Interview from 2002 byAnimal Liberation NSW
Chris DeRose was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 28, 1948. He was born into a poor Italian family and brought up by his mother. He grew up to be a tough street kid who hated injustice of any kind. When he joined the animal liberation movement it was not surprising that he chose not to take the soft option. He has spent time in jail for the animals, he has spoken out consistently on behalf of the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) he has been shot in the back by an FBI informant and he heads the well-known American organisation Last Chance for Animals. He is the first to admit that there is nothing pleasant about struggling against the entrenched forces that profit from animal experimentation. Like many of us in the movement he wishes the fight was over. At one time in his life he wanted to do more acting, he wanted to marry and lead a normal life. What he did instead however was to refuse to walk away from the fight. He refused to turn his back on the animals.
As he himself has said: "If you heard somebody screaming for help next door, wouldn't you try to do something? Sure you would. You'd come running even if you couldn't actually hear the screams, especially if you knew that person was being tortured to death and needed your help — and the animals are screaming for our help, right now."
Most people are familiar with DeRose through his autobiographical book In Your Face: From Actor to Activist. He's had an interesting life. He's been a Hollywood actor, a black belt in martial arts, a pilot, a reporter among other things but we are not concerned with that now. What we are concerned about is the man who dedicated his whole life to exposing and fighting the vivisectors and exploiters. Not just that but now he has expanded his personal vision for the animals to take on the American school system and get a required course in "Compassion" taught in schools. If anyone can get that off the ground DeRose will. In this interview he is just as outspoken and fearless as ever in the face of adversity. The Brooklyn boy from over the bridge has "made good" after all.
Interviewed by Claudette Vaughan
Claudette: What have you been doing recently?
Chris:Well, lately we have really been concentrating on investigations. We have people infiltrated in a lot of different places — facilities — for which I won't mention obviously because it would start an investigation. We feel that the best way to put an end to these things now is either put the culprits behind bars — whether they are in laboratories or whatever kind of facility it is — so our intention is to start putting these people in jail. Start to get Federal laws put through in Congress by busting these people then we will be able to put more impetus in pushing these laws through, so that's what we've really been concentrating on.
I still do direct action training and classes around the country every now and then when requested. I still do motivation lectures. I'm a firm and adamant believer in direct action. That's everything from doing Civil Disobedience direct action to taking over a Facility to liberations — anything of that nature. Then there's hunger strikes under the right circumstances. They are an excellent form of direct action which gets a lot of media attention. Something that people just aren't aware of — hunger strikes tends to polarise the movement under one banner if it's done properly and gets proper media attention.
Anyone doing something — anything — whether it be direct action etc has to remember why they are doing it for. The issue is not them, it's not the people in jail, it should be remembered they are there fighting for the animals in the laboratories or the abattoirs or whatever.
Claudette: Have you noticed a shift away from Direct Action because of State-of-the-Art technology making it harder to get in now?
Chris:Yes. It's more difficult to get into laboratories now. Security is heavier but there are always ways to get in. For example, infiltration is the way rather than going in covertly. Infiltration is always the best way — fighting those who are already inside and making it worth their while to help you. It's a lot tougher to be going in there covertly because all the extra money that they get is not going to help any animals, it's going into bigger security systems to keep us out. I'm a real firm believer that nothing should keep you out. There's always a way in. You just have to be smart enough, clever enough and patient enough to make it happen.
Claudette: What do you require of your activists at a briefing before a direct action?
Chris:I do a training with them. It depends where we are going. If it's at a facility where we have to coordinate amongst many people and media, I need to do direct training and let them know first of all what their objective is. Keep that in mind at all times. Let them know that we are not here to fight with the police or law enforcement agencies. We are here to circumvent them the best way we can but not to put our energy in that direction. Again, stay focused on the objective is — Expose the Facility, Get in There, Get the Photographs, get whatever we have to, then get out. If it's a liberation — same typing of thing. Get in, get out — but everybody has a specific job to do and you are not to deviate from that job one bit because if you deviate from that position one little iota that could jeopardise the whole operation, that could jeopardise other people and it certainly will jeopardise the animals. This is something I have to drill into people over and over. So we very specific on what you have to do.
This is one time when you can't be democratic. You know — everybody just going in and doing what they want to do. There should be one specific person making the decisions and then you have sub-teams going in underneath. This applies for civil disobedience, direct action, break-ins or anything. Everything has to be done under clear supervision and leadership. I know in the younger movement today a lot of people don't like to look at this. They prefer the more anarchist way of doing things than using a leadership model — you want to be effective, you just can't do it that way. You just can't have an army running out onto a field doing whatever they want. It'll never work, they will never make it work and the animals will pay for it.
Claudette: What qualities determine a great direct action from a less-than-good one?
