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Animal Liberation Front: a Threat to America


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This paper will explain many things about the Animal Liberation Front, including its operational goals; why it is a threat to the United States of America; what actions led to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation declaring it a terrorist organization; what other countries consider it a terrorist organization and why; how it acts like a terrorist organization instead of a peaceful eco-movement; and what can be done to halt or reduce this threat in the future. The Animal Liberation Front is a terrorist group for many reasons, ranging from their operational structure to their belief system. For example, they adopted the classic clandestine cell structure in order to reduce the risk of all of the cells being compromised if one person is picked up (Shorn, 2009). This allows the members of the Animal Liberation Front to continue their operations and reduce their operational risks slightly while still maintaining security.
The Animal Liberation Front originally became a threat to the United States in 1976, when it claimed its’ first firebombing, and it has only grown since then. The firebombing and the hundreds of other actions that followed it plainly show that they are a terrorist organization by their targets and how they attack those targets. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) has also claimed credit for causing millions of dollars in damage in the United States alone (Bourne, 2003). The targets of the ALF have also begun to mutate and become more dangerous over the years. While their methods of attacking their targets have remained under the heading of ‘direct action,’ since their creation, the group has also escalated in recent years, targeting humans that are perceived to be guilty instead of just material targets.
They are listed as a terrorist organization by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as many other country’s domestic protection agencies (Jarboe, 2002). The Department of Homeland Security has included the ALF on a list of domestic terrorist organizations to focus the government’s resources on removing. The ALF has also spawned several other more radical organizations, such as the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty group, which targets humans more often than any other eco-terrorist group. As the parent organization, the ALF has been accused of funneling the more radical of its personnel to this group, among others. There are many methods to reduce or remove the threat that the ALF poses to the United States, but the largest problem remains infiltrating the group, as many of the cells are made up of tight-knit groups of friends and family. However, when law enforcement can infiltrate or identify the groups, the entire group is often caught and punished, as was the case in 2006 with the arrest of one group that caused nearly $40 million dollars in damages over twenty arsons (Harden, 2006). This group has been, is currently, and will continue to be a threat to the United States of America and its citizens. The members of this group have willing injured people and have caused massive amounts of damage throughout the years. The Animal Liberation Front is a terrorist organization, and deserves to be treated like one.

The Animal Liberation Front’s (ALF) stated purpose is “to effectively allocate resources (time and money) to end the “property” status of nonhuman animals (Animal Liberation Front). The group grew out of a group known as the Band of Mercy after their attempts to end fox hunting in the United Kingdom brought them jail time. Originally, they would protest the hunts, but often found themselves in the ditches as they were pushed out of the way. Soon, however, the idea of ‘direct action’ appealed to them. Direct action is where there is an active action taken to prevent something from occurring, mostly being illegal, rather than a passive action. An example would be super gluing the locks on hunt vehicles shut instead of standing by and protesting. After the Band of Mercy started its campaign of direct action, the protests from the hunters about vandalism occurring drove the authorities to arrest the perpetrators and jail them for the crimes that they committed. Even with the people being arrested, the campaign against the hunters was largely successful, as it increased the costs of hunting to the point that it drove many people out of the practice. With this proof that direct action works, the continued use of it was assured. However, the Band of Mercy was targeted by law enforcement and many of the members were arrested for the vandalism that they had committed.
The jailing of many of the members of the Band of Mercy did eliminate that group. However, as is often the case in terrorist groups, jailing one group merely provides fodder for growth, as the jailed group acts as martyrs to the cause. This led to massive growth in the eco-movements, both legal and illegal. A large portion of this growth took the name of the Animal Liberation Front in 1976, and has only grown since then. There are currently chapters of the ALF in over forty countries, as the ALF’s website proudly proclaims. Needless to say, these groups are not just in first world countries, but in countries such as Uganda, Vietnam, Columbia, and Lebanon. Interestingly, most of the actions that are committed in the poorer countries are relatively simple in action, with very few arsons and other major crimes taking place. Most of the crimes are physical destruction of property or the releasing of animals into the wild (Animal Liberation Front).
