MAKING A NEW WORLD: Robin Webb, Press Officer for the Animal Liberation Front
by Claudette Vaughan
Here the Abolitionist-Online speaks with Robin Webb, Press Officer for the Animal Liberation Front, in an interview conducted in November 2005.
Abolitionist: How effective is the ALF in Britain today with the new Terrorist Laws in place? Will the ALF prevail in light of great oppression by governments?
Robin Webb: The new legislation that this government is trying to bring in really only applies to overt campaigning groups like SHAC. The economic damage the government is talking about is [the type] encouraging customers not to deal with HLS. It’s not the same type of economic sabotage that the ALF undertakes. This legislation is not something that would affect the Animal Liberation Front ... as if anything could stop it.
Abolitionist: So this new legislation won’t affect the ALF in any significant manner then?
Robin Webb: The offences introduced under the Terrorism Act of 2000 right up to the current proposals ... none of it will affect the Animal Liberation Front or similar radical groups in any way because legislation is already in place covering criminal damage, arson, burglary and theft – all of which covers ALF-type activities – and these ‘crimes’ already carry far heavier sentences than those that are proposed in the new Terrorism legislation relating to animal rights organisations.
It really won’t affect the ALF in any way, shape or form. One example under existing legislation was the 18-year sentence handed down to the late Barry Horne. Even people who commit murder in the UK very seldom have a recommendation for that length of sentence.
Abolitionist: The ALF is a threat to the status quo. Whether it’s Princess Diana or Bobby Sands or Karen Silkwood or Martin Luther-King or Barry Horne or the Animal Liberation Front - all have always been dealt with harshly by the established order for going up against them. How have you yourself been persecuted Robin?
Robin Webb: The National Union of Journalists in their house magazine once described a police investigation against me as ‘an extraordinary vendetta’. I am the only person in the UK to have been the victim of quadruple jeopardy. They – the State - tried to get me into court four times on the same evidence. I was also remanded in prison for seven months merely for sending a press release to a news agency. It is an indication that there is no such thing in the UK as freedom of speech. I have also been subjected to travel restrictions and ‘gagging orders’.
Abolitionist: …and democracy, as such, loses its meaning.
Robin Webb: There is no democracy when the government doesn’t heed the will of the people. The will of the people in support of just causes has been ignored time and again over the years. The call from the Animal Rights/Liberation Movement is for action to be taken against the way animals have been treated in our society.
When the ‘New Labor’ government came to power in the UK, one of their firm pledges was to set up a Royal Commission to look at the use of animals in research. That would have enabled both sides to offer evidence on both the moral and the scientific arguments. The government has put this so far on the back burner it is not even lukewarm. So, when Parliamentary promises and Government promises are broken, people will go outside the law to achieve justice because they recognise that the lawful road has failed.
Abolitionist: What troubles me about the significant gains made by the combined efforts of the British AR movement is with the reconfiguration of the global economy escalating and trade laws becoming increasing global, any gains written in law can be reversed or changed and they often are. This is where the ALF’s greatest strength lies – working outside the system of parliamentary "liberalness", wouldn’t you agree?
Robin Webb: I would agree. The Animal Liberation Front has achieved far more both in changes relating to public attitudes, public awareness and with people leaving the animal abuse industries in the 25-30 years of its existence, than all of the 180 years of lawful campaigning since the first Animal Welfare law was passed in 1822.
Abolitionist: Do you think that direct action is the lifeblood of every liberation movement?
Robin Webb: In the fight to abolish slavery, in the fight for the emancipation of women, in the fight against apartheid in South Africa it has been the hard cutting edge of direct action that has encouraged the governments to speak to those who are campaigning lawfully. If it had not been for the hard cutting edge of direct action the governments concerned would have ignored peaceful, lawful protests.
Abolitionist: How much work is being done in the UK today by the Animal Liberation Front?
Robin Webb: An enormous amount underground because, while national organisations and public campaigning groups are educating people and highlighting the cruelty that goes on behind the closed doors of various animal abuse establishments, it is the Animal Liberation Front, the Animal Right Militia and the Justice Department who are destroying the tools of oppression, who are freeing the animals from the concentration camps and are actually driving the abusers out of business through economic sabotage or attacks on their homes. The argument that you shouldn’t target families at their homes holds no sway with the activists. If the animals are in their vile cages in the vivisection laboratories and the factory farms, the zoos and circuses, 24-hours-a-day without let or hindrance why should those responsible for that abuse and cruelty be allowed to go home to relax and enjoy themselves?
