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What is the Animal Liberation Front?
From animal experimentation and factory farming to research laboratories and the fur trade, the issue of animal abuse and exploitation has long been a thorny issue, with the direct action of many animal liberation groups making for some dramatic headlines. And at the forefront of the cause since the 1970s has been a notorious campaign group known as the ALF – or the Animal Liberation Front.To read more about the ALF and keep up to date with latest news, please click here.
Originally formed from a small and passionate group of UK animal activists, ALF has grown into a worldwide network of anonymous individuals still active and committed to protecting animal rights today. Their use of direct action to highlight their cause – predominately through releasing animals as well as damage and destruction of property – has led to numerous criminal prosecutions over the years. However, their aim remains the same: to end animal abuse and exploitation.
Whether you agree or disagree with their actions, or have never heard of the ALF, here’s what you need to know about the Animal Liberation Front.
The Animal Liberation Front is an animal rights group committed to ending the abuse of animals by carrying out direct action campaigns against the organizations they believe are the perpetrators of exploitation and cruelty. They believe that all animals have the right to live a life free of suffering and particularly target those who seek to exploit animals for financial gain.
Scientific laboratories, research institutions, fur farms and factory farms are just some of the types of organizations to be targeted by the ALF, often by destruction of property, animal rescue and undercover filming of the animal cruelty taking place.
The organizational set-up of the ALF reflects the clandestine nature of their direct action tactics and campaigns. The Animal Liberation Front has no hierarchy or leader, in fact the ALF prides itself on what it calls its model of ‘leadership resistance’.
This model means there is no centralized organization or coordination; instead the Animal Liberation Front consists of lots of small, autonomous groups of people around the world who choose to undertake direct action in line with the ALF’s original core guidelines:
- To free animals from places of abuse and place them in good homes where they may live out their natural lives, free from suffering
- To do damage to those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals
- To reveal the horror committed against animals behind locked doors, by performing non-violent actions and freeing of animals
- To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal – human and non-human.
Due to the potential risk of their action being against the law, these groups or individuals work anonymously and there is no formal membership of the ALF. In short, individuals make the decision to act in the name of the Animal Liberation Front.
Direct action - the Animal Liberation Front focuses its attention on rescuing animals as well as causing financial loss to the animals’ exploiters, usually through the damage and destruction of their property. By doing so, ALF activists believe they are also working towards ending the ‘property status of non-human animals’.
Since their formation in the early 1970s, the Animal Liberation Front has highlighted the unpalatable issue of animal exploitation, shining the light on the horrors of animal research and experimentation, the cruelty of factory and fur farming and the need for all animals to have protection and a life free of unnecessary suffering. Just some of ALF’s direct action campaigns include releasing a film made from undercover footage of animal experimentation at a University of Pennsylvania laboratory, a highly publicized release of minks from an Oregon fur farm and the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign.
‘All necessary precautions’ - prominent amongst the Animal Liberation Front’s guiding principles are that they are non-violent and that all necessary precautions should be taken against harming any animal – ‘human or non-human’. However, they accept that their actions ‘may be against the law’ as their long-term goal is to force animal abuse organizations and companies out of business and expose ‘the horror committed against animals behind locked doors’.
The ALF’s commitment to non-violent action has been called into question on numerous occasions, with the actions of some of its activists seen as threatening and even harmful towards people. While no-one has been killed by ALF direct action, there have been recorded incidents of arson attacks and intimidation which has increasingly cast a long shadow over the organization and its aim to end animal abuse.
In 1991, the FBI named the Animal Liberation Front a domestic terrorist threat (it is considered as special interest extremism), followed by Department of Homeland Security in 2005. In the UK, the actions of the ALF are considered as examples of domestic extremism and is monitored by the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit.
However, PETA – a legal activist organization that campaigns for the ethical treatment of animals, believes that ALF and its actions have uncovered horrific animal cruelty that would have otherwise gone undetected.
“They have resulted in officials’ filing of criminal charges against laboratories, the citing of experimenters for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and, in some cases, the shutting down of abusive labs for good. Often ALF raids have been followed by widespread scientific condemnation of the practices occurring in the targeted labs.” PETA.orgTo read more about the ALF and keep up to date with latest news, please click here.
History of Animal Liberation Front
Since the 1970s, the Animal Liberation Front has been at the forefront of exposing animal exploitation and cruelty around the world. To understand the motivation of the Animal Liberation Front, it’s important to understand where the ALF came from and the people who set it on the path of direct action in the name of animal rights.
We take a look at some of the key milestones in the history of the Animal Liberation Front:
- The seeds of the Animal Liberation Front movement were sown back in 1963, when a British journalist was assigned to cover a stag hunt. After watching the hunters chase and kill a pregnant deer, he felt compelled to set up the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) in protest of what he had seen.
