Spring of 1991 some friends and I decided it was time for a direct action campaign
against the U.S. fur farm industry. We had been contacted about animal research
being conducted at Oregon State University that was funded by the Mink Farmers
Research Foundation, an organization that collects a tax on mink pelts at the
auction house and funds research to benefit fur farmers.
An undercover investigation
funded by Friends of Animals had exposed the vulnerable links in the fur farm
industry, specifically in research and development. Through only a handful of
universities the MFRF financed research that was aimed at lowering the overhead
costs to raise mink and prevent the spread of disease among mink in captivity.
By the end of February 1992 all but one recipient of MFRF funds had felt the bite
of the A.L.F. Besides OSU, Washington State University in Pullman. Michigan State
University in East Lansing, the Fur-Breeders Cooperative in Edmonds, Washington
and Malecky Mink Ranch in Oregon had been raided. This is the story of the first
raid of what would become known as Operation Bite Back.
We rode up to Corvallis,
Oregon on our mountain bikes surveying the outlying areas of campus until we located
the long barns of the Experimental Fur Farm. Ditching our bikes in the brush we
approached along Oak Creek, a waterway that wound along the fur farm right up
to its property boundary. Everywhere were the tracks of mink that had escaped
from the farm. Having never been the target of even protests, let alone a direct
action attack, the farm's security consisted of little more than outdoor lighting,
fences and a caretaker's quarters.
After a few hours in the brush watching
for security activity, we ventured over the fence onto the property where we surveyed
each building until we felt we had identified the general layout of the station.
Besides the mink barns there were storage buildings for farm equipment, a workshop,
the experimental feed building, a laboratory, the caretaker's house, and offices
of the head researcher, Ron Scott.
Next we hopped over the five-foot fence
surrounding the mink barns which was topped with an electric wire, the type used
to pen in horses, choosing not to open the gate should it be alarmed. A few of
the sheds were empty of mink and one small female roamed freely within the confines
of the actual farm. Checking the gate for an alarm, we wedged the door open and
watched as the female who had followed us bolted to freedom. Just then, we looked
above the gate to the adjoining research laboratory and noticed a window to a
bathroom that was left unlatched.
We opened the window and then closed it
again and retreated off the property to the creek to watch for any response should
the window be alarmed. There was no noticeable activity. Next we ventured onto
the roof where we could view the entire field station. It was an extreme rarity
to conduct a first time reconnaissance and feel confident enough to conclude that
an action was possible, but that is exactly what we did.
We knew that the
type of action we planned would bring down a wave of repression on animal rights
activists, but we believed it was time the fur farm industry was targeted by the
A.L.F. and OSU, as the number one recipient of MFRF funds seemed the logical first
strike. If successful, in one attack we could neutralize over six research projects
that, if concluded, would result in innovative developments in captive mink raising.
OSU's Experimental Fur Farm had been established by the US Department of Agriculture
in 1926. At 65 years of age it was high time for its retirement. Now came the
recruitment stage of the action. Rather than draw from already suspected A.L.F.
activists, it was decided to approach people completely unknown to law enforcement
authorities. A handful of trusted activists who had proved their commitment in
other campaigns were contacted, only in person and talked to only outside of their
homes. Not one declined the invitation to become a member of what would be called
the Western Wildlife Unit of the A.L.F.
On our second recon mission we were
armed with topo-graphical, county and state maps for the entire region. Roads
were driven to establish escape paths should we be detected during the raid and
drop-off and pick-up points were estab-lished. We avoided stopping at any shops
and stores in the area and filled up on gas far from the target. When the raid
happened and if we became suspects because of our above-ground activism, we knew
our pictures would be shown to local merchants so it was wise to not be seen in
Our group began to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of
one another and crafted our roles for the raid based on them. Some people were
better drivers, others more observant and vigilant. In that way we delegated who
was to drive, be lookouts and lead the entry team. We conducted all night surveillance
on the day of the week we planned the raid and became intimately familiar with
the normal activity during that time. With the confidence that only competent
A.L.F. operatives and thorough planning can create, we next discussed tactics.
We wanted to shut the farm down, not necessarily win public support. Arson became
the logical tactic as well as confiscation and destruction of vital research documentation
and genetic records for the mink.
The primary experiments being conducted
at the time involved tests of experimental feeds. We decided that the experimental
feed building where the feed was mixed and stored would be targeted for an incendiary
device attack. The building was a safe distance from the mink barns and downwind
from the caretaker's home. Next we decided on removing all the identification
cards from the mink cages and seizing all records of the mink in the head researcher's
With the open bathroom window we were able to enter the main laboratory
numerous times before the raid which aided in not only locating vital records,
it also afforded us the opportunity to read letters and memos that detailed the
relationship the station had to area fur farms and the MFRF. We were even able
to remove documents on recon missions, photocopy them and return them the same
night. By the night of the action we already had our own records of every research
project at the station and the names and addresses of literally every fur farm
and supplier in the Northwest.
The long awaited day finally came when justice
would be done for the Mink Nation. Operatives gathered in a not so distant city
and from the morning onward we rehearsed our roles and reviewed surveillance maps,
photos, videos and notes until even those who did not participate in surveillance
missions were familiar with our target. No one was allowed to wear their own shoes
or clothing and everything we intended to use on the raid would be disposable.
