Guest Opinion: In defense of the Animal Liberation Front

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1994:

by Gary Francione
Rutgers Animal Rights Law Clinic
The January/February ANIMAL PEOPLE edi-
torial condemned the Animal Liberation Front for planting
nine firebombs in four Chicago department stores.
Although I agree completely that the cause of animal
rights is or should be a movement of peace and nonvio-
lence, and that the use of firebombs or any other action
that threatens human or nonhuman life is morally unac-
ceptable and inimical to the philosophy of animal rights, I
am concerned that ANIMAL PEOPLE’s broad condem-
nation of the ALF focused attention on the wrong topic.
First, while the condemnation did except the
clandestine information-gathering in support of Animal
Welfare Act enforcement that characterized many early
actions, it otherwise lumped together all ALF activities.
For the first decade the ALF was active in the United
States, it generally rejected any action that jeopardized
human or animal life and safety, and confined its activi-
ties to removing animals from laboratories or farms, and
on occasion, to destroying equipment used to exploit ani-
mals. The first arson attributed to ALF in the U.S. did not
occur until 1986, and there were few others before 1991.

More arsons have been attributed to the ALF during the
past two years than animal liberations, but this has not
always been the case.
As an attorney, I would not advise any person to
break the law. I would, however, suggest that there is a
significant moral difference between planting a firebomb
and removing animals from a laboratory in which they are
being exploited. In the former case, the illegal acts are
inconsistent with the concern for the sanctity of all life that
is fundamental to the animal rights movement. In the lat-
ter case, the illegal acts threaten only the property rights
that people claim over animals, and it is also a fundamen-
tal premise of the animal rights movement that it is moral-
ly wrong to treat animals as property.
Second, ANIMAL PEOPLE stated that the
“ALF and imitators are practically singlehandedly respon-
sible for rationalizing the organized backlash against the
animal rights movement.” The organized backlash is cer-
tainly very real, but has little if anything to do with the
ALF. If the ALF did not exist, the spin doctors of the
opposition would have invented it to justify disinformation
campaigns and harassment––as indeed the U.S. Surgical
Corporation tried to do in 1988, when it hired a private
security firm whose agents encouraged and assisted an
emotionally unstable fringe activist in placing a pipe bomb
in the company parking lot. Let’s put the blame for the
backlash where it belongs: not with the ALF but with the
animal exploiters and the puppets in the government who
dance to the tune of the military industrial complex.
Third, ANIMAL PEOPLE suggested that the
ALF is now more concerned with getting publicity than
with accomplishing other goals, and that hunger for
media response has encouraged ALF to move toward
potential violence against people. The observation about
the ALF quest for media attention is correct, but unfortu-
nately applies to the animal rights movement as a whole.
There is a most disturbing ethic that now pervades the
movement: actions, ALF or otherwise, are justified if
they attract notice. In the past several years we have been
embarrassed by such tactics as throwing a pie in the face
of a 19-year-old Iowa “pork queen” and plastering pic-
tures of naked supermodels on billboards protesting fur.
Throwing pies at anyone is violent, in addition to making
our message appear silly, and using sexism to sell animal
rights encourages the attitude that women are politically
effective only through expressions of sexuality.
Movement leaders, some of whom are not even
vegetarians, fall over themselves courting the attention of
movie stars and rock singers, whose increasing domina-
tion of movement imagery threatens to reduce the whole
cause to the status of a fad. Would Gandhi have embraced
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, as a spokesperson in the
fight to rid India of the British? Would Martin Luther
King have appeared in his underwear or less with a sign
reading, “I’d rather go naked than ride in the back of the
bus”? Of course not. Great leaders––and movements––
have always strived for integrity and, while recognizing
the importance of the press, have steadfastly refused to
tailor their message to satisfy the insatiable appetite of a
press that seeks ever more sensational stories.
If we allow our obsession with the media to
guide strategy, then the animal rights movement will
move away from its message of an all-inclusive celebra-
tion of nonviolence to that of a trend, the content of
which will be determined by the media and not by the
movement itself. Yes, the ALF firebombs in Chicago
were undoubtedly intended as a media event. But so are
many other animal rights activities. The problem is not,
per se, the violence of the ALF; the problem is a move-
ment that regards the television sound bite and the news-
paper story as positive accomplishments irrespective of
the explicit or implicit message conveyed to the public.
Finally, ANIMAL PEOPLE condemned the
ALF because it seeks to operate outside the political sys-
tem, which you claim has “replaced the old notion of
‘might makes right’ with the concepts of debate, democ-
ratic process, and respect for divergent points of view.”
What debate? What democratic process? What respect
for divergent points of view? The media generally
exclude us from the debate unless we can entice them with
firebombs or naked women. The government is constant-
ly harassing us merely because we express our point of
view; free speech is a right that belongs to those who
adhere to conventional positions, and mysteriously evapo-
rates whenever the speaker preaches true change in the
prevailing order. Many who have attended large demon-
strations with a significant police presence can testify that
the police still subscribe to the “might makes right” philos-
ophy. Laws are not enforced in a neutral manner; while
law enforcement personnel spend millions of tax dollars
probing the completely legitimate and legal activities of
the animal rights movement, animal exploiters routinely
violate laws that supposedly protect animals, with appar-
ent impunity. Unfortunately, sometimes actions commit-
ted outside the law are necessary to show that the law is
often immoral. That is the history of civil disobedience.
Editor’s note: Some police may subscribe to
“might makes right,” but we have heard no such senti
ment from the thousands (mostly on the humane beat) who
read ANIMAL PEOPLE. Few movements for change (if
any) have received more sympathetic media coverage than
animal rights. And while the Editor has met considerable
repression in covering other causes during 25 years in
journalism, the only attempted censorship he has met on
the animal rights beat has come from within the animal
rights movement.
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