Animal Protection > Activist Index

You Don’t Support the ALF Because Why?
Dr. Steven Best

“The world only goes forward because of those who oppose it.” Goethe

I support the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). I support property destruction against industries that massacre animals and rape the planet. Since when do implements of death and devastation fall outside the range of legitimate attack? I do not believe that property destruction is violence, but even if it is, violence is defensible in certain cases and I will always defend the lesser over the greater violence.

Origins and Philosophy of the ALF

“We are a non-violent guerilla organisation, dedicated to the liberation of animals from all forms of cruelty and persecution at the hands of mankind.” Ronnie Lee, ALF founder

“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission — to be of service to them whenever they require it.” St. Francis of Assisi

The ALF grew out of the hunt saboteur movement in England in 1970s. Activists turned from legal tactics of hunt disruption to illegal tactics of sabotage when they grew weary of being assaulted and jailed and sought more effective tactics. A hunt sab group known as the Band of Mercy broadened the focus to target other animal exploitation industries such as vivisection and began to use arson as a potent tool of property destruction. Two of its leaders were arrested in 1974 and released a year later. One turned snitch and left the movement, the other, Ronnie Lee, deepened his convictions and began a new ultra-militant group he called the Animal Liberation Front that would forever change the face of direct action struggle. The ALF migrated to U.S. in the early 1980s and is now an international movement in over twenty countries.

The ALF is a loosely associated collection of cells of people who go underground and violate the law on behalf of animals. They break into and enter prison compounds (euphemistically referred to as “research laboratories” and the like) to rescue animals, and they also destroy property in order to prevent further harm done to animals and to weaken exploitation industries economically. Official ALF guidelines are: (1) to liberate animals from places of abuse; (2) to inflict economic damage to industries that profit from animal exploitation; (3) to reveal the horrors and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors, and (4) to take all necessary precautions against harming any human or nonhuman animals. Anyone who follows these guidelines – and who is vegan -- belongs to the ALF.

Despite the incriminations of animal exploitation industries, the state, and the mass media, the ALF is not a terrorist organization; rather they are a counter-terrorist outfit and the newest form of freedom fighters. They are best understood not by comparing them to the Al Qaeda or Saddam Hussein’s republican guard, but instead to the Underground Railroad, the Jewish anti-Nazi resistance fighters, or current peace and justice movements. By providing veterinary care and homes for many of the animals that they liberate (vs. those like mink that they release back from cages into the wild), the ALF models itself after the U.S. Underground Railroad movement that helped fugitive slaves reach Free states and Canada. ALF members pattern themselves after freedom fighters in Nazi Germany who liberated war prisoners and Holocaust victims and destroyed equipment such as gas ovens which the Nazis used to torture and kill their victims. Similarly, the ALF has important similarities with some of the great freedom fighters of the past two centuries, and are akin to contemporary peace and justice movements in their quest to end bloodshed and violence toward life and to bring justice to all species.

There are indeed real terrorists in today’s world, but they are not the ALF. The most violent and dangerous criminals occupy the top positions of U.S. corporate and state office; they are the ones most responsible for the exploitation of people, the massacre of animals, and the rape of the planet.

A Tale of Two Systems

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will" Frederick Douglass

“Even voting for the right thing is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.” Henry David Thoreau

American history has two main political traditions. First, there is the “indirect” system of “representative democracy” whereby citizens express their needs and will to elected local and state officials whose sole function is to “represent” them in the political and legal system. The system’s “output” – laws – reflects the “input” – the peoples’ will and interests. This cartoon image of liberal democracy, faithfully reproduced in generation after generation of textbooks and in the discourse of state apologists and the media, is falsified by the fact that powerful economic and political forces co-opt elected officials who represent the interests of the powerful instead of the powerless.

From the realization that the state is hardly a neutral arbiter of competing interests but rather exists to advance the interests of economic and political elites, and that “pluralist democracy” is the best system that money can buy, a second political tradition of direct action has emerged.