New tools had been purchased and incendiary devices assembled and tested. The
routes we would take were driven and checked for unusual activity and the vehicles
gassed up and checked for burnt out lights or other signs that would attract police.
The previous night a final reconnaissance mission was con-ducted and the conclusion
made that all was a go for action.
Finally came that time when anticipation
was the hardest part of an action. Plans had been reviewed, batteries in flashlights
checked, day packs loaded. Darkness is all we awaited. Two separate vehicles were
loaded with operatives and gear and we broke off into two groups. In the first
group one operative set out on bike to establish the look-out position. This person
would monitor a police scanner programmed with the frequencies for city, state
and county police and should they respond to any suspicious activity at the station.
Their job was to identify the police codes and inform the rest of the team immediately.
Radio silence was to be maintained unless something was amiss. This way any communication
would be deemed urgent instead of frequent radio communication, which eventually
One team approached from the creek and immediately
entered the fenced in mink barn area and began stripping identification cards
from cages. Another two-person team climbed through the bathroom window and moved
directly into offices and labs with targeted documents and began loading empty
packs with the material. All other research material was spilled out onto the
floor and a water line broken to flood the building. Any equipment of value was
taken into a sound-insulated room and smashed. With the main laboratory trashed
and flooded and all documents either destroyed or seized, the trademark red spray-paint
was pulled out and messages for the researchers left in three-foot letters. Of
them all the most telling would be, "A.L.F., MORE TO COME...THIS IS ONLY
Every tool and paint can used in the lab was wrapped
in plastic garbage bags and loaded back into the packs. By now the amount of documents
seized was easily over 75 pounds. One operative's sole duty would be to carry
them out. A more direct escape route than that taken into the station was chosen
and the break from our original plan revealed immediately an overlooked hole in
our security. As the operative crossed in front of the caretaker's house a motion
detecting light was activated and their presence revealed. Luckily they were able
to take cover before anyone could see them but to the lookout it appeared that
we had been detected.
At that very moment two other operatives inside the
experimental feed barn were setting up incendiary devices. When the alert came
over the radio an evacuation from the property commenced and all operatives were
called off the action. From the lookout's vantage point the two joined the third
and surmised that, though the light had been triggered, detection had not occurred.
With the knowledge that without the destruction of the experimental feed building
the station and research projects might be able to continue, the two operatives
opted to return. All other operatives were withdrawn, except the lookout and the
incendiary devices left behind were set up and activated with a 50 minute timed
delay. The two warriors piled nesting boxes and skinning boards around the devices,
which were placed centrally in the wood building, and then called in over the
radio for pick-up.
Once in the vehicles, with all seized documents off in
a separate vehicle where they would be taken for review, the remainder of the
Western Wildlife Unit stripped off all clothing worn during the raid and wrapped
it in more plastic garbage bags. These and all other disposable items were deposited
by separate individuals in separate garbage receptacles. No tools were disposed
of with clothing and we chose dumpsters and trash cans where it was unlikely anyone
would be rummaging through. With the adrenaline rush fading with the evening darkness,
exhaustion crept over the team members. As we headed south on the interstate at
the speed limit, the sun began to rise over the horizon.
Today would be
a new day for the Mink Nation. Never again would fur farmers feel secure in their
bloody business. It would still be hours before news reports would confirm that
a fire had swept OSU's Experimental Fur Farm, destroying its feed building, but
still those of us on this action knew our efforts had been successful. We didn't
need anyone to tell us our actions were justified. The look in the mink's eyes
the previous night said enough. Already documents seized in the raid were being
reviewed by still action-ready warriors. Of particular interests was letters stating
that the Northwest Fur-Breeders Cooperative in Edmonds, Washington was making
feed donations that made experiments at the station possible. Without such support,
the station would not be able to conclude its feed experiments. Before the week
would end a fire would rip through the Cooperative causing $400,000 in damages
and destroying half of the facility. Six months later OSU would announce the permanent
closure of its Experimental Fur Farm citing in part the lack of state and private
funds to continue research. An A.L.F. press release issued on the fur farm's own
letter head accepting responsibility for the raid promised more attacks and ended
with the vow that Operation Bite Back would not end... "Until the last fur
farm is burned to the ground."
In the name of all fur farm prisoners,
this was and is only the beginning.
OPERATION BITEBACK TIMELINE
1991 - arson attack on Oregon State University Experimental Mink Farm. Lab permanently
June 15, 1991 - Northwest Fur Breeder's Co-Op (Washington) arson
attack. $500,000 damage; site closed.
August 21, 1991 - 7 coyotes, 6 mink
and 10 mice liberated from Washington State University Experimental Fur Farm.
Office of John Gorham (leading fur industry researcher) broken into and trashed;
Late 1991 - attempted arson attack on Rocky Mountain Fur
Company (Hamilton, Montana).
February 28, 1992 - Michigan State University
fur industry researcher Richard Aulerich's lab subject of an arson attack. 32
years of research destroyed; 2 mink released.
October 24, 1992 - 33 coyotes
freed from USDA Animal Damage Control Predator Research Facility (Logan, Utah).
2 fires set at fur researcher Fred Knowlton's office and a USDA predator research
facility; $150,000 damage.