For animal rights' activists there has long been debate, and some division, about how their work should be carried out. Some activists believe in writing strong letters to companies that perform animal experiments, other animal lovers abstain from eating meat or consuming any animal products; and some activists work to change laws at the governmental level.
Within the animal rights' movement there is another faction that believes in direct action to ‘liberate’ animals from suffering. Exalted as heroes and heroines by some, and branded terrorists by others – the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is a worldwide philosophy of liberating animals from oppression. The ALF has two main mandates: save as many animals as possible and wreck as much economic havoc as possible, on the institutions that are harming the animals.
We caught up with Dr. Jerry W. Vlasak, an American MD who is a volunteer Press Officer for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, to ask some questions about the ALF’s form of animal activism and how animal rights is linked to the environmental crisis we currently face as a global community.
Why does the ALF exist?
The ALF exists to disrupt, financially cripple, and eventually bring to an end any industry that profits from the exploitation of animals. It is the result of a failure of more mainstream attempts to bring about change on behalf of non-human animals being exploited, imprisoned, tortured and killed by humans.
Is there a leader in the ALF or are there separate 'cells' that work independently?
The ALF is made up of cells that act independently of any centralized command structure. No person in any cell knows the identity or location of any member of any other cell. This lack of ‘command structure’ makes it incredibly difficult for the police to do any significant damage to the movement, because even if they were able to infiltrate a cell, the chances are very slim that they would be able to arrest more than 3 or 4 people. This also allows groups to decide for themselves what targets are important to them and what tactics they feel would be most effective.
If you asked a holocaust survivor if they thought that the ‘aggressive tactics’ used to liberate Auschwitz were a little too heavy-handed, what reaction do you suppose you would get?
How is someone defined as a member of the ALF?
This is one of the most common questions we receive at the press office. It might help to think of the ALF less as an ‘organization’ and more as a ‘banner of beliefs and tactics’ that people operate under. Anyone who takes action to free animals from exploitation, and who takes all precautions to not to harm any animals, human or non-human, can claim that action as an ALF action.
What is the main focus of the work the ALF is doing?
There are two main goals behind ALF actions. The first is obviously to remove as many animals as possible from fur farms, vivisection labs, and other areas of abuse. The second is to cause as much economic damage to these industries and persons as possible.
How many actions are ALF members organizing each year?
Just within North and South America, there are hundreds of actions every year, so it would be a pretty safe estimate that around the world, there are thousands of actions every year. Especially once you take into account the number of actions that are taken and for which no communiqué is issued.
Are there any estimates on how many members are in the ALF?
It's doubtful that there is anyone in the world who would have an accurate number of how many people are involved in ALF cells at any given time.
So, is the ALF a global movement?
Absolutely. Wherever there are people willing to abuse animals for profit, the ALF is there to stop them. The UK and United States are the countries with the most active cells, but there are groups operating in dozens of countries worldwide.
10 billion animals die every year. And the number keeps rising. If there were a critique to be made, it would be that the animal liberation movement, as a whole, has not been aggressive enough.
How is our treatment of animals connected to the current environmental crisis?
There are two obvious connections that come to mind. The first is the U.N. report which stated that factory farming is responsible for more green house gases than all cars, trucks, and motorcycles combined. Therefore, anyone who is concerned trying to stop global warming should try starting with a vegan lifestyle.
Secondly, the animals and the environment both suffer from the same shortsighted quest for financial gain. The lust for a quick buck is pushing the entire planet to the absolute breaking point. This mindset sees old growth forests, oceans, and animals (both human and non human) as nothing more than ‘renewable’ resources. And of course, as we humans destroy the planet, we also destroy the habitat of all other species of animals as well.
Can we 'heal' the planet while still treating animals so unkindly?
Absolutely not. There is no acceptable halfway solution to our treatment of animals and the environment.
Since 911, has anything changed in the way ALF members are legally defined?
There are certainly longer prison sentences being handed down now than there ever have been before, but the "terrorism" term has been applied since the very beginning. The main difference is that above ground groups of law abiding citizens are now being targeted with the same fear-mongering tactics.
The fact is that people who take illegal action for animals know that what they are doing is illegal and that, if caught, they will go to jail. The ‘eco-terrorism’ and ‘animal enterprise terrorism’ legislation that we've seen over the past few years is specifically designed to stop legal, above ground protests, and to stop activists from using their First Amendment rights, and has little or no effect on clandestine groups or actions.
More than 10 billion animals die every year due to human consumption. That's more than 300 animals every second of every minute of every single day. And that statistic only takes into account food animals...
Why are there such conflicting views about the ALF?
