Philosophy > General AR Philosophy

Bring it to The Table - Opening Arguments In Defence of the A.L.F.
by Anthony J. Nocella, II, Ed. Richard Kahn

Identifying the Validity

As the animal rights movement grows into a complex and mature social movement; people increasingly are asking, 'What tactics work?' While it can be said that handing out flyers, protesting, boycotting, tabling, etc convert people to the cause, can it be proved that these actions save non-human animals? The answer is, 'yes', but not statistically, since these actions are outreach methods and not liberating methods. The difference between the two is that the former empowers the public/audience and assumes that they will choose animal rights and veganism, while the latter does not empower or allow them to make a choice, but rather acts out desires and goals. A statistical analysis can demonstrate their relative success or lack of it.

An even more important question however, might be, 'How do these actions compare to the impact of the multi-billion dollar campaign waged by the dairy, cattle and poultry industries; industries that advocate the eating, using and processing of non-human animals?' Here we find the argument that while outreach and protesting are honourable and needed activities, they are not enough to stop - or even slow down - the cogs of the multi-billion dollar industries torturing animals. In an interview published in Animals' Agenda by Laura A. Moretti with Rod Coronado , Rod commented that the posters, the bumper stickers, the demonstrations, the protests and keeping a relentless pressure on the industry, and are pushing it to the edge. What'll push them over is going to be sabotage.'

One organisation that has utilised the tactics that have been statistically proven to not only slow down, but to stop the cogs of the multi-billion dollar industries torturing animals is the Animal Liberation Front. In the same interview, Laura A. Moretti asked Coronado, 'Do you think your actions had an effect on the fur industry as a whole?' He replied, 'Absolutely. All you have to do is look at its bottom line. They're spending more money now on security and protection from animal rights activists than they ever have. Fur farms have to factor in the threat of an Animal Liberation Front raid.' The Animal Liberation Front, known to many as the modern-day Underground Railroad (but to the FBI as a domestic terrorist group), can testify as to the precise nature of specific actions and the numbers of animals the A.L.F have saved, whether directly or as a result of the closure of a facility following an action.

It is here, then, that the debate begins over the tactics of a group that has demonstrated success where others have failed, but has become branded as a 'terrorist' organisation and is as a result anathema to many. So are they terrorists or freedom fighters?

In what follows, I will walk you through the defenders of the A.L.F's position, who argue that based on the Animal Liberation Front's unique ability to save animals lives, raise consciousness, and shock the corporate system, there is a strong defence to be made on behalf of the A.L.F. and that the debate surrounding this organisation is deserving of more attention than it tends to receive. The philosophy of animal liberation, and the groups that attempt to implement it, should be discussed, respected and deemed worthy of analysis at the scholarly and professional level.

By using a critical pedagogical approach, it is easy to validate the tactics of the Animal Liberation Front. The defender's argument is not concerned with the legality of actions, but simply with the fact that there are good arguments to support them ethically and tactically. History has proved that more extreme tactics may be taken up if the issues raised by an extreme group such as the A.L.F. are not addressed. It is a sad fact that the public and peacemakers begin to give attention to the issue only after a building is blown up or someone is harmed.

The Argument In Defence of the A.L.F.

The North American Liberation Front Press Office provided a statistical overview of the tactics, regions and types of animals liberated in their 2001 Year-End Direct Action Report. Nick of
Bite Back Magazine believes the publication of this report is vital in order 'to compile in one place all of the past year's actions. This helps to identify trends in the direct action movement (targets, tactics, increases/decreases in the number and severity of actions). The report shows that direct action is an important aspect of our movement that should be better recognised and affirmed. It's also important as a historical record, and as a tool to get media attention.' There is no animal rights organisation in the world besides the A.L.F that can provide that kind of data, and garner its effects.

The Urgency of Liberation

Why is it that so many animal rights activists are diligently and publicly against the A.L.F. if their effectiveness can be proved? Why does mass unmediated, unmanaged conflict over the A.L.F. arise every time a large group of animal rights activists gets together? While the A.L.F. are the centre of discussion in the movement, they are disliked by many because of the extremist image with which the Front has been tagged. Nicholas Hensey of
No Compromise magazine believes 'There are two main reasons why people within the animal advocacy movement don't support the A.L.F. The first, and less salient of the two is the misconception that property destruction is a violent act. Consequently, such individuals do not support the A.L.F. because of the desire to appear non-violent, to fashion themselves in the passive image of King and Gandhi. The second, and more prominent (at least among certain national and outreach organisations) reason is the belief that the A.L.F. do more harm than good in the way of eroding public support and alienating potential supporters. The belief is that the masked liberationist allows herself to be portrayed as a terrorist and not the benevolent and compassionate advocate that critics of the A.L.F. would like the movement to be viewed as.'

