The purpose of this paper is to analyze the history of existence and means of reaching the mission of a violent extremist organization, the Animal Liberation Front. The main topic was the necessity of the organization to resort to extreme methods of fighting for animal rights. The paper questions whether an organization would be effective without such policy and whether it is effective. The Front’s activity has been analyzed from the global perspective. The research also aimed to research how different intelligence services and government organizations limit the Animal Liberation Front’s activity and in what way organization’s decentralized nature makes them fail. The findings have indicated that the organization occupies a very special niche among other animal rights movements. Probably, it would not keep own identity in the case it adopts a milder and more commonly accepted policy. This paper suggests that in order to retain the effectiveness of its actions, the Animal Liberation Front’s radical methods should not be changed.
Animal Liberation Front
The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is an organization that struggles for animal rights in the most extreme ways. Its activity has been evaluated rather controversially. The ALF uses violent and criminally punishable means in fighting for animal rights; they themselves call this strategy a direct action. It is notable that one of the main organization’s rules is the absence of violence against humans or other living beings. However, economic damages that occur as a result of the members’ actions are acceptable and desirable as they strive to communicate the desired message and threaten those who will try to interfere with their abusive practices. This organization has repeatedly been named violent, extremist, and even terrorist, sometimes; this fact explains why the ALF was chosen for the analysis in this essay. However, the terrorist status of the Animal Liberation Front is highly contestable as its well-designed actions do justify the damage it causes to the private property.
Animal Liberation Front as an organization has a rather long and eventful history. Its origins date back to 1963 when a British journalist, John Prestige, covered events that involved people hunting a pregnant deer. The man was outraged by this action. Consequently, Prestige founded a Hunt Saboteurs Association and recruited about a dozen activists. Nevertheless, they did not utilize violent methods for preventing hunting: their main actions included falsifying wild animals’ traces and blowing horns with the view to chasing away hunters. However, in a few years, another organization, the Band of Mercy, was founded by two friends. With time, they started committing direct violent actions in order to prevent hunting and using animals as a laboratory material. Some members had caused considerable damage to private properties; consequently, they were sentenced to three years in prison. This event only ignited the passion of these people for the liberation of animals and protection of their rights. In 1976, when the founders of the Band of Mercy were paroled, the organization decided to change its name in order to convey the decisiveness and even radicalism of the movement. It was the moment when the Animal Liberation Front was born.
The history behind the foundation of the Animal Liberation Front in the US is contestable as various events were labeled as the beginning of the movement. There were several cases of the liberation of animals from research laboratories at different universities and scientific institutions. A case with a Brain Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania found special resonance. The Animal Liberation Front activists accessed videotapes of clinic’s workers using a hydraulic device that inflicted damage on the brains of laboratory baboons. Researchers’ were gaily laughing while the animals were suffering in great pain. Consequently, the chief veterinary of the university was fired, and another powerful organization that propagates animal rights, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, prepared and released a video uncovering this case to the masses. However; some cases of the animal liberation and looting were so violent that the Animal Liberation Front had repeatedly been named a terrorist organization. Moreover, it was even labeled as a domestic terrorist formation of the US.
Other groups and movements have supported the actions of the Animal Liberation Front, as well. For example, there is a more public organization, the Animal Liberation Supporters Group, which acts more openly. It claims that activists of the ALF are prisoners of conscience. Animal Liberation Press Office has been engaged in spreading information about the achievements of the organization. In its turn, the Vegan Prisoners Support Group helps vegan prisoners, including imprisoned ALF activists, get vegan food and appropriate clothes.
The Animal Liberation Front’s public relations and outreach to people who would like to join it for the action can use three information portals. The British-based Arkangel and Bite Back, as well as San-Francisco-based No Compromise, publish information about the initiatives of the Animal Liberation Front on a regular basis.
Sometimes, the organization diverged from the principles of non-violence and resorted to threatening individuals. Occasionally, the activists performed assaults on such industry giants as L’Oreal and Mars Company. The lawbreakers claimed that they had injected the Mars bars with a rat poison in order to stop the company’s tests on animals. This action resulted in a removal of a huge number of these items from the shelves and cost the Mars Company $4.5 million. The event has marked the beginning of an era when ALF’s actions have acquired violent nature. The organization has targeted living beings and threatened the public. This event triggered some responsibility shifts; for example, the Animal Rights Militia claimed it was responsible for letter bombs, but in the end, the responsibility was assumed by the Animal Liberation Front.
