The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) was established in the mid-1970s within Great Britain. They are a semi-organized extremist group that is committed to ending animal cruelty and exploitation. ALF moved over into the United States near the end of the seventies. ALF began to conduct operations by engaging against anyone they viewed to utilize animals for economic gain or research that resulted in harm. (Lewis 2004)
ALF is also one of the oldest and active animal activist groups; however, recruits are between 18 and 25 years of age (Global Security 2021), white, unmarried males with some college education. Thirty percent of recruits also have a prior criminal record before joining in animal rights attacks (Chermak 2013, 13). Half the recruits from ALF have also been part of its sister organization Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Within both groups, 79% of members become recruited by other members, leaving the other 21% to engage in the name of ALF (5).
ALF is a decentralized leadership model of autonomous cells; it is very clandestine in nature with no leadership or hierarchy (Johnston 2017, 737). ALF considers this model a “leadership resistance” (Animal Liberation Front 2021); since there are no memberships, each cell works independently and anonymously from each other due to the potential risk of breaking the law. After the domestic terrorist operation occurs, the cell just needs to claim the operation in the name of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).
Though the cells are independent of each other, their ideologies are the same:
“(1) To free animals from places of abuse and place them in good homes…free from suffering. (2) To do damage to those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals. (3) To reveal the horror committed against animals behind locked doors by performing nonviolent actions and freeing animals. (4) To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal-human and non-human." (Animal Liberation Front 2021).
ALF uses these ideologies to fuel direct actions, “normally in the form of criminal activity designed to cause economic loss or to destroy the victims’ company operations or property (Lewis 2004).
ALF engages their targets "[Through] arson, firebombing, vandalism, intimidation, assaults, stalking” (GlobalSecurity 2021). However, their primary source of attack is bombing and arson. From 1995 through 2010, 239 arson attacks occurred between ELF and ALF, with ALF attributing to 45% of the incidents. Of those attacks, 62% were bombing, while 38% were arson.
ALF’s high three priority targets were Meat/Food Processing Plants (29.6%), Universities (21.3%), and Fur/Leather Companies (16.7%). In comparison, Research Facilities (6.5%) were on the lower end of the spectrum (Chermak 2013, 11). ALF is beginning to change their Troop Training Procedures (TTP) towards biomedical research professionals, as seen with an attack on Dr. David Feldheim in 2008, just one of the twenty-five attacks against researchers in the United States (Hawtin 2014, 13).
Most of these attacks occurred along the West Coast and were conducted in isolated attacks to protect animals or prevent testing on animals (Chermak 2013, 9). Since ALF extremists work independently in cells or alone, they are less likely to commit a spree of attacks, though four percent of the attacks between 1995 and 2010 were coordinated (9). ALF and ELF have also worked together on several raids, so it can be hard to claim which organization has committed the attack. Overall, from 1995 to 2005, ALF has caused over $110 million in damages (Deshpande 2012, 2).
Some have viewed ALF as freedom fighters. Even Will Hazlitt, the Press Officer for North American Animal Liberation Press Office, states, “Animal Liberation Front as a group are Freedom Fighters no different than any other Freedom fighter. (Hazlitt n.d.)” Even going as far to compare their group like Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) or Che Guevara the Argentine Marxist (Hazlitt n.d.). ALF views itself as a nonviolent campaign whose goals are not harming human life but bringing animal abuse to light (Saunders 2020).
Though ALF's means are unconventionally in nature, they have opened a unique threat against animal abuse and oppression by bringing to light states of cruelty that provide ethical challenges to companies. Forcing companies to rethink the profits gained from animal abuse and the financial burdens that can come when high-profile cases enter court (Nagtzaam 2017, 52). Even the nonprofit organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has opened supported ALF and ELF, even contributing up to $70,000 for the defense of Rodney Coronado in 1995 when the FBI convicted him of arson (The Hunting News 2020)
Since the attack on 9/11 and the passing of the Patriot Act in October 2001, which discusses domestic terrorism under Section 802 states, “(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.” (Recarte 2016, 254); Along with the changes in 2002 made to the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA) that stated, “Animal activists wo engage in property destruction as ‘terrorists,’ rather than vandals” (255).
