Guest column: Reject, isolate, abandon undisciplined ALF

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1994:

by Paul Watson
Captain, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Much controversy has been gener-
ated over the last few years by the Animal
Liberation Front and most recently by the
attacks on the fur departments of major
department stores in Chicago. The ALF has
been condemned for terrorism and has made
itself a primary target for investigation by
the FBI. It is only a matter of time until
some serious arrests are made and perhaps it
is only a matter of time until the now
unblemished record of the animal and con-
servation movements is irreparably tar-
To date, there has not been a sin-
gle human being injured or slain by an ani-
mal rights, animal welfare, or conservation
movement person or organization. Perhaps
it is inevitable that such a thing will some
day happen, but I believe that we should do
everything in our power to keep that day far
into the future. Our strength lies in our
morality and in the ethical advantage of
remaining steadfast in our respect for life.
All life must always be of paramount con-

I would not myself describe the
tactics of the ALF as terrorism. This term is
used very freely and very inaccurately these
days. I believe that terrorism is the deliber-
ate use of indiscriminate violence to create
an atmosphere of fear, hatred and anger in
order to prepare a battlefield which exposes
and confronts the political agendas of two
opposing parties. Usually one side, the
dominant side, has the power, the
resources, the weapons and the force to pre-
vail, leaving the minority party with little
option but to use tactics of ambush, covert
activities and indiscriminate violence to
attempt to outmaneuver the superior opposi-
Terrorism becomes acceptable
when the minority party prevails. Examples
include the recent achievements of the
Palestinian Liberation Organization and the
earlier bringing to power within the Israeli
government of people who used bombs,
murder and mayhem to achieve their politi-
cal objectives. These people include
Menachim Begin and other members of the
Stern Gang who among other acts of terror
were responsible for bombing the King
David Hotel and killing dozens of men,
women, and children, all of whom were
innocent people.
Acts of terror against native people
by the governments of Brazil and Columbia
are commonplace and illustrate the use of
terrorism by the dominant party to perpetu-
ate oppression of minorities.
Additionally, the bombing and
killing of more than 150,000 Iraquis by the
Allied forces in the Persian Gulf could be
considered to be terrorism against innocent
In contrast to this, the ALF has
been very meek and mild. At the same time,
they have also not accomplished very much
within the United States. (In Great Britain,
it can be argued that major department
stores have discontinued the sale of fur coats
due to ALF actions.)
The ALF would be better
described as “terrorist wanna-be types.”
They have not yet killed or injured any per-
son, and they have not really generated any
real fear or hysteria within the general popu-
lation or even amongst the people who own
and work with the targets, be they fur stores
or meat processing facilities. I have met
some people who have participated in ALF
projects. For the most part with a few
notable exceptions, I was not impressed
with their lack of discipline and security,
lack of strategy and a lack of understanding
of tactics. The various ALF hits that have
been reported also display inadequate disci-
pline, tactics, strategy and security.
This lack of discipline, strategy,
and an understanding of tactics has the
potential to cause injury or death to innocent
people. The lack of security carries the
potential for arrest, imprisonment and phys-
ical injury to the ALF people themselves.
The Los Angeles earthquake,
doing some $4 billion in property damage,
demonstrates that random property damage
will accomplish very little. The system has
absorbed the $4 billion hit and realized the
side benefit of economic growth brought by
construction jobs and benefit packages.
Many ALF attacks have been car-
ried out without an overview of the econom-
ic effect or more importantly the economic
non-effect of the action. The arson attack
on animal research facilities at the
University of California at Davis for exam-
ple could be said to cost millions of dollars.
Unfortunately, millions of dollars of gov-
ernment money is very much different than
millions of dollars of private money. For a
government that will fire six $2-million-
apiece Patriot missiles to ineffectively down
a $60,000 Scud missile, what is a $2-to-$3-
million lab write-off? Another lab will be
allocated to replace it.
What must be understood is that
social change comes about through a diver-
sity of approaches utilizing a diversity of
strategies and tactics. Covert action, even
some terrorist action, has been demonstrat-
ed to have a place in complex struggles, but
only as a final resort and only after all other
approaches including education, litigation,
civil disobedience and lobbying have failed.
Snatching defeat
The ALF would argue that all
other means have already failed. However,
this is not exactly true. The social advances
of vegetarian, animal rights, animal welfare
and conservation philosophies have made
and continue to make a difference. Society
is in fact becoming more enlightened. It is
no longer considered radical or strange to be
a vegetarian or a vegan. Hunting is very
quickly becoming unpopular among the
general public. Wearing fur now exposes
the wearer to justly humiliating insults.
An undisciplined ALF could very
quickly snatch defeat from the jaws of victo-
ry. One dead innocent victim will be all that
it takes to cause irreparable damage to one
of the fastest-growing and most dynamic
movements of history.
And I am not a pacifist in saying
this. In fact I deplore pacificism as did
Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “I have
never been a pacific anything.” For in truth,
pacifism means literally to do nothing. I