There seem to be two main reasons for this ‘Heroes/Terrorists’ debate. The first is with the general public who are repeatedly sold the ‘eco-terrorists’ and ‘animal rights extremists’ propaganda by the media. One of the primary purposes of the Press Office is to combat this misinformation and present a rational explanation for why people would engage in illegal activities for the sake of animals. The general public doesn't tend to know the truth about these subjects, not by any lack of effort on our part, but rather because we are a volunteer organization fighting against multi-billion-dollar ad campaigns and media spin. The truth has a way of sneaking out through the cracks though, and we are confident that the average person will come down on our side for most of these issues once they are confronted with accurate depictions of them.
The second, and in our opinion, more disturbing conflict, comes from within the animal rights community itself. According to FDA statistics, more than 10 billion animals die every year due to human consumption. That's more than 300 animals every second of every minute of every single day. And that statistic only takes into account food animals, so the number goes up when you start to add in all of the animals on fur farms, in vivisection labs, circuses and rodeos, not to mention companion animals killed in ‘shelters’.
Instead of fighting for the lives of these animals, there are those among us who would rather spend their time squabbling over tactics. They spend endless hours debating the pros and cons of animal liberation. Is property destruction a ‘valid’ tactic? Does arson go too far? These conversations are all well and good in the relative comfort of your apartment or a lecture hall, but the animals who are awaiting their guaranteed death sentences in cages and pens all around the world don't have the luxury of waiting. They need action and they need it right now.
How does the ALF communicate with the press office?
ALF cells communicate with the press office through anonymous communiqués that are either sent to our post office box or emailed to us.
How does the press office communicate with the ALF?
The press office does not know the identities of anyone involved in the ALF, therefore we have no way of contacting or communicating with any of them.
Why do you think the work of ALF is important?
The work of the ALF is important because it saves lives. It really is that simple. It can take an organization with hundreds of volunteers years of their time and millions of dollars to pass legislation increasing the size of battery cages by a few square inches. On the other hand, a half dozen dedicated people on a factory farm can save hundreds, if not thousands of lives in a single evening. Two or three person teams on mink farms regularly empty sheds that housed 6 to 10 thousand animals, and this can be done in less than 4 hours. Add to that the cost of replacing torn down fences and destroyed equipment, and the costs to that farm starts to rise. Tack on upgraded security and increased insurance bills, and more than a few farms have cracked under the pressure, closing down and never killing another animal.
Historically, those wishing to participate in direct action have gotten together with others they could trust of like mind and just started doing actions.
Are you ever harassed for your involvement with the ALF?
No one involved with the Press Office has any direct involvement in the ALF. Our job is merely to post communiqués sent to us and to handle any inquiries from the media. That being said, we do come under considerable scrutiny by the police/FBI due to the fact that we are the above ground face of the belowground animal liberation movement. To name a few examples, press officers in the past have been followed, had their phones wire tapped, had their homes raided and their computers and other belongings confiscated.
Are we going to see more animal suffering if the FDA approves the use of genetically modified animals?
It's too early to tell what, exactly, the vivisection and agriculture industries intend for cloned and genetically modified animals, but given their past track record, it will undoubtedly be horrific.
How can people get involved if they want to help animals?
The first thing we would suggest to anyone who is interested in helping animals would be adopting a vegan lifestyle. It's hard to be taken seriously as an animal rights' activist if you're still eating or wearing animals.
Activism-wise, there is no end to the ways in which people can get involved. Depending on where you live, there are probably already groups in your area. Go to any internet search engine and type in ‘animal rights’ and the name of your town, and something close to you will almost definitely pop up. Contact a few local groups, go to some of their meetings, see how you feel about their general message and attitude and go from there. If you can't find any groups in your area who seem to share your ideas, don't be afraid to do things on your own.
Historically, those wishing to participate in direct action have gotten together with others they could trust of like mind and just started doing actions. They might begin learning about direct action with the link below and then see where that takes them. Each individual can decide what action to take, when to get started, and how much longer the animals must wait for liberation.
Most of all, whatever course of action you decide to take on behalf of animals, don't ever give up. The animals can't fight their own battle, and they need each of us to fight as hard as we can for them.
The ALF is often criticized for using aggressive tactics. Do you think there are ever times when violence or aggression should be used as a form of protest?
If you asked a holocaust survivor if they thought that the ‘aggressive tactics’ used to liberate Auschwitz were a little too heavy-handed, what reaction do you suppose you would get? If you suggested that perhaps a better tactic would have been to organize a huge letter- writing campaign and hold candle light vigils outside the gates, do you think they’d laugh at the stupidity of it? Or would they spit in your face for suggesting that their life held so little value to you that you could afford to waste precious years being polite rather than fighting for them?
10 billion animals die every year. And the number keeps rising. If there were a critique to be made, it would be that the animal liberation movement, as a whole, has not been aggressive enough. Only time will tell if that is to change.