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On Direct Action and the FBI

Because not everyone follows the comments, I wanted to reprint a passage from yesterday where I quoted pattrice jones‘ "Mothers with Monkeywrenches: Feminist Imperatives and the ALF" in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?

"Direct action includes only activist tactics that, like boycotts and sabotage, are intended to have an immediate impact on a problem or its causes. In contrast, indirect action aims for future change through more circuitous routes, such as education, legislation, and symbolic demonstrations of opinion. . . . Ideally, direct action will illustrate or illuminate the problem at the same time as it interferes with its causes or effects. The very best direct action contributes to a long-term strategy for future change even as it offers tangible results in the here and now. . . . People who have integrated segregated lunch counters, put their bodies int he paths of troop transport trains, distributed illegal clean needles or birth control devices, boycotted chocolate or Coca-Cola, staged rent strikes, or built ‘tent cities’ for the homeless have all taken direct action against one or another form of oppression. Direct action for animals is similarly diverse" (137-8).

In addition,the ALF considers its actions to be nonviolent (they don’t consider property damage to be violence), and because it’s not as if I’m a spokesperson, I recommend exploring the site yourself and deciding where you stand based on what they say. Note that in the guidelines is: "TO take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human." I also recommend an examination of the history of direct action (and also violence) in social justice movements. You’ll find that it isn’t necessarily true that violence begets violence.

With all of that said, I still feel uncomfortable with violence, and I do realize that might make me sound like a hypocrite (hi Joseph!) and a speciesist as I always come back to this: If we were talking about humans being bred and slaughtered by the billions (and remember it was military might that defeated the Nazis), would we be writing letters, circulating petitions and using education as our first line of defense? The question’s been asked many, many times (as I’m sure you all know), and I still don’t feel satisfied with an answer that doesn’t make me sound like a speciesist.

I’d be thrilled if someone could provide me with an answer that helped them feel better about this particular issue.

And finally, when Colleen sent me "Moles Wanted," about the FBI soliciting informants for vegan potlucks and such, I thought, "Oh, this is what Will Potter wrote about a couple of weeks ago." And it was, except it was a different story about the topic.

Here’s the set-up: FBI tracks down a college sophomore (whom we’ll call Carroll) who had spray-painted the interior of a campus elevator and then turned himself in to the police.

What they were looking for, Carroll says, was an informant—someone to show up at “vegan potlucks” throughout the Twin Cities and rub shoulders with RNC protestors, schmoozing his way into their inner circles, then reporting back to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership between multiple federal agencies and state and local law enforcement. The effort’s primary mission, according to the Minneapolis division’s website, is to “investigate terrorist acts carried out by groups or organizations which fall within the definition of terrorist groups as set forth in the current United States Attorney General Guidelines.”

Carroll would be compensated for his efforts, but only if his involvement yielded an arrest. No exact dollar figure was offered.

“I’ll pass,” said Carroll.

Check out the article (and note the part about how those who infiltrate might be responsible for inciting violence), and of course Will Potter’s and his commentary.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Eric #

    Thanks for your recent posts on the ALF and direct action. Very interesting! There's a lot of wrong information that gets thrown around when these topics surface. It's nice to see some critical thinking based on something more than assumptions.

    May 30, 2008
  2. Deb #

    Regarding the liberation of the concentration camps…I don't know a lot of the "real" history, I only know the versions that get put in the history books, and those do indeed say that the american military came in to save the day.

    Yet I also know that there were a lot of people resisting in other ways. In fact, I think that a book I'm halfway through (put it down months ago) talks about this very issue, and how the liberation could have happened without the military.

    I should go back to find what I'm talking about, so it isn't so vague, but I guess what I'm saying is that while we can't rewrite history (the military DID contribute to the liberation of the concentration camps), we can question whether it is true that a choice even exists where you can choose either pacifism/non-violence or liberation, but not both.

    I wouldn't have joined the military, if it was WWII, not even to save people in the concentration camps. I would have been part of the groups doing clandestine rescues, however. And I think that's at least part of the answer – for me, maybe for you – just because force has been used in the past, is that what you would personally have used? If you are using consistent tactics that you'd also use if it were people, then you're not being speciesist.

    Chocolate slavery is a good example for me. I'm not over there trying to free people from the slave plantations, and I'm not joining a military or paramilitary to free them. I do talk to people about the issues when the topic comes up, and I'm careful with the products I purchase, to be as certain as I can that I'm not contributing to the chocolate slavery. And that's pretty similar to what I do for animal liberation/animal rights as well.

