Animal Protection > AR Interviews

The Flames of Victory:
An Interview with Convicted A.L.F. Activist Melanie Arnold
from No Compromise Issue 5.  By Rod Coronado

No Compromise: Hi ya Mel! Many of our readers are not familiar with the UK Animal Liberation movement and the highly successful campaigns of the A.L.F. so I thought it would be interesting to introduce you to them. Currently, you're serving a three and a half year sentence for arson related charges due to your participation in A.L.F. raids. What can you tell us about your case?

Melanie Arnold: Well, the BSE crisis had hit Britain like a ten-ton sledge hammer. It hadn't quite filtered through to the public to the level it would subsequently reach, and the media, as usual, were keeping tight-lipped for the present, only releasing snippets of information in order to break the public in lightly. But we knew about it and what lay in store. The meat industry was to be hit right where it hurt (i.e. -- the pocket) by its own gratuitous greed karma; and in anticipation of many smaller meat depots going bust, we decided to help one of the larger slaughterhouses, that may have otherwise only tottered on the brink of downfall, to go well and truly over the edge.

Ensors abattoir sat in Gloucestershire, a safe targeting distance from houses or the neighboring wildlife habitat. We recced it several times to monitor the late workers, patrol men, dog walkers, etc. just to establish a typical night's activity around the area we intended to torch. Having satisfied ourselves that this was a 'safe' venture, we went on to gain entry to the building to ascertain what we would need before dissolving into the night -- leaving no trace of our presence.

Two weeks later we had bought, made and improvised all that we would need, and on the 10th June 1995, we made our way back, just the two of us. We entered the compound, broke the side windows of every van, refrigerated lorry and car and then withdrew to see if attention had been generated by the noise. It had not. We collected our cache of incendiary devices and placed this cocktail of potassium nitrate and sucrose with modified fuse, through each window and onto the upholstery of each vehicle.

We then got into the abattoir building and began trashing the upstairs kitchen, dining area and locker rooms and we decided to cover the whole place in petrol, leading a fuse of inflammable material down the stairs and into the main slaughter hall. Again, we doused machinery in the surrounding area with copious amounts of petrol and set 20 incendiary devices by the main apparatus, including accompanying bags of the explosive mixture (and boy does it explode!). We then triggered off some fires manually and lit the devices to add to the inferno later. We lit the lorry devices last as these obviously are more noticeable and may bring attention when the building, burning away from the windowless interior, had only just got going.

We then disappeared into the night, even as the first of the lorries exploded behind us. Technically, we got clear away with it. None of us were known to that area and our planning was such that it was highly unlikely that we would be caught on the job. The police and bomb squad didn't have a clue who was responsible and went on fishing trips to local sanctuaries.

Unfortunately, my assisting activist also turned up at one of them to help build fences and the police searched and nabbed everyone. The police -- not knowing of Michael as an animal libber -- would never have searched his cottage had not his unfortunate decision to work that morning transpired. Michael confessed his guilt primarily to defend the two other suspects who were entirely innocent of the attacks and had many animals in their charge, one of whom was actually 'put down' by police. But the growing circumstantial evidence had precipitated this decision anyway.

From neighboring sources my description was given, and the police knew of me well enough to identify the description and to arrest me 3 days later at my home in Northampton. I was interrogated on and off for several days and nights during which the police used every tactic in the book to encourage me to speak. They lied, they threatened, they cajoled, they pleaded, they flirted and they failed. The police tried to convince me that Michael had incriminated me in the making of the devices, and my response at this predictability, led to one inspector shouting "it's no good you laughing, Melanie." Lies, all of it.

As far as I was concerned, either they had enough evidence, in which case they could charge me; or they didn't, in which case I wasn't going to help them find it. They charged us anyway under Section 2 of the Explosives Act and sent us to prison to await trial.