The group’s first target was the practice of vivisection, which is the act of cutting open a live animal for science. The group felt that this practice caused the animal undue amounts of pain, and thus needed to be removed from use. The original methods used to reduce the practice of vivisection were mostly non-violent (meaning not harmful against humans), but did result in property destruction ranging from glued locks to burned research facilities. Vivisection is still occurring today, and the actions of the Animal Liberation Front have increased in severity. The Animal Liberation Front has since increased their spread of targets to animal research laboratories, farms, private and government land and more.
A Threat to America
The Animal Liberation Front is a threat to America not only because of the economic damages that the group wrecks, but also the long term impacts that the group’s attacks on research facilities cause. The groups’ actions, along with others like it, have led to a decrease in the number of young people choosing to be researchers, which has slowed or halted research that has long term benefits. While many of the attacks are against research laboratories that use animals in their research, many of the laboratories are investigating diseases that the eradication of would be extremely beneficial to humans, such as AIDS, Influenza, Salmonella and several different forms of cancer (University of California at Davis). It is said that the cure for cancer is the holy grail of cancer research, and the Animal Liberation Front is seriously impacting progress towards that goal, as money is diverted towards security instead of the actual research.
Other actions by the ALF have caused serious economic damage to areas of the United States. Members of ALF have spiked hundreds of trees in an attempt to deter companies and the federal government from logging (Bite Back). Not only is this dangerous to the person cutting the wood, but the economic damage is incalculable. A massive amount of production comes from the timber industry and it’s by products, such as houses, furniture, paper and many ‘eco-friendly’ products that are currently available. According to the EPA, in 1992 the timber industry itself employed approximately 307,000 workers, not including home building, cabinet making, paper, furniture, or the ‘eco-friendly’ industries. The total economic impact if all of these industries were shut down due to a complete halt of timber harvesting would be on the order of a trillion dollars a year, not counting the effects upon other industries that depend on them. (IBISWorld, 2013)
Another common target of the Animal Liberation Front are mink farms. As the United States ranked number five in the production of mink in 2010, the release of several hundred or thousand mink from farms does little to the overall economy, but causes disruption at the local level (Fur Commission USA, 2005). In addition, the release of large numbers of mink does massive damage to the local ecosphere, as they eat large amounts of anything that they can catch. In addition to the fur production, there are many beneficial products that come from mink oil including leather polish, hair conditioner and skin moisturizer. Medically, mink oil contains palmitoleic acid, which has been proven through the use of animal research to help control diabetes (Yang, Miyahara, & Hatanaka). Needless to say, both the farming of the mink and the research used to determine this are both highly offensive to the ALF and as such are targets.
Other industries that are targeted by the Animal Liberation Front include the beef, pork and chicken industries (Direct Action). Not only do these industries provide a large amount of the food consumed in America and hundreds of thousands of jobs, but the medical and other by-products have massive financial benefits (IBISWorld, 2013). Medically, by-products from beef alone are a source for medicines and treatments for diabetes and arthritis. Other by-products are sports equipment (baseballs, footballs, etc.), gelatin (found in jello, gum, marshmallows and more), clothing, burn creams, antirejection drugs, heart valves and insulin, to name a few (University of Nebraska). The impact of removing these industries or even damaging these industries would be devastating to the American economy.
Subsidiary Organizations
As with all groups, the Animal Liberation Front has had several children that felt that the methods used by the parent organization were not enough. While these groups broke off from the Animal Liberation Front, the members also started the shift in ALF tactics to more violent ones. These groups include the Justice Department, the Animal Rights Militia, and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. The actions of these groups are also of a direct action type, but accepted the possibility of damage to humans, even targeted them at times. The Animal Rights Militia claimed responsibility for several bombing attacks largely against political opponents, and an elaborate hoax against Mars, Incorporated; an international conglomerate that cost the company several million dollars in lost income. The goal of that attack was to stop Mars, Incorporated from conducting tests on animals, which the company halted. There are some people that claim that many of these organizations are merely the Animal Liberation Front operating under a different name. This has not been proven, but there have been found to be people that maintain membership in both the Animal Liberation Front and one or more subsidiary organizations. Another item of evidence that lends credence to the belief that the groups are one and the same is that the Mars, Incorporated hoax was claimed by the Animal Liberation Front first, and then the credit was transferred to the Animal Rights Militia (Bite Back). However, there is still no direct proof that the groups are anything more than just closely linked with some intertwined membership.
