The following essay is included in the book Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (Lantern Books, New York, 2004), edited by Dr. Steven Best (Philosophy Professor at UTEP) and Anthony Nocella. To order the book, go towww.LanternBooks.com. To read more about Best, Nocella and the ALF go to www.drstevebest.org.
The following article, the first and second in a three-part series printed in No Compromise, is one person’s story of her involvement with the ALF. In Part I, she explains how she overcame her fear and excuses and started conducting solo ALF actions. In Part II, she describes how she found partners to help her with her actions and how they worked together as a team. These are useful statements of how and why individuals decide to go underground in order to fight for animal rights.
Part I: How I Came To Join the ALF
To begin, let me say that while associating with animal rights activists (something I try to avoid), I often hear people rhapsodizin6g about articles they’ve read in the press or seen on the news about animals being liberated, laboratories being trashed, lorries being torched, fast food restaurants being burned to the ground, etc. In the course of these conversations it is practically guaranteed that one or more persons will praise the action and wonder, “Gee, how do I hook up with these people?” or “Why don’t these lads contact me?” or “How do I get involved with that group?” This is how I found the answer to that question.
After reading stories about lab break-ins and fur stores being torched, I, too, desperately wanted to join this group. But how? There was really no place to start. All of my friends in the animal rights movement had less interest in illegal direct action than I did, and even those who showed some interest were completely clueless as to how to meet these people.
At one point, I wrote an animal rights group to let them know that I would be willing to help them raid a lab. Needless to say, that letter went unanswered. Finally I realized what I was doing—I was waiting for someone with a plan to drop in out of the blue and ask me to join in a lab raid. Now, stop and think about this. Would anyone who had put hundreds of hours into planning a covert, illegal direct action that could land them in prison for years risk asking a basic stranger for help simply because he or she was a vegetarian or belonged to the local animal rights chapter? NO! (At least not if they want to stay active and out of jail.)
So how did I, or a better question is, how do you, end up “joining” the Animal Liberation Front? That’s easy. Come up with your own plan! Really. It’s not as hard as you think. Let me repeat this important point: Come up with your own plan.
One of the reasons there is not a lot more illegal direct action happening is that there are only a few people willing to invest the time and energy necessary to choose a viable target, research the facts, re-con the place, and conduct any other work necessary to execute a successful direct action. There are always plenty of people who want to help in the actual execution of the plan—people are always willing to share in the “excitement,” but not in the actual work. Simply put, no one wants to help bake the bread, but everyone wants to eat it.
Overcome the Excuses
People dismiss the idea of planning a direct action for many reasons. Nearly all are mere excuses that could easily be overcome. Most commonly, people tell themselves they don’t know anyone who could help in the final execution of the plan. For example, they don’t know who could find homes for X number of animals; they don’t know whom they could trust as a lookout; they don’t know who could loan or rent them a vehicle to use, etc. I want to emphasize here that if you are faced with a problem like this, continue on!
There are many bridges that one can foresee that look uncrossable during the planning of an action. These problems seem irresolvable and often discourage people from continuing on with their plan. Again I must emphasize, continue. These problems either solve themselves or are more easily solved when you actually reach that point of the plan. And in some cases, the plan is aborted for some other reason long before the problem ever has to be confronted. It is important to add that you should expect about four out of five plans into which you’ve invested time and money to fall through. Again, this shouldn’t deter you. If you approach direct action with the knowledge that most of your plans may not work, then you should not be discouraged from battling on if some of your plans do fall through.
While it is not necessary, it is advisable before taking any direct action to read as much literature as possible on the topic. This is much easier to do now thanks to a “revival” in the grassroots animal rights/liberation movement. If possible, any literature pertaining to illegal activities should be mailed to a fake name at a post office box or private mailbox center. If this is not possible, perhaps a well-trusted friend (who could handle police/federal harassment and is not personally involved in illegal activities) would be willing to have it sent to his or her place. Another possibility would be to get this information off a Web site (from a library, campus, or cyber-coffee shop computer).