    May 30, 2008
  3. I'd love to see that passage, Deb. And just to clarify, it wasn't American military might, but that of Allies, and we were one of them. In TOFF, there was also a section somewhere (I'll look) about people in the camps who carried out various forms of direct action.

    I'm not one to say that just because something happened a certain way in the past, it MUST happen that way again to succeed. However, this is a far bigger, broader, deeper, older problem than all other ones (and they WERE achieved with tactics that included direct action and even violence) and I have such a difficult time imagining we can make progress doing what we're doing (probably because I don't see progress, other than in vegan options in the world, which is a sort of progress, but what I'd like to see is fewer animals being used or some movement toward rights and I don't see that).

    But that's me.

    Would you please provide your favorite link about chocolate slavery? If I go organic and fair trade, am I good, or is it far more complex?

    May 30, 2008
  4. Roger #

    Hi Mary,

    Shall we go on a journey?

    You cite Ann Berlin's web site:

    Now, I don't really know who Ann Berlin is. I think few in Britain would know her or recognise her as a (ex-)spokesperson like Ronnie or Robin. I know she does plenty to confuse animal rights and animal welfare. This is a link from the above http:

    This is Singer from the 1980s when he was attacking the ALF on a regular basis, so it is an odd inclusion to say the least. btw – I criticised Singer's attack on activists in the 1980s, it even gets a mention in Henshaw's odious book, "Animal Warfare".

    Now in the "further reading" on this page (first entry under the title, "Animal Rights"), Berlin advises readers to check out Peter Singer's book "Animal Rights" which, of course, does not exist.

    Perhaps she made the mistake as this guy?:

    Is there ANY doubt about why so few people know what animal rights is?


    May 30, 2008
  5. Roger,
    I don't know who Ann Berlin is either, but I do know that to consider Singer the father of animal rights is obviously tempting (from the number who believe he is), despite what he actually says.

    Maybe it's intellectual laziness.

    Regardless, confusion abounds.


    May 30, 2008
  6. Deb #

    I'll look for it. If I'm remembering correctly, it is in "From Yale to Jail" which I find interesting for the pacifism, not so much for the religious talk. Luckily I'm only halfway through, so I have only half the book to scan through to find what I'm looking for. I'll email you with what I find!

    May 30, 2008
  7. I think the analogy between human domination over other humans breaks down here. If we were to liberate humans from concentration camps, we would be heralded as heroes. When humans liberate nonhumans from various prisons, they are considered thieves, that is the world we live in. And we will continue to live in it as long as humans own nonhumans. Every time I look at these issues, it always comes back to that.

    May 31, 2008
  8. Mary, Thanks for quoting that passage. I strongly recommend that anthology to anybody who wants to rigorously think through their opinion on the ALF. It includes very thoughtful contributions from scholars and activists, including both proponents and opponents of the ALF.

    On the question of violence, I think it's important to distinguish between force and violence and to understand that context determines whether a particular muscular action falls into one of those categories. I'd also like to contest the idea that property damage constitutes violence, particularly since the creation of "property" from nature always involves violence of some kind. I talk about this briefly in "The Turtle Talk" (which has been widely reprinted online) and much more extensively and carefully in my contribution to the other Best/Nocella anthology, "Igniting a Revolution," which deals with ELF-style environmental activist and which I also strongly recommend.

    May 31, 2008
  9. Deb #

    Oh, regarding the chocolate, I've found this site to be a good source of information on chocolate slavery:

    I believe that fair-trade ends up being pretty good. The fair-trade label, at least for chocolate, means that a contract is signed where the chocolate buyers are committing to paying a fair (by the grower's local standards) price from the chocolate growing collective in question, and it is always a collective of independent individuals involved, I believe.

    So the idea of it is right on, I just don't know how trustworthy it is, how much it is watched to make sure the buyers stay honest. I think there are always aspects that could be questioned, but it seems clear that fair-trade chocolate is light years better than non-fair-trade.

    I've also heard arguments that say, essentially, that these luxury items combined with the economic issues of the regions they're typically grown in means that the farmers grow luxury items for export because they can get more money for them, rather than growing what they need to survive. Sustainability issues, from what I understand. I don't know as much about that part of the chocolate (and other luxury item) issue, though I do think it is a valid point to consider. If I were a stronger person, I would try to eliminate chocolate as all but a very rare indulgence. As it is, I avoid any that is not fair trade. You can even get cocoa powder and chocolate chips that are fair trade, so the options are definitely out there. (And it seems to me that the only fair-trade chocolate I find is also organic.)