A Terrorist Organization
The Animal Liberation Front has been designated a terrorist organization since at least 1996, although it is most assuredly earlier (Jarboe, 2002). The FBI claims that the eco-terrorist and animal rights extremists has committed over 2000 criminal acts that have caused over 110 million dollars in damage since 1979 (FBI, 2008). The FBI also claims that the reason that these groups are serious domestic terror threats is because of the “increasingly violent rhetoric and tactics” that they display. One such threat read, “You might be able to protect your buildings, but can you protect the homes of every employee?” (FBI, 2008) This is evidence that the entire movement, not just the ALF, is radicalizing. ALF can be show to have radicalized by the acts that they have committed over the years. While reports debate the first act, in either case it was a release of either two dolphins by disgruntled researchers or a raid on a laboratory that released one cat, two dogs and two guinea pigs (Animal Liberation Front). This has escalated to firebombing the laboratories and then to firebombing homes of individuals. The techniques have also increased in their sophistication. Originally, the fire bombings were done by people splashing gasoline or other fuel around, lighting it and then running. Recent acts have included the use of improvised incendiary devices (McGovern, 2011). Recent acts have included the threat to humans as a by-product. Many of the firebombings on universities don’t create casualties only by sheer happenstance, as happened in when the ALF torched a laboratory on the University of Washington. (Marris, 2006)
ALF has also radicalized in its targets as well. Originally, they would go after the laboratories, but escalated to targeting the parent company or school, or a company that was merely associated with the laboratory. When ALF joined in the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign, the group targeted a company that worked with a company in a stock offering that was linked to Huntingdon Animal Sciences (HAS). This tactic was effective, as the company refused to represent the company associated with HAS in the stock offering (EuroBioTechNews, 2005). Another example of how the group has radicalized, and how the rhetoric is increasing, members of the group claimed credit for pouring paint stripper on the vehicle of the sister of the mayor of Los Angeles in protest of the euthanizing of animals at the animal shelter. The members also claimed responsibility for pouring “red paint all over the steps, walkway and fancy ornamental light fixtures.” (Animal Liberation Front) They went on to state that “Villaraigosa (the mayor) deserves to be bumped off like the dogs and cats we witnessed with their eyes wide, terrified before they were bumped off. He got off way to easy.” (Animal Liberation Front) This is one reason why anyone who is remotely associated with what they perceive to be bad is a target to them. To target the sister of someone merely because she is the easiest victim to get ahold of it the mark of a terrorist, and puts almost everybody at risk, since their rhetoric and targets will likely continue to increase and expand until they are targeting everyone who is not in their organization.
Not only has the FBI considered the ALF as a terrorist organization, but the Department of Homeland Security has considered the ALF as a terrorist organization since January 2005 (Combs & Slann, 2007, p. 9-10). This has led to an increase in the legal methods that are available to target the Animal Liberation Front. That helped lead to the issue of indictments in January 2006; a total of thirty people to date under the FBI’s Operation Backfire.
Other Countries
Many other countries consider the Animal Liberation Front to be a terrorist organization, such as the United Kingdom, Germany and other countries that are concerned about terrorism. Other countries that view bombs as more common occurrences view the Animal Liberation Front as common criminals. Often, the ALF is sticking to less criminal measures in those countries, while committing more violent crimes in America and the other countries that view the ALF as a terrorist organization (Animal Liberation Front). It is likely that this is the case because the Animal Liberation Front’s targets are really the targets of a rich country – one that has the resources to explore alternatives to the more cost effective animal testing and farming. While cells of ALF are active in poorer countries the activities seem to be much less dramatic.
