In Defense of Direct Action and Monkeywrenching

Direct action can be anything from spray painting slogans on the walls of animal abusing businesses to arson to the actual liberation of animals from farms or laboratories. The aim is liberating animals, but also to make the business of abusing animals too costly to be worthwhile. And on Thanksgiving 1993, the issue of direct action against animal abusers was brought back to public debate when five plastic explosive devices were found in Chicago-area department stores carrying far coats.

Many people believe that animal liberationists should not lower themselves to such acts of militancy. 'With this piece, my intention is not to encourage or discourage any forms of behavior on behalf of the animals or the environment. My goal is to do nothing more than examine the reasoning that activists place behind such actions. To do so, we must first examine some liberation movements of the past.

The pillar of slavery was brought down by the work of many forces. The abolition of slavery did not come about as a result of sudden change in attitude by the white majority toward black minority. Slavery was brought to an end because of the constant struggle, seemingly against all odds, by a minority of persons willing to fight. A minority made up, not only of slaves, educated and otherwise, but of whites, working together to achieve a common goal. One of the many forces they had to work against were large plantation owners who argued that the abolition of slavery would destroy the economy beyond repair.

The abolition of slavery had to come at all costs. Slaves began using work slow downs and fake illnesses to cost the plantation money. Toward the end of the Civil War, crop trampling and tool breaking made slaves ownership more expensive than it was worth. The Underground Railroad worked not only to get runaway slaves north of the Mason/Dixon Line to freedom. It was an economic strike against slave owners who were losing a great deal of money each time one of their slaves successfully made it to freedom. The Underground Railroad was direct action, it was the liberation of slaves, who were considered nothing more than property. It was theft. It was illegal. And people risked their lives to achieve that liberation.

During World War II the resistance movements by the French and the Polish worked in violation of laws set forth by the Nazis. The information those resistances managed to obtain from the Nazis was crucial in the fight for the liberation of Europe during the 1940s.

Conflict of Values

A lumber company in California returned to its site to find its equipment destroyed and surrounding trees spiked. The company's job was to destroy thousands of acres of old-growth forest, to make room for a road to make traveling easier, or maybe a campsite so that people could come to the area to enjoy nature. Today, those trees are still standing. Had it not been for direct action, that forest would be gone and those trees turned into paper products.

Concerned citizens probably went to a county zoning commission meeting to rationally discuss their position on the destruction of the forest. The county, however, has much to gain from the harvesting of trees. The county receives money in the form of profits from land purchases by the company. The county may also be pleased because the lumber company may be providing much-needed jobs for area residents. The environmental concerns fall upon deaf ears.

Here is where we find the conflict of values: profit versus biological diversity and a respect for all life. The timber industry reflects that conflict. For someone who's economic survival depends on the harvesting of lumber, the choice between preserving the environment and making money is clear. The meat and dairy industries make billions of dollars each year keeping us addicted to their unhealthy products. Animal research receives minions of dollars every year from grants and from the sales of bred animals. The conflict is repeated time and time again, repeatedly, industry after industry. The message is clear: industry and ethics do not mix.

Those who risk their freedom by committing direct action hold biological diversity and reverence of life as more important than the concepts of money or private property. All the money in the world can't replace an ecosystem. The actions by companies that exploit the environment are a pure result of capitalism. The short-term forecast is what industry looks at; what will make the most money right now, and how can it be made the easiest and quickest. If companies were to examine the long-term affects of their current behavior, they would certainly change their behavior. They would see that eventually the resources they are milking from the Earth will slowly decline in abundance, and their profits will take a drastic fall.

Another conflict of values comes from law itself. Morality and Government do not mix well. (Nazi Germany is a perfect example of that). Although some laws certainly are in the best interest of people (murder, robbery, theft, rape, vandalism), laws have not always protected the individual's rights. Slavery, as we have already discussed, was legal for a great deal of time, but some people decided that, as a law, it was iniquitous and so, broke its law in the name of liberation.

Certainly, if you had been a slave in 1860, you would not have minded someone breaking the law to free you. The difference between slaves in 1860 and animals in 1994 is simple: animals cannot speak. They cannot tell of their need for liberation. They do not know of their need of liberation. They only know of their pain and their sorrow. You can see these things if you look at them. You can hear these things. But you cannot if you will not listen to their cries. A fundamental rule about laws is that laws are unequivocally biased towards those who wrote them. When the day comes that those in power hold life, biological diversity and the Earth more important than profits and money, the existence of those laws will be questioned.