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has adapted response to ALF by labeling them under domestic terrorism in a sub-group of special interest extremism labeling them eco-terrorists. Eco-terrorism is defined as using or threatening violence against innocent individuals or property by an environmentally oriented group for environmental-political reasons (Jarboe 2002).
The difference between special interest terrorism and traditional right or left-wing terrorism is that the organization seeks to resolve specific issues and is not motivated by political change. The idea is to change the attitudes of the public to affect change (Jarboe 2002).
James Jarboe, Domestic Terrorism Section Chief for the FBI, has stated, “[ALF] is one of the most active extremist elements in the United States…whose purpose is to bring about social and political change with force and violence. (Jarboe 2002)” Due to these measures, Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) have integrated policies and procedures for eco-terrorism, which have resulted in several arrests and successful prosecutions, with over twenty-six FBI field offices having pending investigations against ALF activities. However, the FBI has found it challenging to track down eco-terrorists, even with resources allocated due to the structure of their organization (Jarboe 2002).
Some of the tools that the FBI has used to catch ALF members comes from a JTTF during Operation Backfire, which was used to catch a 20-member group labeled "The Family" whose actions flew under the ELF flag. However, ALF press offices would push their messages out to a broader audience. Operation Backfire caused the split between ALF and ELF desire to form larger eco-terror cells while also adding a level of deterrence from forming larger cells (Deshpande 2012).
Eco-terrorists' direct action tactics were also broken down into categories: Type 1 Criminal actions are crimes that cause less than $10,000 under the terms Eco-drama and Monkey Wrenching. While Type 2 Actions are Significant property damage under the terms: Ecotage, Animal "Liberation," Eco-Arson (Deshpande 2012).
The Animal Liberation Front has been within the United States since the late 1970s. If individuals feel that animal abuse exists or individuals are exploiting animals for profitable gain, there will be ALF. However, some individuals may believe them to be freedom fighters, fighting for animals' unjust, unspoken words. The fact remains, their tactics are violent and fall into the realm of law that the United States considers to be domestic terrorism. Until ALF changes the way they operate, the FBI will have no choice but to continue with their lessons learned to deter or detain the eco-terrorism threat.
Animal Liberation Front. 2021. Animal Liberation Front. October 22. Accessed October 22,2021. https://www.petside.com/animal-liberation-front/.
Chermak, Steven M. Ph.D. 2013. An Overview of Bombing and Arson Attacks by Environmental and Animal Right Extremists in the United States, 1995-2010. Prevent/Deter Program, College Park, Maryland: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.
Deshpande, Nick. 2012. Countering Eco-Terrorism in the United States: The Case of 'Operation Backfire". Human Factors/Behavioral Science , College Park, Maryland: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.
GlobalSecurity. 2021. Animal Liberatiion Front (ALF). October 22. Accessed October 22, 2021. https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/alf.htm.
Hawtin, David. 2014. "Animal Liberation Front Tactics and their effects on animal research." Master Thesis, Charles Town, WV.
Hazlitt, Will. n.d. The Freedom Fighters of the Animal Liberation Front. Accessed October 22, 2021. https://animalliberationpressoffice.org/NAALPO/2013/03/08/the-freedom-fighters-of-the-animal-liberation-front/.
Jarboe, James F. 2002. Federal Bureau of Investigation. February 12. Accessed October 23, 2021. https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/testimony/the-threat-of-eco-terrorism.
Johnston, Genevieve & Johnston, Matthew. 2017. ""We fight for all living things': countering misconcepts about the radical animal lieration movement." Social Movement Studies 735-751.
Lewis, John E. 2004. Testimony. May 18. Accessed October 22, 2021. https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/testimony/animal-rights-extremism-and-ecoterrorism.
Nagtzaam, Gerald. 2017. "Cage Fighting: The Animal Liberation Front." Social and Political Science 43-62.
Recarte, Claudia A. 2016. "Animal liberation, American anti-terrorist culture and Denis Hennelly's Bold Native." Critical Studies on Terrorism 247-268.
Saunders, Stephen. 2020. ALF & ELF: Freedom Fighters or Terrorists? March 14. Accessed October 23, 2021. https://stephensaundersauthor.com/alf-elf-freedom-fighters-or-terrorists/.
The Hunting News. 2020. PETA Activly Supports Terrorism. Accessed October 23, 2021. https://www.thehuntingnews.com/peta-activly-supports-terrorism/.