Animal Liberator

Rights radical talks about `underground' activities against cruelty

BY day they live normal lives; probably most nights as well. But it is what these people do outside their normal activities that causes the Federal Bureau of Investigation to classify them as terrorists.

They are members of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an underground organization that since 1979 has caused millions of dollars of destruction to animal research laboratories across the United States. No one has been able to stop them. No one has been able to identify the group's members. But after hearing about the preparation of this article, an active member of ALF agreed to meet and talk with this reporter.

Julie - who refused to give a last name - has been a member of ALF for six years. She asked not to be physically described and - for fear of future indictment - offers few details about what she does. ``I'm a regular person with a regular job, who has chosen to occasionally do things that are felonies,'' she says.

She will say that she is single and in her early 40s. She describes her job as ``a white-collar office worker ... administrative.'' There is nothing about her that initially hints of extremism.

Julie's introduction to ALF was gradual. ``I was active [in the animal-rights movement] for a number of years: leafletting, talking at schools, picketing the circus, ... anything I could do,'' she says. One day a friend approached her and asked, hypothetically, if she would ever consider doing anything illegal. Taken a little off guard, she responded that if the target were appropriately chosen, she might. Hypothetical ``what ifs'' went on for over a month.

Then the phone call came. ``It's happening tonight. Can you be there?'' a voice asked.

This was the first of Julie's eight ``major break-ins'' to date. It was at the University of Pennsylvania's Head Injury Clinic. In addition to destroying more than $20,000 worth of equipment, ALF stole 60 hours of videotaped experiments from within the lab. From these, a sample tape was made and widely circulated among legislators on Capitol Hill. The result was revocation of a five-year, $3 million grant to the lab from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Programs funded by NIH are a particular focus of ALF. ``Targets funded by NIH are better campaigns [than those operating with private financing] because they are funded by taxpayers' money,'' Julie says. ``We have to do this because there is no public scrutiny. The public pays for it, but cannot find out what happens.''

According to an NIH spokesman, the organization is currently funding 17,836 projects (worth approximately $2.5 billion) that involve animal research in some way. The NIH does not keep specific records about the degree to which animals are involved in each project.

ALF has no central authority. There is no membership roster; in fact, its own members don't know who the others are. ``You only know about each other what you need to know,'' Julie says. ``You don't need to know others' names, jobs, etc.''

So what would stop any individual from carrying out an act in ALF's name? Nothing. But three common principles unite members:

They are willing to go to jail.

They will not betray each other to save themselves.

No human or animal is ever harmed.

Being labeled a terrorist doesn't bother Julie. ``The real terrorists are in the labs,'' she contends. ``The ALF never harmed anyone, never killed anyone. Yet researchers are killing and agonizing animals every day.''

According to Julie, blowtorches, guns, and electric shocks are some of the devices used on animals daily in labs. ``Breaking in and taking is justified,'' she says. ``The fact that they confine, experiment on, and kill [animals] is enough [justification].'' She refused to describe how they break-in to the labs.

Destruction is an integral part of ALF's strategy. A fire set by ALF members at the animal diagnostic laboratory at the University of California at Davis in April 1987 reportedly caused $3.5 million in damage.

``It is important to cause damage to the equipment,'' Julie says, ``[because] we want to make it more difficult and more expensive [to carry out experiments].''

According to a chronology maintained by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), ALF has carried out 60 acts - including laboratory break-ins, spray-painting buildings, and bomb threats.

``We have the same responsibility we have to any vulnerable group in society,'' Julie says. ``Animals need us to protect their interest in the same way abused children need protection.... Animals can experience fear, pain, loneliness, boredom. Their distress is as real and as strong as ours, even if they can not vocalize it like us. If they can't vocalize it, their fear is even greater.''

ALF selects its targets, she says, by reading medical journals and through tips from individuals within the labs. Julie says ALF is considering several new raids: ``The list is now down to about half a dozen.''

As she walks away, briefcase in hand and finally back amid the crowds of people - but not seeming to care now - Julie says, ``Animals aren't ours, they're not our slaves.... This has to be done.''

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