Ingrid Newkirk has spent half her life trying to get in your face. She'd like to keep that up after she's dead.
The PETA founder's last will and testament, posted on the group's website, reveals just how far Newkirk is willing to go in her mission to draw attention to the treatment of animals.
She wants her "meat" publicly barbecued, her skin made into leather products and put on display - and that's just for starters.
Wing nut? If so, she's our wing nut - a 63-year-old true believer who leads the world's largest animal rights group, headquartered in an office building that overlooks the Elizabeth River. And while Newkirk's final wishes may be just another over-the-top statement from an outfit that thrives on them, the woman herself is still a surprise.
In person, she comes across as reasonable and polite, a petite Brit with a classy accent who'll drop trou in a second for publicity. She doesn't own a car, never buys new clothes and earns just $38,000 a year - half that of her second in command. She's into sumo wrestling and Formula One auto racing and does not have a pet. She runs an organization that's obsessed with animals, yet kills almost all the ones in its care.
And whether you love them, hate them or are just plain tired of them, Newkirk's just glad that after 32 years of crusading, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals can still get a reaction.
After all, time can be hard on a radical. Screaming protests give way to online petitions. Board room strategy replaces stirring marches. Jailhouse cots hold ever-dwindling appeal.
It's not easy keeping a fire lit for so long.
"I always feel like a man when I'm standing next to her," says Newkirk, tilting her head toward a corner of her small office, where a photo sits of herself and Pamela Anderson, the blond bombshell who's one of PETA's many celebrity supporters.
Outside the windows of Newkirk's office, the sun glints off the river and geese paddle by in formation - a tranquil setting for a group bent on revolution.
PETA claims 3 million members - albeit with varying degrees of devotion - and has branches across the globe, in Europe, Asia, Australia, Latin America.
The nerve center, however, is on Front Street, where roughly 100 staffers come to work every day with the single-minded goal of making the rest of us stop and think.
Fortified by a $30 million annual budget, they use an arsenal of weapons - shock, sex, nudity, hidden cameras, gruesome videos. No target is immune and no tactic - except violence - is off limits, says Newkirk.
They've been called a cult - and that's one of the kinder names - but "pressure group" is more accurate. Their strategy is to push for the extreme, hoping to move society's needle even the slightest.
Born in England and raised in India, Newkirk never considered animal rights until she moved to America, got married and one day found herself faced with a litter of abandoned kittens. She took them to a shelter near her home in suburban Maryland, where the kittens were promptly euthanized - an epiphany for Newkirk.
She went to work for the humane society, became a deputy sheriff investigating animal abuse, and eventually became the chief of animal disease control for the Commission on Public Health in D.C.
In 1980, she cashed in her pension for $7,000 to start PETA, an abolitionist organization with a militant mission statement: "Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any way."
From a handful of crusaders operating out of Newkirk's house, PETA grew into real staff working in offices in Rockville, Md. In 1996, the organization moved its home base to Hampton Roads.
"We have a lot of young women who volunteer for us," Newkirk says. "We needed a place that felt safe that we could afford. We saw this building and instantly fell in love. It has such a soothing view."
The community hasn't always been friendly. Vandals have smeared raw hamburger on PETA's windows and used ketchup to scrawl rude messages. Dead fish, crabs and a deer head have been dumped on their doorstep. A radio station staged a fishing tournament right off their property. Tires have been slashed on cars in their parking lot. Security concerns prevent the elevator from reaching Newkirk's floor without a special key.
But overall, Newkirk says, the negative has been far outweighed: "We've had many more offers of help and lovely cards."
She takes none of it personally. PETA is a master of the publicity stunt, intentionally offending in order to collect as much priceless press as possible.
Campaigns have compared chickens to Holocaust victims, meat eaters to Jeffrey Dahmers, zoos to pimps, the American Kennel Club to the Ku Klux Klan. Disciples have done everything from dousing fashion models in fake blood to dumping a dead raccoon on a Vogue editor's dinner plate.
Not even mom is sacred. PETA has an online game for kids that depicts "Cooking Mama" as a murderer in the kitchen.
Women's groups criticize PETA's liberal use of nudity, saying it sacrifices the dignity of women for its cause. Newkirk makes no apologies for the barely dressed demonstrators who have become a PETA trademark, or for convincing dozens of celebrities to shed their clothes for its long-running "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" campaign.
She says nothing tops sex for drawing attention and does not view its calculated use as exploitative: "I've never been afraid of nudity, perhaps because I'm European. I've done naked many times myself and I'd do it again - except I'm not sure anyone really wants to see that at my age."
Jeff Jones, a communications professor and pop culture expert at Old Dominion University, finds PETA's advertising fascinating - a game plan that shouldn't work, but somehow does.
"I can't get think of another example where the sole dedication to a cause overrides everything in its communicative message," he says.
By alienating so many, he says, "Catholics, Jews, women, fat people, Democrats, the anti-porn people," PETA has fostered a kamikaze-type image - "a name recognition that suggests they'll stop at nothing to get their point across. That's what makes people think they're crazy. And people don't want to trigger a response in the crazy. No one wants them on their trail."
