Philosophy > General AR Philosophy

The Game's Over: Taking the ALF Seriously
Anthony J. Nocella, II
- Ed. Richard Kahn

"Without education, you're not going anywhere in this world." Malcolm X

During my research on the organizational theory of revolutionary groups I began to look for the Achilles' heel of the Animal Liberation Front. Every person, institute, or group has one. In order to discover the ALF's, I approached a number of prominent sympathizers for their thoughts about the nature of the Front, and examined relevant historical interviews and animal rights documents that might reveal an organizational weakness. As a result, I discovered four areas which combined may comprise the ALF's Achilles' heel:

1) People involved in the organization often do not understand the serious threat that the ALF represents to mainstream society, and thus they do not understand the consequences and risks of their actions;
2) People involved often compromise or discredit the ALF, or inform on members of cells to authorities, in exchange for sentence reductions;
3) Members conduct actions with people they are in romantic relationships with, and have their romantic partners as their confidants, which can generate conflicts; and,
4) Despite the fact that the organization is decentralized, by people both within and without, ownership of the ALF is often claimed or attributed to a particular clique or hierarchy of individuals.

The intent of this specific article is only to address the first concern -- viewing the ALF as a serious political threat, with members needing to understand the consequences and risks associated with their actions.


When addressing the seriousness of the ALF, a key issue to discuss is the degree to which people involved have become educated about the organization beyond familiarity with the ALF guidelines and communiqués. During an interview, Gary Yourofsky, former Animal Liberation Front political prisoner, made a point which no academic or fellow activist would have the weight to pull off as effectively. When asked what he thought the next step should be for the ALF supporters' community and the ALF in general to develop into a serious political Front for animals, Yourofsky stated:

"First off, education is always the most effective form of activism. With this being said, opening a cage and liberating an animal from a concentration camp is just as important and effective except less animals ' in the long run ' become liberated. Each person eats 3,000 land animals throughout their lifetime. When you lecture in a class of 25, 50, 100 or even 450 students, five or ten or 50 or more people decide to go veg. Multiply the number of new vegetarians/vegans and the animals they will no longer eat, and you can see how no liberation can equal that. When you give 95 lectures in colleges for 6,000 students like I did in the fall semester of 2003, around 1,000 new vegetarians/vegans were born. Without education there can be no liberation. Yet, without liberation there can be no education.

The ALF warriors should continue getting their results from being anonymous and working clandestinely. I do not want to change that. The ALF is great because of the anonymity and fear factor. Abusers never know when they are next in line for an ALF-greeting. And it should stay that way.

I believe ALF supporters should take the message of the ALF to the classrooms. Develop a solid 60-minute presentation ' with video footage - and explain eloquently why the ALF exists and why ALF folks are akin to Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad. All of my talks are set up simply by going to a university Web site and finding the Academic Department lists or something akin to that. Then, I select all relevant departments, such as, Philosophy, Sociology, Environmental Studies, Health and Nutrition, English, Journalism, Rhetoric, Composition, Communication, Women's Studies, Religion, Political Science, Government and Psychology classes. Finally, I simply grab every professor's e-mail and send a mass e-mail to each school suggesting a guest lecture in their class about animal rights. You'd be surprised at the response. Hundreds of schools and professors have invited me into their classrooms for in-depth presentations about veganism/animal rights. 90 percent of the time the response is fantastic. Very little arguing. Very little fighting. And 100 percent of the time, we now reach the people we need to reach; the carnivores. AR conferences only preach to the choir. Vegans don't need to hear about veganism. Yes, inspiration is important, but the time for action is now. Preach to the people that need preaching. Teach the people that need teaching. Convert the people that need converting. With this strategy, the animals always win."

The opinion of Richard Kahn Ecopedagogy Chair of the UCLA Paulo Freire Institute and founder, appears to support the education theorem: "academics are useful for the movement because they can assist by articulating the historical, cultural, and theoretical context in which ALF actions move; and they can do so (though we know they do not always do so!) in an articulate and eloquent manner as well."