Six months later, I was arrested and charged yet again by Cheshire Constabulary for the firebomb attack against 36 large milk tankers which had caused 2 million pounds worth of damage and had occurred two weeks before the Ensors incident. Again, I remained silent and again I listened to the same old threats.

The only thing I gave was my blood, quite literally -- a donation because I didn't fancy being held down and forcibly syringed. Fifteen months later, we were forcibly brought to trial and both of us pled guilty and arranged for mitigation.

Being caught is bad enough, but we have two obligations to fill when that happens. One is to ensure we say nothing to our interrogators and two is to ensure we get back out to the struggle as soon as possible. In any event, having expected a minimum of 6 years each - Michael received 5 and I was left with only three and one half years.

NC: So what led you to the crossroads where you began to question the effectiveness of legal reform and began to participate in illegal activities?

MA: I began to 'politically' campaign on behalf of animals from the age of 13 and, during the following years, I wrote endless letters, attended endless meetings and demos, and then questioned endlessly the validity of my endeavors -- what exactly was I achieving? Did I hear of results? Could I see it? Was it tangible enough to feel, to hold? Was I being listened to at all?

After months of alternating nightmares and insomnia, of emotional turmoil and debate, I finally decided that I either was going to help animals, which meant doing it in a way that worked, and doing it for life or I should put the torment out of my mind and get on with my own. I chose the animals for life. From that turning point came the necessity to embrace non-violent direct action. It was blatantly clear to me that the government didn't have any intention of giving away what it couldn't afford to lose and that by bargaining for extra inches, less pain, and one form of suffering for another, we were accepting compromise, accepting disempowerment, accepting defeat.

If the parliamentary system worked, if the law makers took notice of majority opinion, there would be equal pay for women, the health service would be adequately funded, hunting would be banned, fur would be outlawed, live exports abolished, vivisection banished to the annals of history.... It's simply not going to happen. Why? Because the exploitation of animals is big business and the food, pharmaceutical and petro-chemical industries upon which the national purse relies, are the foundations -- physically, emotionally, and economically -- of the wider societal abuses we all suffer.

In high profile campaigns, the A.L.F. were seen to be stepping directly in-between the torture and the tortured; they were going for the economic jugular, causing abusers more trouble than it was worth, perhaps subjecting them to the same fear they so enjoy causing themselves and more importantly -- it worked.

The results were valid, they were tangible, and when I first held the whimpering form of a damaged but rescued being, felt her heart beat against mine as I ran with her to freedom, I knew that I could do more in my lifetime as an A.L.F. activist on my own than a thousand people could do by the accepted legal channels, and then some.

NC: Here in the States, I remember hearing about live animal liberations and daylight raids in England in the early and mid 80's, all of which were incredibly inspiring. By the late 80's the A.L.F. served to focus more on maximum economic damage and arson actions. Could you tell us a little about the choice of tactics the UK A.L.F. use and why they choose them?

MA: The Animal Liberation League raids of the early 80's were certainly effective in their time and did much to generate the type of sympathy and interest that led to an increase in recruitment. These mass daylight raids involving hoards of activists were much publicized and media depictions of balaclaved warriors storming research facilities and bringing out animals and files led to great feelings of empowerment.

But tactics must be fluid and interchangeable and those that will work against one form of abuse or one company may not be entirely suited to another. And, as the anti-fur campaigns grew in momentum alongside other important issues, it gradually took over as the #1 winnable target -- much as live exports is today -- and the A.L.F., grassroots organizations and local groups engaged in a concerted effort against this disgusting 'trade.'

Arson has always been a valuable asset; it makes animal abuse unprofitable, it is the ultimate pressure point. Fire removes the apparatus -- buildings and vehicles of our hatred -- it means they cannot be used and insurance premiums skyrocket, again adding to the overall financial burden.

These tactics worked exceptionally well against department stores whose shop line was not exclusively furs; as the warning was enough to have them remove any offending item, yet still be able to carry on a trade. [The same tactic could potentially be used against Universities who only perform a tiny percentage of the overall research (vivisection) going on. We must isolate them and divide them within their own working community].

