> AR Interviews
Terrorists or altruists?
DEATH threats and bomb attacks on vivisectors have given animal liberationists a bad name. We thought we would ask animal rights raiders themselves what they were up to - and what they thought of using violence against people.
Ronnie Lee, co-founder of the controversial Animal Liberation Front in the UK, was the obvious first choice. Lee answered from prison that he was willing to co-operate but the prison authorities would not let him because NI was a ‘wide circulation’ magazine.
Lee is half way through a 10-year sentence for conspiracy to cause criminal damage. His targets were laboratories, fur shops, butchers’ shops. They did not include people. In the same week as Lee was sentenced a UK court gave a three-year gaol sentence to a man who had committed a particularly brutal rape during the course of a robbery.
We did, however, get to interview two other animal rights raiders - each with their own quite different approach to animal liberation.
I made contact with the Animal Liberation League when I started going on national anti-cruelty demonstrations. I was 21.
My first action was the raid on the Unilever headquarters in Bedfordshire in 1984. It was a fact-finding mission, carried out in the middle of the day. Three hundred of us entered the building - we were after a ‘saturation’ effect. We did as little damage as possible. The idea was to bring out documents, take photographs and show the public what we knew was going on.
We didn’t find any animals that day but we got good information on the kinds of animal experiments they were doing. The people on the raid were ordinary but very committed people from varied backgrounds.
My next raid was on the Royal College of Surgeons, who have their experimental labs in Downe, Kent. There we found animals that weren’t bred for experiments. They were the wrong breeds and showed social skills which led us to the conclusion that they were stolen pets. The dogs had been operated on and sewn up again in the most appalling way. We found documents and progress reports which showed some of the animals had been in considerable pain and had had to be put down. We gave the photos to the press. The publicity was amazing - it got onto the national TV news that evening.
We also found photos of primate experiments. The surgeons had been vain enough to take their own photos. These were not ‘tame’ photos - they were of animals screaming, being held in a vice-like grip. There were charts of monkeys which showed they had been left over the weekend with no water. One had died. The Royal College of Surgeons was prosecuted as a result.
Then I took part in a raid on the Wickham Laboratories in Hampshire. This was a lab which would test anything for anyone on animals. The raid did not go as well as it might have done. I was arrested, tried, found guilty of conspiracy to burgle, and given a one-year prison sentence. While I was serving this I was put on trial for the Unilever raid and was given another year. So I served two years in prison, without parole. This is unusual and virtually unheard of among women prisoners.
I have not gone on any raids since coming out. It isn’t that prison has knocked the stuffing out of me. It’s because I go about things in a different way now. I still believe that there is a place for that kind of action as long as it is productive and as long it does not involve violence against people - which I think is such a mad, stupid thing to do, it makes you wonder if it’s the work of the opposition. Anyway, I’ve got different responsibilities now, with a couple of small children to bring up, and I feel I’ve done my bit in terms of illegal action. But I’m still a campaigner and fund-raiser - and a vegan!
I think the whole tempo of the animal rights movement has changed. The campaigning organizations are much more slick. Everything is geared towards informing the public. As people become more aware of what is done in the name of feeding oneself, clothing oneself, they will revolt. And that is why it is all cloaked in secrecy because the meat and cosmetic and chemical companies know that if the public know what they are up to then they will protest.
For me it was knowing what was going on that put a block on my modeling career. I would not go to certain castings. I turned down a fur show; turned down a magazine cover where they wanted me to wear a leopard skin hat.
But I have no regrets. All of the raids produced good information in their own way, caused an embarrassment to major companies, major institutions. Given the same circumstances I would do it all again. Perhaps I would run a bit faster...
I just hope that by the time my daughters grow up they won’t have to get involved animal liberation. It’s just a shame that some of us have to be sacrificed for anything to change ...
I don’t think I was particularly close to animals as a child. My mother had pets - dogs, budgerigars. She was against cruelty to animals, opposed to fox hunting - but then most people are. It was through ‘sabbing’ (sabotaging fox hunts) and reading Animal Liberation Front (ALF) newsletters that I got involved in animal rights.
