RISE: I've always been interested in activism. Being sympathetic towards animals and the animal rights movement, I'm always really interested to find out more about these things, and spend a lot of time researching issues, talking to people, reading about debates and people's different opinions and points of view, and finding out about various organisations and representatives. The Animal Liberation Front is one of these organisations (although they technically are not 'organised'). I managed to get an interview with Nicoal R. Sheen, a Press Officer at the North American Animal Liberation Press Office...
Nicoal: First off, I would like to make the clear distinction between the Press Office and the underground.
The North American Animal Liberation Press Office is a legal, above-ground entity that releases and clarifies to the media communiques it receives from anonymous underground animal liberationists. We do not know who these liberationists are or when they will strike, but as a liaison to the main stream media, our Press Office offers the historical and philosophical insight as to why actions such as these are undertaken by individuals who are fighting for animal liberation.
What is the Animal Liberation Front? A brief history of the ALF?
The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is a banner or name under which anonymous individuals take action for animals. The ALF is not a specific group, collective or formal organization of people, rather an autonomous, leaderless movement to combat animal exploitation, torture and murder through non-violent direct action (such direct action includes property damage and economic sabotage). Unlike the Justice Department or Animal Rights Militia (ARM), those who claim actions underneath the Animal Liberation Front act according to specific guidelines -- set up by Ronnie Lee, founder of the Animal Liberation Front in 1976. The guidelines are as follows:
1. To liberate animals from places of abuse like laboratories, factory
farms, fur farms, etc., and place them in good homes where they may live out
their natural lives, free from suffering.
The Animal Liberation Front are freedom fighters in the movement for animals and risk their freedom and 'luxuries' to liberate animals from human oppression. Throughout history, various people have broken the law in the name of a moral and just cause. These anonymous individuals liberating animals from vivisection laboratories, factory farms, etc. are no different than Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, anti-slavery activists who 'smuggled' people considered property to their physical freedom in the North.
I know many people are aware that there is such a thing as animal rights, but what are some of the issues involved?
(Note: I use the term 'animal liberation' purposefully, rather than 'animal rights' to avoid the misconception that activists are aiming to govern other-than-human animals with their human-centric ideas and notions of 'rights'. In addition, as a social anarchist, I do not believe the state should be given legitimacy to grant rights to others (human and other-than-human) since we possess those inherently without a 'superior' power telling us otherwise.
Activists are in debt to animals to free them from the confines and oppression initiated and carried out by humans. Animals do not need to be granted 'rights' by humans but must be liberated from systematic enslavement.)
Animal liberation asserts other-than-human animals have every right to live a life free from abuse, torture, enslavement, exploitation and murder. Animal liberationists reject an anthropocentric world view and believe speciesism (the socially constructed idea that animals are 'less than' beings and humans are 'superior') should be completely and totally abolished. Therefore, any industry or person that carries out the exploitation of other-than-human animals and perpetuates speciesism must be shut down. For example, such industries and practices include but are not limited to: zoos, circuses, vivisection/animal experimentation, factory farming/'animal agriculture', puppy/'pet' mills/forced breeding, poaching/hunting/fishing, rodeos, rigged fighting such as cockfighting, dogfighting, bullfighting, etc.
Do you find that direct/aggressive action produces better results than more diplomatic means like rallies/protests etc?
Direct action is most effective for animals -- period. Direct action includes but is not limited to: liberation of animals from confinement and places of exploitation, economic sabotage which breaks down industries monetarily (the very material item that drives the atrocities happening to animals) and intimidation tactics -- such as bomb hoaxes -- to threaten animal exploiters and ultimately, stop them from continuing the torture and murder of sentient beings.
However, this does not mean that protests are not effective. Animals need every activist doing everything they can to stop the animals' exploitation. The above-ground is just as vital as the underground and one cannot function without the other.
For example, the Press Office functions as a liaison to the mainstream media to report illegal direct actions sent to us anonymously by the underground through communiques. We are the voice for those behind the mask, since they cannot speak to the mainstream media themselves -- as they must strategically stay anonymous in order to continue their animal liberation activities. Although the Press Office does not know and does not wish to know the identities of these anonymous individuals, we speak to contextualize their actions historically and ideologically. Without the Press Office, the underground would continue to be slandered as 'terrorists' rather than represented as freedom fighters.
Many people ask why are animal rights so important? What about homelessness, lack of education, or poverty?