Abolitionist: It’s been said before that as long as vivisection continues and state-sponsored violence to animals continues, then the likelihood of a vivisector being killed remains. We know every time we open a newspaper there are numerous accounts of innocent victims subject to the most macabre murders happening around the planet today for both humans and nonhumans alike – yet vivisectors are not innocent bystanders. They know exactly what they are doing. Will justice have to come before peace is achieved?
Robin Webb: Certainly, the fact that no animal abuser has ever been seriously harmed is an indication of how strong the concept of non-violence is among animal liberation activists. Quite clearly, if the animals could fight for themselves then we would have seen endless numbers of dead animal abusers already ... and quite rightly so from the animals’ point of view! Although the Animal Liberation Front has always followed a policy of non-violence, groups such as the Animal Rights Militia (ARM) and the Justice Department would argue, looking at the relatively small example of the fight against apartheid in South Africa or the larger example of World War II, that it is justifiable to use short-term violence in pursuit of a longer term peace.
Abolitionist:… because we already don’t live in a peaceful world. As a species we are resistant to change.
Robin Webb: We are resistant to change as humans. It has been said many times that only 10% of humans are prepared to change their lifestyle through rational argument. If they know that what they are doing is wrong – that what they do causes pain and distress to other individuals, irrespective of race, or gender, or species - then other methods have to be used to change their ways. Either they should be forced to change their ways through life being made too uncomfortable for them, or actions must be taken to ensure that they cannot be supplied with anything based upon animal abuse or abuse of any kind.
What the Animal Liberation Movement seeks is a just world, a compassionate world, a peaceful world where all individuals can live their lives in their own way without let or hindrance whether they be humans, birds, animals, insects or creatures of the sea. That is something worth fighting for; worth risking one’s freedom for and it’s certainly worth risking one’s life for. To actually know that some time in the future there will be a world without pain and suffering. There lies a real future.
Abolitionist: What are some of the lessons that can be drawn upon over the past 30 years to help the Animal Liberation Front in the future? For example, one of the biggest betrayals, I would think, would be people who have been caught, who rolled over and incriminated others to save themselves. Is this seen by the Animal Liberation Front as extreme treachery?
Robin Webb: Certainly when someone has given evidence to the police then they would no longer be trusted, or should no longer be trusted by any activist who is risking their freedom. It not only betrays the activist, it betrays the animals for whom we are fighting because if someone is imprisoned it takes them out of the arena of what they can actually do.
What must be learnt is that, when you are on a protest, you don't start chatting to someone just because they are walking beside you. You don’t have a cozy chat to a police officer when he tells you, "My daughter is a vegetarian" or "my niece is a vegetarian" ... "What do you eat?" ... "How did you become involved?" ... That information will be taken back to a debriefing session so that undercover police officers can have their answers ready for when they are asked the same thing on a protest rally. The only people who should know what you are doing ‘outside the law’ are those who are actually doing it with you. To talk about it in a bar afterwards is merely self-aggrandizement ... boasting.
Animal Liberation activities are not about what you have done and how great you are – it’s about trying to achieve a better world. There needs to be no thanks. There needs to be no gratitude. The fact that individuals have been freed and abuse industries have been damaged should be thanks enough.
Abolitionist: Ronnie Lee once said that it’s a disgrace that activists had to exist on the borderline in order to do these important actions against the animal abuse industry while those who are making large noises but do nothing more than that, take home large wage packets. What's your take on that Robin? Is money a perennial problem for the ALF?
Robin Webb: Activists raise their own money, buy the tools and pay the fuel for the vehicles to do what they have to do. When I was on the National Council of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) I was told, in response to various comments I made at Council meetings, that "We are not a vegetarian society" ... "We are not an anti-vivisection society". The final crunch came when I said that my decisions in council were based on what was best for the animals to which the Chair of Council replied, "Your decisions should be based on what is best for the Society." My response was, "Should they not be the same thing?". I was told, "Not necessarily."
Abolitionist: There is an argument that runs through the AR Movement and it’s we shouldn’t wash our dirty laundry in the publics’ eye because it’s fodder for the animal abuse industry and the media.
Yet there are cracks in this argument as some of these problems that are not being addressed remain festering sores to the movement as a whole. E.g., We’re starting to see exposed the hypocrisy of these types of mainstream animal groups who are also investing money into corporations that conduct animal experiments. Or activists who support the ALF on one hand yet send money to organisations who kill pound animals on the other. Surely these things need to be thought about, refined and debated first and foremost?
Robin Webb: They should be openly debated. But, one thing annoys me almost more than anything else and that is when a National organisation condemns the Animal Liberation Front or similar groups. All one has to say - as I did when I was a RSPCA Council member when asked about the work of Animal Aid or when I was at Animal Aid and was asked about the Animal Liberation Front – all one has to say is, "We don’t condone such actions but we understand the anger and frustrations that leads people to take radical actions of that nature". You don’t have to condemn.
