Mayfield, a Dallas police liaison between protest groups and their targets. They discussed the assault case with her, as well as their concerns about their cars being broken into at other protests. Goodwin showed the detective a small foam microphone cover that he claimed he'd found in his car; he believed someone was trying to plant a bug. Mayfield said she would inform Neiman Marcus that the protesting would continue, and she promised Nichols that Dallas police officers would be present to monitor the events. Nichols gave her a schedule which included an ALT protest outside Neiman Marcus just about every week. The group also left room for an occasional demonstration against someone else--Kroger grocery stores, for example, which was targeted for refusing to only sell dolphin-free tuna.

Figuring she had nothing to hide, Nichols also volunteered to take a lie detector test. On October 28, she went to police headquarters and sat in the room next to the machine. For an hour before getting polygraphed, she says, an officer grilled her with questions. Did you punch Rodney Lewis? She said no. Have you ever hurt a member of your family? The questions seemed odd to her. "I didn't know what they meant," she says today. "The only time I ever hit someone was my brother when I was five." Have you ever been in a physical confrontation? When she said no, she was asked, "Isn't that what you do? Have you ever been confrontational with someone at a protest?"

"Of course we're confrontational," Nichols says, "but I don't think we mean it the same way they were asking. When we say 'confrontation' or 'disturbance' in a press release, we say it to get the media's attention. We don't believe in violence."

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