Animal Liberation is Human Liberation. Humans are embedded on this planet and what we do, carry out and think of animals, the Earth and other humans affects us all directly, even if we are reluctant to realize it. This is not about the importance of one movement or social justice issue over another, rather we must see that the same mechanisms, social constructions and ideas about other-than-human animals are how issues of 'human concern' such as poverty, lack of education and homelessness are perpetuated.*
To frame this concept more simply, poor people are not simply poor to begin with. Certain people are labeled socially, systematically oppressed and categorized as 'less than' e.g. by the State, then stripped of basic resources they need for survival (water, crops, housing) and forced to live in poor conditions. The false idea that certain people are 'less than' justifies the authorities or those who claim superiority to abuse and deprive such people. Other-than-human animals are also categorized as 'less than' in our speciesist society, which is the reason why animal bodies are mutilated, tortured, eaten and regarded in groups and as property rather than individuals with sentience and personalities. Their oppression stems from the same labeling and hierarchical thought and praxis.
We, humans and other-than-humans, all have the right exist free from oppression, and no one has more priority than another.
*An issue such as homelessness is not just central to humans, but to
other-than-human animals as well, hence my use of quotations
What can people do to become more aware of and informed about animal rights and how to help? What can people do in their everyday lives?
Go vegan. We cannot continue to participate in any one of the animals' suffering any longer. If we are to fight effectively, we must adopt a local, plant-based diet to directly avoid the participation of the animals' exploitation. However, after we make that step to go vegan, every above-ground, animal advocate should take up a task in educating the public (e.g. literature, handouts, posters, billboards), join an activist group and campaign, give talks and guidance to other activists, coalition build with other social justice groups, etc.
How can people get involved with the ALF?
On the other hand, one can take up underground actions for animals. Historically, those wishing to participate in direct action have gotten together with others they could trust of like mind and just started doing actions. To begin learning about direct action, one can read Liberation Primers (available online) and follow the literature where it may take you. Only you can decide what action to take, when to get started, and how much longer the animals must wait for liberation.
What are the alternatives to animal testing?
If we are to study the minds of humans, we have the technology such as computer modeling to assist scientists in such a task. Regarding the issue of overall health, there would be no need for pharmaceuticals if we all adopted a plant-based diet and lifestyle. There is often the large misconception that we need drugs and pharmaceuticals to cure our ills, however the truth lies in the foods we eat. In addition, Eastern medicines such as herbs, teas and fungi have worked in curing common ailments that Western society usually pops a pill to 'cure'.
Do you believe that all animal rights activists should be vegan/vegetarian?
Absolutely. As I said before, we cannot continue to participate in any one of the animals' suffering any longer. Therefore, strictly abstaining from consuming the products derived from their exploitation is essential.
One question that people always ask me is, 'well, if everyone went vegetarian, what would we do with all the animals?'. How would you answer?
I often do not address hypotheticals because they do not relay what is happening now (the very reality we have to focus on), however I will entertain this question.
If everyone goes vegan, there will be no more demand for an animal's flesh, dairy, eggs, etc. Therefore, the animal agriculture industry would collapse and animals for 'food' will no longer be produced after the fact. So as far as 'doing something' with the animals, I am more than positive that animal activists would continue to place these animals into sanctuaries or let them roam free, and allow them to live out their natural life.
What is abolitionism?
Abolitionism is the deconstruction and elimination of a system, practice or institution built on oppression. In relation to the Animal Liberation movement, abolitionism is the ideology and practice that all beings should live a life free from abuse, murder, enslavement and objectification.
In addition, my definition of abolitionism includes any means necessary to eliminate such oppressive institutions -- such as illegal direct action, or actions considered 'violent' e.g. arson, assassinations, threats.
Animal rights often seems like something that would only interest the 'privileged' e.g. the suburban middle-class. I read a quote by someone to the effect of, 'What you eat only becomes an issue when you actually have enough to eat.' What is your opinion on this issue?
Absolutely not. Veganism has been marketed to be of 'privileged stature' and sold as an expensive diet due to greenwashing. However, people all around the world have been eating a plant-based diet before colonialism came to the Americas and it was among the non-royalty, non-noble that this phenomena happened e.g. Aztec, Maya, rural China and India. Meat-eating and animal based consumption has always been associated with the wealthy throughout history, and it was not until recent times that the majority of people were able to afford animal flesh. This is due to government subsidies given to animal agriculture and the spread of neoliberalism (or what political theorists call 'McDonaldization'). More people around the world would have enough to eat if Western nations were not privatizing, stealing and consuming the worlds resources to feed animal agriculture to in turn live a selfish life.
What would you say to someone who accused the ALF of being a terrorist organization? The FBI seems to have a major problem with them.
