Animal Liberation Front (ALF)

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Animal Liberation Front (ALF)

LEADER: Ronnie Lee


USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Active cells in twenty countries


The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) was founded in England in 1976 by animal activist Ronnie Lee, who had become increasingly dissatisfied with the purely legal tactics employed by British hunt sabotage groups. According to its published credo, the ALF "carries out direct action against animal abuse in the form of rescuing animals and causing financial loss to animal exploiters, usually through the damage and destruction of property." The tactics employed by Lee and his cohorts were so effective and generated so much publicity that the movement quickly expanded and became international in scope, with active cells in twenty countries.

While the United States has become a primary front for ALF actions in recent years, even animal liberation movement historians themselves cannot agree on the precise date and manner in which the ALF migrated to the United States. Although the FBI charges that ALF actions in the United States began as early as the late 1970s, the first widely publicized direct action by U.S. activists was a 1982 raid on a Howard University animal research lab. The ALF made the FBI's domestic terrorism list in 1987 with a multimillion dollar arson at a veterinary lab in California. The group remains very active in the United States today, claiming responsibility for thirteen separate major direct illegal actions in the first eight months of 2005.


The beginnings of the Animal Liberation Front can be traced to the militant Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA), founded in England in 1962 and still in operation today. The HSA was created to oppose the sport of foxhunting, and has historically engaged in only legal direct actions. Typical tactics employed by the HSA involve distracting the hounds, spreading false scents, and otherwise disrupting hunts by setting off smoke bombs or blocking roads.

In 1972, two members of the Luton HSA chapter, Ronnie Lee and Cliff Goodman, having grown increasingly impatient with the HSA's strictures, formed the Band of Mercy, taking the name from a nineteenth century anti-vivisectionist group. The Band of Mercy took a more militant approach to the fight against hunting, destroying hunters' vehicles, boats, and other equipment.

Within a year of its founding, the Band of Mercy broadened its targets to include animal research and meat production facilities. In 1974, Lee and Goodman were arrested while trying to firebomb the Oxford Laboratory Animal Colonies in Bicester and sentenced to three years in prison. Goodman ultimately renounced his radicalism and became an informant, while Lee became even more radical.

Upon his release in 1976, Lee formed a new, even more militant group from the remaining members of the Band of Mercy and a few new recruits. Although the Animal Liberation Front began with as few as thirty members, it carried out ten actions against vivisection targets in the remaining months of that year alone.

In 1977, the ALF carried out fourteen more attacks, the most successful in terms of economic impact against the Condiltox lab in North London, which soon afterwards went out of business. British authorities responded with a crackdown, capturing and jailing half of a dozen of the most active members, including Lee, in late 1977 and early 1978. It was at about that same time that ALF activity began occurring in the United States.

The details of how this migration occurred are sketchy at best. From the beginning, the ALF had received a lot of press in England, and so it is possible that sympathetic activists in the United States independently decided to act on the ALF credo. One account, Ingrid Newkirk's Free the Animals: The Amazing True Story of the Animal Liberation Front, claims a much more direct link between the activists in the two countries. According to Newkirk, a woman with the pseudonym Valerie became radicalized after observing experimentation on primates at the Institute for Behavioral Research in Maryland, subsequently traveled to the UK, and was ultimately trained in guerilla tactics by the original ALF. By this account, Valerie led the first U.S. ALF action in late 1982, a raid on an animal lab at Howard University.

The FBI, however, traces the beginnings of ALF activity in the United States to earlier dates in the late 1970s. In 1977, activists freed two dolphins from a research facility in Hawaii. In 1979, activists freed some animals from New York Medical Center. However it began, the ALF would soon become very active, focusing its early efforts on attacking animal research facilities at major universities across the United States. During the first few years of activity, activists conducted illegal actions at Howard University, Bethesda Naval Research Institute, the University of California, the University of Oregon, the University of Pennsylvania, Texas Tech University, and other research institutions.

In 1984, the activists scored a major coup when ALF operatives broke into the University of Pennsylvania's Head Injury Laboratory, causing $60,000 worth of damage. Much more importantly, the activists managed to steal sixty hours of videotape documenting the research program. The ALF promptly turned the footage over to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA, in turn, used their considerable resources to edit the stolen video and produce the film, Unnecessary Fuss, featuring shocking footage of researchers using press-like machines to fracture the skulls of living primates. The film was a huge public relations victory for the ALF and PETA, and led directly to the closure of the lab.