Direct action advocates argue that the indirect system of representative democracy is irredeemably corrupted by money, power, cronyism, and privilege. Appealing to the lessons of history, direct activists insist that one cannot win liberation struggles through education, moral persuasion, political campaigns, demonstrations, or any form of aboveground, mainstream, or legal action alone. Direct action movements therefore bypass efforts to influence the state in order to immediately confront the figures of social power and oppression they are challenging.

Direct action tactics can vary widely, ranging from sit-ins, strikes, boycotts, and tree sits to hacking web-sites, email and phone harassment, home demonstrations, and arson. Direct action can be legal as with home demonstrations against a vivisector, or illegal, in the case of the civil disobedience tactics of Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Illegal direct action, moreover, can be nonviolent or violent; it can respect private property or destroy it.

Whereas indirect action can promote passivity and dependence on others for change, direct action tends to be more involving and empowering. In the words of nineteenth century anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre, “The evil of pinning faith to indirect action is far greater than any minor results. The main evil is that it destroys initiative, quenches the individual rebellious spirit, and teaches people to rely on someone else to do for them what they should do for themselves. People must learn that their power does not lie in their voting strength, that their power lies in their ability to stop production.”

Anyone quick to condemn the tactics of the ALF needs a lesson in history and a logical consistency check. As writer James Goodman points out, “The entire edifice of western liberal democracy – from democratic rights, to representative parliament, to freedom of speech – rests on previous acts of civil disobedience. The American anti-colonialists in the 1770s asserting ‘no taxation without representation’; the French revolutionaries in the 1780s demanding ‘liberty equality fraternity’; the English Chartists in the 1830s demanding a ‘People's Charter’; the Suffragettes of the 1900s demanding ‘votes for women’; the Gandhian disobedience movement from the 1920s calling for ‘Swaraj’/self-government; all of these were movements of civil disobedience, and have shaped the political traditions that we live with today.”

From the Boston Tea Party to the Underground Railroad, from the Suffragettes to the Civil Rights Movement; from Vietnam War resistance to the Battle of Seattle, key struggles and movements in U.S. history employed illegal direct action tactics to advance human rights and freedoms. Rather than being a rupture in some bucolic tradition of Natural Law guiding the Reason of modern men and women to the Good and bringing Justice down to Earth in a peaceful and gradual drizzle, the contemporary movements for animal and Earth liberation are a continuation of the American tradition of rights, democracy, civil disobedience, and direct action, as they expand the struggle to a far broader constituency.

Moral progress does not work through gentle nudges or ethical persuasion alone. Society is inherently conservative, and change is blocked either by the corruption of the powerful or the apathy of the powerless. Sometimes society has to be pushed into the future, and justice has to be forced past the barricades of ignorance and complacency by the most enlightened people of the time. Within this framework, direct action and civil disobedience are key catalysts of progressive change.

The Rationale of Resistance

“The Earth Liberation Front realizes the profit motive caused and reinforced by the capitalist society is destroying all life on this planet. The only way, at this point in time, to stop that continued destruction of life is to by any means necessary take the profit motive out of killing.” ELF website

“We’re very dangerous philosophically. Part of the danger is that we don’t buy into the illusion that property is worth more than life. We bring that insane priority into the light, which is something the system cannot survive.” David Barbarash, former spokesman for the ALF

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to direct action as the “marvelous new militancy” of the civil rights movement in the U.S. In his celebrated 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, he blasted the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism” and urged immediate and forceful non-violent direct action. Having been assailed so many times with the label of “extremist,” King learned to wear it as a badge of honor, turning the tables on his accusers and proclaiming himself an extremist in love and a passion for justice.