In other words, the potential and actual use of arson was a deterrent for them and the economic disadvantages of such an attack far outweigh the profit they were making by selling fur. Thus, it was an effective tactic and one that was unlikely to have been equaled by any other. The risk of capture was low, it was cheap, effective and an increasingly autonomous way of doing actions without the necessity of knowing or involving others. To put it bluntly -- anyone could, and did, do it!

NC: When I was in the UK, I noticed that many direct action activists were often involved in many "different" political and ecological struggles. Some were hunt sabs and anti-fascists and others were vegan and also very active in community projects, working class alliances and women's issues. Are you someone who sees a similarity between these struggles, and if so, why?

MA: Yes, I am someone who readily identifies with a diversity of struggles and over the years I have moved from one to another myself. But many people involved in other issues, especially ones relating to humans, are often scornful of our work with animals, failing completely to see the connection between animal and human abuse, the direct relation between animal testing and the rapidly growing diseases in humans and the reliance upon the exploitation of animals for everything from food, clothing, sport, entertainment, amusement and so called "health."

If we accept the wholesale carnage of defenseless creatures as "the norm", then we have grown to accept that a superior attitude, providing that it in some way benefits us physically or psychologically, is perfectly OK; and that attitude lives towards people of "minority" races, people with disabilities, and women to name but a few. There is correlation. Society, as we know it, has been deliberately cut, molded and set into the hierarchical pyramid structure of which we, along with all ordinary people, occupy the lowest strata. And we have been brought up to accept that certain institutions exist, such as government, the police, vivisection, etc. and that without these institutions, "civilization" would disintegrate.

Let us assume that you had been reared from birth and told that without the aid of crutches you could not walk. In spite of having two perfectly fit legs, at that age, you would know no different. And you would grow up to believe in your disability and the fear of falling should your crutches be removed. This is what governments rely on -- the belief in its "subjects" that they cannot act independently of and in spite of Government.

In the same way we have all been programmed with certain information, reinforced by the ignorance of parents, of schools, of media and by a lifetime of physical and moral habits. The most dangerous of these is acceptance. People accept meat as a necessary part of their diet because they've always eaten it and they're still here (I'll leave my CJD comments for another time). They accept ready-made professions, dead-end jobs, low wages, long hours, and powerlessness because a growing unemployment level enhances their gratitude and their servitude. And, in their frantic attempts at rung climbing in society's hierarchy, they're also willing to accept the belief and perpetuate the belief that they are somehow "better" than their female, black, gay counterparts.

The scramble to be on top of the pile encourages and reinforces base rationalistic and prejudicial concepts and creates divisions between the very people for whom the authorities show so much contempt. This can be witnessed by a failing health and education system, failed housing, failed control within the workplace, failing unemployment, and a general despondency, inadequacy and poverty -- all the hallmarks of a great crime incentive.

Animals inevitably fare even worse, and in a joint venture aimed at making money and saving money, animals are used and discarded in such great numbers and on such great levels and on such great pretenses, that not only is it considered "normal", but it is accepted without question.

What we have then, is a system of rules, a set of beliefs and an accepted way of thinking/behaving which encourages and perpetuates disunion between sexes, races and species, and which exists, and only exists, because we accept they do.

We need to alter people's whole perception of the world around them, to encourage free thought, free speech, self determination, equality and autonomy of action. We need to link up with other grassroots organizations to share solidarity and support, ideas and tactics, and to dissolve the man-made boundaries between us. Working class, animal liberation, anarchist, feminist, environmental, indigenous, etc. struggles are one and the same because the enemy is common to us all, and only our undivided unity will be strong enough to defeat it.

The more humans take control of and act responsibly for their lives, the more the balance of the human psyche will be restored, their spirituality repaired and nature and her kingdoms will be respected as a different, but equal, partner in the vast fabric of life on Earth.