Encouraged by the public outcry, the two groups repeated the tactic, with the ALF raiding the City of Hope National Medical Center in Los Angeles and documenting the conditions in the animal labs, and PETA using the documentation in a polished, effective media campaign. The public was again stirred to outrage, leading to government investigations of the facility that ultimately found serious violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. The City of Hope lost more than a million dollars in National Institutes of Health funding, and the offending studies were stopped.

In the same year, UK activists began experimenting with a new method of inflicting economic damage on perceived animal exploiters by contaminating their retail products, forcing costly recalls and considerable loss of revenue. The first of these contamination actions came in July 1984, when the ALF contaminated supplies of Sunsilk shampoo with bleach, forcing a recall. Similar attacks continued throughout the year, with threats of contamination in beef, turkey, and even candy. In November, the group claimed to have contaminated supplies of Mars bars, a claim that later proved to be a hoax, though the economic impact to the parent company was the same as if it had been true.

At this point, ALF actions in the United States began a gradual shift away from animal rescue and toward an emphasis on destruction of property and arson. This trend culminated in 1987, when activists set fire to a veterinary lab at the University of California at Davis, causing millions of dollars in damage and landing them on the FBI's domestic terrorism list.

In February 1992, Rod Coronado and other ALF activists set fire to laboratories at Michigan State University. Coronado was apprehended, charged, and ultimately convicted for his part in the raids and sentenced to fifty-seven months in prison in 1995. In the years since, the ALF has continued to engage in high-profile attacks, including arson attacks on the fur industry in 1996 and well-publicized releases of thousands of minks from fur farms in Oregon in 1997 and Washington in 2003.

Today, the ALF is alive and well, with active cells in over twenty countries, and claims of responsibility for destructive actions on a near weekly basis in the United States alone. At the same time, public sympathy for the animal rights movement is at an all-time high, with groups like PETA attracting the financial support and public endorsements of high-profile celebrities from across the United States and Britain.


Organized efforts to draw attention to and protect animals from human cruelty first emerged in England in the early 1900s, and were formalized with the establishment of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1824. By the end of the century, similar groups had been established in the United States. Since that time, these groups have worked within the legal system, lobbying government to enact animal protection laws, most recently the Animal Welfare Act of 1970.

During the 1970s, the animal welfare movement was transformed by the publication of philosophical works such as Pete Singer's hugely influential Animal Liberation in 1975. Though Singer, currently a professor of ethics at Princeton, did not argue for existence of animal "rights" per se, he arrived at many of the same positions held by later animal rights thinkers through utilitarian analysis.

Specifically, Singer argued against what he called "speciesism," which he defined as discrimination against beings on the basis of their non-human status. Singer's book led to the transformation of the mainstream animal welfare movement to the animal rights movement, and the establishment of new groups specifically organized around the notion of animal rights. The largest and most influential of these groups, PETA, was founded in 1982, the same year as the first documented ALF action in the United States.

Against the backdrop of this emerging animal rights zeitgeist, the ALF was born. Although the ALF has a founder, a history, professional spokesmen, and a large support group, the ALF as an organizational entity does not exist. What does exist are a mission statement, credo, and guidelines for direct action that are published throughout the world on supporters' web sites, along with reports of completed actions.


Animal Liberation Front began in England with as few as thirty members; it carried out ten actions against vivisection targets.
ALF carried out fourteen attacks.
ALF activity began occurring in the United States.

Anyone may claim responsibility for an action in the name of the ALF if it meets the ALF published guidelines, which are as follows:

  • 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 inflict economic damage to those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals.
  • To reveal the horror and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors, by performing non-violent direct actions and liberations.
  • To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human.

By virtue of the shadowy, clandestine nature of its existence, the ALF has proven to be nearly impossible to infiltrate and stop. Though prominent members of the UK ALF were captured and jailed during the 1970s, for example, the impetus simply shifted to the United States for a time, and illegal actions continued unabated.

The ALF accomplishes its sophisticated public relations, fundraising, and support functions though alliances with legal groups. PETA has been observed to work very closely with the ALF, using its considerable financial resources to fund the publication of materials stolen in ALF raids and posting completed ALF actions on its web site. By the simple tactic of disclaiming direct knowledge of any illegal activity or direct association with the ALF, PETA remains within the law. Another legal organization, the Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group (ALFSG), exists to provide financial and emotional support to those activists who are apprehended and jailed for ALF actions. Working together, these organizations form a potent force arrayed against the interests and industries they deem exploitative to animals. Stopping them would require a rewriting of the laws that govern free speech in the UK and the United States.

