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Cyrano Interviews Steve Best

When I started blogging two years ago, I was thought that campaigning for welfare reforms at least accomplished something, as my goal of a society that doesn’t use animals wasn’t going to see the light of day. I held a fundraiser for HSUS’ Legal Fund, I gave thousands to PeTA (despite not agreeing with their sexist tactics), and I was under the impression that the more we regulated animal use and the more "humane" it became, the closer we’d get to abolition.

I didn’t use those phrases exactly, but the sentiments are the same. Am I embarrassed? Not really, as learning can be a messy process, and personal evolution is just that–it doesn’t happen overnight. My arc was: vegetarian to vegan (welfarist) to (vegan) abolitionist to liberationist. The more deeply and broadly I thought, the more open I kept my mind, and the more rigorously I questioned my own beliefs, the more my personal ethic evolved.

Of course, I haven’t figured it all out yet. I call issues I’m ambivalent about Gray Matters, and they’ve included:

  • Whether welfare reforms will lead to abolition (no–resolved).
  • Whether there is such a thing as humane farming (no–resolved).
  • Whether I will give to organizations that have programs I want to support, but also programs I don’t want to support (no–resolved).
  • Whether vegetarianism and veganism have much to do with each other (not morally, but in practice, when most people are transitioning, yes–resolved).
  • Whether God gave us animals to use (just kidding).
  • Whether capitalism and liberation of animals can co-exist (yes and no–unresolved).
  • Whether violence includes property damage, sabotage and intimidation (yes and no–unresolved).

Today’s post will refer to an interview on Cyrano’s Journal Online (Thomas Paine’s Corner) with Dr. Steve Best. Some of it is similar to Best and Anthony J. Nocella II’s Introduction to TERRORISTS OR FREEDOM FIGHTERS? and it will address the two unresolved issues. Here are some passages that were helpful to me:

  • [T]he peaceniks regurgitate the repressive and speciesist discourse of the corporate-state complex and demonize the tough tactics all-too often needed to liberate an animal as “terrorist” or “violence.” But no sooner do they bray these platitudes of betrayal do they sink in the quicksand of hypocrisy and inconsistency. For any schoolchild knows that sometimes sabotage and even “violence” are necessary to stop evil.
  • Whereas corporate society, the state, and mass media brand the liberationists as terrorists, the ALF has important similarities with some of the great freedom fighters of the past two centuries, and is akin to contemporary peace and justice movements in its quest to end bloodshed and violence toward life and to win justice for other species. . . . The ALF believes that there is a higher law than that created by and for the corporate-state complex, a moral law that transcends the corrupt and biased statues of the US political system. When the law is wrong, the right thing to do is to break it. This is often how moral progress is made in history, from the defiance of American slavery and Hitler’s anti-Semitism to sit-ins at “whites only” lunch counters in Alabama.
  • I came out in favor of the ALF because after careful study of their history, arguments, and results, I concluded that their actions are effective, necessary, and just. Governments, animal exploitation industries, and most mass media characterize the ALF as violent terrorists, but I see them as freedom fighters and counter-terrorists. The ALF is a new justice movement defending innocent beings under attack and fighting the real terrorists who torture and kill animals without justification.

    Breaking and entering locked buildings, smashing fur store windows, torching delivery trucks — it all sounds nothing short of vandalism or even terrorism. But I believe ALF actions are defensible because (1) what happens to animals is wrong, and (2) legal channels to stop it are blocked by speciesism and corrupt governments that support the property rights of industries over the moral rights of animals.