Steve Best's article, "You Don't Support the ALF Because Why?" is a great example of an academic/activist writing on a highly controversial position in an articulate and eloquent manner about the importance of presentation:

"'It is vital because it is obvious that the style and language ' including body language and physical presentation -- one uses in the discussion and promotion of a group like the ALF can either help or distort the group's image within society as a whole. Now, this is not to say that the ALF should take on authoritarian or elitist modes of conduct, and neither am I saying that the ALF should concentrate on assimilating into a mainstream popular front politics, but in an age of media spectacle the ability to deliver an understandable and likeable group message seems a strategic necessity. Look, for instance, at the Zapatista movement the Zapatistas only arose in the public's eye in 1994, and yet already there's a dozen books on them, conferences around the world that focus upon them, and international NGOs seeking to aid them, even though they are an armed organization. Can the fact that their chief spokesperson and leader, Subcommandante Marcos, is not only an academic but also a member of the literary intelligentsia be dismissed in this regard? His use of the media to speak powerfully of the universal elements of their struggle single-handedly guaranteed the EZLN movement worldwide allies and support when otherwise there may have been none."

The ALF needs to rethink and re-examine, then, how revolutionary and militant fronts develop popular legitimacy. It seems that it is not so much the action that frames the organization - for instance the bombing of a subway - but how the group who conducted the act is perceived by the public. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is a perfect example of that. They have killed, and do kill people to liberate Ireland, and are still seen by many non-IRA members as freedom fighters, much as the Zapatistas are depicted. On the other hand, an armed revolutionary group that has conducted violent actions can easily be portrayed, and hence seen, as a band of rogue guerillas or even terrorists. Of course in most experts' opinions, the ALF is - at least for the present, not seen as being nearly as serious a militant and revolutionary organization as either the Zapatistas or the IRA. That the ALF may have a popular image problem might be because the supporters of the ALF do not take the group seriously enough themselves. That is: beyond ALF actions and communiqués, there have been little to no serious analyses, discussions, conferences, or writings regarding the ALF until very recently.

Further candid thoughts on the issue of the ALF's relationship to its own image from Josh Harper, a long-time animal rights activist, reveal the motivation behind his video work was not to aid the legitimization process of the ALF or to promote its acceptability in the public sphere:

"I've always said that my videos are intended to encourage people to act on their conscience and question where they fit into a militant movement for wilderness and free life forms on this planet. It was never my intention to increase the legitimacy of the ALF or make the animal liberation movement appear to be a professional organization like the IRA or EZLN. Some cells of the ALF may share traits with those groups, but in many ways the ALF are different. And one of the most important differences is that the ALF are not professionals. Participation in the ALF does not require the permission of a war council, or specialized skills, or the following of your commander's orders. Participation in the ALF only requires a will to take necessary risks for animals."

Although in my opinion Harper has been able to present a picture of the ALF as a coherent and serious threat comparable to other revolutionary groups such as the Zapatistas, IRA, or the Basque, his reasoning clarified an important point. While many ALF sympathizers would like to shape the ALF into a "professional liberation front," the ALF itself may not want that; the organization might even work directly against that agenda, the better to be truly inviting to all.


Consequently, we might consider whether it is possible to create a legitimate platform or "professional" image for a group that is not professionally trained or highly skilled without losing the inclusiveness of the group. On professionalism vs. the profile of the ALF, Nicholas Hensey with No Compromise Magazine commented:

"I think the image that we should be wary of and the image I see being ascribed to the ALF with increasing frequency, is the idea that the ALF is somehow an organization of professionals who are expertly trained in the field of rescues and sabotage. This image is far, far more detrimental to the vitality of the underground than an image of ruffian amateurs in that it creates the perception that the ALF is somehow an elite force that is off limits to the rest of the movement."

The Underground Railroad did not require skills. Rather, it took courage and heart. It is this seriousness that will foster a legitimate platform for the ALF as an organization capable of transforming the status quo, and not just pointing out that possibly false rhetoric that the ALF is highly educated and trained. The profile of the ALF, to my knowledge, is that they are intellectually educated, diverse, and not highly trained.

Leslie James Pickering, founder of Arissa and former Earth Liberation Front Spokes-person believes that:

"Professionalism is important in liberation struggles in that it is through organization that movements gain power and strength. A level of professionalism is necessary in order for the masses and the empire to take a movement seriously. The empire will take any opportunity to discredit a liberation struggle, and a lack of professionalism within that struggle allows for this to happen easily, which is unfortunately very common with contemporary liberation struggles. Also, it is important for the target audience of the given liberation struggle to take the struggle seriously, because in order for the people to be compelled to get involved in the struggle they need to believe that the struggle has a viable chance of success. A lack of professionalism in a liberation movement fails to lend the needed credibility in order to draw recruits. However, professionalism at the expense of relating to the interests and needs of the people is a fatal and all too common mistake in contemporary liberation struggles. Professionalism can tend to kill emotion and alienate the population that a struggle is attempting to appeal to. Gaining a professional element to the liberation struggle is the easy part. There are numerous contemporary efforts that are successful to this end, yet none have been successful at gaining the level of involvement that it will inevitably take to win liberation. It is crucial to first and foremost successfully relate the struggle to the interests and needs of the people, and then to do the best job possible to maintain a quality level of professionalism. It takes an incredible level of dedication and involvement for a liberation struggle to be successful, which only comes from the struggles ability to relate to deep emotional and physical needs and desires of the people."