Many of the countries that designated the Animal Liberation Front as terrorists have tried to work with the ALF before the designation. What largely happens is the Animal Liberation Front commits some nonviolent crime or three, receives the response that they were looking for from the government or private business and moves on to the next target. For example, vivisection was common in the United Kingdom, both in schools and laboratories. The Animal Liberation Front protested, and stole a few animals from these locations. The government understood the issue, and made a law that reduced the need for vivisection, and ensured that the government approved of all vivisection projects before they occurred, in order to reduce the need for vivisection. While this is the common ground between the two groups (ALF and the vivisectionists), the ALF did not accept this and escalated their attacks to include sending letter bombings to members of the government (Horngan & Taylor, 2006, p 159-161). Needless to say, this led to the United Kingdom government declaring the Animal Liberation Front a terrorist organization and taking steps to combat it. The ALF’s improvised devices were of little threat to the bomb squads sent out to disarm them, as the bomb squads had been combating the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the IRAs devices were much more sophisticated than the simple incendiary devices or letter bombs that the Animal Liberation Front had to offer.
The Animal Liberation Front is organized in a classic terrorist format, with one exception. The members operate in small groups, usually friends and family. These groups are called cells, and most of the cells have little to no knowledge of other cells. This dramatically increases their security, as this practice makes infiltrating or targeting the group as a whole much harder. The major exception to the classic terrorist format is that the group has no leadership at the top coordinating all of the actions (Animal Liberation Front). This prevents the authorities from targeting the leadership and attempting to cut off the head of the snake. This also prevents the authorities from linking groups together using social networks and targeting the cells in that fashion. Having no leadership at the central level truly makes the ALF a multi-headed beast to defeat. The best that the authorities are going to have to settle with is targeting each group as it rears its head, much like a game of Whack-a-mole.
The ALF does have a method of reporting each cell’s actions. While the group had been using People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for their publicity, they have since migrated to a magazine called Bite Back. Surprisingly, this has actually helped to temper some of the radicalization that is occurring in the Animal Liberation Front, as the magazine refuses to “publish news of actions in which the intent is to physically harm someone.” (Direct Action) The magazines’ stance on this, however, does not continue onto other violent actions, as they publish many other crimes that are committed by members of ALF, including arson, vandalism and theft. However, the Animal Liberation Front also has its own press office, the North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office, which it has used since 1994 as another method of reporting the acts that its members commit. There seems to be no method as to which organization the cells report their actions to.
As there is no official leadership, there is also no one to designate official spokespeople for ALF. However, there are several members of the group that have volunteered to speak on the group’s behalf, and many work for the North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office. Often volunteering to speak for the group comes after the member has been arrested; as was the case with Rod Coronado, but there have been others who have attempted to speak for the movement while actively operating. CBS News conducted an interview in 2005 with two self-proclaimed members of the ALF, only one of which actually spoke. The other was there to ensure that there was no audio recorded during the interview. In this interview, the interviewee was careful to mention that he only represented his one cell, although he hoped that his beliefs were shared by other cells of the Animal Liberation Front (CBS, 2005). The interviewee is also careful to not incriminate himself in any specific manner, as he was aware that the ALF was “America’s number one domestic terror threat.” (CBS, 2005) The interviewee also went on to declare that the ALF had not harmed anyone in thirty years, and it was against the guidelines of ALF to do so. While the fact that harming humans is against the guidelines of ALF is true, another self-designated spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front, Dr. Jerry Vlasak has publically advocated (in Senate hearings and personal interviews) for the use of murder (U.S. Senate, 2005, p 21-31) . The United Kingdom banned both Dr. Vlasak and his wife for this threat, among others. Interestingly enough, Dr. Vlasak was a former animal researcher before he turned into a vehement animal rights activist (Animal Liberation Front). The fact that CBS had interviewed Dr. Vlasak is what prompted the interviewee to contact CBS News in the first place, as the interviewee did not agree with what Dr. Vlasak was advocating. It is possible that this is the first stage of a discord between cells that abide by the guidelines, and those that think the guidelines need to be changed so that ALF is more effective.