What I have found completely unacceptable are those animal welfare organisations who condemn the Animal Liberation Front actions but only use the phrase "opposed to" when talking about actual animal abuse! What is worse? Someone who goes outside the law trying to achieve what you are actually fighting for, or those who are committing the abuse itself? I believe they have their priorities reversed.
Abolitionist: How has animal welfarism hindered the work of the Animal Liberation Front aside from speaking out against the actions of the ALF? Have they impacted negatively for the ALF?
Robin Webb: Some welfare organisations have made people feel more comfortable, more able to live with animal abuse. Take the example of slavery. Slavery is absolutely morally wrong. Absolutely indefensible. If the welfarists had had their way we would perhaps have had slaves living in more comfortable houses, maybe being allowed to stay with their families but they would still ultimately be slaves. The only answer to slavery was total abolition. The only answer to animal abuse is total abolition. I’m not interested in a gradual reduction of numbers in laboratories. I’m not interested in a couple more square inches in a cage for hens. They shouldn’t be in cages. They shouldn’t be in vivisection laboratories. They should be free. Total abolition of all animal abuse is the only answer.
Abolitionist: How can people help the Cause?
Robin Webb: The ALF Supporters Group is there to help educate the public and to support those who have been unfortunate enough to be caught. In the early days the ALF SG only had the financial ability to support those convicted of Animal Liberation Front activities. In more recent times they have begun supporting, both financially and morally, any animal rights person, from more radical groups such as the Animal Rights Militia, or someone who has been imprisoned for attending a protest march. So, the ALF SG should now support any animal rights prisoner.
More importantly, you – each and every one of you reading this – you are the Animal Liberation Front. There is no highly trained force of compassionate commandos. The ALF consists of those who follow their consciences and their hearts in pursuit of a just world ... and to hell with the personal consequences.
Abolitionist: You have mentioned 2 types of economic sabotage. Can you clarify those types please?
Robin Webb: The economic damage being caused by above-ground groups such as Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) is that they are urging customers, shareholders and service organisations to sever their links with Huntingdon Life Sciences – to harm them economically in that way.
The Animal Liberation Front will damage or destroy property and equipment associated with animal abuse ... legislation has been in place for many years to cover that as criminal damage and arson. There is no need to introduce new animal rights or ‘terrorist’ legislation to cover ALF activities because existing ‘criminal’ law already does so!
Abolitionist: How has your role changed over the years as the UK Press Officer for the ALF?
Robin Webb: Clearly, as with every thing else with the Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group, the Press Office and the activists, it’s all done voluntarily. There is no remuneration whatsoever.
When I began doing the Press Office some 14 years ago I would receive anonymous claims of actions either by telephone or through the mail. I would then issue press releases either locally, regionally or nationally depending on the scale of the action. Over the years that role has changed because of the draconian sentences being handed down to animal rights people, the advances in technology - being able to identify voices even when they have been electronically altered, the ability, through facial mapping, to build up a person’s features from a balaclava-clad image in a photograph - and the admission in Crown Court that my home, my vehicle and my telephone are all bugged…
Abolitionist: …Is that what that clicking sound is over the phone? Surely they can’t still be that primitive.
Robin Webb: …it means that activists today are less likely to contact me. The role now is, if something has happened like an arson attack or animals being taken, the media will contact me. With my experience I can say with confidence whether or not it would have been the work of the Animal Liberation Front, whether it was the work of a more radical group or whether it wouldn’t have been an animal rights action at all.
I still give talks and presentations – anything from schools to local animal rights groups to mass protests.
So, that’s how the role has changed over the years. Of course, one has to be cautious when speaking and writing for the public domain because of legislation covering conspiracy and incitement. As I said before, I can’t tell people what to do. I have to allow them to follow their hearts or their conscience and then I can explain, if necessary, why they have done what they have done
The world that the Animal Liberation movement wishes to see is a free world. It’s not the activists of the Animal Liberation Front or of the Animal Rights Militia that are the terrorists; it’s the Governments of this world that shall be indicted for such crimes. The skies, the oceans and the land should be free for all. The skies aren’t for B52 bombers. They are for the eagles and the sparrows. The oceans aren’t for nuclear submarines. They are for the whales and the fishes. And the land is not for tanks to run across or to be destroyed by ‘daisy-cutter’ bombs. It is for us and for our brothers and sisters of all other species. I want to see a free world. Free for every individual, whatever their race, their gender or their species. I want to see a world where all individuals can live in peace.