Professionalism, then, is dependent on an individual's willingness to take their work seriously, and not necessarily on their level of training or education. And if they want to take their work seriously, it seems that they should be willing to be critiqued for the greater good of their cause, live a lifestyle of devotion to the goal for which they act, and to present themselves in a manner that aids in this agenda along the way.

Outreach Platform

ALF supporters need to adopt more diverse methods of outreach if they plan to be understood by the general public. But how does one begin a dialogue, and so foster an understanding, with the public about the ALF?
Lawrence Sampson, member of the Cleveland American Indian Movement. Sampson touched upon a few ideas for the ALF in terms of outreach. According to Sampson:

"I feel they need to move beyond a focus on spokes-people and newsletters, and take on a new role as a credible, bona-fide outreach-oriented community, such as that of the AIM. We started out right off the bat as a warrior society based on traditions. Consequently, our members were absolutely committed. The ALF did not start with rituals or traditions, or spring from an actual culture, and because of that, it will make it harder for the ALF to build mass support and devotion within the ranks, but it is not impossible. Your book is a start. Without the aid of Vine Deloria Jr., Mel Thom, Richard Oakes, and other educated individuals to spur action in concert with our connection to our traditions, our movement would not have been as organized within the framework of goals and frustrations. Writings, such as position papers that are distributed massively allow the movement to grow together equally, much like AIM and the Black Panthers. Those national papers allowed members to know the latest views, actions, and events." Such a strategy entails augmenting the incomplete literature on ALF philosophy and history, conducting open forums and debates, and to market themselves as more inclusive, collaboration-oriented partners in militant struggles, similar to that with AIM. I'm reminded of the Black Panther who said "When I joined the Panthers, I thought I was going to have to pick up a gun. What I found was I had to pick up a pile of books." Simply put, a cultural/conscious/spiritual base of conviction must be fused with an academic curriculum to fuel action."

Kevin Jonas, a representative of the Stop Huntingdon Life Cruelty (SHAC) campaign in the United States, believes the next step of the outreach campaign for the ALF is:

"' to go beyond the button pushing and poster holding, and begin debating what is just, violent, and terror-inducing. If the debate were to engage a diverse group of actors, such as researchers, philosophers, and the government, rhetoric and propaganda could be pushed aside, making way for more honest debate. In such a forum, I guarantee that the discussion will fall on the side of justice, humanity, and morality, and not upon greed, exploitation, and oppression."

There is little disparity in the ultimate goal expressed by the diverse viewpoints of the activists, animal advocates and campaigners above; collectively they offer thoughts towards constructive long-term dialogue and transformed organizational action:

1. Do not defend and liberate non-human animals solely, but also work for humans that are being oppressed and tortured. Oppression against ALL SPECIES must be countered. .

2. As Steve Best says, the ALF cannot politically afford to be a single-issue movement. Build bridges with other struggles. Use approaches such as co-authoring articles with activists from other movements, setting up a table at another struggle's event, or inviting other causes to your activities and meetings.

3. Break out of existing in the merely small, alternative sub-cultures (like those ALF supporters tend to dwell in), and begin to establish a theoretical and academic base. This begins the process of popular legitimacy, widespread support, and policy change.

4. Develop a sound personal philosophy for the defense of the ALF.

5. Challenge the laws and governments that protect exploitative industries by targeting the ALF and other radical animal rights activists and environmentalists at-large as "terrorists."

These strategic suggestions are intended to promote serious discussion among activists wanting to broaden their scope of knowledge concerning, and commitment to, the ALF. The rhetoric and logic for violent action in defense of Animal Liberation to this point is not practical, nor in line with the principles of Animal Liberation, i.e; freedom for all. It is our duty as ethical and humane beings to devise an agenda that isolates the evils of our world and does away with the real axis of evil in an intelligent and ethical manner. This approach might not be as swift as one in which violence were employed, but the ALF must stand on its nonviolent nature to direct change and so claim the moral high ground. Such a strategy requires the patience and foresight to build upon a structure of humane values, ever-evolving consensus, a deep sense of equality, and a willingness to enter into constructive dialogue.

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 Center on Animal Liberation Affairs

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