While ALF does share some similarity with a legitimate animal welfare organization, they are distinctly lacking several items that would make them legitimate. First and foremost, they commit crimes, and not just the crime of protesting without a permit. The members of ALF commit arson to the tune of millions of dollars, among other crimes. They utilize improvised incendiary devices in these crimes. Secondly, the members of ALF care more about immediate gains rather than long term gains. A common tactic is to release captive animals into the wild, with absolutely no regard for how those animals are going to survive, and many animals do not (Animal Liberation Front). ALF contests this, by showing examples that some of the animals that they have freed have gone to good homes. These are largely the standard pets though (dogs, cats, hamsters), but not the thousands of mink and other animals that they have released. In essence, the members of the group are being self-delusionary, as many terrorist groups are. Terrorists tend to point to small things that they do in order to make themselves seem better, while ignoring the many things that they do that don’t necessarily agree with their overall goals, like the fact that many Islamic terrorists that arise in the Western countries could not exist without the very freedoms that the terrorists wish to take away, such as freedom of religion. Thirdly, they operate in small cells, with minimal contact between cells, with minimal publicity given to the members, while a legitimate animal welfare organization wants to get as many people involved as publically as possible in order to have the greatest positive impact possible. Finally, the Animal Liberation Front actively promotes violence, whereas a legitimate organization would not. (Higgins, 2002)
According to studies by both Oregon State University and Ohio State University, the average activist is a white female professional that makes between $20,000 and $50,000 a year. Most have at least a bachelor’s degree, with over thirty percent having a graduate degree. (Guither, 1998, p. 60-71) This is against the typical profile of a terrorist being a male with little to no usable skills (Bakker & Donker, 2006, p. 44-60) This tidbit of information definitely brings a new meaning to “girl’s night out.”
Law Enforcement Efforts
Law enforcement in the United States has been hindered by the Animal Liberation Front’s cellular structure. Since these cells are composed of close friends and family, it is extremely difficult for law enforcement to infiltrate these groups. However, law enforcement has had some luck by posing as experts in creating the devices that the ALF members desire to use. As a result of their efforts, law enforcement itself is being targeted as well, as was demonstrated earlier this year when a police cruiser parked to deter acts of violence against a fur shop owner was attacked with a Molotov cocktail. In the release that was published by the North Amerian Animal Liberation Press Office, the perpetrators claimed that the police are never safe and that they (the members of ALF) were participating in a class war. The members did emphasize the fact that they were participating in a war and that the elite and the police were the enemy (North American Animal Liberation Press Office). This poses an ominous future for the Animal Liberation Front. By declaring something a war, it tends to justify increased actions on both sides. This only increases the urgent need of law enforcement to stop these actions, before actions and reactions from both sides have escalated to a point of no return.
Little can be found about local law enforcement efforts against the Animal Liberation Front. This is assumed to be that while the local police are the ones that start the initial investigation, they are not the ones that arrest the members most of the time. There is some evidence that the local law enforcement is continuing with their normal response to criminal activities, but no indication that there is any response on the terrorism front. The local police do increase their patrols in response to attacks, and there was at least one instance that the local police posted an empty patrol cruiser outside of a person’s house to deter attacks on it. In that particular instance however, the cruiser ended up being attacked by the Animal Liberation Front (North American Animal Liberation Press Office). The largest issues for local law enforcement are the prior warning of attacks, which is not likely to occur, and manpower. Manpower is a large issue for local law enforcement, as every officer on patrol costs money, and the departments have to allocate their resources wisely. This is going to be a growing issue in coming years, as budgets get tighter at all levels.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) did strike a large blow against the organization in 2006, when the Department of Justice issued several warrants against members of the Animal Liberation Front, and arresting eleven of them. Many of these members were also members of the Earth Liberation Front, under which name they committed the most financially destructive crimes, namely the arson of a ski resort in Vail, Colorado that was worth twelve million dollars. The resort was a total loss. The members were found guilty of committing seventeen different attacks spanning five years, which were either claimed by the Earth Liberation Front or the Animal Liberation Front. The total damage done by this cell alone was approximately eighty million dollars and included meat packing plants, animal management sites and more (Harden, 2008). The rate and type of attacks after these arrests and trials did lessen in nature and severity, which shows that the effort of law enforcement is working. However, there is much to do for law enforcement, as there are still attacks ongoing.