would have no qualms about shooting a
poacher to protect an elephant. I applaud
every hunting accident and heartedly
approve of Zimbabwean rangers gunning
down rhino poachers. However, tactics
must be properly deployed within an overall
Some people have seen no differ-
ence between the sinking of whaling ships
by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
and the actions of the ALF. In fact there are
many important strategic differences. First
and most importantly, we target whaling
ships or driftnet fishing operations that have
been outlawed by an international regulatory
agency. Secondly, we engineer an attack
which takes great pains to avoid any possi-
bility of injury to our opposition, targeting
only ships and machinery. Third, our
objectives are meant to increase insurance
and security costs overall––the actual target
ship is secondary to this. Fourth, we take
responsibility, we cooperate with the
appropriate authorities on any investiga-
tions, and we accept the legal and moral
consequences for our actions. And finally,
the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is
actually empowered to intervene against
illegal activities by the United Nations
World Charter for Nature.
We have been responsible for
sinking ten ships and ramming six others.
We have confiscated and destroyed expen-
sive driftnets. We have never injured any
person and we have never been convicted
of a crime. We do not hide from our
I do not condemn individuals
within the ALF. I have known some of
them. They are primarily decent, compas-
sionate, sensitive and dedicated people.
They are also frustrated, angry and impa-
tient to make a difference. I would not wish
them to temper their aggression or stifle
their eagerness to fight for what is a very
noble cause. My advice is that they should
regroup and redefine their strategy. They
should target their opposition specifically
and oppose them with tactics which are
designed to cause economic injury without
risking personal bodily injury to any person.
A basic rule of war is to know
your enemy and know your friends. Target
your enemy and protect your friends.
Destroy your enemy’s ability to harm you
and your friends. And finally, convince
your enemy to join you as a friend.
There is no profit to be gained for
the cause by intimidating department stores
to not sell fur coats at the cost of negating
years of hard-won gains in legislation.
There is no profit in destroying an animal
lab with fire if it blackens the entire move-
ment as criminal and irresponsible.
ALF has strayed from role
The ALF has a role in the animal
movement as liberators of animals. That is
what the letters stand for––An i m a l
Liberation Front––a covert organization
specializing in rescuing and liberating ani-
mals from pain and suffering. It is not the
Animal Revenge Front or the Animal Hit
Bombing, arson, and booby traps
should be abandoned by the ALF and their
energies should be directing toward hunt
sabotage, liberating animals from laborato-
ries, and exposing animal abuse by covert
activities which produce real evidence of
The Silver Spring action was a
brilliant covert operation which incorporat-
ed an overall strategy and utilized appropri-
ate tactics to expose cruelty and to liberate
the primates involved. Actions to free mink
and to expose the cruelty of mink farming in
the Northwest undertaken by the “notable
exceptions mentioned earlier were also
strategic and well-executed. I could name
hundreds of other actions that could be
called ALF actions that were effective and
tactically intelligent. All of these actions
were effective without the use of fire or
explosives. Those actions that have utilized
arson and bombs have to date been com-
pletely ineffective and in fact have been
The ALF is a decentralized move-
ment and this type of organizational struc-
ture is uncontrollable and easily subverted.
Without any person or structure to accept
responsibility, there can be no responsibility
for tactics. Any person, including a furrier,
a hunter, or an animal products trader could
engineer an “action” which could cause
death, suffering and misery for other human
beings and simply call it an ALF action.
With one action, carried out by the opposi-
tion, all ALF sympathizers and activists
would be discredited and rendered impotent.
The movement as a whole would be subject-
ed to extreme harassment and ridicule.
Because of this and this alone, the covert
decentralized organization entity know as
the ALF should be rejected, isolated and
abandoned. It is a tragedy waiting to happen
and the spectre of an ALF disaster engi-
neered by the enemy hovers like a buzzard
over the entire animal movement, waiting to
feed on the scraps of our collective demise.
After a great deal of thought and
much agonizing, I have come to the conclu-
sion that the ALF must be discouraged from
surviving as a movement to be given credi-
bility. Leave the ALF to the agent provoca-
teurs and the opposition and simply use a
new name for covert actions which liberate
lab animals and expose institutional acts of
cruelty and abuse.
In fact, it is better to use names
specific to an action so that there will be no
possibility of the action being confused with
another action under the same name. As an
example, rabbits might be freed from a lab
by the Peter Rabbit Brigade in an action pro-
moted as “Peter Rabbit frees cousins from
torture chambers.” This would be specific
and at the same time would utilize humor as
a tool to aid both in acceptance and in main-
taining credibility.
Our movement needs humor, it
needs imagination, it needs evolution, and
it needs flexibility. We do not need the
shroud of violence and dark, evil associa-
tions with the tactics of the Irish Republican
Army, the CIA, and the Red Brigade. A
movement of life promotes life and utilizes
vibrant ideas to engineer strategies within
which to develop tactics that are positively
effective and at the same time inspiring to
others. Leave the bombs and the torches to
those who would negate life by taking it.
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