- HSA groups started to spring up around the country, including one in Luton, formed by a law student called Ronnie Lee in 1972. Lee, and another activist, Cliff Goodman, felt that more militant direct action tactics were needed, so formed their own group, The Bands of Mercy.
- Between 1973 and 1974, the Bands of Mercy embarked on a series of attacks on several animal testing research laboratories before completing its first act of animal liberation, taking guinea pigs from a Wiltshire farm.
- In August 1974, Lee and Goodman went on trial for a raid on an Oxfordshire laboratory and given a prison sentence. On Lee’s release in 1976, he was more focused than ever and renamed the Bands of Mercy as the Animal Liberation Front.
- From the beginning, the ALF believed that animals should not be viewed as property and that science or industry had no right to assume ownership of animals in order to exploit them. As well as liberating animals from the research and factory farming industries, the activists also believed that sabotage by destroying property would seriously damage the companies financially and eventually lead to alternatives to the use of animals or see them close down.
- With around 30 activists, the newly formed ALF went on to carry out 10 direct action campaigns against vivisectionists (companies and organizations involved in animal experimentation) in its first year. The Animal Liberation Front had arrived.
- It was towards the end of the 1970s that the Animal Liberation Front started to spread overseas, with the first documented ALF-action in the US taking place in 1982 with a raid on an animal laboratory at Howard University. However, the FBI had been tracking ALF activity in the US as early as 1977.
- It’s also important to note that the 1970s saw a transformation in the philosophy of animal welfare. This included the publication of Peter Singer’s influential book, Animal Liberation, which argued against the idea of ‘speciesism’, defined as discrimination against animals based on their non-human status. This period saw a shift from animal welfare to the concept of animal rights and the arrival of other key animal activism groups, including PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in 1982.
- This shift also reinforced the ALF’s belief that all animals had rights and that through their direct action campaigns, they were liberating animals, not stealing them, as they were not ‘owned’ in the first place.
- In 1984, ALF activists broke into a laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania and stole 60 hours of videotape footage from their head injury research program. The footage was handed over to PETA for editing into a film ‘Unnecessary Fuss’, which featured shocking footage of experiments on primates, and which ultimately led to the closure of the lab.
- Throughout the 1980s, the Animal Liberation Front remained active on both sides of the Atlantic, but as the decade progressed, the ALF’s firm grip on non-violent action started to slip, and not all its activists seemed to adhere to its guiding principle.
- In 1984, the first food scare arrived, with the ALF claiming it had contaminated Mars Bars in UK stores in protest against tooth decay tests on monkeys. It later proved to be a hoax.
- During the 1990s, the ALF continued with a host of high-profile direct actions, including a fire attack on a Michigan State University laboratory, attacks on the fur industry and the well-publicized releases of minks from fur farms in Oregon and Washington. The ALF also claimed responsibility for smashing the windows of the Bank of New York, in protest of its business with Huntingdon Life Sciences.
- The 90s saw the Animal Liberation Front get involved in Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty, a high-profile campaign to close Huntingdon Life Sciences in Cambridge, Europe’s largest animal testing laboratory. One ALF activist was subsequently jailed for 12 years for planting homemade bombs on the doorsteps of businessmen linked to the laboratory.
- In the UK, the ALF repeatedly vandalized and destroyed the construction site of an intended research lab for Oxford University, leading to the build being halted in 2004. Then, in 2006, ALF activists claimed responsibility for a firebomb attack on a home owned by a UCLA researcher. The bomb failed to ignite.
- In its early years, where they limited their activity to removing animals, damaging property and exposing cruelty, the Animal Liberation Front had garnered sympathy and support from the public, largely due to their non-violent stance. But as their actions became more militant and individual members started to choose more violent ways to achieve its objectives, the ALF started to become more isolated.
- In 1984, the Animal Liberation Front had been expelled from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisectionists (BUAV). And, by 2005, the Animal Liberation Front was on the watchlist of Homeland Security, having already been identified as a potential terrorist threat by the FBI.
The Animal Liberation Front Today
By the early 2000s, direct action campaign activity involving the Animal Liberation Front had begun to slow as support for their increasingly violent tactics in the name of animal rights started to dwindle. However, their original ethos, commitment and passion for animal rights remained. With animal rights and environmental issues now firmly on the global agenda and public sympathy for animal welfare at an all-time high, the Animal Liberation Front’s drive for ending animal suffering and abuse has been embraced by a host of other charities and direct action organizations, including PETA.
And they are not alone – as there are ALF cells currently believed to be active in more than 20 countries around the world, continuing to champion the end of animal abuse and exploitation.To read more about the ALF and keep up to date with latest news, please click here.