  • I wish that legal methods of animal liberation were adequate to free animals from their oppressors, but unfortunately they are not. Governments are grotesquely corrupt and speciesist and serve their corporate masters. Animals are too important a resource and commodity for corporations to voluntarily free them, and so animal liberation requires militant tactics such as raids to rescue animals and property destruction to weaken, cripple, or eliminate oppressors.
  • Unlike some brave warriors fighting Nazis, however, the ALF has never used physical violence against any animal exploiter. And like all contemporary movements fighting for peace, justice, and human rights, the ALF intends to help secure all these values for the most defenseless victims of all, the animals who are utterly dependent upon us for their liberation.
  • People often say that animals are “the new slaves.” No, they were the first slaves. They’re the first beings human oppressors used to confine, torture, cage, chain down, auction, and sell for labor and profit. The domination of animals paved the way for the domination of humans. The sexual subjugation of women was modeled after the domestication of animals, such that men began to control women’s reproductive capacity, to enforce repressive sexual norms, and to rape them as they forced breeding in their animals. Slavery emerged in the same region of the Middle East that spawned agriculture, and, in fact, developed as an extension of animal domestication practices.
  • A several paragraph critique of Gary Francione, including: While Francione tries to define himself as the “radical abolitionist” antithetical to the “new welfarist” capitulations and betrayals of a corporate suit such as Wayne Pacelle, in fact, he is Pacelle’s doppelganger in their shared vilification of the ALF and SHAC, and some of the most effective tactics ever developed in the history of this movement.
  • In extreme crimes, in the face of extreme evil and violence, moderate positions don’t cut it, and one is forced to take extreme measures to stop extreme wrongs. The western environment and animal advocacy movements have advanced their causes for over three decades now, but we are nonetheless losing ground in the battle to preserve species, ecosystems, and wilderness.
  • I define terrorism as any intentional act of violence toward an innocent sentient being in order to advance an ideological, political, and economic agenda. It is a strange kind of terrorist who has never injured a single person, who is compassionate toward the suffering of others, and who risks his or her own freedom to save another from harm, violence, and death. It is not the ALF who are violent terrorists, but rather the UK and US governments and war machines, global corporations raping and pillaging the world, vivisectors in their blood-stained coats, and all facets of the animal exploitation industry. They are terrorists on the grounds that they intentionally harm and kill innocent living beings for ideological, political, and economic goals.
  • If violence is the intentional infliction of bodily harm against another person, then how can one “hurt,” “abuse,” or “injure” a nonsentient thing that does not feel pain or have awareness of any sort? How can one be “violent” toward a van or be a “terrorist” toward brick and mortar? How does one harm or terrorize a laboratory or fur farm with spray paint or a firebomb?

The comments comprise several distracting personal issues among readers, but there are some that do relate to the actual interview.

I’m interested to hear what you agree with and disagree with.

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. the bunny #

    As far as I have read, ALF has had far shadier dealings than those described in the interview. What I read a couple years ago in Capers in the Churchyard highlighted some of the fear and damage invoked from the actions of their associations. It's rather like PETA saying that they have nothing to do with people spray painting the fur coats of runway models.

    Intimidation (i.e., explicit/implicit threats) is just another level of violence…it's psychological violence. I don't care so much about the property damage (it's pointless anyway because those things usually just end up getting replaced, whether it be material things or animals). It is the intended psychological reaction of the victims that I don't agree with. Intimidation, threatening behavior, creating fear…these things are psychological torture techniques in order to achieve a goal.

    That aside, I still cannot understand liberation. Not just because I don't believe it works in the long run toward abolitionism (which it doesn't), but because it doesn't work in the short run either. For example, I don't understand the mentality of liberating thousands of mink (or any other animal from a farm or a lab) for them to run into the wild or around the neighborhood just to end up dying because they do not have the skills to survive. And either the farm or lab will "restock" its "product" anyway, or another farm will magically crop up down the road. Trash a Hummer, the person will go out and buy a new one. Free mice from a testing lab, more mice will be reordered. Burn down the testing lab, a new one will be built. Steal puppies from a puppy mill, they will simply jack up the breeding process. Etc., etc. And, through this approach, the minds of the workers/perpetrators almost never change, therefore the cycle of cruelty is perpetuated. "Products" just get "restocked." If you have some information to the contrary, please show me. Because thus far, all I have read from the liberationists is that they have done wonders for animals…but, I never read many facts proving exactly what they have *accomplished*.