NC: So would you say that, here in America, we should strive to build solidarity with other struggles against oppression be it animal, earth or human?

MA: The ecological and spiritual balance of the planet and her inhabitants depends on it. Certainly, the link between animals and the environment is indistinguishable, as the one cannot exist without the other. Nature and evolution perfected the ecosystems that best supported life on Earth and man's interference and theft has sabotaged millions of years of fine tuning that not only destroys the habitat of animals, but of indigenous tribes the world over, depleting oxygen supplies and potent cures from deep, lush forests.

Any spanner in the works of nature herself, will and has, backfired in immeasurable ways on human kind. If charity begins at home, then maybe we should start looking at our home -- not the brick edifice within which we barricade ourselves -- but the planet upon which we truly live.

NC: Here in America the federal government has really created an atmosphere of repression against any who fight their power outside of the legal system. In the UK you have the Animal Rights National Index (ARNI) of Scotland Yard and M15 who have long compared the A.L.F. to groups like the IRA. What words do you have for activists who might be afraid to participate in A.L.F. actions due to their being labeled domestic terrorists? And do activists in the UK live in fear of what their beliefs could cost them?

MA: The level of intervention in our activities by the police and M15 is only indicative of the amount of genuine threat we represent. This then, would seem to suggest that we have been successful in ways only partly recognized by us.

Our inevitable response to their overt and covert monitoring of us is just to go deeper underground, surrounded in secrecy, and to operate likewise. The increase in Environmental activism had led to a dilution of police activity geared 100% against "us", which allows us greater freedom to act, but by and large, those activists prepared to break the law for the higher moral one, are still breaking the law in spite of the threat of lengthy prison sentences and the increase in informers whose job is to lead us there. We realize that one cannot possibly see any punishment meted out to an activist as being comparable to that which inflicts the animals we represent.

No struggle has ever been won without personal sacrifice and I can say, on my own behalf, that I will take the prison option time and time again than ever live with the guilt and cowardice and selfishness of inaction.

UK activists just take more precautions these days. Few attend demos, meetings and CD's. No one will speak of anything sensitive in a car, house or over a phone and they generally keep themselves out of the limelight and stick with their own trusted comrades. New activists especially, can get away with so much, simply by the virtue of the fact that they will be unknown to police so surveillance is unlikely and conspiracy via others the same.

Very rarely do activists get caught "on the job" and those that have were under surveillance anyway. There is nothing to fear. Don't ever underestimate your faith or the power you have inside you to conquer your uncertainty and enter the empowering world of Earth activism.

NC: Here in the States, I'm the first A.L.F. member to do prison time, do you find the capture of A.L.F. activists leads to less A.L.F. actions or more? Why?

MA: There's no evidence to suggest that A.L.F. actions are on the decrease and there are now 14 warriors in the UK imprisoned to date. I think the general attitude amongst our free sisters and brothers is that the more activists inside, the more they will act on our behalf and that means encouraging others to act also.

The level of support shown for activists Keith Mann and Dave Callendar with their 11 and 10 years respectively, seen at the Courts of appeal and on Justice demos etc., demonstrates just how much people care; and outrage over the ridiculously high sentencing of prisoners has led to people getting more involved in our struggle.

A.L.F. is all-encompassing and never-ceasing. The fact that a 16 year old school child may decide to smash Cancer Research Shop windows one night and a 65 year old gentleman may decide to take a few of his neighboring battery hens and so on and so forth, all under the banner of A.L.F. and without it necessarily breaking headlines, means that the essential work goes on. We may not always hear about it, but it is going on and the police are fully and painfully conscious of that fact.

NC: Is it true that most fur shops and now many butcher shops have steel shutters over their windows because of repeated attacks by animal liberationists?