The defense of direct action and civil disobedience rests on the distinction between what is legal and what is ethical, between the Law and the Right. There are textbook cases where legal codes violate codes of ethics and justice: Nazi Germany, U.S. slavery, and South African apartheid. In such situations, not only is it legitimate to break the law, it is obligatory. In the words of Dr. King, “I became convinced that non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”

The true forces of ethics and justice have involved groups such as the Jewish Resistance, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, Gandhi and the Indian independence movement, the Suffragettes, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, and Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. All of them broke the law, destroyed the enemy’s property, or committed violence; they were beaten, jailed, killed, and denounced as extremists or something like terrorists.

Yet who will argue that their actions were wrong? Today we lionize Nelson Mandela as a great hero, but he and the ANC used violence to win their freedom. People forget that the much-heralded Suffragettes in England and the U.S. used arson and bombs to help win the emancipation of women. No movement for social change has succeeded without a radical fringe, without civil disobedience, property destruction, and even violence -- so why should one expect it to be any different with the animal liberation struggle?

Following the nonviolent philosophy of Gandhi and the U.S. civil rights movement, the ALF believes there is a higher law than that created by and for the corporate-state complex, a moral law that transcends the corrupt and biased statues of the U.S. political system. When the law is wrong, the right thing to do is to break it. This is often how moral progress is made in history, from defiance of American slavery and Hitler’s anti-Semitism to sit-ins at “whites only” lunch counters in Alabama. By destroying the property of animal oppressors, the ALF helps to prevent future destruction to life as it weakens – and in some cases, eliminates – industries by making their bloodletting more costly.

Opponents of direct action, typically those with vested interests in the status quo, believe that illegal actions undermine the rule of law and they view civil disobedience as a threat to social order. Among other things, this perspective presupposes that the system in question is legitimate or that it cannot be improved upon. It also misrepresents direct activists as people who disrespect the law, when arguably they have a higher regard for the spirit of law and its relation to justice than those who fetishize political order for its own sake. Champions of direct action renounce uncritical allegiance to a legal system. To paraphrase Karl Marx, the law is the opiate of the people, and blind obedience to laws and social decorum led millions of German Jews to their death with almost no resistance. All too often, the legal system is a structure to absorb opposition and induce paralysis by delay.

Thus, it is important to recognize that direct action is not a carte blanche for political “anarchy” in the stereotyped sense of complete lawlessness and disorder. Thoreau’s maxim that one ought to obey one’s own conscience rather than an unjust law is a good start toward critical thinking and autonomy, but it can also provide a formula for violence and legitimate killing for a cause. The ALF is guided by the belief that however righteous their anger, no human being must ever be harmed in the struggle for liberation of others; rather, only property is to be damaged as a necessary means to the end of animal liberation. Despite zeal for its cause, the ALF is quite unlike radical anti-abortionists who kill their opponents and the differences should never be conflated.

Let’s be honest: the real lawbreakers are corporations such as Enron and the U.S. government itself, which not only breaks particular laws, but is now in the process of shredding the Constitution itself in the name of Homeland Security. For those seeking to uncover contemporary currents of anti-Americanism, turn away from the ALF and look toward the highest legal brokers of the land -- Attorney General John Ashcroft and President George W. Bush.

Direct Action and the ALF

"The pump don’t work 'cause the vandals took the handles." Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

Activists from the ALF and ELF draw from and expand the noble traditions of direct action and property destruction in U.S. struggles for freedom and democracy. In addition to anti-globalization forces, the hottest battles today are over the politics of the natural world. There is new social turmoil in the U.S. because the animal rights and environmental movements have found their own “marvelous new militancy.”

The new direct action movements have emerged because of an ever-worsening situation for animals and the Earth, in addition to dynamics of increasing radicalism within the animal and environmental movements. In the animal advocacy community, one sees a movement from welfare to rights to the ALF; in the environmental movement, there is a path from reforms to radical ecology to the ELF. Moreover, new factions are developing in each movement that now openly advocate violence, as we saw in the 2003 bombings of Chiron and Shaklee corporations by the Revolutionary Cells who warned that “this is the endgame for animal killers, there will be no more quarter given, no more half-measures taken.”