    "one is forced to take extreme measures to stop extreme wrongs…"

    In a world where violence is the norm (now and in all of history), peace is the extreme measure…the radical approach. In this human world replete with bloodshed and hate, I see peace as being revolutionary. So, I'll stick to it unless I see real meaningful change being made through other avenues.

    May 26, 2008
  2. Hi bunny!

    A couple of thoughts:
    * I don't think wanting animal liberation equals supporting the ALF. I am in favor, for instance, of open rescue, as not only are some lives saved, but the public gets educated. Much of what we have come to know is because of open rescue.
    * Liberating animals in the past has led to severe economic hardship, and even the shutting down of animal exploitation businesses. The animals are given medical treatment and homed where they will be safe for the rest of their lives.
    * As for peace being the extreme measure, I've been working for animal liberation solely by nonviolent, peaceful means for my entire life. This movement is several hundred years old, and now more animals are suffering worse than ever before. I haven't seen meaningful change made.
    * I don't agree with intimidation and home demonstrations and other actions that involve violence toward people. I think that's when it becomes violence. I do, however, have come to have trouble seeing property damage as violence, particularly if it is done in order to counter real violence (toward sentient beings human or nonhuman).

    But that's me.

    May 26, 2008
  3. Deb #

    "when the law is wrong, the correct thing to do is break it" resonates with me. I say that as someone who only breaks traffic laws, so the reason it resonates with me is that the law does not equate to moral authority. It used to be legal to have human beings as slaves. It used to be legal to beat and kill your wife (she was property). It is currently legal to beat and kill any non-human sentient being who is a commodity (dogs and horses used in racing, "farmed" animals, hunted animals, etc) with a narrow set of exceptions for "pets", where it is murky and therefore prosecutable as long as the beating and/or killing was brutal enough to invoke horror and empathy.

    I have a hard time seeing breaking locks as violence when it is being done to free sentient beings. I have a hard time seeing sabotage of implements of torture or war as being violence. I have a hard time seeing the point of throwing paint on fur coats or writing nasty comments on steps. Are they violent? Not technically, but I can empathize with the people wearing the fur coats or living/working in the places that get painted as feeling that there has been a threat.

    I don't really have answers for some of this, though I reject the knee-jerk assumption that ALF is violent, that DA is violent, that breaking a lock is violent, that breaking any law (without analysis) is "violent".

    At the same time, I think about a conversation I had with a friend, about the term "enemy." My friend has been studying and teaching peace studies for a while. He is convinced that we have to move beyond these polarizations. It is compelling, as an idea. I asked him "but what do we call the people who kill animals. they're not my friends, they feel like my enemies." And he admitted that he didn't have an answer for that.

    I can accept that, the lack of definite answers. I think these are questions we should be thinking about. The idea of "pacifism" is easily voiced, and less easily analyzed, in my opinion.

    May 26, 2008
  4. the bunny #

    You have introduced me to "open rescue." I never heard of it before. I just did a search to find out more about it. It's definitely an approach that has more integrity and value than does the likes of ALF. But I'm still not convinced of its effectiveness. I just imagine this scenario…after having rescued 120 factory farm chickens and my face being exposed to the public without the cover of a ski mask, I go to trial, and probably end up in jail. Now what? Now how many animals am I helping? None. I'm useless for the rest of my sentence.

    Simply telling me that liberating animals has shut down animal exploitation businesses, like the rhetoric I read from the liberation folks, is vague information. I'm interested in facts and examples (or even a link to such). I'd like to know the percentage of open rescues that resulted in the shutting down of businesses (for good), and what the ramifications were to the workers and the industry. Because if a majority of the rescues does NOT lead to the permanent closing of businesses, then that means that the businesses are simply restocking their inventory. And are thereafter more inclined to secure their properties while they're at it.

    I won't knock "open rescue" yet, but I need some more facts and figures to convince me that it is viable approach with real results.

