Their slogan is: Any act that furthers the cause of animal liberation, where all reasonable precautions are taken not to harm human or non-human life, may be claimed as an ALF action.
Band of Mercy
The roots of the ALF trace back to December 1963, when British journalist John Prestige was assigned to cover a Devon and Somerset Staghounds event, where he watched hunters chase and kill a pregnant deer. In protest, he formed the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA), which evolved into groups of volunteers trained to thwart the hunts' hounds by blowing horns and laying false scents.
Animal rights writer Noel Molland writes that one of these HSA groups was formed in 1971 by a law student from Luton named Ronnie Lee. In 1972, Lee and fellow activist Cliff Goodman decided more militant tactics were needed. They revived the name of a 19th-century RSPCA youth group, The Bands of Mercy, and with about half a dozen activists set up the Band of Mercy, which attacked hunters' vehicles by slashing tires and breaking windows, designed to stop the hunt from even beginning, rather than thwarting it once underway.
In 1973, the Band learned that Hoechst Pharmaceuticals was building a research laboratory near Milton Keynes. On 10 November 1973, two activists set fire to the building, causing £26,000 worth of damage, returning six days later to set fire to what was left of it. It was the animal liberation movement's first known act of arson. In June 1974, two Band activists set fire to boats taking part in the annual seal cull off the coast of Norfolk, which Molland writes was the last time the cull took place. Between June and August 1974, the Band launched eight raids against animal-testing laboratories, and others against chicken breeders and gun shops, damaging buildings or vehicles. Its first act of "animal liberation" took place during the same period when activists removed half a dozen guinea pigs from a guinea pig farm in Wiltshire, after which the owner closed the business, fearing further attacks. Then, as now, the use of violence against property caused a split within the fledgling movement. In July 1974, the Hunt Saboteurs Association offered a £250 reward for information leading to the identification of the Band of Mercy, telling the press, "We approve of their ideals, but are opposed to their methods."
In August 1974, Lee and Goodman were arrested for taking part in a raid on Oxford Laboratory Animal Colonies in Bicester, earning them the moniker the "Bicester Two." Daily demonstrations took place outside the court during their trial; Lee's local Labour MP, Ivor Clemitson, was one of their supporters. They were sentenced to three years in prison, during which Lee went on the movement's first hunger strike to obtain vegan food and clothing. They were paroled after 12 months, Lee emerging in the spring of 1976 more militant than ever. He gathered together the remaining Band of Mercy activists and two dozen new recruits, 30 in all. Molland writes that the Band of Mercy name sounded wrong as a description of what Lee saw as a revolutionary movement. Lee wanted a name that would haunt those who used animals, according to Molland. Thus, the Animal Liberation Front was born.
Political objectives and economic goals
The movement has underground and above-ground components, and is entirely decentralized with no formal hierarchy, the absence of which acts as a firebreak when it comes to legal responsibility. Volunteers are expected to stick to the ALF's stated aims when using its banner:
- To inflict economic damage on those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals.
- To liberate animals from places of abuse, i.e. laboratories, factory farms, fur farms etc., and place them in good homes where they may live out their natural lives, free from suffering.
- To reveal the horror and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors, by performing nonviolent direct actions and liberations
- To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human.
- Any group of people who are vegans and who carry out actions according to ALF guidelines have the right to regard themselves as part of the ALF.
Philosophy of direct action
ALF activists argue that animals should not be viewed as property, and that scientists and industry have no right to assume ownership of living beings who are the subjects-of-a-life in the words of philosopher Tom Regan. In the view of the ALF, to fail to recognize this is an example of speciesism—the ascription of different values to beings on the basis of their species membership alone, which they argue is as ethically flawed as racism or sexism. They reject the animal welfarist position that more humane treatment is needed for animals; they say their aim is empty cages, not bigger ones. Activists argue that the animals they remove from laboratories or farms are "liberated," not "stolen," because they were never rightfully owned in the first place.
Although the ALF members reject violence against people, many activists support attacks on property, comparing the destruction of animal laboratories and other facilities to resistance fighters blowing up gas chambers in Nazi Germany. Their argument for sabotage is that the removal of animals from a laboratory simply means they will be quickly replaced, but if the laboratory itself is destroyed, it not only slows down the restocking process, but increases costs, possibly to the point of making animal research prohibitively expensive; this, they argue, will encourage the search for alternatives. An ALF activist involved in an arson attack on the University of Arizona told No Compromise in 1996: "[I]t is much the same thing as the abolitionists who fought against slavery going in and burning down the quarters or tearing down the auction block ... Sometimes when you just take animals and do nothing else, perhaps that is not as strong a message."
The provision against violence in the ALF code has triggered divisions within the movement and allegations of hypocrisy from the ALF's critics. In 1998, terrorism expert Paul Wilkinson called the ALF and its splinter groups "the most serious domestic terrorist threat within the United Kingdom". In 1993, ALF was listed as an organization that has "claimed to have perpetrated acts of extremism in the United States" in the Report to Congress on the Extent and Effects of Domestic and International Terrorism on Animal Enterprises. It was named as a terrorist threat by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in January 2005. In March 2005, a speech from the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI stated that: "The eco-terrorist movement has given rise and notoriety to groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, or ALF, and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). These groups exist to commit serious acts of vandalism, and to harass and intimidate owners and employees of the business sector." In hearings held on 18 May 2005, before a Senate panel, officials of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) stated that "violent animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists now pose one of the most serious terrorism threats to the nation". The use of the terrorist label has been criticized, however; the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks U.S. domestic extremism, writes that "for all the property damage they have wreaked, eco-radicals have killed no one".