In Defense of the A.L.F.
Since 1985, I have been a member of the Animal Liberation Front and am currently serving a 57-month sentence in federal prison for my participation in the 1992 ALF raid on Michigan State University's Furbearer Research Facility where 32 years of research intended to benefit the fur farm industry was destroyed and two mink from the Experimental Fur Farm were rescued. As a believer in the ALF's campaign of nonviolent direct action, I would like to respond to Freeman Wicklund's article on direct action.
Wicklund proposes that the ALF's campaign which has liberated tens of thousands of animals from suffering and cost their abusers millions through the nonviolent destruction of inanimate property used to torture them, has actually resulted in the increase of animals being exploited. Yet he fails to present one example of this ever being the case. That was not the result following the ALF's 1984 raid on the University of Pennsylvania's Head Injury Laboratory which led to its closure, nor was it the case in 1991 and 1997 when ALF raids on Oregon State University's Experimental Fur Farm and Cavel West's horse slaughterhouse also led to their permanent closure.
Over the last 15 years, ALF raids on fur retailers have also led to the closure of dozens of fur shops, and raids in recent years on fur farms have not only rescued literally tens of thousands of mink and foxes, but also contributed to the continuing bankruptcy of these animal concentration camps. Contrary to Wicklund's supposition, vivisectors such as those at the University of Arizona, where a 1989 raid resulted in the liberation of over 1,200 laboratory animals, have acknowledged that targeting by the ALF has led to the reduction in the number of animals used in experiments and the increased vigilance in reducing animal suffering in an attempt to avoid charges of animal cruelty. We are supposed to believe that actually achieving these concrete victories towards the goal of total animal liberation is detrimental and possibly counter-productive?
While segments of the animal rights movement might accept a compromise which leaves the current victims of animal abuse in their present torturous conditions, while hoping that more passive resistance might reverse the lack of morality among the world's most powerful industries and governments, we in the ALF do not. The escalation of institutionalized animal abuse in this last century has proven that animal abusers are not guided by morality, but by money. As long as there is a profit to be made through the exploitation of animals and the natural world, it will continue despite legitimate protest.
The ALF, as the underground wing of the animal rights movement, has for years looked into the eyes of our animal relations in the laboratories, the factories and on fur farms. After looking in those eyes, all arguments we have tried to use to rationalize a less aggressive strategy, for the sake of a long-term victory are seen by those prisoners as one thing: betrayal. For those animals suffering today, as we debate the many ways our movement helps them, surely we should be able to agree that their immediate liberation whenever possible should be supported and even encouraged.
The strategic and tactical sacrifice Wicklund proposes the ALF make by substituting ALF-type direct action for a more conscious assuaging tactic and strategy, ignores the fact that both strategies are capable of coexisting for the greater good, and we need not eliminate any of our diverse means which have brought about victory for the animals. No one tactic stands to suffer because of the existence of the other, as many for years have feared. By questioning the effectiveness and appropriateness of the ALF's strategy, we are nurturing our separation from nature and animals, rather than recognizing our sisterhood and brotherhood with all life that calls on our hearts to protect those we have chosen to represent.
When those of us in the animal rights movement truly embrace the philosophy and belief that all life is sacred, equal to our own and indeed our very relation, we begin to realize just how difficult it is to turn away from the tactics the ALF used to bring about victory here and now for our nonhuman constituents. The question we in the animal rights movement should ask ourselves is what course of action would we justify if it were our own mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers or dearest loved ones in the torture chambers instead of unfamiliar nameless animals? Then, is the ALF justified in its choice of tactics? Once we answer these questions honestly, we might appreciate that in over 15 years of operation in America the ALF has yet to cause even one physical injury-let alone loss of life-in our campaign that has given liberty to tens of thousands of the silent victims of human's war against the animal people. Tens of thousands once loved by those who knew them before their forced separation.
Still, the ALF is not only the animals' freedom fighters, but yours, too. Without the support of countless animal rights activists who have helped find loving homes for liberated animals and helped finance our campaigns, we would cease to exist. When the majority in the animal rights movement deems our actions unnecessary or counterproductive to the goals of animal liberation, liberations and actions will begin to fade. It is my experience though, that the majority of us secretly (if not publicly) cheer when we hear of another ALF raid, such as those fur farms in the Midwest this past August where thousands of mink and foxes were given their only chance for freedom. It is hard to believe that animals or our movement would be better off without the ALF. Without question, more animals-not less-are alive and living in peace today because of the ALF.
In all fairness to those who accuse the ALF of violent tactics, we must ask ourselves what is violent and nonviolent? Is a minimal violent response to an attack of violence ever justified? We may answer the first question, but it is only for those truly victimized by violence to answer the second, remembering that Gandhi himself said that, "Violence was preferable to cowardice...." Is it violent to destroy, with no harm to any living being, the concrete and steel killing machines and torture chambers whose sole purpose is the destruction of innocent life? As the Nuremberg Principles rightly accused those aware of Nazi war crimes of gross apathy and inaction, do those of us aware of horrendous crimes against nature and animals bear any of the moral responsibility for doing nothing to prevent their suffering when the only excuse we can cling to is that to do so would violate the laws of our society and endanger our own freedom?
