Glue, chains and a referee uniform: Protesters are taking extreme measures at Timberwolves' NBA playoff games

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First, there was woman who tried to glue her hand to the basketball court at a Minnesota Timberwolves play-in game. Days later, a woman chained herself to the base of the basketball hoop during Game 4 against the Memphis Grizzlies. At following games, two others dressed up as referees and were going to blow a whistle and “eject” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.

The three disruptive but nonviolent protests since April 12 have drawn attention to Taylor’s factory egg farm in Rembrandt, Iowa, where millions of chickens recently have been killed after the nationwide bird flu outbreak hit the facility.

And with the Timberwolves back in action on Friday night, fans can expect to see more from the demonstrators.

“Tune in,” said Matt Johnson, a spokesman for Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), a nationwide network of animal rights activists behind the stunts.

►Bird flu 2022: Worst bird flu in years drives up egg prices, prompts precautions against spread to humans

DxE, which is against all meat-eating and has previously gotten attention for taking animals from farms, has two demands of Taylor. First, that he hasten his planned 2023 transfer of majority ownership of the Timberwolves. And second, that he return the millions of dollars in government subsidies he has received and is set to receive as a result of bird flu outbreaks at the egg farm, Rembrandt Enterprises.

Spokespeople for the Timberwolves and Rembrandt did not respond to requests for comment.

Taylor has not spoken publicly about the protests or the allegations.

Protesters call for criminal charges

DxE has called for criminal charges against Rembrandt for the killing of 5.3 million hens at its Iowa facility last month, alleging that they slowly suffocated them to death using a method called ventilation shutdown plus. The group claims that dozens of surviving birds were found in their cages hours later, running loose or buried alive.

"We're trying to obviously gain some attention and captivate people's imagination to raise awareness around these issues," said Johnson, who dressed as a referee and was planning to disrupt the Timberwolves' April 21 game against the Memphis Grizzlies before security tackled him.

Johnson admits the protests haven't been as successful as hoped: his was thwarted before it even began and the other protesters were quickly removed from the basketball court to jeers and boos.

Minnesota Timberwolves fans wave towels during Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies Thursday, April 21, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King) ORG XMIT: MNAK218
Minnesota Timberwolves fans wave towels during Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies Thursday, April 21, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King) ORG XMIT: MNAK218

But the protests "have worked very much as planned in terms of the outcome of generating a ton of attention," Johnson said.

►Timberwolves front office: Toxic environment, interoffice relationship led to team exec's 2021 firing

Protesters charged

The stunts lit up social media, leading users to call two of the protesters "glue girl" and "chain girl."

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green tweeted on April 23 that "they have to start prosecuting these people.”

"Only a matter of time before someone hit them. Then the athlete gets sued," he wrote.

In all but one case, the protesters are facing charges.

Zoe Rosenberg, a 19-year-old sophomore studying social change strategy at the University of California, Berkeley, has been charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing and creating a disturbance at the Timberwolves' April 16 game against the Grizzlies in Memphis.

During a stoppage in play in the second quarter, Rosenberg chained herself to the base of the basketball hoop while wearing a shirt that read, "Glen Taylor Roasts Animals Alive."

Security tried to cover Rosenberg's shirt and eventually broke the chain with a mop before hauling her away. She spent the night in jail before being bailed out the next morning.

"Chaining myself to the basketball hoop was terrifying, going to jail was scary, too," Rosenberg told USA Today this week. "But at the end of the day I think it’s a small sacrifice to make given the magnitude of suffering. The least I can do is spend a night in jail."

The arrest was her seventh, Rosenberg said, adding that she began protesting animal cruelty when she was 14 and disrupted a Los Angeles Dodgers game.

In this June 6, 2014, file photo, Minnesota Timberwolves team owner Glen Taylor speaks in Minneapolis. The first increment of the $1.5 billion sale of the Minnesota Timberwolves to e-commerce mogul Marc Lore and retired baseball star Alex Rodriguez was formally approved by the NBA in 2021.
In this June 6, 2014, file photo, Minnesota Timberwolves team owner Glen Taylor speaks in Minneapolis. The first increment of the $1.5 billion sale of the Minnesota Timberwolves to e-commerce mogul Marc Lore and retired baseball star Alex Rodriguez was formally approved by the NBA in 2021.

She said her family has been understanding of the arrests, partially because they run a rescue for animals recovered from factory farms and slaughterhouses.

“My family would probably prefer that I not get arrested and do things that they feel are putting myself at risk, but they understand how passionate I am about these issues,” she said. “They’re kind of used to it at this point.”

Though DxE’s protests have drawn attention to their cause, their tactics may not be the most effective, said Steven Tauber, a political science professor at the University of South Florida whose research focus is social justice politics.

“Joe Smith who is watching the game, who probably just ate chicken for dinner, their response more likely than not is going to be, ‘$#@% these people, I just want to watch the basketball game,’” Tauber said. “They're not going to say, ‘What is the real issue here?’”

Education and litigation tend to be more effective while confrontational protests tend to harden positions, he said.

“It backfires,” he said. “They’re just going to get people angry and then when they're angry, they're going to tune out the specific message.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA playoffs protests target Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor