What should vegans think about the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the anarchistic, black-clad, surreptitious, direct-action radicals that quite literally save animals’ lives through more than their diet?
I’ll be the first to admit that watching videos of these extremely risky rescue operations inspired me to want to do the same — until I realized just the kind of threat these activists face.
If you’re not familiar with the persecution of environmental and animal rights activists across the United States, let me briefly — and sloppily — catch you up to speed. The FBI has long considered the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and ALF to be the number one domestic terror threat–9/11 and frequent right-wing terrorist attacks notwithstanding. Along with the Department of Homeland Security and state and local police departments — often working in concert via fusion centers located across the country — the FBI has a lengthy history of surveilling individuals and groups affiliated with a movement that, according to historian and MIT PhD candidate Ryan Shapiro, has never physically harmed anyone.
It’s one of the clearer examples of national security resources being diverted to a domain in which they do not belong. Homeland security has been caught monitoring circus protests (I wrote this!), vegan potlucks, and even a demonstration outside of a Honey Baked Ham store.
Their attention to the ALF is also a testament to how effective and passionate animal rights activists can be.
Some highly recommended reading on this topic is a book called Green is the New Red by Will Potter, who runs a blog of the same name. He documents numerous cases in which individuals affiliated with the ELF and/or ALF, and people who are just regular old vegans handing out pamphlets or holding up signs, were surveilled, followed, and in some cases persecuted, by a conglomerate of FBI agents, homeland security personnel, police officers, and even private security companies hired by corporations.
The more radical activists — the ones that performed rescue actions or effective campaigns that threatened the economic viability of companies that relied on harming animals — were often prosecuted as terrorists. Yes, terrorists.
Say what you will about breaking into a fur farm and opening all of the cages, but most people don’t consider it terrorism unless someone is actually hurt. In one case, referred to as the SHAC 7 (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, an animal testing lab), seven activists who ran a website, organized protests, and conducted secondary and tertiary targeting — protesting and boycotting businesses that affiliated with Huntingdon Life Sciences, and any business that associates with those businesses — were arrested, charged, and convicted. There was little to no evidence that they themselves engaged in any illegal behavior (though their supporters certainly did).
It does make sense that these activists would be persecuted by corporations conducting a proxy war through lawmakers against the ELF and ALF. Green is the New Red goes into detail about the American Legislative Exchange Council and how companies, including those who depend on stifling animal welfare concerns, utilize it to pass legislation that effectively treats animal rights activists as terrorists or otherwise silences them. Indeed, this is where the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act — an odious law that can label as “terrorism” anything that harms the profits of any company affiliated with animals — was born.
So the boycotts and other actions championed by the ALF and ELF were undoubtedly effective — otherwise, no one would be scared of them. But what about the rescue operations? Should vegans be supportive?
It’s easy to answer in the affirmative. Of course, they’re rescuing innocent animals, how can you not support that? But it’s a little more complicated. What if, for example, those rescues somehow resulted in more animals suffering and dying? It’s good that those animals are freed, but if more animals die as a result, that’s a net negative.
In many instances, it may not be the case that more animals suffer as a result of the rescues. The owner of a fox farm, presumably, has some sort of insurance that can be used to purchase more foxes. They may lose some profits as a result of the ordeal, but they’ll be able to re-stock their shelves, so to speak. If the farm is burned down, the owner may still be covered by insurance, but getting back on their feet will take significantly longer, and they’ll need to find another way to make money for some period of time. Perhaps they’ll find an entirely different professional altogether.
But we can also imagine a scenario in which a larger farm is built in its place — one that houses more animals.
Even if we assume that most rescues are a net-positive for the animals in a direct way, the main benefits of such actions are probably a result of public awareness. The rescue operations and conditions inside the facilities are frequently filmed, which provide images to the public that cannot be refuted. This brings results, which is why criminalizing the use of cameras on farms — a move to prevent undercover investigators from filming what goes on there — has been a priority of big agriculture companies. People watch what happens on factory farms and sometimes adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet as a result, and that hurts their bottom line.
Shapiro, the MIT PhD candidate whose dissertation covers the use of the national security apparatus to stifle the animal rights movement, participated in an action in California that involved rescuing ducks from a foie gras farm. He and his sister — who also participated in the rescue — were arrested during a showing of the film they produced of the event. Soon after, foie gras was banned in California, and has been ever since.
That’s extremely effective. Vegans should do more than save animals through diet. We should engage in boycotts and campaigns — legal ones, of course — that make a difference. Despite any reservations about the risky rescue operations the ALF engages in, it’s hard to deny that their dedication to boycotts and protests have produced real results.