August 5, 2005

Naked City
Reflections on the liberation of monkeys, and other animals, too
BY DIANA WELCH

"There is no universal definition of terrorism," explains Anthony J. Nocella II, a Social Sciences doctoral student from Syracuse University. "The FBI defines it as a 'violent act or an act dangerous to human life, in violation of the criminal laws of the United States, or of any state, to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.'" Dressed in crisp, pleated khakis, a white-collared shirt, and a green v-neck sweater vest, the young Nocella doesn't exactly blend in with the crowd gathered at MonkeyWrench Books. He's here on a book tour of sorts, having co-edited Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (Lantern Books), a collection of essays on the history and tactics of the Animal Liberation Front. "Some of you will leave here thinking, 'I hate the ALF,'" he warns. "At least you'll know what they're about, and not just what CNN tells you." In that regard, CNN's latest piece on the ALF, dated May 19, began with "Violent animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists now pose one of the most serious terrorism threats to the nation, top federal law enforcement officials say."

CNN isn't lying about those federal law enforcement officials. Of the 21 "domestic terrorist incidents" listed in Terrorism 2000/2001, the FBI publication dedicated to the memory of 9/11, 17 were attributed to the ALF or its partner in "eco-terror," the Earth Liberation Front. John Lewis, the FBI's deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, testified before Congress as recently as March 14 on the terrorist threat that is the ALF/ELF. As a rebuttal, Nocella points out that, from 1976 to present day, not one human individual has been harmed in the countless actions taken in the ALF's name. The militant radicals have, however, made quite the dent in some pocketbooks: According to Lewis, ALF actions have resulted in "millions of dollars in damage and monetary loss."

Using the FBI's definition, it seems "terrorism" could be applied to an array of situations, including the civilian deaths in Iraq in the name of democracy. Nocella offers a simpler definition, passed to him by his former teacher John Burke, "Terrorism is a word people use to refer to armed struggles they don't like."