Vegan protester who tangled with Jill Biden: ‘I felt empathy when I heard her yell’
Animal-rights activist Ashley Froud had already jumped a fence at Joe Biden’s Super Tuesday rally in Los Angeles and begun to storm the stage when she heard Jill Biden scream.
“I had a lot of adrenaline going through my body, as you can imagine,” Froud told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. “When you’re so passionate and driven to do something, you don’t even think about it. You just do it.”
Hours later, a dramatic photo of the encounter — with the former second lady clenching her teeth as she gripped Froud by the wrists to prevent her from getting near her husband — went viral on social media.
Froud, a 24-year-old sociology student from Orange County, was too busy waving her “Let Dairy Die” sign to even react to Jill Biden’s grab.
“I felt empathy when I heard her yell, and that’s why I didn’t put any of my hands on her because I didn’t even really notice her,” Froud said. “I was so intent on getting the message across.”
Freelance photographer Patrick T. Fallon captured the altercation as soon as the first protester began climbing the steps to the stage. He had seen members of Direct Action Everywhere, an organization that opposes animal cruelty, make a scene at campaign events for other candidates and wondered “if they would try this again” on Joe Biden’s night.
This time, he was ready.
“It happened so fast,” he told The Times Wednesday, estimating that the entire encounter lasted less than 30 seconds. “The place you happen to be, you just have to react as best you can and get in as best position you can. ... It’s always interesting to see how an image can take hold like this.”
Much of the conversation surrounding the photo has championed Jill Biden. A variety of tweets, such as “Don’t mess with Jill Biden” and “Find you someone who will protect you from lunging vegans like Jill Biden,” began making the rounds, amassing thousands of likes.
“In the current political environment, things are very heated,” Fallon said. “I think folks are interested in strong female participants in this election cycle, regardless of their political affiliations, and perhaps she represents that for a lot of people. I think a lot of people can also connect with the idea of defending one’s partner.”
Froud bears no ill will toward Jill Biden, though she wishes the internet would direct its attention elsewhere.
“Obviously, if you see someone coming at you and your husband, you’re going to want to protect them, so I 100% don’t hold anything against her with her expressions or her grabbing me because I would most likely do the same thing if I was in her position,” Froud said. “I’m a bit disheartened that people are focusing on her and her defending her man rather than on the message that I’m trying to send.”
Froud and Direct Action Everywhere have been trying to send that message to presidential candidates — from Joe Biden to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — throughout the election cycle. By disrupting the politicians’ rallies, they hope to persuade their policy-making targets and their supporters to stop “supporting the animal agriculture industry.”
Froud became aware of her overnight viral fame when people began tagging her on Facebook and Twitter. Though she received some “negative feedback” from skeptics who disapproved of her actions, she ultimately took comfort and pride in the fact that #LetDairyDie (referring to the industry) and #LungingVegans started trending.
“I know in my heart I was trying to do a good thing,” she said. “I feel like I at least planted one seed.”
When Joe Biden’s wife blocked anti-dairy protesters from reaching him onstage in L.A., it was one more sign of the rise of the “Moo Too” movement.
Animal-rights activism has seen a surge led by pop-culture figures such as Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix, who passionately advocated for vegan alternatives on the awards circuit in recent months. Froud has a lot of respect for the “Joker” star, whom she has met “on several occasions” at climate change protests and farm visits.
“I think it’s incredible that these people that have a platform are using it,” she said. “I think it’s phenomenal ... and I can only imagine the criticism they must receive.”
Froud got a taste of that criticism Tuesday night, and she understands why some have taken issue with the aggressive approach.
“Looking at that photograph, I feel proud that I was able to deliver that message,” she said. “If I could have done it another way that would have gained this much attraction, I would have, because I don’t want to make people feel like they’re in any fear. But it’s hard to make people listen to these issues that matter.”
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