One who directly puts liberation into praxis and frees individuals from the clutches of oppression is not a terrorist by any definition or deeds. Although, the definition of terrorism is and has always been manipulated to meet the authorities needs in conducting witch hunts against activists or in an attempt to halt the effectiveness of the liberation movement at hand.
To animal activists, this is plain and simple: liberationists are not and cannot be terrorists, but are selfless actors in defense of our other-than-human brothers and sisters. Terrorism is what the industry inflicts upon animals -- fear, pain, torture, and systematic holocaust. The constant rhetoric that implies or directly states that people who free animals are the 'terrorists' comes from the mindset that animals are 'property', 'less than', or 'expendable'. Instead, liberationists consider animals to be our equals. Liberationists don't view animals as property which humans have the 'right' to take advantage of or profit from -- such as furriers, the meat industry, dairy industry, and others who profit from animal exploitation would have us believe.
Animal liberationists are considered terrorists by the government, industry, media, and much of society because they disrupt a common belief that animals are 'ours'. Animal liberationists do not value buildings or material property. Instead, they value the lives of animals and will take any measure to ensure that animals remain free from exploitation -- even if this includes the use of arson and burning down the place of enslavement. In addition, in our capitalistic society, money and profit reigns; those who commit acts to disrupt the flow of cash will be labeled negatively to stifle any diversions from 'business as usual'.
'Animals are on this earth for us to eat and use.' is something that I often hear. What would your reaction to this statement be?
This is often a concept derived from Judeo-Christianity. People treated as property a.k.a slaves was once said to be endorsed and backed by the Bible, however the majority of people now believe human slavery is morally abhorrent. Human slavery was once defended by the same unsound logic used for animals now. People of color were 'less than' or 'property' and those who were of 'more privilege' had the right to use and keep people against their will for free labor. Does this argument ring a bell? In addition, human slave owners would insist that people as slaves were treated 'humanely' and well cared for -- another argument that people who engage in animal exploitation like to throw around and continually raise.
What do you think about the idea of 'free range'?
Free-range is a farce. Hens are crammed into a larger cage (the shack), their beaks are still hot sawed off and the male chicks are still discarded, thrown into a grinder or suffocated in trash bags. Even if the mythical 'free-range' farm did exist, it would not be acceptable nor morally justifiable. A chicken's flesh or eggs are not 'ours' to take and eat.
Hunting is quite big in South Africa. While many people agree that reckless kill-everything-you-see 'sport' hunting is not ethical, it is if it is in the interest of culling. What is the ALF's stance on this?
Animal liberationists are against all forms of hunting. Culling is another facade and excuse to hunt. Animals have balanced their populations for hundreds of thousands to millions of years without us. Most humans have only served to disrupt and imbalance populations by taking all and leaving none, thus the reason for rapid, mass other-than-human animal extinctions.
Do animal liberationists have respect for human life?
Some do and some do not. I can only speak for myself, and as an animal activist I do care about humans alongside other-than-human animals. Sure, one may feel misanthropic at times especially when human-animal relations are increasingly violent and more other-than-human animals are being tortured in vivisection labs than ever before. But as I mentioned earlier, it is not one or the other. I believe in all and total animal liberation and that includes humans. A world where we all cohabit is not impossible, since it has happened historically prior to rapid industrialization.
What is the ALF's position on PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)?
To my knowledge, there hasn't been an underground communique that has ever been released against PETA. However, my personal view as an animal activist and anarcha-feminist, PETA objectifies and exploits womens' bodies visually for the purpose of marketing animal welfare to the mainstream public. Animals are lost in the message (again) and no longer represented. There is no reason for women to get naked to express their intellect, as we see many PETA campaigns involving men do not include nude shots. For more information concerning this topic, one can read Carol Adams' The Sexual Politics of Meat or Neither Man nor Beast.[The North American Animal Liberation Press Office was founded to communicate the actions, strategies, and philosophy of the animal liberation movement to the media and the public. Many of these actions are illegal under a current societal structure that fails to recognize the rights of non-human animals to live free of suffering, but validates and promotes the "right" of industries to do whatever they want to animals for profit or research. Within these conditions, those in the underground working for animal liberation often cannot speak out directly. Nevertheless, their actions and message is urgent and deserve to be heard and understood. Since animal liberation actions either go unreported in the media or are uncritically vilified as "violent" and "terrorist" with no attention paid to the suffering that industries and individuals gratuitously inflict on animals, NAALPO seeks to clarify the motivation and nature of actions taken in defense of animals.]
Nicoal R. Sheen
Contact: (213) 640-5048
Animal Liberation Press Office
3371 Glendale Blvd. #107
Los Angeles, CA 90039