    Quote: "As for peace being the extreme measure, I've been working for animal liberation solely by nonviolent, peaceful means for my entire life. This movement is several hundred years old, and now more animals are suffering worse than ever before. I haven't seen meaningful change made."

    Somehow, I don't think you meant to write what you wrote here. Essentially, it seems you are saying that peaceful methods have not provided meaningful change up to now, therefore let's try…violence? By introducing me to "open rescue" you have presented me with an alternative to ALF's approach, not an alternative to peace. Open rescue seems peaceful enough (no violence, threats, property damage involved – it's simply animals being rescued and then, and I take your word for it, being given good homes). That seems pretty peaceful to me. I just don't know how useful it is.

    Because I still see it this way. If you want to save 120 chickens by breaking them out of a factory farm with or without the dreaded ski mask, whether in the light of day or in the dead of night, you will likely end up in jail. Meanwhile, you could continue throwing large vegan dinner parties instead. If you influence even just ONE person a year through that route, you will have saved about a thousand factory farmed animals (via the new convert's lifetime abstinence from meat and/or dairy). Let's weight the consequences: Saving 120 chickens plus serving fun jail time (and probably be forced to eat meat and dairy and other unsavory things…heh.) versus saving a thousand or more animals through your dinner-party influence (and possibly saving many more animals by that person eventually influencing another to become vegan).

    And then the question remains…are you willing to take the risk of open rescue yourself? Or are you simply going to fund those who will take the risk for you?

    In any case, your post has given me some stuff to think about…I like that…thanks! 🙂

    May 27, 2008
  5. *Deb,
    In a (lookout-here comes something you might not like) quantum kind of way, and even in Buddhism, duality is the enemy. Once you realize you ARE the person who slaughters the cow, as we are all connected, you have a more difficult time wanting to wage a war. Now, you are also the cow, and for me it's easier to actually feel like I'm the cow, as I might identify with the injustice of being the cow more than with the slaughterer. However, which one I feel more like isn't the idea, as I am equally both.

    So waging war on yourself doesn't make much sense.

    With that said, I'm not in favor of harming people, and I wonder if waging war (of a sort) on someone's property is the same thing . . . .


    As it happens, many do consider open rescue to be violent. First there's the breaking and entering, then there's the destruction of property (though it is kept to a minimum usually, and sometimes money is left to pay for broken locks and windows and such), and then there's the theft of property (the animals). The idea is NOT to set them all free. It is to rescue a few and provide treatment and homes for them, and as important, the operation is filmed for educational purposes. You probably know by now that Patty Mark is the mother of open rescue. Check out Happy Mother's Day from Open Rescue NZ (which Roger directed me to) for a sample of their work:

    I suggest reading the Introduction to Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? which can be found at: It addresses many questions you probably have and I hope it clarifies some things for you. The book has many points of view and by no means is an all-out endorsement of violence (it has all "sides" of the issue). What it does is present the discussion and place it in terms of the history of social justice movements, and various activists state their opinions and back them up.

    And I really did mean to write what I wrote. I look at the micro and the macro and say, on a micro level, with the number of animals I DON'T kill each year and the number also "saved" (I know that's the wrong word) by the people who have gone vegan because of me each year, I'm fairly successful. And because each individual life has worth, I'm relieved that there are probably thousands of animals–of individuals–NOT killed (or created) because of me each year.

    But when I take the dreaded leap to the macro level, to the system, the establishment that created, perpetuates and profits from the enslavement and slaughter of sentient beings, I'm less enthusiastic about my results. The system hasn't changed and things are worse. And add to that the legislation that basically puts animal rights activists at the top of the government's most-wanted list, and I am not just not enthusiastic, but shocked and terrified that this is happening in America. (Go to Will Potter for all things Green Scare at

    What I am advocating here is simply that we think beyond veganism to the system that makes our goals impossible to attain, and will likely land some people in jail, all for a just cause. What hope do we have of dismantling it?