Though some of these security precautions may seem ridiculous, paranoid, and unnecessary, you will be thankful you followed them if you continue to increase the frequency, severity, and effectiveness of your actions, thus producing more intense local and federal investigations.
An Army of One
But, wait a minute! You still don’t know if there is anyone you can trust. This does not mean that you shouldn’t consider doing an action. When I realized that no one was going to drop in and ask me to help them with their plan—when I finally realized that I was the ALF—I decided to target a fast food restaurant that I had noticed as appearing vulnerable. Though I still didn’t know who could help me with this plan, I proceeded to scope it out the next few nights, still thinking I would find someone to help me.
Though I had no experience at “casing a joint,” it came very easily and naturally. Between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. (the time I decided would be safest to strike the place) I carefully scoped it out. Some nights, dressed head to toe in my jogging gear (now is not the time to be caught there in your balaclava), I jogged up and down the street past the restaurant. I was careful to look for possible activity inside the building, check on any employees’ cars in the parking lot, judge the amount of traffic and police presence, determine how well the parking lot and building were lit, scan for any drive-through or security cameras (to look out for and to sabotage!), etc.
Other nights I walked my boyfriend’s dog up and down the street looking for the same things. In no time at all I was very familiar with the activity of the area (and had walked two emergency escape routes I would take should I be interrupted). I was soon confident with this target. Unfortunately, I still didn’t know anyone I would trust enough to divulge my plans to. I knew what I wanted to do.
The day before I was going to execute my plan, I drove to a neighboring town and bought super glue, spray paint, and some garden gloves from three different stores, making sure to pay in cash at each store. That evening I went for a walk wearing my gloves and ended up picking up two large rocks and half of a brick that I determined was small enough to carry around and handle, yet big enough to smash through the thick plate glass windows of a fast food restaurant.
The First Action
Though I would have felt a bit more comfortable with a partner to look out for me, I was tired of waiting around for apathetic and unmotivated people. That night, dressed in black from head to toe, I went jogging. As I got near the restaurant I slowed to a walk. Seeing that there was no traffic around and facing a dark and empty-looking building, I approached the restaurant.
Walking briskly across the lot, I pulled my mask down over my face. At the rear of the building I quickly took off my black backpack and got out my supplies. I quickly filled the two back door locks with super glue and small pieces of paper clips that I had snipped especially for this occasion. I then proceeded to spray paint slogans over the entire back of the building and on the side with the drive-through window.
This done, I peeked around the building. Headlights were approaching from up the street, so I just remained calm and motionless. My stomach dropped when I saw it was a police car, but the cop drove by without slowing down or looking my way.
Delighted, I walked around to the front of the building and quickly tossed all three projectiles through three separate windows! I saved this part of the action for last because of the loud sound it would make. And, with the three explosions of glass, I quickly sprinted through one of my pre-arranged exits and into a residential area where I quickly vanished. I then removed my black turtleneck and balaclava, ditched them in an apartment complex dumpster, and went home.
My point here is that with enough planning, determination, and self-confidence, one person can pull off a successful action! Of course, the “bigger” or “more severe” the action, the better it may be to have a lookout with clear communications to you. Nevertheless, one person shouldn’t feel helpless and inactive because he or she doesn’t know others who are willing to take illegal direct action. Besides, taking action is your first step in feeling out potential comrades who share the same philosophy as you and are ready and willing to take action.
Part II: Looking for Partners
It is really very difficult to explain how to find close, trustworthy partners who are willing to take the same risks and are knowledgeable and strong enough to withstand heavy bouts of police interrogation, intimidation, and harassment. Though you never plan to be faced with this situation, it is a realistic risk, and you and anyone you work with should understand with a firm knowledge that if this situation arises, you and anyone you work with will not cooperate at all with any law enforcement agencies!
There is no cut and dried pattern or formula for choosing or finding partners. THIS IS GOOD. If there were a pattern or formula, it would open the door for infiltration of law enforcement and corporate agents.
