When the Weak Link Breaks
from No Compromise Issue 17

By Rod Coronado

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with Marlene Samuel, Justin's mother. It was a difficult phone call, and it reminded me of the pain and worry my own mother suffered when I was captured and sent to prison.

Despite my disagreement with Justin's decision to testify against Peter Young, I found it hard to feel anything but sympathy for him and his family. The animal liberation movement should use Justin's case as an example of what not to do when captured for ALF actions.

That Justin could be found, arrested and extradited from another country for opening cages of doomed wildlife speaks volumes about the U.S. Government's resolve to capture and imprison ALF warriors.

In Justin's case, there was once again the spread of misinformation, some from our own movement, that Justin and Peter faced over 60 years in prison (based on the maximum sentence allowable for each indicted offense and not on an actual sentence computation). Justin also suffered the trauma of nearly a year of pre-trial imprisonment and the denial of a vegan diet.

These factors led Justin to agree to testify, hoping cooperation would win him an instant release. A review of court transcripts reveals no such promise. Instead, what is said is that the prosecution and defense attorneys recognized that despite the plea agreement, the sentencing judge would retain the legal right to punish Justin to the full extent of the law. That happened on November 3rd, when Justin was sentenced to the maximum prison time allowable under federal sentencing guidelines.

Justin violated the first code of conduct for ALF warriors when captured -- never cooperate with the enemy against fellow activists. Another lesson once again painfully learned by Justin is that the U.S. Government is an immoral and unethical oppressor that historically has broken any and all promises in order to further its own objectives. Our credo must remain that when asked to incriminate our comrades, we will never negotiate with government terrorists and hostage takers.

Another key mistake was that Justin, under the advice of his lawyers, asked that his name be removed from prisoner lists and that no activists write to him in the hopes that disassociation would improve his odds at sentencing. By doing that, Justin instead cut himself off from the immense international support our movement has for direct action prisoners. Instead of receiving large amounts of mail that improve one's psychological strength and well-being, Justin faced his opponents alone and was deceived by the government's false promises.

Rather than direct vindictive energy towards Justin, we must focus on the need to strengthen the resiliency of our warriors so they can endure the intimidation faced once captured. It helps no one, least of all the oppressed animal nations, to allow ourselves to harbor the kind of anger and hatred we are supposed to be against. Having seen for himself that nothing can be gained by cooperating with the U.S. Government, Justin has months to think about his mistakes.

Don't get me wrong. As the subject of past grand jury investigations I know what it's like to have former friends testify against you. But rather than having hatred for those responsible, I instead choose to recognize that some of us in the animal liberation community do not have the strength one needs to remain unbroken in prison or close-mouthed in front of grand jury interrogators.

Because of that, it's vital to remind direct action warriors that if you can't do the time, don't do the crime. You help no one if you can only carry out actions but cannot remain tight-lipped about them. ALF actions are about more than getting the animals out and destroying the tools of their torture; ALF actions require warriors to be ready to be treated like violent criminals in the courtrooms of the earth and animals' destroyers. We must be prepared to go to prison for years rather than utter a word about our still free fighting comrades.

In the Ellerman brothers' case in Utah and now with Justin, we've seen the damage down when warriors break and testify against each other. And ironically, it's those who cooperate who end up in prison for years, not those they testify against. An old friend once told me, "...nobody talks, and everybody walks..."

Now we must exercise some damage control and build support for Peter Young who faces an uphill battle when and if he's captured. Justin's testimony doesn't help, but it may not be enough to convict Peter as the 1998 Utah ALF case illustrated.

We must also organize and raise awareness and funds to aid Josh Harper and Andy Stepanian. Josh is facing imprisonment for contempt while Andy's sentencing for fur shop actions in New York should have passed by print time. Both of these brave warriors are deeply committed to the causes of freedom, but their strength cannot be a substitute for the very real support they need from us.

And while the Fur Information Council touts Justin's conviction as a victory and the first successful application of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, it's encouraging to see that despite earlier threats, a multi-state ALF campaign that resulted in the release of over 6,000 mink and hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial loss to fur farmers netted Justin only 24 months and not the ten years or more some feared under this draconian legislation.

It remains the obligation of every ALF warrior: Be prepared to accept the negative and unpleasant ramifications of your actions. Be ready to do your time bravely and positively rather than compromise your comrades and the larger struggle with your inability to do so. In addition, a movement that engages in illegal tactics must ensure that its participants have total support before, during and after their sacrifice for the earth and her animal nations. Only then will cooperation with all our oppressors no longer be an option.