Operationally, ALF tactics are as sophisticated and as hard to defend against as its support structure. With very few exceptions, ALF actions take place at night, usually over a weekend when staffing at the target facility is at its lowest point. ALF actions show evidence of careful reconnaissance before the actual attack, with apparent foreknowledge of security measures, staff schedules, and detailed knowledge of any onsite activities that may have public relations potential. Law enforcement professionals believe that ALF members frequently spend months infiltrating (sometimes by joining the staff) prospective targets before undertaking action.

In the thirty years since its inception, actions undertaken in the name of the ALF have become increasingly destructive. During the early years, the most common ALF actions involved simple vandalism and/or the rescue (i.e., theft) of laboratory and farm animals. By the time the ALF had spread to the United States, destruction of property actions came to the forefront, and arson became the tactic of choice. Today, ALF affiliated web sites host training manuals for the would-be revolutionary, complete with instructions for improvising simple but destructive incendiary explosive devices. The typical action today involves the destruction of property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, with some actions involving multimillion dollar losses for the targeted facility. ALF actions are never merely symbolic, but rather are specifically designed to inflict economic damage on the targeted concern.

Despite the mandate against causing harm to human beings, ALF activists have engaged in increasingly threatening and violent rhetoric over the years. Whenever isolated incidents of violence have occurred, ALF spokesmen have refused to condemn the perpetrators. ALF founder Ronnie Lee set the tone for future public statements in this regard when he wrote, "Animal liberation is a fierce struggle that demands total commitment. There will be injuries and possibly deaths on both sides. That is sad but certain."

In 2001, when Huntingdon Life Sciences director Brian Cass was attacked and severely beaten outside his home, UK ALF spokesperson Robin Webb commented: "The Animal Liberation Front has always had a policy of not harming life, but while it would not condone what took place, it understands the anger and frustration that leads people to take this kind of action." The ALFSG continues to list the assailant, David Blenkinsop, as one of its "prisoners of conscience."


The steady growth and legislative accomplishments of legal animal welfare organizations since their origins in the early nineteenth century are testament to the human tendency to feel compassion for animals. Indeed, few people are not moved to a sense of moral outrage by accounts of animal cruelty. Couple this natural tendency with the well-reasoned arguments of thoughtful, articulate philosophers like Pete Singer and Steven Best and there is a potent force for social change.

The animal rights movement grows larger every day, drawing members from every segment of society. Observers of this trend have long been accustomed to the phalanx of animal rights supporters from the political left, with Hollywood celebrity endorsements a fixed staple of PETA's well orchestrated media campaigns. But when someone with the sterling conservative credentials of a Matthew Scully, former speechwriter for George W. Bush and contributing editor to the National Review, writes a bestselling book calling for the abolition of factory farming and "canned" hunts, a sea change is in the air.

From Push to Shove: Radical Environmental and Animal-rights Groups Have Always Drawn the Line at Targeting Humans. Not Anymore.

A Chicago insurance executive might seem like one of the last people who'd be opening a letter with this succinctly chilling message: "You have been targeted for terrorist attack."

But that's what happened last year, when a top official at Marsh USA Inc. was informed that he and his company's employees had landed in the crosshairs of an extremist animal rights group. The reason? Marsh provides insurance for one of the world's biggest animal testing labs.

"If you bail out now," the letter advised, "you, your business, and your family will be spared great hassle and humility."

That letter—and the harassment campaign that followed, after Marsh declined to "bail out"—was another shot fired by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC).

This British-born group, now firmly established in the United States, is waging war on anyone involved with Huntingdon Life Sciences, which tests drugs on approximately 70,000 rats, dogs, monkeys and other animals each year. In the process, SHAC is rewriting the rules by which even the most radical ecoactivists have traditionally operated.

In the past, even the edgiest American ecowarriors drew the line at targeting humans. They trumpeted underground activists' attacks on businesses and laboratories perceived as abusing animals or the environment—the FBI reports more than 600 incidents, causing $43 million in damage, since 1996.

But spokespeople for the two most active groups in the U.S., the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), have always been quick to claim that their underground cells have never injured or killed any people.

Since 1999, however, members of both groups have been involved with SHAC's campaign to harass employees of Huntingdon—and even distantly related business associates like Marsh—with frankly terroristic tactics similar to those of anti-abortion extremists.

Employees have had their homes vandalized with spray-painted "Puppy killer"and "We'll be back" notices. They have faced a mounting number of death threats, fire bombings and violent assaults. They've had their names, addresses and personal information posted on Web sites and posters, declaring them "wanted for collaboration with animal torture."

