Questions from Corey Lewis, Toronto Observer

Responses are from Virginia H., a member of the ALF in the United States (Midwest). Here is how she became involved in direct action:

Virginia: "My husband was a slaughterhouse worker for two years until he hurt his back. An even greater injury was to his mental health. He couldn't believe the cruelty of the Kosher slaughter (where an animal is hoisted and bled to death without prior stunning). The expressive eyes of the animals, fearful and strangely pleading, haunted him. He tried to pretend it was his imagination. His subconscious told him otherwise. He cried in his sleep."
    "We became vegetarians and we shared a secret (from our friends and families), the secret belief that animals should have the right not to be treated as property."

What drives you?

Virginia: "The knowledge that a little bit of my effort can make a huge difference in the life of an animal. The knowledge that many people care about the suffering of animals, and that when they learn what goes on behind closed doors, they make an effort to change for the well-being of animals."

When did you decide, ĎI want to do this? This is a cause worth fighting forí? Describe that moment.

Virginia: "I never thought about doing anything. Then, a year after my husband died (he fell asleep while driving and ran off the road), I saw a flier in my church. It advertised a local deer hunting trip. I expected that I might be invited, and I had several days to think about my answer. When I was invited, I feigned enthusiasm. My first ALF action (although I'd never heard of the ALF) was to sabotage a hunt by pretending to be an inept hunter (like many young women in the Midwest, I was a fairly good hunter). When the hunt was over, I had mixed emotions. I felt badly for my friends. In the days that followed, I heard that everyone said the trip was wonderful fun even though they didn't bag anything (despite missing two unbelievably good opportunities). They said that they'd never heard me talk so much, or laugh so loudly. And to this day I don't know if it was their stuffy noses or their polite upbringing that kept them from commenting about my overpowering perfume."
    "As I became familiar with the local woods (some public, some private), I took walks before dawn where I knew trappers set traps (unbelievably, some traps were set on public land where I could have stepped into them). At first I dropped tree branches into a few these traps, in hope that it would look like the wind was the culprit. I didn't want to raise suspicion. Then one day I came back and saw a coyote dead in a trap. I never left a trap open again."
    "My saga continues to this day, with some delays (such as the two-year hiatus after as being confronted by the area's largest landowner about how I came to be taking his bleeding dog, from a trap on his land, to the local vet). But I have digressed."

If someone, a leader from another animal rights organization, said that the actions of ALF hurt the cause for animal rights, rather than help it, what would your reaction be? Why?

Virginia: "Whether our direct action hurts or helps the AR movement is a frequently asked question. The debate is chronicled in the book "Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?", with leaders from the AR movement chiming in on both sides. We have addressed the question in our various FAQs (the short and funny answers are used as replies to folks who say bad things about our mothers, or who, we sense, want only to give their opinion and who are not really seeking our opinion). My answer would be a paraphrase from the following:

From FAQ #91: Doesn't extreme activism give the AR movement a bad name?

In essence, the argument says that if your actions can be characterized as extremist, then you are besmirching the actions of those who are moderate, and you are creating a backlash that can negate the advances made by more moderate voices. The backlash argument is a standard one that will always be trotted out by the opponents of a movement. Backlash can be expected whenever the status quo is challenged, regardless of whether extreme actions are employed. The real question to ask is: Does the added backlash outweigh the gains achieved through extreme action?

The appeal to the "backlash" has historical precedent. Martin Luther King heard such warnings when he organized civil-disobedience protests against segregation. Had Dr. King yielded to this appeal, would the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts have been passed?

Dave Foreman, writing in "Confessions of an Eco-Warrior", points out that radicals in the anti-Vietnam War movement were blamed for prolonging the war and for damaging the "respectable" opposition. Yet the fear of increasingly militant demonstrations kept President Nixon from escalating the war effort, and the stridency eventually wore down the pro-war establishment.

Paraphrased from Dr. Steven Best: "There is wide agreement that violence is legitimate to defend innocent human beings from being wrongly harmed or killed by others. Few people condemn the use of property destruction and violence to free Jewish prisoners from Nazi genocide. Resistance fighters blew up train tracks, gas ovens, and killed German soldiers at every possible opportunity. But the use of property destruction to liberate animals from oppression is considered a tactic that is wrong, an unacceptable form of violence and terrorism. We are appealing to our critics to overcome the fallacy of speciesism and think in a rigorously consistent manner, I simply ask: why? Why are the anti-Nazi resistance fighters heroes, and the ALF are terrorists? Why is violence acceptable to use in defense of human beings but not animals? This gross inconsistency ought to embarrass every unprejudiced, fair, and logical person."

For a more detailed discussions:

A few weeks ago, a PETA protester smashed a Tofu pie in a Vogue editorís face to protest fur fashion at a show in Paris. The action was simple but powerful. Were the editorís rights to walk in public without being harassed abrogated? Is it fair to abrogate a humanís rights for an animalís? In other words, is there another way to go about this?

Is it fair? Virginia: "This brings up two thoughts: First, the important distinction between what is 'fair' and what is 'right'. What is 'fair' may be morally wrong, as illustrated in the classic short story, 'The Lottery', by Shirley Jackson (click here to refresh your memory:"
    "Second, when choosing a course of action, the trade-off between the rights of two beings is frequently complex, and requires judgment. Such is the case in the abortion issue. No single answer can fit all scenarios and replace logical analysis of all ramifications."

Is there another way to go about this?  Virginia: "Yes, but nothing has been more effective in increasing the awareness of animal rights than these made-for-television video-bytes. These stunts, which take very little money, have raised more awareness of animal rights (and saved more lives) than all the educational programs in history. The results of these stunts make them worth the trade-off (because animal rights advocates assign more value to the life of a sentient being than to property -- especially to the property of the rich and famous)."
    "In the analysis of 'opposing rights', without media coverage, pie-throwing would be difficult to justify. Without media coverage, it's doubtful that anyone would become more aware of animal rights issues. Thus, the time and effort spent would be better spent at an animal shelter."