MA: Yes, it is true that a vast amount of butcher shops and all remaining fur shops have steel shutters across the windows after repeated window smashing attacks nationwide; especially from ball bearings shot from a catapult (wrist rocket/sling shot) in a slow passing vehicle. As well as the added expense this entails, it has been known for activists to use power tools and even ram-raiding vehicles with which to damage these also.

No security measure by them is invincible; with initiative we can counter their paltry attempts to hide from us and, quite literally, make them pay!

NC: Can you tell us about one of the most satisfying actions you ever participated in and how it helped you strengthen your faith in direct action?

MA: Not so much an action as a campaign. And that was against live exports at Coventry airport, which we got stopped after only a few months of intensive campaigning.

What was so good about this issue was the combination of people from all walks of life determined to put the plight of the calves above all else. What really brought us all together in action was physically seeing the long line of animal transporters slowly parading past us with calves, little baby calves staring sorrowfully through the slats at us. I swear they could pick me out in a crowd to focus and stare at me, almost accusingly. It was heart-wrenching.

But we fought and we gave it our all. Jill Phipps even gave her life on a concrete curb outside the gates, a lorry full of heaving calves above her. We fought back; by day we held the vigil, gave radio interviews, spoke to passing motorists to join us who'd stop to give us food and warm clothing; we turned people vegan; we smashed the trucks; we stopped them.

By night, we crept onto the airport and sabotaged its property, its security fencing, its landing lights, set fires along the strip and essentially cost them a hell of a lot of money. We all got arrested and charged at some point and banned for one mile around the airport, but we just returned at night and, on one occasion, I physically battled with two patrol men who had caught me scaling the fences, a wake of destruction beside me.

We turned one firm's security against the other, both operational at the airport and we got information on what was happening behind the scenes. People stormed the police cordon to chain themselves to the aircraft's wheels and plans were under way to do much more sabotage. This infuriated the police beyond belief and they had an informer in our protest camp outside who got me arrested when I exposed him.

That time, the police dragged me off and put me alone in a van and drove it to where I could see the calves being loaded onto the plane -- electric stunners were used; they were kicked and they all were picked up and thrown inside. The police vowed to break both my legs once they got me to the cells. It was working!

Combined with the exorbitant rate the security and police pressure cost the airport, we were also personally targeting the director of Phoenix Aviation, responsible for the flights. He employed bodyguards to surround his house at night and he installed trip wires and fireworks in his gardens; he even shot one of us. It didn't stop his windows from being smashed, his jeep from being smashed and the psychological torment of not knowing what was going to happen next.

We unearthed his affair, his dealings with gun runners, his criminal past, his criminal present. His bodyguards would creep to our tents at night and leave freshly slaughtered calves dripping over our banners and we would run riot in his village causing all mayhem to break loose. He became a damaged man, financially ruined, a nervous wreck and with his marriage in pieces, even as I write, he is up for various charges of assault.

Live exports at Coventry Airports ceased. The last remaining protesters stood huddled in the rain around the flowers, placed where Jill had been felled. There were to be no more trucks. And as they turned to leave, there in the middle of the road, quietly contemplating them, stood a beautiful female fox. Out of absolutely nowhere, she had appeared and she shimmered in the fading dusk. She studied them all carefully and made her way away from the airport and past the huddled mourners into the surrounding fields. Jill, an active hunt saboteur, undoubtedly joined her. The battle had been won.

NC: What is the level of importance of media attention for the UK animal lib movement and is it something that influences activism in Britain?

MA: Over the years, the continuous arresting and imprisoning of the UK Press Officers and spokespersons led many an activist cell to simply not make a publicity issue out of their actions. This, and the combination of the government's own "D" notice (media suppression) allotted to many of our activities simply meant that operations went ahead with little or no resultant publicity.

The important thing was that the abusers knew we had been busy and why, and the abusers grapevine was red hot with gossip, whether the public knew or not was of little consequence, and news always filtered through to the animal lib/environmental press anyway and this generated our own publicity. On the whole, the national media have always been poorly representative of and biased against us and as such, show us in a negative and uninspiring manner.