Chris:Success with direct action means you have an objective. In stead of shooting for 100-110%, I always go for 150%-200%. So if I wind up with 100% or so then I can live with that. You want to be able to achieve exactly what it is that you want to achieve.
If everybody follows doing their specific job that they wanted to do that will determine what makes a great direct action. I think it is also important when you look at individuals to take into consideration what that individual can do — what they are best suited to. I seldom ever just let anybody do exactly what they want to do, especially if they are not really appropriate for that specific job. I try to, if that's what they want to do, but if it doesn't work then I have to move them to another place. If that person is really in it for the animals they won't mind. I mean we do group discussions and brainstorming sessions. The person in charge is aware of what each person can do and takes in everything of what they are saying. That's what makes a good operation.
Say, if we are going to do a break-in at a chickery and we start talking to each other and somebody else has an opinion — "I think if we went down Old Man So and So's farm on the back road it would be faster..." then, you know, the person who is putting this altogether is listening and taking it all in. At the end there will be a specific clear plan of what needs to be done.
Claudette: What trouble do you have with infiltrators?
Chris:Yes, we do have a lot of trouble with infiltrators. There's been infiltration in this movement for a long time. Sometimes even worse than that are people that are in the ovement and just for one reason or another roll over to law enforcement and turn everybody in. These are people that did care about animals and then they forgot about the animals — and it becomes all about them. The one thing I look for in people whenever I'm going to do a heavy direct action is I ask myself "Are they really in it 150% for the animals or is some of it they are in it for themselves — for whatever reason." Because that's your weak link there and you want to minimise the use of that person as much as possible.
Claudette: Will the Post Sept 11 events make it harder to accomplish underground activities for the animals?
Chris:I don't think it will effect it very much. You know what? If we use that as an excuse then "yes" we can use everything as an excuse. You know, the laws have gotten tougher, penalties are heavier, the security is much more difficult and now there's Sept 11. My thing is — don't even take that into consideration. Stay focused on what you have to do and if that means it's going to take a little bit more time and it's a little bit more challenging then take on that challenge and make it happen. There's a way to do every operation, no matter how difficult it may seem — you can do it. It's just a matter of how much time and patience you have and how much imagination you have.
Claudette: How much feedback have you received from vivisectors that you've targeted Chris? Are they running scared yet?
Chris:Let me tell you, vivisectors are running very scared. Perhaps they were a lot more scared 10 or 15 years ago than what they are right now but — I can speak for Last Chance for Animals (LCA) at least — that it's taken on a new approach now. Rather than standing out there and doing demonstrations, rather than even the break-ins and the laboratories — that's what's really created a lot of fear in them.
I have a friend who is a former vivisector and he would give me all the feedback about what's going on in these major institutions where he worked in two of them as a doctor. He would tell me that they are so paranoid. They still are paranoid today but that's just the remnants of what used to go on. Pretty soon, I can tell you, they will be a lot more concerned about what's going on. From our end here at LCA, rather than kicking in doors in broad daylight we have other ways of doing things now. It's changing gears and they will be very afraid again soon.
You know, vivisectors are the biggest cowards in the world. That's why they do what they do to animals behind closed doors. They are so afraid of everybody. I think if you look at the mentality of most vivisectors, there's something about them where they would even take on a job like this — locked in a little room, taking a life, tormenting it, torturing it for the sake of the so-called "good-of-man". Most of them know that's nonsense but they get their Federal grants and they laugh it away. I wouldn't say all of them — but there's something very strange about vivisectors. They are afraid so if we can put a couple of these people in prison — then you will really see things starting to change. Even back during the liberations, my friend was telling me, a lot of them, even the student doctors at UCLA told me that they are changing their careers. Instead of being a "researcher" or a scientist and using animals they are looking at other ways of doing things ie. molecular and what have you.
So we did change a lot of minds but we don't always see it because we are too busy trying to do something for the animals. Once we start talking to people on the other side, we are definitely making a difference. One of my great dreams is to put some of these people in jail for what they are doing and then get it out to the media. At that time you'll really see some people changing their minds about getting into that field.
Claudette: Do you like the way the movement is progressing?
Chris:For the most part "Yes." I like it that we have a lot of younger, newer people getting involved. The movement is becoming much more sophisticated now. It's not just people standing out there screaming at the top of their lungs, venting their frustration. I think we've weeded out a lot of people that were in our movement that had personal problems. The one thing I've always said and that is "People come and they go" in this movement. I ask myself "Where have they gone to?" coz the vivisection is still going on, the abattoirs are there, fur is still being sold. Where do these people disappear to? How can they live with themselves knowing what they know. It's beyond me where they could disappear to. If everybody that came, stayed and fought the battle we would have an army that you couldn't surpass but they leave and they feel that they have done their duty. Your duty is done when the job is done, and the job is certainly not done.
Claudette: A perceived downside to direct action is "Does the movement want to engage in a battle of opposition with governments who have unlimited ability to suppress us?" When you say "engage against the opposition" do you mean physically? Like bodily harm or property damage?