    May 27, 2008
  6. kim #

    I'm not sure how it can be dismissed that everyone who came to ethical veganism, with a desire for abolition, came to it most likely through some form of "welfare" issue initially. We all had our evolution, so I can't see how it's expected that a public mindset, barring some wholesale catastrophic disease or disaster, will skip this step – it appears we are at the "humane meat" stage in that evolution.

    Suffering caused by expolitation appears to be a necessary component of the initial empathic response. It's amazing how many people still don't recognize non-humans as even cognizant or sentient! So I don't know how you go about jumping to a property status focus if the basic understanding of animals is still largely absent. As long as animals continue to be exploited with obvious suffering, it may be difficult to determine that strategy's effectiveness anyway.

    On violence as a tactic, I think it's a natural response in defense of the defenseless. I believe if most people came upon someone beating a pig, they wouldn't think twice about stepping in and knocking the abuser out in order to stop the abuse. So intellectually, it seems fair to want the same kind of justice for similar abuse masquerading as a "legal" activity.

    Unfortunately society doesn't seem to get the similarities of the abuse, so "violence" (whether humans are injured or not) serves mostly as a negative distraction away from the animals' predicament. But I understand the attraction…

    May 27, 2008
  7. Kim: You say: "It's amazing how many people still don't recognize non-humans as even cognizant or sentient! So I don't know how you go about jumping to a property status focus if the basic understanding of animals is still largely absent."

    I guess that's why we need to tailor our approach to whatever audience is in front of us, though I know a lot of people disagree. I can safely say that though I have been influential in a bunch of people becoming vegan, not one of them has the property discussion (even when I raise it) or would have gone in that direction on their own. I've said many times that though I see that the property status of nonhuman animals as a key issue, I would never have thought of it on my own. In fact, I've long had an issue with the commodification of animals, yet I never brought that back to property status (shows one of the many faults in my thinking).

    May 27, 2008
  8. I guess I have a question. If we accept that incremental change to not going to allow us to reach our goals, how do we move forward? If I ask myself, how can I make things a little better, I can think of a number of things to do. If I ask myself, how do I completely liberate all animals, I have a lot harder time of it. Possibly that's a limitation on my part.

    To try a little bit different phrase, what does the world look like a day before the abolitionists achieve victory?

    Thanks for all of the interesting information on your site.


    May 27, 2008
  9. Dan #

    There are two confusions here:

    The first confusion is that of “where we are” (happy meat versus veganism) with “how we got there” (vegan education). An analogy might help: I’m driving in my car from New York to Chicago and pass Cleveland on the way. In this analogy, New York is traditional omniville (sorry NY), Chicago is vegantown, Cleveland is happymeat city (sorry Cleveland), and my car is vegan education (and only vegan education). Unless I take a jet, I will likely happen to drive through Cleveland, but Cleveland did not *cause* me to get to Chicago, *my car did.* It is possible to go from New York to Chicago without going through Cleveland via the jet of “very effective vegan education on someone of higher moral intelligence than most”. It is *not possible* to go to Chicago merely because one is in Cleveland and most people drove through Cleveland to get to Chicago. You must get in a vehicle (vegan abolitionist education) to go to Chicago from Cleveland.

    Welfare reform may be where society is right now (which is another reason vegans should be one step ahead), but vegan education is how society will proceed to veganism and abolition. Vegan education is CAUSALLY connected to going vegan; welfare reform is not causally related.

    The second confusion is the property status argument as a substitute for vegan education in attempting to get people to go vegan. Educating people on why animals should not be property would only be effective for people already committed to being vegan. Abolitionists educate non-vegans on why they should go vegan, NOT why animals shouldn’t be property. Once people are vegan, THEN it makes sense to discuss the property status argument, but not before then.

    May 27, 2008
  10. Deb #

    I thought I'd address one question of Bunny's, with regards to open rescues and people getting arrested.

    It is true that there have been people arrested during open rescues (similar to civil disobedience actions where people chain themselves to something and are arrested for that), but there is only one person who has served time for participating in an open rescue (adam weismann, if I remember correctly) and he was charged with trespass, nothing else.