NC: Mel, in what ways can activists in America learn from their British counterparts and what can we do to encourage greater recruitment and support of direct action?

One of the things worth mentioning is the importance of solidarity and support of each other. A strong prisoner support network is indispensable to the morale of a direct action movement and by its very existence encourages and publicizes this action.

The very least a potential/actual activist deserves to know is that in the event of his/her capture they will be entitled to moral and financial support. People will be very reluctant to act when they know all they'll get is a kick in the teeth for their courage.

In my opinion, action begets action. The more successful a cell is, the more confident it will become and the more it will act. We need to keep the momentum going -- as things really do seem to be surging forward in North America -- by distributing papers like No Compromise which keeps opinions of the A.L.F. alive and shows just how much is going on and how everyone has a part to play in that.

NC: Mel, you've seen a lot of your friends imprisoned for direct action, some beaten and others who have lost their lives in defense of the defenseless. What keeps you going? What gives you the spirit to fight on in the face of ever-continuing violence and torture of our animal relations?

MA: I owe it to the millions of animals and millions of people who have died as a result of the systematic abuse of sentient beings. I owe it to the millions of animals and people who will go on to die as a result of that abuse, and I owe it to absent friends.

When I got involved in the struggle, I vowed it would be a fight to the end and I meant it. When I got imprisoned I renewed that pledge, having felt, at first hand, just what it feels like to be taken from loved ones, isolated from everything I care for and treated as inferior and worthless.

At one prison, I spent 8 months in a 6 foot by 6 foot cell -- a claustrophobic's nightmare -- and it hit me like a steam train how all these animals in cages must feel, whether waiting to be experimented on or waiting to be bought or waiting to die, with absolutely no knowledge of a release date, such as us prisoners have benefit of. The psychological prospect of a life behind bars, let alone any physical suffering they may entail too, was, in a very tiny way, imparted to me through my own experiences and this has strengthened my resolve to fight on like never before.

Not only have I glimpsed the torment of their world, but I have overcome one of the sturdiest of human barriers -- that of fear. It is the fear of what may happen to us that prevents us from doing what is right. I had that fear, like anyone else. Fear of the unknown is very potent, but I had to listen to my conscience - I had seen too much to ever go back. I've come through the worse that they can throw at me and I can honestly say "was that it?" Without even knowing it, the powers that be have erased my last remaining tie with their world and I am now truly free and in my power.

NC: Is there anything else that you would like to share with NC readers about the future, hope, winning and all that?

MA: "Winning" is a state of mind. Every time we rescue an animal and maintain a life -- that is winning. Real victory happens at every action for us.

If all we think about is how ghastly the overall problem is and how overwhelming it all seems and how pointless our own endeavors always appear in the face of such evil, then we will have undoubtedly failed on every level.

We are born as individuals and we die as individuals, and somewhere in-between we get a little lost, a little insecure, a little dependent and start blindly following a crowd or an ideal, using the same old worn out tactics because everyone else is, and content in the knowledge that "others" are taking care of the "hard stuff". We lose sight of our own unique ability to think, feel and act; to take initiative, to instigate campaigns and of seeing our views through. It doesn't take great crowds of people and it doesn't take any secret know-how. It shouldn't be left to just a few of us to take all the risks, although we will.

We don't exist in a vacuum and neither do you. Let's unite and feel in ourselves the power that stirs from within; let's harness that energy then send burning arrows in the directions of our targets; arrows that illuminate the way for others. For every time we act with purity and compassion, every time we extend a healing hand to life around us, we win in ways too subtle to be noticed, but too important to be ignored. Let's kick away our crutches and fly!

NC: Mel, on behalf of No Compromise, I'd like to thank you not only for this interview but for your selfless sacrifice for the animal people. I'm sure we'll be seeing you back in the trenches soon.

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