Jeff Bezos' keynote talk interrupted by animal rights protester

The woman was quickly ushered offstage.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
3 min read

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spoke Thursday at the company's robotics and AI conference. 

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

A mostly uneventful keynote interview with Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos veered off the rails when an animal rights protester stormed the stage Thursday.

The woman, who was hard to hear from the audience, called out as Bezos was sitting nearby in the middle of a "fireside chat" interview in front of thousands of people at Amazon's re:MARS conference. Bezos' talk was set to be the last and most significant keynote appearance of the four-day robotics and artificial intelligence conference.

 "I have been inside Amazon chicken farms, where animals are criminally abused," the woman said.

She asked Amazon to commit to helping animals, as four security people started to converge around her, grabbed her arms and then ushered her offstage.

As she was exiting, she called out: "You're the richest man on the planet, you can help the animals, you can help the environment."

Soon after, Bezos broke the tension by saying to his interviewer: "Do you have a response to that?" and many in the audience laughed. He soon after returned to talking about Amazon's broadband satellites project called Project Kuiper, his advice for entrepreneurs and his plans for developing more infrastructure for space travel.

The animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, which calls for "total animal liberation through nonviolent direct action," took responsibility for the protest, saying activist Priya Sawhney was the person who came onstage. She was protesting against a chicken supplier in California that apparently provides chickens to Amazon, the group said in a press release. The group says it has undercover footage of sick and starving birds there.

The activist organization has also put together multiple animal-rights demonstrations in California over the past few months.

Sawhney was later arrested, the Associated Press reported. She was held on suspicion of misdemeanor trespassing and may face more serious charges, the AP added, citing a Las Vegas police officer.

The protest was a rare situation in which Bezos was directly confronted by a protester. As the world's richest person and the CEO of a major tech company, he typically has tight security funded by Amazon. The company says it pays $1.6 million a year for Bezos' personal security. The few times he has spoken publicly it's typically been in a restricted and controlled environment, meant to prevent safety risks and protests like Thursday's.

Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Aside from the protest, Bezos offered some additional details about Project Kuiper, which Amazon revealed in April. It's a 3,236-satellite project that would beam broadband internet access worldwide to millions of people. Elon Musk's SpaceX and the company Telesat are working on similar projects.

"The goal here is broadband everywhere," Bezos said. "You have equal broadband all over the surface of the Earth."

That work should help Amazon provide fast internet access to people in rural and remote areas. "I think you can see going forward that access to broadband is going to be very close to a fundamental human need," Bezos added.

He also mentioned that the cost for Amazon to build out this project will be "multiple billions of dollars."

Bezos last month spoke publicly in Washington, DC, where he unveiled a new moon lander created by his space exploration company Blue Origin, and also laid out an ambitious vision of the future in which a trillion people would live in giant space colonies.

Watch this: Jeff Bezos reveals plans for the moon and beyond

Originally published June 6, 11:32 a.m. PT.
Update, 12:28 p.m. PT: Added more details throughout.