Reflections on the Liberation of Animals

Edited by Steven Best, Ph.D., and Anthony J. Nocella II
Lantern Books, 2004

Book Review by Charles Patterson, Ph.D.

The quotation from the German poet Goethe at the beginning of the Introduction could well serve as the epigraph of this thought-provoking and important book: "The world only goes forward because of those who oppose it." This anthology of essays by leading members of the animal rights movement is about the tactics and goals of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and about the animal liberation movement generally. Since the book's authors all support the goal of animal liberation and the legitimacy of nonviolent
civil disobedience, the book is in effect a family affair. But like all families, especially one as large and feisty as the animal rights community, there are plenty of disagreements about the best way to achieve the goal of animal liberation. Many, but not all, of the authors support direct action that includes sabotage and reject the characterization of property damage as "terrorism."

The book has a good mix of voices. There are essays by professors from Indiana State University ("Aquinas's Account of Anger Applied to the ALF" by Judith Barad), the University of Texas at San Antonio ("Legitimizing Liberation" by Mark Bernstein), North Carolina State University ("How to Justify Violence" by Tom Regan), Marist College ("At the Gates of Hell: The ALF and the Legacy of Holocaust Resistance" by Maxwell Schnurer), and the University of Texas at El Paso ("It's War! The Escalating Battle Between Activists and the Corporate-State Complex" by co-editor Steven Best).

The voices from the aboveground part of the animal rights movement include those of Ingrid Newkirk and Bruce Friedrich of PETA, Dr. Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns, Kim Stallwood, the former editor of Animals' Agenda, and Kevin Jonas, campaign coordinator for the hard-hitting Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) USA campaign to shut down Huntington Life Sciences, the infamous animal-testing lab.

Underground viewpoints include those of veteran activists Ron Coronado, Freeman Wicklund, and Paul Watson, the legendary warrior for animals on the high seas, as well as former ALF member Gary Yourofsky (one of Yourofsky's arrests landed him for 77 days in a maximum security prison for freeing 1542 mink in an ALF raid on a Canadian fur farm). One of the book's authors, Nicole Atwood ("Revolutionary Process and the ALF"), is so far underground that she can't be found! The editors got her article from No Compromise magazine but "were unable to establish any contact with her."

The ALF is described as "human activists who risk their own liberty to rescue and aid animals imprisoned in the worst forms of hell warped human minds can devise." They are "a decentralized, anonymous, underground global network" of freedom fighters whose bold actions have earned them a spot high up on the FBI "domestic terrorist" list, right up there with real terrorists. Since members of the ALF are convinced that the time for moderation, delay, and compromise is over, they can no longer "fiddle while the earth burns and animal bodies pile up by the billions; they are compelled to take immediate and decisive action."

While the ALF and animal liberation are the focus of this book, the relation of animal liberation to other liberation movements is also apparent. Those who think animal rights people don't care about human issues should read this book. Before Bruce Friedrich went to work for PETA, for example, he spent more than six years working full-time in a Catholic Worker shelter for homeless families and a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C. Rod Coronado, who spent 57 months in federal prison for ALF raids on research laboratories and fur farms, now lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he works at a high school for indigenous young people. Another of the book's Native American authors, Lawrence Sampson is currently the Southern Regional Spokesperson of the American Indian Movement (AIM), where he works to try to bridge the gulf of misunderstanding between Native and non-Native Americans. pattrice jones, who cares for chickens at the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center that she co-founded, is also active in the areas of world hunger, racism, and gay rights.

The editors hope that their book will convince others that members of the ALF are not "violent" people, but rather are "concerned and compassionate citizens who cannot tolerate violence toward animals, and who will go to extraordinary lengths to stop extraordinary wrongs" and that the ALF is supported by a wide spectrum of thinking and caring people from all walks of life. Indeed, they might be "your respectable neighbor or fellow Parent Teacher Association member who destroys traps set by those who intend to harm animals or steals and trashes free circus passes left on store counters."

The editors think the future challenge for the ALF will be to be "as militant and effective as possible without losing the moral high ground, without alienating public support, and without diluting the values of freedom and compassion." Looking back at the abolitionists in the nineteenth century who "broke every law protecting the ownership of slaves and were condemned by the press as violent criminals," they point out that these once reviled abolitionists are presented to schoolchildren today as heroes ahead of their time. "We hope history will someday view the ALF in the same light, and that the ALF proves worthy of the honor."

Charles Patterson, Ph.D., is the author of Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust; The Civil Rights Movement; Anti-Semitism: The Road to the Holocaust and Beyond; and other books.