The Animal Liberation Front as a Domestic Terrorist Essay Sample

The Animal Liberation Front as a Domestic Terrorist Pages
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On May 18, 2005, the officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives declared before a senate panel that violent animal rights extremists, together with eco terrorists, pose as among the most serious terrorism threats to the United States.

The particular animal rights group concerned is the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), considered as among the most militant in the animal rights movements. While this group may be very much concerned in animal rights and welfare to have institutionalized their cause, it has become a domestic terror organization in that it resorted to violence and other activities generally practiced by terrorists in order to bring about the compliance of the society to their animal rights principles and ideologies.


The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) originated from Great Britain where animal rights sentiments already have a long history due to close ties between humans and animals. The initiative for the ALF started in the early 1970s with groups that were opposed to animal hunts and cruelty to animals (Lutz & Lutz, 2004, p. 137).

Two activists, Ronald Lee and Clifford Goodman, decided in 1972 to resurrect a nineteenth-century antivivisection group, the Band of Mercy. After a series of anti-hunting operations, the group changed its tactics to direct action and renamed the organization as the Animal Liberation Front.

The British operation was successful, prompting American animal rights supporters to form a branch in the United States. The FBI reported that the American branch of the ALF began its operations in the late 1970s. The first indication of the ALF existence in the United States, however, was in December 1982 when the ALF was implicated in the rescue of cats from the Howard University Medical Science Building in Washington, D.C (Atkins 2002, p. 10).

Organizational Structure of the ALF

According to Atkins (2004), the American Liberation Front “has no organizational structure and exists only as a shadow umbrella for a small body of activists carrying out commando raids against institutions and agencies they deem dangerous to animals”. The organization has two segments: a public organization for publicity, fund-raising, and propaganda wherein it uses its contact with the more influential but less militant People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)  (Atkins, 2004, p. 137); and a covert wing of tightly organized cells of activists willing to carry out attacks on property and rescue animals.

It is suggested that the Animal Rights Movement (ARM), a militant group that generates greater fear upon those who violate animal rights, is in fact, the more violent wing of the ALF (Lutz & Lutz, 2004, p. 138). It also operates in alliance with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 2001, p. 327), another group which focuses on those involved in eco-trade and is also considered as among the country’s domestic terrorists. The organizational method and structure of the organization allowed it to present a non-violent image to the general public while engaging in disruptive measures against activities and groups that it opposes.

ALF leadership is kept secret for protection against federal police but a support group was formed to provide legal defenses for its activists engaged in direct actions, the Animal Liberation Support Group which was formed in 1988. The support group claims ALF to have a membership of around 10,000 (Atkins 2002, p. 10). Only a few of these members, however, are radical enough to carry out violent attacks.

The ALF, according to its website “does not condone violence, and membership only carries out direct action by whatever means necessary” (Ronczkowski, 2004, p. 147). However, characteristics of terrorist organizations are evident in the structure of the ALF. The group operates in an idea of a loose network or leaderless resistances. Small, independently operated cells with no visible command structure launch operations with different cells having no knowledge of the operations of other cells for security reasons.

There is no official membership such that maintaining a visible membership roll could make it easier for the authorities to track down their members who engage in property attacks and violence.  This organizational structure with lack of operational control has made undercover penetration by the police and other government agencies ineffective.

The ALF website states that “someone joins the ALF simply by doing ALF actions”. As such, anybody who wishes to join the ALF need not pay membership fees or file applications for membership to the ALF as the group extend membership to anyone who agrees with their goals and engages in direct action. Direct action is generally in the form of criminal activities that cause economic loss to individuals and companies that utilize animals for economic gain and research purposes.

Objectives and Actions

 The Animal Liberation Front has short-term and long- term goals. The basic short-term goal has been to prevent obvious animal abuse in its various forms. The ultimate goals on the other hand have been to end all animal suffering and abuse, and to force the recognition that the rights of animals cannot be sacrificed to meet human needs (Lutz & Lutz, 2004, p. 137).

In order to achieve both goals, the ALF has sought to drive companies and individuals profiting from abuse of animals out of business. ALF implemented to vivisectors and other animal abusers the economic costs of sabotage. According to Wall (1999), if members of the ALF or animal rightists “go and damage a laboratory they [the laboratory owners] have to pay to put it right and to install extra security measures (because often they won’t get insurance unless they put in extra security). This money often comes out of their research budget and would [otherwise] be spent on experimentation.” The concept therefore lies on the idea that damage to properties inflicting animals saves animals.

Members of the ALF have broken into laboratories and research facilities to free test animals and destroy files of previous researches thereby raising the cost of animal research to such levels that it could become prohibitive. They vandalized the homes of employees working in research institutions that experiment on animals as a means of frightening employees and of increasing the cost of continued research.

As a consequence of such attacks and intimidation, many operations using animals or supplying animals for research have shut down. The group also intimidated businesses which resulted to loss of millions of dollars. Fur sales for example, suffered a dramatic decline due to actions and intimidation of such animal groups (Lutz & Lutz, 2004, p. 138).

The  Animal Liberation Front has conducted about 60 percent of the 300-odd animal rights incidents in the last twenty years, the most destructive of which is the firebombing of the unfinished Animal Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of California at Davis on April 16, 1987, which resulted in 4.5 million in damages (Atkins 2002, p. 10).  Ironically however, the group destroyed a building used not in animal research but in treating sick and injured animals due to faulty information.