In the mid-nineties, some events demonstrated a constantly accelerating violence against particular individuals that were involved in experiments on animals. Meanwhile, some other accidents were also launched by opponents of animal protection movements in order to discredit those organizations. The decade witnessed a shower of accusations for the ALF activists. Several campaigns were initiated in Europe; they fought against the animal abuse with militant ferociousness. The organization has successfully managed to achieve a closure of several farms that bred cats, dogs, and guinea pigs for experiments. From then on, the Animal Liberation Front has sustained its radical image, Like any large radical organization, it earned a great number of followers, who preached more or less violent ideas. The activists were also known to collaborate with other organizations, for example, the Earth Liberation Front. They were later convicted of arson and causing damages that amounted to $40 million. Their targets included lumber companies, meat producers, and a big power station. This activity was then labeled the Green Scare. The name vaguely echoed the notorious the Red Terror. Every activist back then was sentenced under provisions of the terrorism enhancement law although still no person was harmed.
One of very striking features of the Animal Liberation Front is its decentralized nature and absence of a well-distinguished leader. This fact doubtlessly results in the negative effects on the organization itself that sometimes result in the lack of consistency and efficiency of its actions. On the other hand, the absence of a well-identified leadership makes its activists almost invincible and helps the organization sustain its clandestine nature. A notable feature of the Animal Liberation Front is the fact that usually people that act in the name of the animal rights protection are close friends, but they do not hold open meetings. The organization passes information through its online resources that appeal to individuals, who support the philosophy of the ethical treatment of animals and feel an urge to help them directly. They target looting laboratories, fur farms, and slaughterhouses, in which animals suffer from unethical treatment. The activists advocate their right to destroy such facilities because if animals are simply rescued and set free, they will soon be replaced with other animals. However, if the facilities are destroyed and the owner of such a business suffers great losses, one day, the cruelty towards animals will become so expensive that no enterprise or research institution will want to practice it.
The recruitment is based on the principle of acting to the extent of one’s ability and conforming to a few ideological principles that create the ideology of the Animal Liberation Front. The organization suggests that anyone, who is acting under such set of rules, is a combatant of the Animal Liberation Front. In such a manner, the actual membership does not exist; it is more an adaptation of certain moral values and acting according to them. Members are defined by their direct action against cruelty that is implemented via some financial loss to those who profit from the abuse of animals. Members of adjacent radical and less radical organizations (such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Earth Liberation Front, or Greenpeace) often join the efforts of the Animal Liberation Front while struggling to cause direct impact on the situation with certain cases of the animal mistreatment.
When trying to identify the ideology and action of the Animal Liberation Front, one will be doubtlessly stricken by the contrast between the values the organization has adopted and the fact that it has been labeled as a terrorist in some countries, in which it acts. Their main motivation is based on the principles of a humane treatment of all animals, as well as prevention and termination of cases when animals are either abused or mistreated. A philosophical concept of speciesism that suggests that other species are less worthy of living and deserve less humane treatment than humans do is the main lie that the organization strives to destroy. This ideology was described to be equally destructive, unprogressive, and unethical, just as sexism and racism are. The question is whether the struggle against this ideology that is carried by the ALF can be called terrorism or not. There exist multiple definitions of terrorism that have been suggested by different scholars. It is widely known that something that is regarded by one group of people as liberation and struggle for the rights of religious or ethnic minorities can be named acts of terrorism by others. In order to find out whether the ALF is a terrorist organization, one has to apply the definition of terrorism to the principles and actions of this organization. One of the definitions suggests that immediate victims of terrorism are not its direct targets. Thus, terrorism is based on principles of violent actions against humans by a perpetrator (or a number of such) that results in a feeling of mass insecurity, fear, and panic among larger populations. Such reality assists in achieving certain aims of a terrorist organization. In terms of the ideology of the Animal Liberation Front, some things certainly do not conform to the classical definition of terrorism. Therefore, they seem to characterize this organization as being violent and radical rather than terrorist one. It is so because victims of the ALF’s activity are its direct targets. This way, activists can be easily compared to looters, who destroy means of abusing animals rather than try to harm those who own any establishments that profit from the animals’ misery and exploitation. One of the most important principles of the Animal Liberation Front is its avoidance of doing harm to any living beings, including humans, who directly exploit animals. According to other principles of its actions, the organization strives “to inflict economic damage on those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals; to liberate animals from places of abuse ; to reveal the horror and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors”.