The Forcing of Beliefs on Others

The argument that direct action forces one's beliefs down another's throat is at best a good laugh. The majority of direct action activists, if not all, also work to educate the public. No one relies completely on direct action tactics. Direct action efforts of groups like the Animal Liberation Front and the Sea Shepherds would not survive without the educational efforts of groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Greenpeace. It is the animal industries who are pushing their beliefs on others, not the activists. The meat industry forces their violent beliefs on 6 billion animals a year. The meat industry forces its beliefs on consumers with outrageous lies about the health effects of meat and dairy products. But the public doesn't see things this way.

Direct action liberates or assists in the liberation of living beings who have speciesist beliefs forced upon them. Beliefs, which lead to enslavement, torture and eventually, death. Direct action forces an abuser to face a taste of his own medicine, to face a sense of hopelessness that many animals are forced to endure constantly.

It is Terrorism:

The Underground Railroad has never been looked upon as a terrorist group like the ALF has. I'm that if you were to read the writings of slave owners (if any such writings were still in existence), you would see words like: extremists, terrorists. Or they might say that those working the Underground Railroad were only hurting the abolitionist struggle. What makes the struggle for animal rights any different?

Making of Criminals and the Breakdown of Society:

One must feel that law is justified in worrying first about crime and those who commit it. When will the system imprison a CEO of Exxon for destruction of the environment, or a stockyard owner who is convicted on cruelty to animal charges? Is this a conflict of values developing? White-collar crime versus street crime. The judicial system is less likely to convict and sentence someone to prison who steals hundreds of thousands of dollars and costs the taxpayers millions of dollars than it is to do the same for someone caught with possession of marijuana. Which is the real crime? Which of these two crimes is more dangerous to society? What about persons who break the law to save or protect what they feel is most important?

It can be said that a person willing to risk their fife and freedom for the freedom of others is a person of high moral standards with a strong ethic of right and wrong. The only reason liberators want to see society break down is so that the cruelty will come to an end. All who believe in animal rights wish for that to happen within the context of the system, through laws and legislation, through grassroots organizing, but many don't feel the animals should have to wait for that very distant day.

People's Right to Work:

"By hurting people's businesses you are taking away their right to work and make a living." I'm not sure if that was the actual line of defense used at the Nuremberg trials, but it was something to that effect. If a hustler decides he wants to put food on the table for his family the best and most productive way he possibly can, by scamming people, do we have the right to stop that person from doing so?

Regardless of your opinion, the liberator's opinion is that animal suffering is wrong, and must be stopped. Conflict of values: a person's right to work versus someone's right to their life. If your ethic was consistent and true, and honestly placed more importance on the right to work, you would be unable to argue against such industries as child pornography or drug trafficking, and the slave trade should be legal and protected from crusaders attempting to stop it. There are plenty of other careers out there for people to take that would make money and protect the Earth.

Does it Work?

Yes it does! One dog rescued from a laboratory is a victory. It now knows freedom when before it only knew pain. The number of actions on behalf of animals in the United Kingdom average 2-3 every night. The insurance costs in England for a fur store have helped to lower the number of stores there by 80% in the last ten years. ALF groups in the United States and England have exposed labs, and have effectively had them shut down. In addition, many animal rights groups use ALF information in education campaigns.

For example, Earth First has successfully kept the Shawnee Forest in Illinois standing for the last 3 years with continued tree spiking and other forms of environmental direct action. Earth First has had hundreds of victories in the last ten years holding true to its ethic of no compromise in defense of mother Earth. This is the case with many groups out there. Animals and the environment are being protected everyday because of actions like these. Proposed environmental and animal protection legislation gets watered down every time because of the pressure and influence of multi-million dollar industries to protect their interests (and their profits). Direct action is the only way to obtain immediate advances in the fight for animal rights and ecology. We do not have the time to wait for government to come around to our way of thinking.

MY Final Opinion

If you're saying to yourself, "that's fine and dandy, but human liberation movements of the past and present have nothing to do with the animal liberation movement of today," your attitude does not belong here. I feel no need to justify direct action to those who maintain that human life is supreme to other forms of life. You would not understand. Until your foundation of thought is such that all life is invaluable, and all life equal, our policies will remain foreign to you. If you consider yourself and animal liberationist who disagrees with direct action, but you think the actions of the white abolitionists during slavery or the actions of those involved with the French and Polish resistances were justified, then you must also admit your speciesist beliefs.

If there was reason enough to come to violence to -free humans in those cases, why should not we do everything we can to liberate animals? If you are against direct action, you are obligated then to feel that slavery should still exist and that the struggle against Hitler's empire was unjustified. Sympathy for the abusers of animals is something I do not advocate. While animals and the Earth are dying, I remain in defense of direct action and monkey wrenching.