Guither (1998) enumerated several acts that implicated the ALF. The group was allegedly involved in stealing two rats at the University of Florida, School of Medicine, Miami; stealing a dog at the US Naval Research Laboratory, Bethesda, Maryland; and stealing cats valued at nearly $3,000, which interrupted Nerve transmission studies at the Howard University, Medical Science Building, Washington, D.C.

 In 1985, ALF attacked a research lab at the University of California at Riverside and stole more than 450 animals. It also destroyed research data on a study on infant blindness. The damage for this attack was worth more than half a million dollars. Eighteen months later, ALF raided a lab at the University of Oregon, stealing animals and destroying equipment. Following the attack, the group sent letter to university officials and the news media boasting about smashing a $10,000 microscope in 12 seconds (Burke & Hall, 1990).

 In 1993, the group reportedly planted arson or incendiary devices in four Chicago stores (Ronczkowski, 2004, p. 147); They are also very active in burning trucks and allowing animals to escape (Poldervaart, 2001); In 1989, the ALF set fire to two laboratories at the University of Arizona freeing more than a thousand animals infected with a bacteria that bring about dehydration and death among third-world children, ALF calls these attacks direct action (Burke & Hall, 1990).

The latest tactic of the group has moved from breaking and entering premises of individuals and businesses using animals for profit and scientific advancements to sending poster tube bombs containing hypodermic needles and the planting of car bombs (Thackrah, 2004, p. 15). The group has also vandalized cars and buildings, set fires, poured glue into locks, and used similar tactics available to groups that seek to intimidate individuals and businesses (Lutz & Lutz, 2004, p. 138).

Other activities and practices include  letter bombs, product contamination, graffiti and breaking windows and an unusual form of attack, the Animal Liberation Investigation which entails entering a research establishment or animal breeding facility during the day without causing damage, but stealing papers, files and computer disks to study and returning them later (Thakrah, 2004, p.14).

ALF as a Domestic Terror Group

On January 20, 2006, the US Department of Justice indicted   eleven activists who have allegedly engaged in direct action in the name of the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front. The defendants have allegedly committed acts of domestic terrorism which include use and possession of a destructive device, conspiracy and arson attacks against meat-processing plants, lumber companies, a high-tension power line, and a ski center, in Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, California, and Colorado between 1996 and 2001.

In accordance with its constitutional definition, “domestic terrorism”, means activities that—“(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;(B) appear to be intended–(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;(ii) to influence the policy, of a government by intimidation or coercion; or(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Terrorism becomes international if, as the statute provides, there is a significant international component in the location of the crime, the intended victims, or the place of asylum”   (Fletcher, 2002).

The ALF involves acts dangerous to human life because crimes against properties are turning into crimes against people as scientists and medical doctors and their families have received hate mail, death threats, bomb scares, and obscene and threatening phone calls (Burke & Hall, 1990).

ALF activities appear to be intended as the group sends threat to those engaged in animal experiments and similar businesses. Its published newsletters and websites also identified and posted details about their possible targets and opponents which may include members or former members who have provided information to the authorities. Violent acts of the organizations also often involve pre-activity surveillance and well-planned operations. The FBI believes that members engage in significant intelligence gathering against potential targets, including the review of industry/trade publications and photographic/video surveillance of potential targets.

The ALF also seeks to influence policies and principles by intimidation or coercion. The Federal Bureau of Investigation considers the ALF as a terrorist group whose purpose is to bring about social and political change through the use of force and violence.

It is to be noted that part of their long term goals is to force the recognition that the rights of animals cannot be sacrificed to meet human needs (Lutz & Lutz, 2004, p. 137). The group also seeks to intimidate those who go against their cause.  The most destructive of its practices is arson wherein members consistently use improvised incendiary devices equipped with crude but effective timing mechanisms, the construction of which is often based on instructions found on ALF/ELF websites.

The Animal Liberation Front, like any other terrorist groups, is also engaged in cyberterrorism and the use of coded mails. The ALF cells use the encryption program Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) to send coded email and share intelligence (Zanini & Edwards, 2001, p. 37).


The Animal Liberation Front is considered a domestic terrorist group such that it uses violence and threat to bring about the society’s compliance to their principles and objectives. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has attested that this organization has become a major terrorism threat in the United States.

The ALF has originally engaged in criminal acts against properties by destroying facilities that utilize animals for economic and research purposes. However, these crimes against properties have become crimes against people as the group’s tactics have evolved to terrorize and threaten people who are engaged in businesses and experiments that “harm” animals.  Examples of terrorizing researchers, doctors and scientists involved in animal studies include sending death threats, bomb scares and hate mails.

Violence and threats by the ALF have come to such extent that the security and lives of people involved are put in unstable grounds. ALF also engages in cyberterrorism and the group’s idea of economic sabotage has resulted to business losses. The ALF structure is that of a so-called leaderless resistance, with no formal membership or hierarchy. The organization also has different independently operated cells that launch operations. The actions of the Animal Liberation Front are based on its goals: to prevent obvious animal abuse in its various forms, to end all animal suffering and abuse, and to force the recognition that the rights of animals cannot be sacrificed to meet human needs.


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