    May 31, 2008
  10. the bunny #

    Not everyone who does cruelty toward animals is pure evil (like Hitler) – in fact, most are not.

    How would you feel if the violence/damage – whether it be against their person, their business, their livelihood – is directed toward your mother? Your brother? Your beloved?

    Would you threaten your mother?

    Would you shut down the business of your brother?

    Would you burn down the property of your beloved spouse?

    If you say "yes," then you win.

    May 31, 2008
  11. bunny,
    Has someone mentioned "pure evil?" I don't use that term, as I don't know where I stand on whether or not evil exists, but that is an entirely different topic I've been debating with my inner M. Scott Peck for years.

    I think some people who harm animals as a way of life could very well not be thinking of them as sentient beings and be unconnected to the idea of harm.

    However, I also think some people who harm animals as a way of life (i.e., in their business) simply don't care and believe we have every right to use them as we wish.

    I'm sure there are also some sadists out there, as we have seen in undercover footage of people who abuse animals for fun.

    Now, if my mother had a business that involved harming animals, I would talk to her about it and try to change her mind. I would educate her, as that's what the situation would warrant. I wouldn't marry someone who harmed animals, so that one is unrealistic for me.

    When a business based on exploitation and harm is shut down, it doesn't matter to me who owns it, including my mother. I'm happy it's no longer operating. But property damage or violence aren't the only options, remember. Each situation requires a different strategy, and if someone I knew was involved in a business that harmed animals, I would talk to them. I might even get local pressure put on them to stop through petitions or boycotts or even picketing.

    And I wouldn't burn down anyone's property. Arson isn't something that is by any means unanimously accepted in the direct action community, as there's the possibility of people and/or animals getting hurt.

    June 1, 2008
  12. Deb,
    Thanks for the chocolate slavery link. Here's a link to a list of fair trade chocolate (including vegan chocolate), for anyone interested.

    June 1, 2008
  13. Porphyry #

    "remember it was military might that defeated the Nazis"

    But remember, it was a utopian vision that got the Nazis started; a wonderful end with the means of force to bring it to fruition. The Nazis didn’t’ consider the Holocaust to be mass murder, just a solution. Think how nice the world would have been for animals if Hitler, an on and off dietary vegetarian and animal right’s proponent, were able to unite the world under the glorious third kingdom.

    Hitler and Nazi Germany were not evil. They felt justified. When people think this way without a principal of non-violent action, well, you know the rest.

    Analogies with animals to slavery or the Holocaust are better suited for identifying ideologies and systems, not so for comparing them on a situational basis. Otherwise is a setup of saving the child or the dog in the burning house.

    Yes, stopping extermination of sentient human or non-human animals with force makes sense if the rescued parties can be removed from the holocaust. You can do this with rescued war prisoners. You could do it with rescued slaves in the South by giving them passage via the Underground Railroad to the North. Unfortunately you cannot really do this with the majority of exploited animals as the whole planet conducts the holocaust, Eternal Treblinka. There is no place to rescue them to and makes for poor planning as some sort of goal.

    The root problem for land animals is the continued breeding for use, not the symptoms of captivity or suffering. Unlike holocausts or slavery the goal is not liberation, It is to stop continued breeding.

    June 9, 2008
  14. Porphyry,
    No one said breeding wasn't the root of the problem. No one said the Holocaust or slavery is exactly the same as the animal question. They're not even identical to each other.

    What do you mean by this: "Analogies with animals to slavery or the Holocaust are better suited for identifying ideologies and systems, not so for comparing them on a situational basis." The child or the dog is answered based on whose dog and whose child are involved, and what the state of health of each is, as I believe Francione does in his book of a similar name.

    I often feel like you're not having a discussion, but that you're telling me what I should believe and you're correcting me. We don't agree on everything, and we don't look at everything the same way. You say this isn't a revolution or a war, but many would disagree with you about that and take the perpetual attacks on sentient nonhumans more personally, and see their action as a self-defense by proxy. They have a far greater sense of urgency than it appears that those who insist on nonviolence as the only way exhibit, at least in my opinion. Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? and Igniting a Revolution are wonderful sources for the various perspectives on force, nonviolence and violence.

    Finally, some of the language around actions can be harsh, I agree. Some direct action activists speak of wanting to harm people, and it can certainly be debated as to whether property damage in certain cases has hurt or helped our cause. There's a lot of gray, here, at least for some people. And some of us believe that myriad tactics should be employed, depending on the situation, and that nonviolence (and I'm not including property damage in that definition) hasn't–and won't liberate animals or stop their breeding. And some of us don't.

    I don't think the jury is in yet.

    June 9, 2008

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