Chris:You know I always try to say that certain activities like bombings or arson — I always stay away from those things only because they are uncontrollable. There are things that I am against personally but I've seen them done and they have worked. For example the Managing Director of HLS in England was beaten and that put the fear of whatever into those people. It did start to shake up what was going on over there. I think the man that did it got 3 to 5 years but something like that, I think, had an effect. Now am I endorsing that? Not publicly.
If it happens and it works, then that's great. There are a lot of ways to be effective. You have to remember what the opposition can do. They will take what you use and use it against you. That would be prudent on their part. If they didn't do that then they would really be stupid — and we already know that they are not too bright to begin with. For example in the States they have been trying to tell the general public for years that animal rights people are terrorists and it just hasn't worked. I think what you've got to do is look at the opposition — look at what their weakest point is and go for that. It's like in martial arts. If I'm doing Judo or Karate I look at my opponent and see where his weakest point is. If I see I can do a sweep under a guy's leg that's going to take him down, I do a sweep under his leg to take him down.
In the States with vivisection, the Achilles heel right now is the Pet Theft Industry — The Class B Dealers. The public is 99.5% in favour of you if you bust someone who is doing Pet Theft. Almost everybody is on your side. This gives an opening for you to start talking about vivisection and it gives you a chance to expose the biomedical research community for what they are doing inside these laboratories. It really gives us a platform for us to get in there and talk. So I say, look at your opposition and see what is their weakest point — and see what is the best way to act.
Sometimes the physical way may not be the best way but I'm not opposed to seeing things of torture in laboratories destroyed.
There is a way to destroy something without making it look as if you are a vandal. If you are just being a vandal then all they will do is bring a cleaner in to clean it up and nothing has really been achieved. If you are filming and you want to set an example by cutting in half a stereotaxis device — now you're doing something specific but if you just start throwing things around it doesn't really accomplish much. You want to be as effective as you can. You don't want to look as if you are just out vandalising. Have an effect — a monetary effect, an emotional effect and a morale effect for people on our side.
Claudette: What do you say to people in our movement who are against direct action because it portrays the opposition as victims by attacking their businesses?
Chris:I can answer that very bluntly but I won't. I try to look at it from their point of view. You know what? Your opposition is out there doing something and you have to stop them but I understand what the concern is. You have to be smart about what you are doing. You know, if you are out there and you make them look like victims, well, I think you could take those people, and you could wash them out — squash 'em (laughter) without making them look like victims.
Claudette: What are your dreams, hopes, plans for the future Chris?
Chris:In the States I want to do away with Class B Dealers, do away with Puppy Mills, do away with exotic animals in circuses and do away with pound seizure. Another thing I'd really like to see some day is that in our school system — if we could get this put into our school system but you would not believe the opposition to it — and that is to get some kind of courses of compassion taught to kids at school. You've heard about all these shooting over here in the States? Well, kids are killing their classmates, their parents and their teachers. Every single one of these kids started out doing something on animals ie. torturing them at home, hunting. When you see these kids arrested — 13, 14, 15, 16 years old — you look at them and they are dead inside.
Other countries are following suit. We have created here in the States, two generations of monsters. We have done it because of what we teach them in schools. We teach them how to take living things and vivisect. We teach them to become desensitised rather than being ompassionate.
Now if you have a kid like this and you can't control them at home but you're teaching them compassion at school — you'd learn because teachers became more educated on this deal. Teachers would learn who the kids were with potential problems, or the ones that have problems and they would work with those kids. At the same time, it's teaching all kids to be compassionate to all living beings.
I think once you have that we start creating a society that cares. We are a society now that doesn't care. We are apathetic. We see someone being mugged in the street or raped, and we turn our backs and walk away. And let me tell you something — it's rampant here in this country and it's catching on in Australia. I remember when I was in Australia doing a movie and people would say about drive-by shootings "That could only happen in America". It's going on all over the world now. These younger generations are coming up and they don't care. Between the movies showing them that it's OK to do that — that there's no repercussion involved like you'll spend the rest of your life in a tiny little cell, or be burned or fried or have your neck broken — kids today have no concept of what the repercussion is to something like that. There is a lot of pressure on them from schools and from home and definitely from their peer groups. So I really think we need to look into our school system and that is paramount. If not, then we are only chasing the symptom and not looking at the cause of a lot of these problems.
Quotes from Chris's autobiography, In Your Face: From Actor to Activist
I am no soft-hearted sentimentalist who just feels sorry for fuzzy, furry creatures. I have never even had a pet. But I hate injustice, and one of the great injustices in the world now is how we treat animals.
For years, I spoke out on behalf of the ALF [Animal Liberation Front]. I was trying to make people understand that its members weren't terrorists.... I share their frustration at the system that could allow such horrors to go on.