The animal rights movement has long explained our moral obligation towards preventing suffering to the animal races with words, yet we are sometimes quick to judge and criticize the ALF who demonstrate that commitment with action: actions which may be illegal in our unjust society, but most definitely not immoral or unjustified to the laws of nature and humanity. Such adherence to a principle of nonviolence as that practiced by the ALF may be aggressive rather than passive, but it is still in adherence to even Gandhi's principles of nonviolence, which never condemned destruction of property as violence.
The struggle for independence in India and civil rights in America is often cited as a successful demonstration of the power of nonviolence, but only someone unfamiliar with these movements would think passive resistance as exemplified by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. was solely responsible for victory on these two fronts. Wicklund fails to mention the legitimate segments of both resistances which employed aggressive nonviolence and even armed struggle, segments which never were condemned by Gandhi or King, like the Bengali's revolutionaries whose guerrilla warfare in India surpassed by years Gandhi's civil disobedience campaign. Nor does he give credit to African-American nationalists such as Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party and Angela Davis, who helped build the foundation of this country's anti-racism movement which to this day continues its fight against institutionalized racism without condemnation of those who believe in self defense and aggressive tactics.
Integral to Wicklund's argument in support of his definition of non-violence, is the belief that the animal rights movement must present our struggle to the public via the media, in a way that will allow it to portray us as morally superior. While the ALF believes it is counterproductive to verbally and physically assault anyone, we do not believe our cause is advanced by passively demonstrating that we are willing to endure acts of violence against us. Neither do we demonstrate moral superiority by helping to create an atmosphere that has seen more physical violence than any ever witnessed in ALF actions.
With the increase of physical violence against nonviolent civil disobedience participants, we inadvertently contribute to the media's ability to shift the focus from the immorality of animal abuse to the actions of our own activists. It must also be remembered that historically, movements for social change have rarely been presented without extreme bias in the media. This is no coincidence as often media institutions are business partners with animal abuse industries.
Today's media corporations are controlled by executives whose business depends largely on advertising dollars supplied by the industries dependent on animal exploitation. Neither can we deny that the highly competitive media establishment is driven not by a desire to present the unbiased truth in addressing the moral concerns of the world, but by a demand for news coverage that will sell advertising space and papers, and boost ratings. If truth and morality were the driving force behind mainstream journalism, the business practices and actions of animal and earth destroying industries, the world's militaries and police would be reported as the true acts of terrorism that they often are. And the actions-be they legal or illegal-of the animal rights movement would be presented for what they really are: actions that not only respect the sacredness of all life, but also alert the public and consumers to government and corporate fraud, the endangerment of human and environmental health; and economic policies that readily cater to big business at the expense of taxpayers, public lands and wildlife.
Instead,the media defends the actions of those it profits from and who share its world view, while using biased reporting to drive a wedge between the ALF and those who might otherwise support our actions. Allowing our movement's strategy to be influenced by the media who retain a vested interest in animal abuse, is to play into the bloodied hands of government and big business who hope that the public will also label the nonviolent actions of the ALF, which spare innocent life, as acts of terrorism.
Wicklund asks the animal rights movement to determine its tactics not by its ability to achieve victory against animal abuse, but by its potential to not offend or isolate the sensibilities of the media establishment, which reinforces the lifestyles that sanction animal abuse, or the very people who themselves create wealth and power through animal abuse. Pursuing a strategy that hopes to appeal to the morality of those who rarely if ever demonstrate any towards the non-human world is noble, but it should not be at the expense of the very means which have for years spared individual animals from a life of suffering.
Whether the media presents the animal rights movement in a favorable light or not has to this day done little to affect our movement's growth and the public's ability to differentiate between right and wrong. For this reason, the ALF's actions throughout the years have been guided by the determination of what will prevent the suffering of animals in the future, while also sparing the lives of those presently being abused. Only secondary consideration is given to whether such actions will achieve favorable media coverage, something that is increasingly rare in an age where any challenge through illegal activity to the unjust economic interests of this country is labeled as terrorism.
The ALF has never endorsed or participated in physical violence nor will it ever. The ALF does not support actions with the intent of slightest risk of causing physical injury or loss of life and our ability to avoid such violence in years of operations is no coincidence. We are not fighting a violent war, but fighting with aggressive nonviolence to end the one against nonhuman life.
Every member of my past ALF cells who have carried out raids on laboratories, fur and factory farms and other institutions of animal abuse in the last 13 years, have been motivated not by hate or a willingness to rationalize or use violence, but love and a tremendous sense of compassion for the other races of life with whom we share the earth. My fellow Animal Liberation Front volunteers have always been grounded in such a reverence and respect for life and freedom that, together, in the course of every ALF action we ever participated in, we were willing to risk losing our own to obtain that of our victimized animal relations.
Far from compromising the principles of non-violence, the
ALF's actions have and always will be those of a highly
morally disciplined group of caring human beings, whose
efforts would be hypocritical if they ever sanctioned physical
violence. The ALF exists in part to provide an avenue of
freedom for those innocent beings the animal rights movement
is unable to rescue legally at this time. The ALF brings hope
when others feel hopeless. For the peaceful warriors of the
ALF, nonviolent direct action to save lives remains not our
choice, but every enlightened human being's obligation.