Animal Protection > AR Interviews

THE A.L.F. UNMASKED  Interview with David Barbarash
for update: 2005 Interview
Barbarash Interview

Like it or not, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are a very real part of the animal rights movement today. Contrary to popular misconception they are not a military-style violent fighting force as some in the mainstream media would have us believe. Ask yourself who really is doing violent acts to the animals and it certainly is not the ALF. These activists work in small cells and remain anonymous to the community at large. There is no known organization set up calling themselves the ALF, there are no leaders, no newsletter and no official membership. They do, however, have spokespeople prepared to contact the media for press releases and speak out on their behalf.

We recently spoke to one such spokesperson. He is Canadian-born David Barbarash and he pulls no punches about what he sees as their role and vision in the movement. The media, animal abusers, and others, view the ALF as "terrorists" have a read of the interview below and you'll see that David Barbarash makes a strong case to explode the myths.

Whatever way you choose to look at it, the ALF are here to stay and they have saved thousands of individual non-human lives around the world. All this by their willingness to put their own freedom on the line for the sake of freeing animals.

Interviewed by Claudette Vaughan.

Q. How long have you been a spokesperson for the ALF David?

A. I began my role as spokesperson for the ALF in the summer of 1999, over two years ago.

Q. Why did you feel it necessary to become their spokesperson?

A. At the time when I became spokesperson I was under intense scrutiny and surveillance from the RCMP (Canada's national police force) because they had falsely believed and accused me of taking part in violent activities in the name of animals (charges which have since been dropped). As well, it has been five years since I was released from prison as a result of being convicted for liberating 29 cats from an Alberta university. I was looking for a way to continue my involvement in the ALF, but I knew that I could no longer continue as an active member, both because of the police surveillance of my activities but mainly because, as a result of my arrest and conviction, I was now a known ALF activist, severely curtailing any future surreptitious activity. Becoming their spokesperson seemed to me a logical thing to do, and a way in which I could continue to support their efforts in an aboveground capacity.

Q. What is your own philosophical position in the Movement?

A. I place the animal liberation movement in the context of it being only one part of a larger whole. The oppression and abuse of animals does not happen in a vacuum, outside of the oppression and abuse of women, minorities, and other targeted humans. Nor does it happen without the degradation of the planet. The atrocities we are addressing and fighting in the animal liberation movement are caused by people and a society with the same mindset of those who exploit the planet for profit and pleasure, and those who further the power-over mentality. Therefore, animal liberation is only one part of a larger, much bigger problem facing all of us. Fighting for the rights of animals must be done in the context of fighting against all abuse and killing. It is not necessarily individual people who we need to confront about their abusive actions, but also the attitudes perpetuated by an institutionalised society. And it makes no sense to fight for the lives of wildlife without also fighting for their homes (and ours) the natural environment.

Q. What is the ALF's stance on non-violent direct action?

A. The ALF has a code of conduct which states that all actions must be carried out without harming or killing any life, animal or human. This is the ALF's "non-violence guideline" and in the history of the ALF actions, that code has never been breached. The ALF believe that, by definition, violence cannot be committed against inanimate objects and things which are not alive, and cannot feel pain and suffer. One cannot injure a brick or a pane of glass. Therefore the destruction of property is not viewed as a violent activity, even if it involves the use of aggressive tactics such as fire. Further, when certain buildings, tools and other property are being used to commit violence against life, the ALF believe that the destruction of property is justified.

Q. Why, in your opinion, isn't legal means a better choice?

A. I don't believe that we can say, in any instance of animal abuse, that illegal means would work better than legal means, or vice-versa. I believe that to achieve our goals we need to look carefully at the issues and problems we're addressing at the moment, and after careful strategic analysis choose the correct tactics for the situation. Animal liberation will not be achieved from illegal means alone, nor from legal protesting and lobbying alone either. We need to be smart about how we move forward, and not discard any tactics. We shouldn't overlook the legal avenues to change nor should we dismiss illegal means just because our society, at this moment in it's history has deemed these actions illegal (while sanctioning horrendous pain and suffering inflicted on animals). I believe the most successful way forward to animal liberation is a multi-pronged attack on all fronts by different people: while one group is lobbying government representatives for changes to legislation, another group is protesting and blockading the labs, and at another time the ALF will enter those labs to rescue the animals and destroy the implements of torture. If we all work together in solidarity and respect each other's paths we will move forward much quicker.

Q. What right does the ALF have to destroy someone else's property?

A. As I touched on above, the basic premise is that if someone's property is used to inflict pain, suffering, and death on innocent animal lives, then the destruction of that property is morally justified. It is not unlike freedom fighters in Nazi Germany destroying the gas chambers. The ALF believe that life is more important than someone's things, and the ALF will rescue lives from the clutches of their tormentors, and they will destroy the property so that it cannot be used again to inflict suffering. The other justification is noted in their guidelines, which states that the ALF will inflict as much economic damage as possible on animal abusers. This is done not so much as to "punish" abusers, but rather to create an economic disincentive surrounding their chosen vocation. I believe that most people who abuse animals do not do so because they enjoy it (of course, there are a few who do, such as trophy hunters etc.) but because they are making a profit from it. If we can remove the profit factor from the animal abuse industries then we will see some of those industries and businesses shut down. As for the question of what "right' the ALF has to destroy someone's property, I must ask what right does that someone have to destroy life itself?

