Dispatches, August 1998
Yes, it's true that Steve Hindi is both an animal-rights activist and a vegetarian. But that doesn't mean he's a pacifist. Take, for example, his recent bid to draw attention to the persecution of bulls — by challenging a group of Mexican matadors to meet him in the ring for a "real" fight. "I don't think it would be useful to go to these bullfighters and talk about love and peace," Hindi declares. "Gandhi? Martin Luther King? Hell, they're dead. Sometimes you have to deal with your opposition at their level."
As founder of the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition, Hindi, 43, stands as something of a nutty guru in the crusade to protect beleaguered fauna, pioneering a brand of scorched-earth, in-your-face activism that owes more to Jerry Springer than to the Discovery Channel. "Steve is by far one of the most hard-hitting activists I've run across," says Heidi Prescott, national director of the New York-based Fund for Animals. "I think he certainly will inspire more people to try more aggressive tactics."
That, of course, is just the sort of comment that makes most folks wonder: Do people who fling buckets of blood on fur-clad socialites really need to become more aggressive? To which Hindi's antics would seem to reply: You bet we do. A former rock musician who has also run for the Illinois legislature as a Republican, he is perhaps best known for his commando-style paragliding stunts on behalf of ducks, deer, and most recently fish. The airborne strafing missions, conducted with the aid of his 20-horsepower DK Whisper flying machine, are focused in equal parts on scaring the animals and infuriating the people trying to kill them.
Hindi has met with impressive success on both counts. At a rural Illinois deer hunt in 1995, the sound of his engine scattered the animals all over the woods. At a rodeo in Wauconda, Illinois, his aerial missions enabled him to monitor the alleged "abuse" of bulls with a video camera. And last year he repeatedly buzzed the Woodstock Hunt Club in a campaign to frighten off migrating ducks — a tactic that understandably enraged club members. "I think he's kind of immature," says Matthew M. Litvak, the club's attorney, who eventually secured a restraining order against Hindi. "This is not exactly the sort of freedom that James Madison put his life on the line for."
Perhaps not. But Hindi's willingness to go to impressive — if somewhat ridiculous-lengths does garner some points for originality. And like many a man who marches to a different rhythm, he has paid a stiff price. After getting arrested for refusing to adhere to the restraining order, Hindi spent 55 days cooling his heels in Illinois's McHenry County Jail. He emerged unrepentant in May, and immediately stepped up efforts to launch a series of seminars to impart the secrets of paragliding protest to activists from all over the nation. During the next several months, he hopes, his students will practice their dive-bombing skills over fox hunts, whaling ships, and fishing tournaments from Florida to Japan. And in the meantime, Hindi is keenly awaiting his date with those Mexican matadors. "We need to show them that they're a bunch of sissy cowards," he declares, "and that we can kick the shit out of them."
Illustrations by Gordon Studer (top) and Noah Woods