We are witnessing the dawn of a new civil war between those who will kill every last living thing for power and profit, and those prepared to fight these omnicidal maniacs tooth and nail. This is a guerilla war, fought by ecowarriors who go underground, don masks and balaclavas, operate at night, and strike through sabotage. As evident by the Vietnam War and the current war in Iraq, it is not a war that the U.S. government knows how to fight and perhaps one it cannot win. Through guerilla warfare, David can defeat Goliath.

The ALF argues that animals have rights, and these rights trump property rights. Hence, the ALF does not “steal” animals from laboratories because they never were anyone’s to own. The true theft occurs when exploiters steal their freedom and lives from them, whereas the ALF rescues, restores, and liberates. The ALF does not commit a wrong; it rights a wrong against life. For the ALF, whenever property is used to injure or take a life, it is legitimate to destroy the property in order to protect that life. This is not vandalism or hooliganism because it has a high moral purpose -- it is ethical sabotage.

For the ALF, life has more value than property, whereas in the capitalist worldview property is sacred and life is profane. Animal and Earth exploitation industries can massacre billions of animals and tear down the rainforests as respectable businessmen, yet anyone who challenges their right to do this is vilified as a terrorist. Throughout the nation, new laws are being created to make videotaping animal abuse in laboratories or factory farms a felony crime, but legislators find barbaric cruelty to animals perfectly acceptable and defend the right of industries to torture and murder their living “property.”

According to official FBI definition, “Eco-terrorism is a crime committed to save nature.” It speaks volumes about capitalist society and its domineering mindset that actions to “save nature” are classified as criminal actions while those that destroy nature are sanctified by God and Flag.

On the grounds that animals have rights and these rights trump property rights, I argue that the ALF are not the terrorists that are demonized by animal exploitation industries, the state, and mass media, but rather counter-terrorists and the newest form of freedom fighters. Like the Nazi resistance movement, they destroy equipment used to torture and kill; like the Underground Railroad, they rescue slaves and transport them to freedom. Like any current human rights struggle, they seek peace and justice.

Whereas white abolitionists reached across race lines in empathy and solidarity, so the ALF reaches across species lines. Because of entrenched institutions of exploitation and speciesism, this will be the most difficult liberation struggle ever fought. But it is unquestionably the most important one because the stakes transcend specific group interests to involve all species and the future of life on this planet.

On Violence and Terrorism

“It’s a strange kind of terrorist organization that hasn’t killed anyone.” The Observer

“A man that should call everything by its right name would hardly pass the streets without being knocked down as a common enemy.” George Savile, first Marquess of Halifax

But isn’t the ALF a violent organization? Doesn’t it in fact perpetuate terrorism? The terms “violence” and “terrorism” are almost never defined by ALF critics, and when they specify their meaning to any degree, the definitions are blatantly biased and self-serving, such that the real violence and true terrorism – acts committed and supported by the corporate-state complex— are ruled out of consideration by shabby semantic tricks.

If violence is the intentional infliction of bodily harm against another person, then how can one “hurt,” “abuse,” or “injure” a nonsentient thing that does not feel pain or have awareness of any sort? How can one be “violent” toward a van or be a “terrorist” toward brick and mortar? How does one harm or terrorize a laboratory or fur farm with spray paint or a firebomb?

One simply does not – unless someone owning or associated with the property is adversely affected. People whose homes, cars, or offices are damaged suffer fear, anxiety, and trauma. Their business, livelihood, research, or careers may be ruined, and they are harmed psychologically, economically, professionally, and in other ways.

Admittedly, none of this is good from the point of view of an ALF victim such as a vivisector, foie gras chef, or fur farmer. But is it sound to call sabotage “violence”? Perhaps, if one relied on a general psychological definition involving something like “mental trauma,” but one could just as well argue that sabotage is the lesser violence compared to what it tries to prevent, that it simply is not violence, or that violence, including physical attacks against human persons, is acceptable and legitimate in a war against the warmongers.