My first action was to break a window of a butcher’s shop. I was 19 at the time. There were three of us. We just decided to do it. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) newsletters explained quite clearly that there were no leaders, there was no structure to refer back to. You just did what seemed right - providing you kept to the ALF guidelines. That was - and still is - that you did no harm to humans or animals. That is the way it has always been - and hopefully will stay.
Anyway, on that first raid my job was to throw in a pot of paint after the window was smashed to add to the damage. I was very nervous at first - but things got easier.
The most immediately successful raid I was involved in was a really very small one on a school which kept animals for dissection. A group of us broke in, rescued the animals - a few rats and guinea pigs. The next day the school announced that they had decided to stop using animals for dissection.
Then there was a fur shop which I helped put out of business. We broke the window so often - about 10 times - that I assume the insurance company eventually refused to pay up. On one occasion someone came along afterwards and stole all the fur coats!
At first I would do a couple of actions a week. Now I do one every three months - but they are more complex. My specialty is breaking in. I prefer to work in a small group of three or four people I trust. We do things like breaking into high security laboratories which involves several nights’ work just watching the place. If we raid a vivisection lab where there are security guards on site we post lookouts with walkie-talkies.
Sometimes we set fire to places - but not if there are people or animals in there. The most damage I ever did was when I burned down an empty battery farm. I set it alight with a home-made incendiary device.
I don’t approve of using bombs, though. They are too dangerous and inaccurate. I think the people who carried out bomb attacks in Bristol [in May 1990, one bomb was attached to a vivisector’s car, but the blast injured a baby instead; another blast damaged a vivisection laboratory] may have been ex-ALF activists. But by causing harm to humans they strayed from the guidelines - and so would not be part of the ALF now. Or perhaps they were people who had nothing to do with the ALF. Who knows?
You have to know exactly what you are doing when you go on a raid - you have to know what you will find there. For example, if go in and there are 200 rabbits there you have to be organized to get them quickly into boxes and to a safe place. The severely damaged animals - those who have been recently operated on or given tumors - we take to a vet we can trust. For these kinds of raids you need more people - 10 or 11. But I prefer working in smaller groups. It’s safer. And if you get caught - fewer of you get put away.
You get the shakes before a raid. Sometimes afterwards. But during it you get an adrenalin rush. You are very clear-headed. The most dangerous time is when you are making a getaway. But few ALF people get caught. Most of the people who have been caught were on Animal Liberation League mass actions. They were aiming for publicity. Our aim is to destroy property and force laboratories to close - publicity is neither here nor there.
I would say there are about 50 ALF groups - of about three to four people - active in Britain. There are raids every week - but you don’t get to hear about them in the news. Most of the time I don’t know who has carried out which action. You don’t ask. The important thing is that it happened.
I don’t know how long I can keep going like this. I’ve turned down a couple of things recently because they seemed too risky. You have to take precautions - but how paranoid can you let yourself get? The police went to amazing lengths to get Ronnie Lee. They bugged his flat, had neighbours spying on him and following him to phone boxes.
I move house a lot but that is my lifestyle. I don’t make it too obvious where I’m going. I don’t stay at the same job for very long. I can get on with the people I work with but I don’t get involved in the social scene. I also keep quiet about being a vegan - its safer that way.
As to my other politics; well, I don’t belong to any political party. But I am against apartheid, racism and nuclear weapons. I suppose you could call me an anarchist or possibly libertarian mainly because I believe in individual actions. I think individual action has more effect than mass action.
Personally, being an ALF raider has given me a greater sense of my own worth, my ability to achieve something without anyone given me orders. I feel I can deal with the world a lot better now than when I started. School never did much for me - I left as early as I could, when I was 16.
But what’s really bugging me now is the way in which some of the national animal rights organisations are going heavily into merchandising - selling T-shirts and that kind of thing - and dissociating themselves from the ALF. What is that going to achieve? Someone buys a T-shirt and that’s it. They don’t do anything - they don’t even necessarily become vegetarian. What we need is people to act in small groups locally to make exploiting animals unprofitable.
The ALF is a revolutionary force. But what really annoys the police is that they can’t keep track of who we are. Some people say 70 per cent are women - I’d say it’s closer to 50 per cent. But there is no typical ALF raider. For example, on one raid I worked with a 16-year-old punk and a 60-year-old gent. The getaway vehicle was driven by a grandmother ...