Ever since the actions of the organization started to become more and more violent, public judgment on them has become more controversial than ever. On the one hand, many supported the ideas that were put forward by the Animal Liberation Front, as well as admired the bluntness of its approach and effectiveness of rescuing animals and giving them a safe place to live their natural lives. On the other hand, many condemned the organization’s actions that were not means of the last resort and rather demonstrated the sporadic and illogical violence with a low probability of success. In his article, Luis Cordeiro-Rodrigues states that because of these reasons, the noble idea of the animal rescue has not received proper support. In turn, he asserts that less violent, although still illegal actions, such as clandestine filming at slaughterhouses and laboratories would be much more efficient. Many of the sympathizing supported the activists’ actions only partially; they tried to convince activists that violence of any form was detrimental to the organization’s image and blurred out its noble intentions. They believed that appealing to the common sense of people could turn favor to their side. Nevertheless, this theory was rejected as industries profiting from the animal abuse were too powerful. In line, any appeal to reason is likely to remain unheard.
Since the direct action that is assumed by the activists is quite costly in some instances, the organization’s website suggests that funds should be collected from the activists’ payments directly in the case they hold a job that allows them to donate as much as 10% of their paycheck to needs of the organizations. They also recommend finding an adopter that will be able to finance the cell (the name for the cooperating unit of the ALF activists). While looking for an adopter, one has to be extremely cautious. A long and trusted acquaintance with a person is the best proof of his or her reliability since the organization’s actions cannot be sabotaged and have to remain clandestine.
Technology has played an important role in the recruitment of new activists and raising funds for the organization as it has allowed making videos from slaughterhouses, laboratories, and farms, in which animals are handled in an unethical way. The organization has acquired an endless power of spreading information through its above-the-ground publishing resources that do not act on behalf of the underground movement but keep audience updated about any actions of the activists. Since the websites do not communicate any ideas of terrorism, they can be neither banned nor prohibited. Consequently, the organization is experiencing annual growth in the number of activists, who join its members anonymously and fight in the name of animal rights in 40 different countries around the world.
Right now, the impetus, by which the Animal Liberation Front is driven, remains the same: violent and direct actions that cause economic damage to those who exploit animals in unethical ways. Lately, the scale of actions conducted by activists has dramatically increased; today, one can speak about thousands of animals liberated from fur farms, for example. These facts are in a great contrast to achievements of the organization in the past. Nevertheless, such actions do not remain unnoticed. For example, in the US, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Law Act was adopted in 2011. It puts charges against activists that cause any direct loss to businesses. This law act is a very controversial piece since it allows interpreting some non-violent actions, such as an anti-fur campaign against a specific company, as detrimental to businesses and as a one causing financial losses. However, with the growing awareness of the cruelty of the meat and fur industries, as well as the willingness of many entities to cease animal testing, in a decade or two, radical actions of the Animal Liberation Front will not be as frequent anymore. Nevertheless, it would be outrageously naïve to speculate that cruelty will completely vanish in the nearest years.
All in all, efforts of the Animal Liberation Front have caused a great impact on the public perception of the question of how animals should be treated. It has managed to attract considerable attention to many related issues and event. Despite constantly being a target of different intelligence services and anti-terrorist or anti-extremist organizations, one still cannot suggest a less violent path for the organization to adopt as violence and extremism have been its cornerstones for decades. The mission of the ALF is so noble and selfless that resorting to such brutal means can be justified simply because organizations that abuse animals use similarly violent ways of treating non-human living beings. Nevertheless, unlike the ALF, they have never followed the do-no-harm motto.