It has also made them an icon of fanaticism, the punch line of countless jokes.
"I gave up worrying about that a long time ago," Newkirk says. "When I hear Jimmy Kimmel tell someone on TV 'Don't talk about that. Those PETA people will be after you' - I just nod to myself and say quietly, 'That's right.' "
PETA consumes Newkirk.
The long hours it demands helped end her marriage. Decades of protest and civil disobedience have led to her arrest "about 500 times," she says, "but it's been awhile now." She has no children and lives out of a suitcase, flying so often that she opts for the pat-down in airport security lines to avoid an overdose of X-rays.
But when asked if she has sacrificed her life for her cause, Newkirk responds, "Eh. Much has been made of that, but this is what fascinates and interests and drives me. I want to do this, and it's a godsend to have the opportunity."
As for money, Newkirk says she chooses a smaller salary because she doesn't require much. She isn't into furniture or fashion, preferring to find what she needs second-hand or in care packages from her mother. She has no appetite for cars or collectibles or consumerism in general.
"I just don't care," she says. "But I'm OK. I eat well, I live fine, I go on holiday, I look after myself. I just don't have a great desire to do certain things that most people do. I'm a workaholic, but I enjoy it. I'd feel very guilty taking a large salary."
She does like reading and British crossword puzzles. And then there's the sumo wrestling and auto racing.
"Don't look so surprised," she says. "I like to watch it, not do it."
Newkirk doesn't like everything her organization does. She has nixed campaign ideas she felt were "too crass" even for PETA and has been persuaded to allow others she later regretted, like Milk Gone Wild, a spoof on the bare-breasted video franchise.
"It was just too down-market," she says. "It made me cringe."
But Milk Gone Wild delivered online: "It got huge hits, and I can't argue if it brings people to our website and they wind up learning something."
PETA makes maximum use of the Internet, winning national awards for its website and social media savvy. Dan Mathews, a PETA senior vice president, says digital activism is dethroning the '60s-style mass protest.
"We convinced Forever 21 to stop selling fur by having a few hundred thousand of our members tweet the executives," Mathews says. "That's more effective these days than a few hundred people protesting outside a store in the mall."
As for Newkirk: "I don't text. I have no apps on my phone. I'm a total fogey when it comes to that stuff. It's a good thing we're constantly hiring young people. I can just hand it over to them and they make it happen."
She can offer advice on one tactical shift. Before becoming an activist, Newkirk was studying to be a stockbroker. Over the past decade, PETA has been building a portfolio, purchasing enough shares to legitimately infiltrate dozens of annual stockholder meetings, where its voice must now be heard.
If buying shares in companies they've boycotted - like Kentucky Fried Chicken - seems odd, PETA's euthanasia rate seems downright shocking. Last year, the organization put down nearly 2,000 cats and dogs, or 95 percent of the animals in its custody.
Newkirk says the rate is so high because most of those turned over to PETA are too ill, injured or old to be saved: "If people who won't even kill an animal for a sandwich are euthanizing, it's pretty clear we're being forced to do society's dirty work."
She can't imagine a time when she'll retire: "The problem is just too enormous. It's like world peace. You're never going to have it. There will never be an end to animal abuse. We're just trying to get the next generation to come along."
Her will makes it clear that she wants to keep shocking from the beyond.
Should PETA manage to carry out Newkirk's requests, her eyes will be removed, mounted and delivered to certain government agencies as a reminder that PETA is watching. Her feet will be made into umbrella stands, as elephant feet are in India. Canada will receive an ear to "hear" the screams of its fur-bearing animals.
Apparently, no one is getting rid of Ingrid Newkirk.
Joanne Kimberlin, 757-446-2338, firstname.lastname@example.org
Big fights against big companies
PETA has a long target list. A few of their most prominent campaigns:
McCruelty to go, protesting factory farm conditions
PETNO, protesting use of puppy mills
Calvin Kills, protesting use of fur
Murder King, protesting factory farm conditions
Cruel Tea, protesting animal testing
SeaWorld of Hurt, protesting orcas in captivity
Ringling Bros./The Greatest Show on Earth
The Saddest Show on Earth, protesting treatment of circus animals
NASTY, protesting use of research monkeys
Kentucky Fried Cruelty, protesting chicken house conditions
Lowe'st of the Low, protesting sale of rodent glue traps
March of Dimes
March of Crimes, protesting animal testing
Other memorable campaigns:
I'd rather go naked than wear fur
Your Mommy Kills Animals
Meet your Meat
A fur on your back is blood on your hands
Buy a dog = killing one at the shelter
Meat is murder
Fur is dead
Make no mistake - this leather is fake
Few groups can marshal star power like PETA. A sampling of its celebrity supporters:
Alec Baldwin, Paul McCartney, Pamela Anderson, Jane Lynch, Bill Maher, Penelope Cruz, Dennis Rodman, Ellen Degeneres, Eva Mendes, Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson, Kelly Osbourne, Pink, Kate Winslet, Alicia Silverstone, Cloris Leachman, Bob Barker, Angelica Huston, Joaquin Phoenix, Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Hurley