This debate has developed two schools of thought; one that supports the Animal Liberation Front on ethical and tactical grounds, and the other that contests their overall legitimacy. These schools of thought have not only debated, but have occasionally staged near violent confrontations with each other. During debates amongst animal rightists, the question is always raised, 'Are we more concerned about our image than we are about the animals?' More so, pro-A.L.F. statements putting the organisation in the context of revolutionary history are produced, such as:

If the A.L.F. is trespassing, so were the soldiers who broke down the gates of Hitler's death camps; If the A.L.F. are thieves, so were the members of the Underground Railroad who freed the slaves of the South; And if the A.L.F. are vandals, so were those who destroyed forever the gas chambers of Buchanwald and Auschwitz.

Richard Kahn, Ecopedagogy chair of the UCLA Paulo Freire Institute thinks it's critical to discuss the A.L.F for at least three reasons:

1) Nothing is gained by simply repressing reality -- groups like the A.L.F. have arisen for a real reason and the examination of the REAL is what is now required. Pretending they're not there and so not inviting them to the party might be politically palatable in some ways, for many people, but its neither a holistic approach nor is it meeting the A.L.F. with the same level of courage that they themselves evoke as a matter of principle.

2) The A.L.F. are effective. In a time when many animal rights and environmental organisations are being increasingly co-opted and taken over by some form of technocratic mentality, groups like the A.L.F. evoke a counter-spectacle that can demand media attention, block development and slaughter, and provide an outlet for youth wondering if there is any alternative to the status quo...time and again the A.L.F. have shown that there is.

3) While the cases of sweeping cultural transformation and radical militant coup d'etats that were not also supported by the CIA, or the Soviet Union, and/or the investment classes are rare in history, and while in the present case of this American empire such utopian thoughts tend to evoke the tragicomic, the fact is that history teaches that socio-political change is not effected through well - wishing alone. While we might be hard pressed to come up with an exact formula for a successful social revolution, there is no question that militancy and radicalism have always been important factors towards the goal of redefining normative values. In other words, without a more far-left sector, the liberal left (in America, for instance) becomes a Third-Way Clinton republicrat. To the degree that the far-left can articulate itself as a social force (however marginal ultimately) it helps to force left liberals back towards a more contested stance vis a vis the right wing, and so breaks the large scale social hegemony into divided camps. While there are no guarantees in this process, such contestation at least presents the real possibility for reconstructing a more profoundly democratic and counter-hegemonic left socio-political wing and for ushering in new lifestyle practices into the cultural mainstream as a result. The A.L.F. in this vein, then, is a major utopian social force of the moment and has to be considered alongside and part of the larger counter-hegemonic struggle that has been developing globally over the recent years'.

In this respect, other tactical and ethical questions arise. The most prevalent question is 'What is violence?' The definitional problem surrounding the term 'violence' within the animal rights community, stems from the vagueness of the word and the lack of an adequate definition or supporting references for their use of it. If a definition is cited, it is often quoted out of context. For example, Freeman Wicklund wrote in his article, Strategic Nonviolence for Animal Liberation, 'According to Sharp , behaving in a nonviolent and nonhostile manner is vital to strategic nonviolence for three major reasons: it increases the sympathy and support we receive, it helps induce mutiny among the opposition, and it attracts maximum participation in the struggle.'

While this is partially true, Wicklund leads the reader to believe that Dr. Sharp suggests that property destruction is violent, whereas he actually wrote, 'Sabotage, as used here, refers to acts of demolition and related destruction directed against machinery, transport, buildings, bridges, installations and the like. Because these are acts against property, they are not included in the definition of 'violence' in this book. Such acts would however, become 'violence' if they bring injury or death to persons, or threaten to do so. Certain other types of action fall somewhere between sabotage and nonviolent action, such as removal of key parts from machinery and vehicles, removal or release in nondangerous ways of fuel for machinery and vehicles, removal or records and files for various government departments and offices (as police) and even their destruction by means which could not possibly cause physical injury to any persons.'

Under this definition, the actions of the Animal Liberation Front would fall under the category of sabotage, rather than violence. It is important to emphasise that A.L.F. guidelines explicitly disavow the right to injure any living being including human beings in any action. When the authority of a given definition of a term like 'violence' is questioned, many people immediately turn to the dictionary. Yet, in Webster's Dictionary, violence is defined as 'exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse.' It is clear, then, that Webster's Dictionary is in agreement with the A.L.F.'s guidelines as well.

Dr. Stephen Kaufman, Co-chair of Christian Vegetarian Association, believes that the movement's message should be about universal compassion and 'that activities that endanger human or animal lives contradict core principles of animal liberation, and, in addition, they are strategically unwise. However, simply because something is illegal does not make it immoral, and indeed we are aware that many laws have been immoral. The Nazi anti-Semitism laws are an extreme example. So, to liberate an animal caught in a leg-hold trap may be illegal, but I don't find the activity immoral, because I believe the leg-hold trap itself should be banned as an evil contraption.'

