Cafe Gratitude and Gracias Madre are long-standing and well-known vegan restaurants in Los Angeles.   The owners, Matthew and Terces Engelhart, have been receiving death threats as part of an Internet campaign that has included bad reviews by Yelp activists and a boycott by a Facebook group.

Bobs Blog LogoThe threats apparently resulted from outrage in the vegan community, as members of the community learned from blog posts that the couple had raised and eaten meat and eggs from their own farm.   Arguments on both sides aside, the food defense situation at the restaurants has deteriorated because of a few vegan/animal rights zealots who are espousing violence to the couple for what is perceived as a breach of trust. Personnel security is always an important element of food defense.

The counter cultures (radical vegan/animal rights/ecoterorism vs. animal agriculture/commercial agriculture) have clashed for decades, with the highest activity occurring in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Criminal activity (e.g. arson) by animal rights radicals and ecoterrorists was significant enough that the then-deputy assistant director of the FBI, John E. Lewis, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying: “During the past several years…special interest extremism, as characterized by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), and related extremists, has emerged as a serious domestic terrorist threat.”

The important thing to emphasize here is that the majority of vegans and animal rights activists are not radicals, nor do they espouse violence against those who act in a way counter to their beliefs. Many, perhaps all, would likely be appalled by actual violence or calls for violence, since it is violence (against animals) that they decry in the first place.

Still, there is a subculture today with some highly radicalized adherents who are willing to promote violence. Although most true believers are not less likely to actually act violently, within the subculture are also likely a few willing and able to do violence. Our culture has become coarser over the last decade, and radical voices from many directions as well as openly expressed anger and violence have become more common.

Radicals still do exist, and it is these people, though small in number and whatever their self-perceived motivations, who must be considered as potential corporate adversaries in personnel security planning development. Food production and processing corporations involved in animal agriculture as well as retail outlets and restaurants serving meat should take note. Be aware and be prepared!

by R.A. Norton


  1. Boycott Cafe Gratitude and Gracias Madre Community.  Link:
    www.facebook.com/Boycott-Cafe-Gratitude-and-Gracias-Madre-159330514465477/
  2. A blog disclosing the consumption of meat by the restaurant owners appears at:
    http://myveganjournal.com/cafe-gratitude/
  3. The complete testimony of Mr. Lewis is available at:
    https://www.fbi.gov/news/testimony/animal-rights-extremism-and-ecoterrorism

Robert A. Norton, Ph.D., is a professor at Auburn University and Chair of the Food Systems Institute, Biosecurity and Food Defense Working Group. A long-time consultant to federal and state law enforcement agencies, the Department of Defense and industry, he specializes in intelligence analysis, weapons of mass destruction defense and national security.

For more information on the topic or for more detailed discussions about specific security related needs, he can be reached at nortora@auburn.edu or by phone at (334) 844-7562.