Partially clad PETA demonstrators laid in coffins for one hour while other protesters, some in chicken and turkey costumes, held signs reading, "Bird Flu Kills: Go Vegetarian."
The three women in the coffins were dressed in underwear and covered themselves with flowers to avoid being arrested for indecent exposure.
"We want people to know that a vegetarian diet is the safest diet in light of bird flu being transmitted through eating chicken, turkey and eggs," said PETA Campaign Coordinator Chris Link. He said the people in the coffins demonstrated "the importance of taking these actions against bird flu."
But when demonstrators from the conservative Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) showed up minutes into the protest, Link and other PETA protesters had to respond to the claims that the animal rights group "kills animals."
The counter-protesters held signs reading "PETA Kills Animals" and set up their own coffin with one protestor dressed as a dog and another pretending to inject it with a giant ooze-filled syringe. The conservatives handed out brochures that outlined the June arrest of two PETA employees for placing the carcasses of 31 animals into a dumpster.
The two employees face felony animal cruelty charges in North Carolina in November.
"PETA's out here claiming falsely that you can get bird flu from eating chicken even though scientists tell us that's not the case," said CCF Director of Research David Martosko. "They're just trying to scare people."
Martosko said his group copied PETA's tactic of using coffins "to tell the public that PETA ought to use those coffins to give a proper burial to the thousands of animals they've actually killed."
According to the CCF's fliers, PETA "killed over 80 percent of the flesh-and-blood animals it took in" in 2004 and has euthanized more than 12,400 animals since 1998.
Link did not dispute the charges, but defended his group's actions. "[A]t this point because of the overpopulation, because enough people aren't spaying and neutering animals and they're over-breeding ... at this point it is in their best interest to be euthanized," Link said.
"If they would have died at that shelter they would have been inhumanely gassed with CO2," Link said. "So the way that we did it was humane. We mainly euthanized them."
Link added that PETA does not "support dumping animals the way that they were disposed of, but they were killed in a humane way."
He also questioned the CCF's legitimacy, calling the group "a mouthpiece for the restaurant and big businesses that exploit animals."
Martosko shot back, accusing PETA of trying to stifle his free speech rights. "They want to monopolize things and tell everybody else's free speech that it's not as important as theirs. And in fact they've tried to sic the police on us to tell us we don't have the right to speak here on a street corner."
Martosko's group originally lined up in the middle of the PETA demonstration in an attempt to get its "PETA Kills Animals" sign visible in photographs and video being taken of the PETA coffins. Police later separated the two groups at PETA's request, moving the CCF display a few yards away.
Police maintained that distance between members of the rival organizations who tried to hand out documents to passersby during the hour-long protest. There were no cases of violence and no arrests were made.
Make media inquiries or request an interview with Nathan Burchfiel.
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-brief.
E-mail a comment or news tip to Nathan Burchfiel.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.