Update, July 17, 6:10 a.m.: SeaWorld has suspended an employee accused of using a fake name to infiltrate animal-rights group PETA and has retained an outside law firm to investigate the matter, the Orlando Sentinel reports:
The investigation, which will be led by Ron Olson of the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, will have full access to the company and its people, SeaWorld Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby said in a statement Wednesday.
“The allegations made yesterday against a SeaWorld employee are very concerning,” Manby said in the statement, which didn’t name the employee. “These allegations, if true, are not consistent with the values of the SeaWorld organization and will not be tolerated.”
McComb is reportedly on paid leave from his SeaWorld HR job while the firm investigates.
SeaWorld had struck a more defiant tone in a statement released earlier in the week that did not expressly deny PETA’s accusations regarding McComb, instead saying it would not comment on details of its “security operations” against “animal rights groups [that] have become increasingly extreme in their rhetoric and tactics.” SeaWorld also alleged that PETA had hired activists to pose as SeaWorld employees in order to spy on the company. PETA acknowledges that it uses undercover investigators but says it has never sent anyone to work at SeaWorld.
If you happen to be a SeaWorld employee who’s been moonlighting as an anti-SeaWorld agitator, now’s a good time to lock down your social media accounts, since PETA says it’s hot on the trail of some other fake activists: “We do not believe that SeaWorld has limited its espionage efforts to McComb’s activities,” PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk said in a statement. “It has hired protesters to attend SeaWorld rallies, and PETA is currently looking at two more men who we believe were SeaWorld agents hired to infiltrate PETA as ‘volunteers,’ and the list may grow.”
Original post, July 16, 5:16 p.m.: The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organization alleges that a man named “Thomas Jones” who has been participating in anti-SeaWorld activism for several years is actually a SeaWorld employee who signed up for PETA using a PO box registered to one of the aquatic theme park company’s security officials. From Bloomberg:
[Jones] protested a SeaWorld float at New York’s Thanksgiving Day parade in 2013, held anti-SeaWorld signs outside the company’s San Diego theme park, and got hauled away by police at the 2014 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, Peta said.
Peta officials said they believe Jones is another man: 28-year-old Paul McComb, who has worked in a number of positions at SeaWorld since at least 2008, including as a human resources representative, according to a job history posted on the website Jresume.com.
Bloomberg reports that since-deleted photos on a “Thomas Jones” Facebook page seemed to portray the same individual who also appeared in since-deleted photos of Paul McComb on his wife’s Facebook page. Bloomberg also reached McComb by phone; he hung up when a reporter asked if he was “Thomas Jones.” A SeaWorld spokesman said he would not comment on “security operations.”
PETA also notes that a Twitter user with the handle “Thomas Jones” has posted a number of inflammatory statements about SeaWorld, some of which advocated property damage.
The man identifying himself as Jones was arrested at a 2014 protest in Pasadena, California, along with 15 other PETA activists—but was then released without charges while the other activists were booked, PETA says. The group has filed a lawsuit seeking further information about Jones/McComb’s arrest.