However, executing the fast food action by myself led me to a second person whom I later hooked up with.
Friends and Comrades
Another member of our current cell really was not “chosen.“ We had merely known and trusted each other since high school, when we used to forge passes out of study hall so we could skip school and go swimming in the river.
We had both been vegetarians (and outcasts) in high school, and I taught him about animal rights as he shared with me his views of deep ecology. It wasn‘t long before we started working together. My point here is that there was no formula with which to evaluate my friend. I had spent years with him as a best friend and we pretty much knew each other inside and out.
These are the best kind of partners to have, since you already have an established relationship and friendship that no law enforcement agent would be able to break up. So I‘d like to emphasize that this is the best way of “finding“ a partner: working with someone you have a history with. And always trust your intuition. If someone doesn‘t feel right or you get “weird vibes“ from him or her, DON’T work with that person! The opposite is true here also, but I don‘t need to explain that, since when you find that true connection, the feeling is pretty much unmistakable.
The other partner I connected with after the fast food restaurant action had a long history in the environmental movement. I only shared my interest in illegal direct action with her after she had complained to me consistently about a billboard advertising animal products and how someone should correct the billboard so consumers would know exactly what suffering that product really hid.
After hearing repeated complaints from my friend (was she checking me out, too?), we went for a walk. Here I told her that the billboard she hated so much appeared to be easily accessible (I had already re-conned it) and that if she wanted to help redecorate it, that would be jolly.
Needless to say, she thought this was a grand idea, and, within a matter of days, the billboard had been corrected. Red paint bombs made from Christmas ornaments also gave the appearance of blood running down the advertisement.
Critiquing the Action
The day after the billboard action, my friend and I went on another walk (we NEVER talked in a house or car!) to discuss and critique our action. This may seem silly to some, but it is the best way to learn from your mistakes and make improvements for further actions.
Meetings like this—restricted to only those involved with the action—are great to learn from. Other than that they should never be discussed again. In this case, we realized that the system we had set up to warn of cops (a loud whistle) didn‘t work. I had been warned twice of police in the area by her whistle, but I was never sure when to resume work on the billboard. Also, the whistling merely attracted attention to my partner rather than to me.
Because of this, we ended up putting together our savings and buying a police scanner, frequency book, and a cheap pair of two-way radio headsets. Because of the headset‘s low price ($49.95 for the pair), I knew they would not be reliable for an action where the lookout is a long distance away. Nevertheless, they would suit our needs for more billboard, fast food restaurant, and fur shop actions.
Building Trust and Solidarity
These are the actions that should be done most often to build up confidence, unity, and comradeship. The more of these types of actions done, the more competent, confident, and experienced you and your cell will become, and you can soon “move up” to bigger and better actions (bigger and better being defined here as larger actions with more severe amounts of damage being done to the target. This, of course, includes arson attacks).
These actions will come in time if you and your partners stay active and build up a unity and confidence that becomes almost intuitive. Myself and the two individuals I currently work with have almost a psychic connection in which we usually know what the other two people are thinking. This will not happen overnight, and if you expect it to, you will be let down. That is why I must emphasize motivation and persistence.
It took me about two years of actions like this, and now I currently work regularly with two separate cells and a handful of other people who occasionally seek my assistance. Through persistence and perseverance you will build up a network of resources including tools, money, people, and experience.
If you tell yourself that there are no suitable targets to strike, you should stop and ask yourself if this is what you really want to be doing. If it is, just go to the nearest phone book and let your fingers do the walking. The yellow pages will give you the names, phone numbers, and addresses (and a map of the local area) of countless animal exploiters. This is an invaluable and easily accessible resource, available 24 hours a day in any city or town you may find yourself in.
In one instance, our cell drove two states away to “remodel“ an establishment profiting off of animals‘ deaths. Once there however, we realized this would not be possible. Instead of going home disappointed, we simply went to the nearest pay phone and let our fingers do the walking. Before we left that state, one animal abuse establishment had been completely destroyed!