    The main point of open rescue is the publicity, and in that sense if you have video of the rescue and it gets on media sources, it is doing more than you'd do regardless of whether you're in or out of prison. theoretically, anyway.

    Me, I'm not convinced that showing animals suffering is necessarily the answer.

    Mary, yeah, I've heard that before, and I can feel it once in a while (like when at a thich nhat hanh talk), but I don't find that it really helps me when trying to figure out how to do something or how to change something. My lack of evolution, likely. As for property destruction, I find that while I can not and will not value inanimate objects over sentient beings (or even non sentient living things – i.e., the life of a tree is worth saving, not the life of a desk, no matter the sentimental value of the desk), there is some vague line that is crossed for me when someone's personal property is damaged. I suppose simply because it is a foregone conclusion that the person in question is going to feel a threat, regardless of whether it is intended that there be one.

    I'm not sure I'm convinced that real wars or real violence would be helpful to any cause. In the paraphrased words of the late Utah Phillips, you can't kill to prove that killing is wrong.

    May 27, 2008
  11. kim #

    I don't know how you go about vegan education, which I do all the time, without tying in the suffering of sentient beings resulting from simply having their personal rights denied. It all blends together – revealing the immediate suffering taking place from overt cruelty that they shouldn't continue to support and the overall concept of a being's individual right to not be exploited or owned.

    This was exactly what was presented to me, and I reacted the same way most people that I advocate to do – by going though a stage of denial where I sought "humane" alternatives (in my case with eggs and dairy). I'd like to think that eventually most will get to the realization that you can't humanely exploit anyone, but most people will go through that denial stage once the concept of animal suffering or veganism is presented, and the animal industries are finding ways to take advantage of it.

    May 27, 2008
  12. I admit to steering clear of the ALF issue despite having hung out with people who were involved with them. The big push in industry is to label animal rights as terrorist and try to startle the disinterested masses away from the the whole idea of animal adocacy. I don't know many people able to have a sensible conversation about the continuum people are on right now, especially in the wake of the arson attempt on the house of the Chicago Mayor claimed as revenge for the cougar shooting. The house was empty but it pushes buttons that seem to close the conversation right there. Of course my discussions tend to end with being considered both an apologist and a terrorist. The angst of the hypocrite, etc 😉

    May 28, 2008
  13. Scott #

    I'm wondering if you could discuss the means by which you resolved the question of whether welfarist reforms can lead to abolition. This is a current "Gray Matter" for me, one which I go back and forth on. I hear alot of people say it can, and alot of others say it can't, but rarely do I hear a convincing argument for either. I think your "path" to resolving the issue may be helpful to others.

    June 3, 2008
  14. Emily,
    I didn't know about the Mayor's house (I've been very busy). I'll have to look that up. Thanks.

    I will blog about your query tomorrow. Thanks for the idea!

    June 3, 2008
  15. Roger #

    Re: Open Rescue.

    In a sense, open rescue is a version of what the Northern Animal Liberation League was
    into. See the link to the NALL here: In the 1980s
    there was a good deal of dispute between "NALL people" and "ALF people" – I managed to straddle
    the two positions.

    The NALL specialised in taking large groups into animal use/abuse establishments (100+ people at
    a time). ALF supporters were critical because the NALL did not encourage anyone to damage anything
    or liberate anyone, rather document the abuse. By not damaging or "stealing", activists were
    extremely unlikely to suffer jail time – that was the theory anyway.

    In terms of vegan education, however, the NALL strategy was BRILLIANT. There is nothing more educational than seeing for yourself and smelling, say, a battery unit. After such an experience,
    it matters not what spin animal users try because one knows the truth.


    June 3, 2008
  16. ingrid? No, not really. #

    See the link to ALF here:

    June 5, 2008
  17. Ingrid? No not really–I'm not sure what we're looking for in the wiki link. What would you like to point out?

    June 6, 2008

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