There is an interesting intrigue building of an employee suspected of being an undercover agent observing and recording events in the animal rights area. What is different is that the agent was not allegedly working for animal activists but SeaWorld. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has identified a man that it says was a SeaWorld employee who took part in the group’s activities under the name of Thomas Jones. They say that he is actually Paul McComb, 28, who has held various jobs for SeaWorld including work as a human resources representative. SeaWorld has now put McComb on paid administrative leave pending findings of the investigation..
It is hard to believe that no one at SeaWorld was aware of McComb’s work which reportedly went on for years. PETA said that he even protested a SeaWorld float at New York’s Thanksgiving Day parade in 2013, held anti-SeaWorld signs outside the company’s San Diego theme park, and was arrested by police at the 2014 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.
Animal rights groups have been repeatedly sued and denounced by circuses and SeaWorld for their use of undercover agents to photograph what the group says are abusive practices in the treatment of animals.
The group reported how “Jones” used social media to probe other activists for information like “What is the big surprise for the upcoming protest. Are we going up the gates or something?” He presented the image of an ardent activist, calling on his fellow activists to “Grab your pitch forks and torches. Time to take down SeaWorld.”
Before arrested with “Jones” say that he is the same man as McComb.
The timing could not be worse for SeaWorld. People are increasingly agreeing with critics that it is cruel to keep killer whales and other animals in these closed areas for entertainment. (For the record, I served as counsel in a case challenging the effort of aquariums to acquire whales for display). Attendance is down and companies like Southwest Airlines Co. have ended marketing relationships.
Recently, the company dumped its CEO and hired Joel Manby, who ran the Dollywood park and the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. It also launched a huge media campaign to say how much they loved these animals.
PETA discovered the connection when it was running license plates from a protest. Then it grew suspicious when Jones gave two addresses when registering with the group. One is on a street in Jamul, California, that doesn’t exist. There is such a street in El Cajon, where McComb lives. Jamul, where he lived previously, is nearby the El Cajon address.
Seaward did note the irony of PETA objecting to an undercover agent by posting a link to a Peta job posting for an undercover investigator.