The New Lens -Academics

The Animal Liberation Front support community in the United States has grown from a group of young spike-haired, nose-pierced radicals to include notable academics and professionals like Dr. Matthew Calarco, Professor of Philosophy at Sweet Briar College, who learned about A.L.F. and A.L.F.-style activities over a decade ago through books and newspaper articles, and has been reading, thinking, and teaching about them ever since.

Many activists oppose the A.L.F. because they are opposed to its image. But is it the punk-rock image they reject or that of the black-masked liberator? If it is the former, then they will be gratified by the fact that more academics like Dr. Calarco are publicly coming out in support of the A.L.F. If their opposition is linked to the image of the black-masked liberator, then it is an image that cannot be changed; the black attire is for protection.

Yet why should the black attire brand them as terrorists? The A.L.F., after all, wears similar uniforms to those of the U.S. Navy Seals and U.S. Green Berets. This begs the question: is the public reacting negatively to the image of black-clad individuals wearing balaclavas, or a stereotype created by government and media? Applying the Socratic method might lead one to believe that the actual image of the A.L.F. is not the problem, but rather the label applied to it by the authorities and the public.

Dr. Steven Best - Associate Professor and Chair of the Philosophy department at University of Texas, El Paso - has attended a number of animal rights conferences and is very involved in the animal rights movement. He believes that, 'Many animal advocates do not understand the history or mission of the A.L.F., and because they cannot make sound logical analogies between the need to use paralegal means to achieve human freedom and animal freedom, and they inconsistently embrace actions like the Boston Tea Party, but not lab break-ins. Some activists may respect property norms without fully realizing that animals are not property or anyone's thing to own. Also, many activists have too much trust in the State or rationalist models of social change, thinking that education and legislation alone will bring necessary change. Some fear the consequences to themselves and/or the movement of escalating the struggle to a paralegal front.'

He believes that failure to garner support amongst some in the movement may stem from 'a lack of understanding of the history and ethics of liberation and rights movements.'

Negotiation jujitsu

This article was not written to gather support for the A.L.F. Rather, its intention is to take up the heated debate around whether or not the A.L.F. is just and whether or not the animal rights movement should afford more discussion concerning the A.L.F.'s place within the larger movement. The examination of the conflicting opinions surrounding this organisation is deserving of a wider dialogue - both philosophical and political - that rises above the partisanship of uninformed emotion. My intention here, then, is to attempt to frame the initial negotiations over the controversial A.L.F. that must take place within the animal rights community if it is not to fragment and subdivide.

Activists must be willing to argue their position as reductio ad absurdum - by using the language and logic of the opposition, thereby providing a more universal, and less contestable, foundation for their practices. If animal rights activists justify themselves only with loaded propaganda and quick wit, they weaken their public image at the important level of policy formation. Animal rights activists must not allow the means to justify the ends, and so they must point their own fingers at themselves, remain self-reflexive about the ongoing struggle, and demand a commitment to rigor.

With the growing number of laws degrading our civil liberties, activists need not jump through hoops and allow corporate influence to shape the morals and ethics of society. Rather, the public must fight to hold on to the larger and more deeply contextualized definitions of terrorism and violence. Doing so, they will find that many of the institutions in which they had faith are the true terrorists and agents of violence. The truth will not be found on the television, the radio, or even in a protest pamphlet. Truth will be found through meaningful dialogue about our government, international corporations and religious centres. It is they, historically who have brought the revolution to us, not we to them.

Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed,

'The earlier dialogue begins, the more truly revolutionary will the movement be. The dialogue which is radically necessary to revolution corresponds to another radical need: that of women and men as beings who cannot be truly human apart from communication, for they are essentially communicative creatures. To impede communication is to reduce men to the status of 'things' - and this is a job for oppressors, not for revolutionaries.'

True revolutionaries cannot fear to write or lecture or debate on any philosophy or tactic, but rather they bait the oppressors to black-list them from schools, libraries and bookstores. Our values must be higher than theirs, and if we accuse them of tyranny (and not democracy) then we in the movement must strive to embody that democracy so much more. History has shown that our voices cannot be suppressed, and so, we must additionally make sure that we do not suppress ourselves. It may be truer today than ever before that 'the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.' but this does not mean that our pens should stop speaking about swords. So please, drop your lock-boxes, your banners, and posters for a moment and speak with the community the truth - the whole truth, not just sound-bites.

[1]Former Animal Liberation Front member, who served 5 years in prison for a number of A.L.F. activities throughout the United States. [2]Anonymous quote. [3]Freeman Wicklund, a founder of No Compromise (a pro-Animal Liberation Front newspaper) in the mid-90s, later denounced the Animal Liberation Front. See
[5]Gene Sharp, author of The Politics of Nonviolent Action, PAGE 608
[6]Freeman Wicklund, Strategic Nonviolence.
[7]Animal Liberation Front Guidelines.
[8]Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1975.
[9]Pg. 108. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Rodger Fisher and William Ury. 1991.

Anthony J. Nocella II co-editor of Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, is a doctoral student at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. He is co-founder of Centre on Animal Liberation Affairs