Q. The mainstream media have done a through job in painting the ALF as thugs and "terrorists". What are your views?

A. Well, now that we live in the post-Sept 11, 2001 era, we can much more easily see what the real face of terrorism looks like, and it's certainly not a band of animal liberationists!

I completely reject the "terrorist" label which law enforcement and the media have attached to the ALF. A terrorist is someone who kills and maims people and animals. Animal researchers, hunters, slaughterhouse workers, and others fall into the definition of "terrorist" because they maim, torture, terrorize, and kill lives. The ALF saves lives without physically harming anyone; this isn't terrorism. I believe the main reason the ALF have achieved "terrorist" status with law enforcement is because the ALF destroy property (and "steal" "property" when they rescue animals). In our society, it is abundantly clear that property is viewed as more valuable than life itself. Attacking property will attract the full force of the police, because our society and individuals status is based on acquiring things. To attack someone's stuff means attacking the very psyche of that person, and of our society. But the simple reality is that property can be replaced while lives cannot.

Q. The American intellectual and human rights campaigner Noam Chomsky has said that non-violent direct action simply doesn't work in some situations and he may be right. He cited Jews in the concentration camps as an example where non-violent direct action wouldn't work. I think there is a good argument for the use of force. What has your experience been?

A. For those of us who are "fortunate" enough to live in the western world, we live extremely privileged and comfortable lives. We don't face totalitarian governments, or death squads, or despots militarily supported by the CIA. For the poor and oppressed people who do face these types of situations and live extremely impoverished lives, fighting back is not an option; it is not only necessary for survival but it's a right. The debate about violence versus non-violence does not enter into the realm of discussion for most people; it is only for us, the privileged, who have the time and luxury to debate the issue. Our very lives are not being threatened with death or imprisonment for simply having ideas or associating with certain people. If they were, we might have a different attitude towards violence.

I believe everyone has a right to self-defence using whatever means necessary. If one takes the view that an attack on one is an attack on all, and that attack on "one" includes attacks on animals, then an argument can be made for violent action in defence of life, or even if it's in defence of the life-support system which sustains us all our planet and its environment. But even if the actions taken are violent they should still be first and foremost considered as self-defence. We are all animals and as such it is inherent in our nature to survive, and we will likely do so using any means we are capable of.

Q. How do you protect yourself from government harassment?

A. There is not much one can do to prevent government harassment; if the government chooses to focus on you and harass you, as they did to me for over six years, then you must endure it the best way you can, without succumbing to the pressures to stop being active or speaking your mind or worse, talking about other activists. We do need to be aware of how the government harasses activists, and once we are fully informed then we can take measures to protect our privacy as well as the integrity of our activities. Methods of security include mainly communications, as most of law enforcement is based on information-gathering. Encryption technology is key for any serious activist who uses the Internet to communicate or organise. Choosing your friends and associates wisely would be an equal consideration, as most activists charged with underground activities result from an associate talking to the police.

Q. Finally David, one of the chief questions levied at non-violent political action is how effective is it really against an extremely ruthless opponent?

A. Non-Violent action will always be a highly principled method of taking action against injustice. In the face of a ruthless opponent we are challenged to maintain our philosophical position in the face of violence. Sometimes we need to fight to suppress our reactionary tendencies to strike back using violence. In the context of the animal liberation struggle, this is a hard question to answer, because what would be defined as "an extremely ruthless opponent?" One who kills more animals after a non-violent protest against his activities? One who physically harms activists at a demonstration? I believe that most of animal abuse is not only sanctioned by our society, but it's institutionalised. Animal abusers have the support of the law and the populace (to a large extent) and do not need to become more "ruthless" to maintain their position and their jobs. Progress in this struggle will happen over time, as old ways of thinking die off, as the status quo slowly changes, and as more compassionate and a more humane society emerges from the depths these "ruthless opponents" have taken us. The key to the success of the animal liberation movement is in the children and the youth, who, with our help and guidance, will hopefully reject the outmoded ways and terroristic, violent lifestyles of their parents.

Footnote: David Barbarash will gladly accept any donations that you would like to give to help continue his work.

Email: naalfpo@tao.ca or write to him c/o North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office, P.O. Box 3673, Courtenay, BC V9N 7P1, CANADA. Due to interference with their mail service, please advise them by email first when you send a letter or donation so they know when to expect it.

THE HISTORY OF THE ALF

The Animal Liberation Front has its roots in 1960s England. At this time a small group of people began sabotaging hunts there. This group, the Hunt Saboteurs Association, would lay false scents, blow hunting horns to send hounds off in the wrong direction, and chase animals to safety. In 1972, after effectively ending a number of traditional hunting events across England, members of the Hunt Saboteurs decided more militant action was needed, and thus began the Band of Mercy.

They moved on to destroying guns and sabotaging hunters vehicles by breaking windows and slashing tyres. They also began fighting other forms of animal abuse, burning seal hunting boats as well as pharmaceutical laboratories. After the jailing of two Band of Mercy members in 1975, word spread, support grew, and the Animal Liberation Front was begun in 1976.