When cowed companies began responding to the harassment by pulling away from Huntington, many radical environmentalists cheered—even when SHAC's actions clearly went over the "nonviolent" line.

Still, the ELF and ALF insist that they remain dedicated to what their spokespeople describe as nonviolent "economic sabotage," such as tree-spiking and arson. They vigorously deny the label that increasingly sticks to them: "eco-terrorist."

Spokespeople continue to chant the public-relations mantra that the ALF's David Barbarash invoked again on National Public Radio this January: "There has never been a single case where any action has resulted in injury or death."

SHAC's escalating violence is not unique. North America's most active and widespread eco-radicals—the ELF and ALF took credit for 137 "direct actions" in 2001 alone—have clearly taken a turn toward the more extreme European model of activism. The rhetoric has begun to change along with the action.

Reached by the Intelligence Report, SHAC-USA's Kevin Jonas—a former ALF spokesman—was unusually frank about the lengths to which the new breed of activists will go.

"When push comes to shove," Jonas said, "we're ready to push, kick, shove, bite, do whatever to win."

Connections between the ALF and ELF run deep. From the start, they made pledges of solidarity, and they clearly shared a coterie of hard-line activists. They were also structured similarly, with a handful of activists designated as spokespeople who would announce and encourage "direct actions."

Essentially, anyone who carried out one of these actions—whether or not they were acquainted with the groups' aboveground spokespeople—became, in effect, a member.

The structure is remarkably similar to that of the so-called Army of God, a violent antiabortion "group" that is "joined" by simply carrying out an attack and claiming credit. Although there is no real "membership," these groups can appear large because every attack undertaken in their name generates significant publicity.

Source: Southern Poverty Law Center, 2002

There can no longer be any doubt that the notion of animals possessing rights is entering the mainstream. Best and Singer hold prestigious positions in the philosophy departments of major research universities, the very sorts of institutions that have been the historically favored targets of the ALF. Steven Best especially has been increasingly vocal in his support for militant action to liberate animals, and is at the forefront in the fight to counter public perceptions of the ALF as a terrorist organization in the wake of the FBI's placement of the group on the domestic terrorism list.

For its part, the U.S. government is not shrinking from the effort to combat the ALF. In 1992, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, making it a federal crime to disrupt the functioning of an animal enterprise, legislation that was obviously directly aimed at increasing the government's ability to prosecute ALF activists. In 2004, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings in a prelude to strengthening and broadening the scope of the act to cover threats and intimidation of persons employed in the animal enterprise industry. According to the FBI, the ALF's strictures against causing harm to human beings are merely a facade. The same militants that make up the ALF, the government charges, are also members of more violent groups like the Animal Rights Militia (ARM). According to this view, activists simply wait until the outcome of an illegal action, such as a firebombing, is known. If no humans are harmed, the action is claimed in the name of the ALF. If the action causes harm or would be perceived by the public as recklessly endangering human life, then it is claimed in the name of the more militant group.


Founded in England by the militant activist Ronnie Lee in 1976, the ALF has grown to an international movement, with cells claiming responsibility for illegal actions in more than twenty countries. Dedicated to the liberation of all animals by any means necessary, the ALF's stated goal is to inflict economic damage on all enterprises that profit from the exploitation of animals through illegal acts of sabotage, vandalism, and arson. During the thirty years of the ALF's existence, the United States has become a major focus of militant action, with activists claiming responsibility for increasingly destructive attacks on animal enterprises on an almost weekly basis.

Law enforcement efforts to stop the ALF are made more difficult by the fact that the ALF has no central organizing structure, and no formal membership. In fact, the ALF exists only as a set of guidelines specifying the types of actions that can be claimed in the name of the ALF. These guidelines are published around the world on supporters' web sites. Anyone can claim responsibility for an illegal action in the name of the ALF.

The ALF's agenda and mission are served by other groups that stay within the law. The Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group (ALFSG) exists to provide financial and emotional support to militants who are jailed for ALF actions. The ALF press office exists to provide public relations functions for the militants, and PETA has been observed to work closely with ALF militants as well, producing media campaigns based on materials and information resources stolen by militants during ALF raids.



Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation, third edition. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

Scully, Matthew. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002.


Southern Poverty Law Center. "From Push to Shove." Intelligence Report. Fall, 2002.

Web sites

BBC News. "Animal Rights, Terror Tactics." 〈〉 (accessed September 14, 2005).