Interview with A.L.F. Press Officer David Barbarash
from No Compromise Issue 17
 

David Barbarash is the North American spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front. Barbarash and co-defendant Darren Thurston were the targets of a five-year campaign of harassment, intimidation, surveillance and investigation by the Canadian government. This case finally came to its conclusion September 20th when the prosecution decided to stay all charges.

NC: What's it been like to be the focus of so much government harassment for so long and how has it affected your life?

BARBARASH: It's been very difficult. I've suffered tremendously during these past few years; most notably my health has suffered from all the stress involved. Emotionally and psychologically it's been very hard. Some of my relationships have been altered as well. In our society you need only be charged or suspected of committing crimes and the media will paint you as guilty, and most people believe that you must be guilty if you've been charged, or if the media demonizes you. This is what happened to us.

Specifically, my stress levels went soaring, which lead to problems with my heart. It now races at times due to stress, and that has lead to bouts of insomnia as well. I moved away from Vancouver to a smaller community to help alleviate some of the stress involved with daily life.

There will always be people who will think I am guilty even though all the charges were dropped, and that's a load to bear as well. But my family and my close friends have been incredibly supportive throughout this ordeal.

NC: How does it feel to finally have this case over with and what are your future plans?

BARBARASH: One the one hand I am very relieved this case is over and done with, but I'm also very angry at the way it has concluded. There were never any grounds to charge me with sending those razor blade letters, nor were there any grounds to raid me a year prior to that, and I was really looking forward to our trial because I would have been exonerated completely. We als o had a hearing scheduled to quash the search warrants and we would have been successful at that as well. So the Crown stays the charges but denies me my day in court to prove beyond a doubt my innocence. It's a bittersweet ending to a five-year ordeal.

My future plans now include a lot of travel, I hope! As part of my bail conditions for the past two and a half years I had to surrender my passport and could not leave British Columbia. I was also required to report to the feds in person once a week. But now I have my passport back and can actually begin to think of traveling again, which is very exciting!

Other than that I plan to continue speaking out in support of animal liberation and the ALF. My ideals have not changed. In fact I am more firmly convinced, if that's possible, in the goals of animal and earth liberation, so I have no plans to quit speaking out for those who have no voice.

NC: Why do you think you and Darren were made targets in this government campaign of harassment?

BARBARASH: According to their own notes we were chosen because of our history of involvement with the ALF, specifically the rescue of twenty-nine cats from the University of Alberta in 1992. Darren was also involved with anti-fascist organizing. Based on this and no other facts or evidence we were chosen as the prime suspects.

This is typical of the way the RCMP conduct their investigations: if they have no evidence they decide who they are going to target, and then they pour all their resources and energy into those suspects, trying to make any possible connection they can to the crime, regardless of the innocence of those they've chosen. Over the past few years a number of high-profile cases of RCMP abuse have come to light where this type of investigation was used.

Some people spent many years in prison falsely convicted before being completely exonerated. Luckily that didn't happen to us, but it's obscene the lengths they will go to harass non-violent people. Basically it comes down to the fact that they've got no evidence on us, but they don't like what we advocate, so if they can nail us then they're happy. Fortunately that didn't happen.

NC: Now that the charges have been stayed against you, do you think the government harassment of you and Darren will end as well?

BARBARASH: I don't think for a second the RCMP or CSIS have lost any interest in us. In fact, over the past couple of years it has probably increased, at least for me, because of my role as ALF spokesperson. I believe we will always be suspects in whatever animal rights, environmental, or anti-fascist illegal actions occur in BC and Canada.

This ongoing five-year-plus investigation on us involves numerous "open files." The razor blade case is over with, but the investigation on us included many actions from 1995 through 1997 - the mail bombs sent to fascists in 1995, several supermarket turkey poison hoaxes, several mink releases, several arsons on hunting cabins and taxidermists in 1995, another razor blade campaign on furriers, plus several other actions. So, no, I don't think we've seen the end of government harassment.

NC: What exactly does an A.L.F. Press Officer do and what is your affiliation with the Animal Liberation Front?

BARBARASH: The ALF Press Office is set up to liaison with the media. We receive information that an ALF action took place somewhere in Canada or the U.S. and we then inform the appropriate media outlets about it. I'll typically receive either an ALF Communiqué or a call from a reporter, and after verifying that the action did occur I'll send out a press release. I'm able to do interviews to further explain the goals of the animal liberation movement, the horrendous situations animals are in, and why some people believe it's okay to break the law to save lives.

The Press Office can best be described as being a part of the vast aboveground network of support for the ALF. We have no contact with any ALF cell or activist except for the one-way communication when an ALF cell sends us an action report.

NC: Why do you feel that underground direct action is an important part of the movement?

BARBARASH: Throughout our history we can see the effectiveness that illegal direct action has played in moving social justice movements forward. There are numerous examples - everything from the Boston Tea Party to the civil rights movement to the suffragettes, and more - all these movements utilized illegal direct action to achieve some of the freedoms and rights we now enjoy, though at the time the activists were beaten, jailed and killed.