If any definition of violence is warranted, it should be in our understanding of a “person” – any being that is sentient and the “subject of a life.” Since animals are not only sentient, but also psychologically and socially complex beings, they are subjects in every significant way human beings are. Thus, every injury to an animal ought to be considered injury to a person, and hence violence.

Like the term “communism” in the 1950s, “terrorism” is the most abused word in the English vocabulary today. In the era of the Patriot Act where all forms of dissent are denounced as terrorism, and terrorism is defined as an attempt to intimidate or influence government, the term is in danger of losing any meaning whatsoever. Objectively defined, terrorism involves three key conditions; there is: (1) an intentional act of physical violence (2) directed against innocent civilians, non-combatants, or “persons” (both human and nonhuman) (3) for ideological, political, or economic purposes.

Typically, those who vilify saboteurs as “violent” leap to the conclusion that they are “terrorists,” failing to realize that there is an important difference insofar as one can use violence in morally legitimate ways in conditions ranging from self-defense to a “just war.” The ALF is not a terrorist organization because (1) they never physically injure people, and (2) they never target anyone but those directly involved in the war against animals.

Truth be told, one can use violence in morally legitimate ways in conditions ranging from self-defense to a “just war.” One could plausibly argue that the ALF are acting in defense of the defenseless, that they are combatants in a just war, and that animal exploiters are legitimate military targets. Pacifist arguments assume that nonviolent methods of resistance can solve all major social conflicts (they cannot) and that a human life has absolute value (it does not). Philosophically speaking, one has to wonder what kind of absolute value is attached to the life of a vicious killer such as a member of the infamous Safari Club who wins prizes for “bagging” endangered species in comparison to the life of the rare elephants, lions, and gorillas the bastard kills. Why ought the human “right” to kill be protected over an animal’s right to live through a code of nonviolence?

Regardless, the corporate-state complex uses terms such as “violence” and “terrorist” as smokescreens, so that they can mask the real violence and terrorism directed from their headquarters and legitimate their war against dissent. Once the state captures its target in the semantic crosshairs, they can pull the trigger of political repression.

Against Hypocrisy

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” George Orwell

“The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kinds of extremists we will be. The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Crimes of enormous proportion are committed against animals that the legal system ignores and only so much good can be accomplished through education and legislation. The ALF exists because peaceful dialogue alone does not work to bring about needed social change; they are people who distrust the system, who hurt when life hurts, and who feel the urgency of the crisis and want immediate effect and change.

Would you be content to write letters to your congressperson or newspaper if your family members were locked up and tortured in a laboratory? Would you not break in and free them if you could and destroy the property so that others would not be tortured? Would you not liberate your neighbor’s dog if it was being abused and the local police were indifferent? Would you not seize and destroy traps set by a local sadist who was killing cats for pleasure? Are you truly opposed to Paul Watson’s destruction of miles of driftnet used to kill everything in the sea including dolphins?

Do you want to find fault with the Jewish resistance fighters who killed every Nazi and destroyed every gas oven they could? If you support that kind of struggle and property destruction, why do you not support the ALF? Is it because that was the 1940s and this is now? Is it because that was Germany and we are the U.S.? Or is it because those acts defended human persons while the ALF defends nonhuman persons? Is it because you are a speciesist who privileges human interests over nonhuman interests without any logical grounds for doing so? Is it the tactics you really disagree with – or the species that is defended?

Just as carnivores pay the slaughterhouse workers to do their dirty work for them, animal rights activists have the ALF doing the dangerous work for them. The ALF ought to be respected and appreciated for the brave soldiers they are.

Meaningful social change will not result from the use of one or a few tactics alone -- all strategies and tactics are needed. The animal rights movement needs people to write letters, work with local and state “representatives,” educate students, do vegan outreach, demonstrate and protest, and so on. And it also needs underground direct action.

If you care about animals; if you care about the values of peace, freedom, and justice; if you care about human moral progress; if you value logical consistency, you should support the ALF.

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