Animal Liberation Front (ALF)

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Editors: Julie Urbanik and Connie L. Johnston
Date: 2017
Document Type: Organization overview
Pages: 3
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Animal Liberation Front (ALF)

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is a leaderless, decentralized animal rights organization that engages in direct action (the use of public forms of protest instead of negotiations), often through illegal means. ALF members believe that no animal should be exploited for food, entertainment, or science and that nonhuman Page 21  |  Top of Articlelives should not be seen as private property, meaning that animals should not be owned. The ALF’s mission is to “abolish institutionalized animal exploitation because it assumes that animals are property” (ALF n.d.). The ALF operates through small groups of individuals, called “cells,” that operate independently of one another, without a hierarchical chain of command. This allows ALF members to avoid identifying other members if they are questioned. Due to this structure and anonymity, the ALF is able to operate underground. Active in dozens of countries, the ALF works to remove animals from factory farms, laboratories and testing facilities, and zoos, while inflicting economic damage on the institutions and organizations that promote animal exploitation for profit or entertainment. Animals liberated by ALF members are placed in sanctuaries or homes where they can live out their natural lives. Although it has been classified as a domestic terrorist organization in the United States, one of the ALF’s tenets is to take all precautions against harming any human or nonhuman animal. The Animal Liberation Front is an important topic area for animal studies, especially in characterizing the different levels of opposition to the use of animals’ lives for financial or personal gain.

The Animal Liberation Front emerged in 1974, but its roots extend back to the 1960s. Founded in 1963, the Hunt Saboteurs Association physically interfered with animal hunts in the United Kingdom throughout the 1960s. Inspired by the Hunt Saboteurs, in 1971 British activist Ronnie Lee started a group called the Band of Mercy, which focused on not only sabotaging hunters’ vehicles, but also on protesting animal testing (vivisection) in laboratories. These groups primarily used direct action. Lee began to support the use of arson and other forms of property destruction as the main tactics used in the group’s mission.

In 1974, Lee, along with fellow-activist Cliff Goodman, created the Animal Liberation Front. The new group was incredibly successful, and more than £250,000 ($397,000) worth of damage was attributed to the ALF in its first year of operation. It was not until the 1980s that the Animal Liberation Front moved to North America, and it did not gain much traction there until the 1990s. To enact meaningful change, the ALF focuses on direct economic threat placed upon companies that use animals in research or entertainment. Together with the Environmental Liberation Front (the ALF’s sister organization), the ALF is estimated to be responsible for around $43 million in damages between 1996 and 2002.

One of the first high-profile rescues that the ALF committed in the United States was in September 1985, when they raided a laboratory at the University of California at Riverside. Members of the ALF removed a stump-tailed macaque monkey named Britches who had been separated from his mother at birth and had his eyes sewn shut for a study that tested the effects of sensory deprivation on young monkeys. During the raid, activists rescued Britches along with 467 mice, cats, opossums, pigeons, rabbits, and rats, and also committed $700,000 worth of damage to equipment. Britches was taken to a sanctuary where he spent the remainder of his life. Page 22  |  Top of ArticleAs a result of the raid, the University of California stopped several research programs and no longer allows monkeys’ eyes to be sewn shut. The ALF still recognizes the rescue of Britches as one of their most successful.

According to philosopher Steven Best, there are several ways to understand the ALF in the United States. First, as an organization, the ALF operates as part of a new social movement that places attention on the historically ignored issue of animal rights and welfare. Second, this animal liberation movement is focused on stopping all nonhuman animals from being categorized as legal property. The movement in general, and the ALF in particular, argue that we should end all exploitation of animals and should place greater importance on life rather than on any financial gains. Finally, and most importantly according to the ALF, the animal liberation movement can be compared to the U.S. antislavery and abolitionist movement of the 19th century. Although this is a controversial and often highly contested perspective, the ALF hopes that society will accept the immorality of using animals for economic, scientific, or personal gain, just as we now see slavery as a historical and moral injustice.

Today, the ALF is classified as a domestic terrorism organization in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The British government established a task force, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit, in 2004 to investigate and monitor the activities of the ALF and other domestic terrorism organizations. In 2005, the ALF was listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a domestic terrorism organization and as a significant national security threat. However, the ALF maintains that its tactics are nonviolent, citing the fact that no ALF actions have resulted in any deaths. In 2006, the U.S. Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which prohibits a person from engaging in any conduct with the intent of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise or business. This act gives the Department of Justice greater authority to target animal rights protesters more generally, including those that are not violent in nature, suggesting that the concern over the ALF is not going to diminish anytime soon.

Stefanie Georgakis Abbott

Further Reading

Animal Liberation Front (ALF). n.d. “Mission Statement.” Accessed June 21, 2015.

Best, S., and Nocella, A. J., eds. 2004. Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? New York: Lantern Books.

Guillermo, K. S. 1993. Monkey Business. Washington, DC: National Press Books.

Molland, N. Thirty Years of Direct Action. Accessed December 5, 2011.

Newkirk, I. 2000. Free the Animals: The Story of the Animal Liberation Front. New York: Lantern Books.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX7261600017