Once Bitten

Animal rights activist gets sued, shy

"Yeah, I climbed the Wienermobile," he says, grinning so widely that you can see a few of his molars. "Sure did."

Just a few years before he trekked to the top of the hot dog, while a student at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, Atwood became a vegan. Still, he says, he didn't leap into activism.

"Some people have the light-bulb moments. I just kind of had a growing awareness. I always had a sensitivity to animal issues. It just spoke to me emotionally."

Nicolas Atwood gets an assist in his dismount from the wiener, 1997.
The Miami Herald/Peter Andrew Bosch
Nicolas Atwood gets an assist in his dismount from the wiener, 1997.

He went on to New York University, where he earned a master's degree in public administration with a concentration in managing nonprofits. He's worked as a communications director for ARFF and, more recently, the Palm Beach County Cultural Council. Now, he works full-time on Bite Back as well as a home-based website consulting business.

Last year, the Sunday Times in London branded Atwood the "mastermind" behind planned violent action against Oxford University staff and students. According to the Times, Atwood posted the names and, in some cases, the home addresses of 40 people who were participating in medical research, calling them "legitimate targets" and urging other activists to set fires, commit burglary, or vandalize the targets' cars.

Atwood says now that there are no masterminds in the animal rights movement. ALF says its members operate autonomously.

"I don't feel like we're inciting any criminal activity," Atwood says. "I don't have a problem with spray-painting. Our website focuses on those who are breaking the law. Sometimes, laws are broken. It's part of an ongoing effort to eliminate animal suffering. I draw the line at physical violence... I hope it remains a nonviolent movement."

As he's saying this, a mango drops from the tree onto the roof of his yellow stucco house with a bang. Atwood flinches, then looks over his shoulder as another mango falls. Ah, just fruit.

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