I believe that social change of any kind will not come about from the use of one or a few tactics alone; all strategies are needed and we all need to work together to achieve change. We need people writing letters, people picketing fur stores, activists locking down blockading logging roads, Political Action Committees, etc., and we also need underground direct action. Everything works together to move the issues forward.

And I think there is a need for both underground and aboveground direct action. The Ploughshares people who destroy military equipment and then wait around for the police to arrest them serve as important a role as the eco-saboteurs who hit at night and escape so that they are able to strike again.

NC: People often ask how they can "join" the A.L.F., how would you respond to such a question?

BARBARASH: That's a question I get asked frequently through email, and I always cringe upon reading such a letter. I tell them first that having written the Press Office stating their desire to join the ALF, their name and information has now likely been placed on several law enforcement lists, and to please be very careful! Then I direct them to the Frontline Information site at www.animalliberation.net and encourage them to read all the sections on security, as well as the story of how one activist got started.

Basically, I explain that the ALF is not a group or a club you can join, but a concept which is only realized when an action takes place under that name, and that actions only take place when someone or some people decide to take action, not wait for direction from someone else.

NC: What prompted you to take on the role of Press Officer despite all the government harassment you were already facing?

BARBARASH: After being freed from jail in the fall of 1994 for the cat liberation action I knew I could no longer continue as an active ALF member, so I was thinking back then of how I could continue to lend my support to the underground movement. In 1999 the previous spokesperson (and founder) Katie Fedor wanted to relinquish the responsibilities, and I thought the role would be a perfect one for me because I could still actively and vocally support the ALF.

After we were raided in 1997 and then charged in 1998 my life changed gears and my focus changed to defending myself. As it became clear the extent to which I was under surveillance and harassed I became even more angry and defiant. I was innocent yet hundreds of thousands of dollars I estimate were spent trying to connect me to crimes I had not taken part in. I guess it was this anger and defiance that played some part in my decision to take on the Press Office. There was no way I was going to let the feds destroy me; I needed to become stronger and I think I have.

NC: Sadly, when some activists have faced government harassment and threats of spending years in jail they have caved in and turned on their fellow activists. What kept you from considering doing this?

BARBARASH: First of all, there is nothing to consider because I don't know who committed the actions. Secondly, talking to the police isn't even on my radar screen. I've been involved in this movement since the early eighties and I wouldn't still be here today if I was a traitor to the animals. So-called activists who talk to the police disgust me, and I think one of the major reasons the animal liberation movement has not made more significant gains is because many activists do not understand the revolutionary nature of this movement. We're fighting a major war, defending animals and our very planet from human greed and destruction. There is no room for collaborators.

NC: Why do you think some activists become snitches and turn on their comrades and what do you think we as a movement can do to help prevent this?

BARBARASH: As I said above, I don't think a lot of activists truly understand the revolution we are involved with. Perhaps for them, animal rights is only a past-time, or their friends are into it so they'll tag along, or for any number of reasons someone gets involved. And when faced with a threat of jail time these people cave in or say whatever they can to save their own ass.

I think a lot of people are still faced with the ingrained notion that the law is right, that the police and judges are our friends and will help us. There is a lot of unlearning we need to do in our society. When the shit hits the fan it doesn't take that much for someone who has not thought critically about the police and government to start talking. It's pretty much natural for most people in our society to do.

How can we prevent this? First, we need to continually educate each other of police abuse, judicial abuse, and the insidious tactics the cops will use to get someone to talk about their friends. Second, we need to remind people that just because something is illegal, it does not make it wrong. Collaborating with the police to nail someone who, for example, has just saved animal lives, is an abhorrent and despicable thing to do. That's like turning in the German family who was hiding Jews in the basement, or members of the Underground Railroad who were spiriting slaves to Canada.

And we also need to collectively shun these people who have betrayed the animals and us. There are too many cases of people who have snitched on others yet are still welcome in the movement. No other social justice movement would tolerate such a thing and I don't think we should either.

NC: How did you first get involved with the animal liberation movement?

BARBARASH: I was involved with the punk scene in Toronto and that movement encompasses many issues, including animal rights, so that's where I first started hearing about it. I was first active with the anti-nuclear movement though, and after taking part in protests and civil disobedience I joined an animal rights group which employed similar tactics. I began producing an anarchist newsletter and found myself drawn more toward animal and environmental issues; the reasoning that stays with me is that neither animals nor our ecosystem can raise their voice to say "NO!" to atrocities committed against them, so this is where my role comes in.

NC: To what extent do you view the animal liberation movement as being linked to other movements, and why?

BARBARASH: I believe that all social justice, animal liberation, and environmental movements are intricately connected because each of them is battling a common enemy - ignorance and greed. The same corporations and people who destroy animals are also involved with destroying the earth and destroying people, so it is critical that we think strategically and align ourselves together to fight our common foes.

That old saying - United we stand, divided we fall - is so very true. By ignoring other issues we are dooming ourselves to defeat. But I have great hope and optimism that many people are finally starting to make the connections. Oppression is oppression is oppression. We need to battle it on all fronts