Methods of Halting the Animal Liberation Front
There are many methods that law enforcement can take to reduce the severity and nature of the attacks. Aggressively acting against any act that is claimed by the Animal Liberation Front is paramount. Looking at the history of attacks and the suggestions of Animal Liberation Front’s website, the members start small, and escalate from there. The group that had been arrested by the FBI in 2005 had been committing attacks for at least a decade, escalating in severity the entire time (FBI, 2008). The Animal Liberation Front website itself publishes manuals that specifically state to start small, spiking trees for example, and then escalate from there, to arson or other, more involved acts (Animal Liberation Front). Pressing local authorities to more aggressively investigate smaller crimes, such as freeing minks and other animals should reduce the likelihood that the crimes are escalated. It would appear that if law enforcement has arrested and jailed members when they commit this level of act, they tend not to continue in their underground actions, likely because they have been identified. There is little use to a cell for a member that has been identified. The purpose of aggressive action against the smaller crimes is twofold. First, it identifies the criminals, and secondly, it reduces the likelihood that they will escalate into acts of terror. However, many of the smaller incidents are never solved due to lack of resources and effort, and therefore no one is arrested for the crimes.
Another issue for the FBI and other agencies is determining jurisdiction. Certainly the acts of these members are illegal, but the acts themselves individually aren’t necessarily acts of terrorism. This limits the level of resources that law enforcement can, or is willing to, deploy. One raid on a building for animals is likely not to be investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but several in different jurisdictions are, especially if the pattern crosses state lines. Arson increases the stakes, as does sending threatening letters to people, especially if those letters contain poisoned razor blades. The only way for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to increase the amount of resources directed at the ALF is to declare a terror incident each time that that an ALF cell takes responsibility for a crime. However, this would likely serve the purpose of driving the cells deeper underground.
As has been previously stated, the hardest part of stopping these acts of terror is determining who is committing them, as the members of the cells don’t communicate with other cells at all. There have been incidents in which one store was attacked by two different cells on the same night without either group knowing about the other (North American Animal Liberation Press Office, 2013). The fact that the Animal Liberation Front is leaderless tends to exacerbate this situation, as there is no one person or group of people that coordinate the actions of each cell. This eliminates the ability to track the communications from the top down or vice versa.
Tracking the communication of the cells poses its own problems. Each cell can report its actions, or it may not. There is no requirement, as it would appear from reading the editions of Bite Back that some cells do not post anything, but rely on the media to report on the story for them. Others, of course, are very outspoken in taking credit for their actions. The former is best for security reasons, but the latter is best for publicity – which is most effective in implementing the change the Animal Liberation Front is looking for. The fact that some groups do not report their actions removes using the magazine as a source of tracing the communications, as it would only identify certain cells, while likely radicalizing the remaining. In addition, all that arresting a portion of the Animal Liberation Front would do is to ensure that the group evolves better security measures than they already have.
The Animal Liberation Front is rightly designated a terror group by the FBI, the DHS and multiple international agencies. Members of this group have caused massive amounts of damage in the name of preserving animals from harm. They have escalated from simple acts of destruction to acts that are designed to strike fear into the police, government workers, and all who oppose them, both nationally and internationally. It is likely that this group will continue to radicalize their rhetoric and actions attempting to change people’s beliefs. This will only drive the members of the Animal Liberation Front deeper underground and harder to track. The members will likely continue to maintain a classic clandestine structure to preserve their anonymity and security.
There is evidence that this while the ALF took a large hit with the 2006 arrests and subsequent trials, the group is still active and growing. The group is active, and continually looking for targets of opportunity to strike against. As such, the Animal Liberation Front needs to continue to be targeted for aggressive law enforcement action at all levels; local, state and federal.

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