Controversial Actions
from No Compromise Issue 23, re-printed from Arkangel #1

By Ronnie Lee

Over the past year, several actions by animal liberationists have caused controversy and what I would describe as a hysterical reaction within the movement, because they have involved a danger to life. The following articles constitute a discussion of various aspects of this situation.

More and more often we hear animal rights representatives condemning the actions of the ALF, etc., on the grounds that they are "violent." But is the dividing line between violence and non-violence (wherever that may be) really the dividing line between right and wrong?

First it might help to define "violence." According to my dictionary, it is something that involves “great force or strength or intensity,” and thus it can cover a great many situations. In animal rights terms, however, "violence" is normally used to refer to actions where property is damaged or where the lives of others are harmed or threatened.

This inevitably leads to some confusion because, in moral terms, actions that only damage property are surely different from those that harm or threaten life. It is, therefore, really not helpful for people in the movement to describe them both as "violence." "Property damage" would be a far better term to describe the first kind.

Moral arguments concerning damage to property are really rather straightforward. If such damage directly saves animals from death or suffering, or if it does so indirectly by helping to drive animal abusers out of business, it would seem very difficult to raise convincing arguments against it. After all, life must be held to be more valuable than mere inanimate objects.

The real difficulty comes when the "violence" harms or threatens life. In the next section, "Endangering Lives," I intend to deal with situations where life is unintentionally, or perhaps recklessly, endangered. Here I will deal with actions that are deliberately intended to cause injury or death.

Firstly, though, I'd like to expose some of the hypocrisy that surrounds the condemnation of "violence." Many animal rights campaigners purport to be non-violent and vociferously criticize the "violent" actions of others in the movement. But if one is to stake claim to non-violence, one must be consistently opposed to violence, and with many "non-violent" campaigners this seems not at all to be the case.

To begin with, what is the position of such people regarding violence used for human liberation? Would they have opposed the use of force by the slaves who fought in the West Indies for their own emancipation or the use of weapons and explosives by the French Resistance? Today, would they oppose the violence of the ANC or that used by the people of Nicaragua to defend themselves against the contras? If the answer to any of them is "no," then there is speciesism afoot, for it surely must be speciesist to oppose violence for animal liberation but not to oppose it when used for the liberation of humans.

Secondly, how many of these lovers of non-violence campaign for strong legislation to outlaw particular forms of animal persecution? Most of them, I'd bet, and there's nothing wrong with that-- except that those who do so cannot claim to be non-violent. If such legislation is passed, what will happen in the final analysis to the abusers of animals? Well, the answer is they will be put in prison. And isn't imprisonment just another form of violence? I certainly know what I'd choose between a prison sentence and a punch on the nose!

Bryant of the LACS rejoiced (quite rightly) over the jailing of a couple of fox-torturers and then talks about his "abhorrence of violence." His abhorrence apparently does not cover the violence of the state and concerns itself only with the violence of animal rights campaigners. Like that of many others, his is a hypocritical position. Whether carried out by the state or by the individual, violence is violence is violence.

Therefore it would seem wrong to condemn actions merely because they are "violent." After all, there are some violent actions, such as the jailing of animal abusers, which almost all of us would support. Thus it makes no sense to use "violence" as the dividing line between right and wrong.

But what of the deliberate killing or injuring of others by animal liberation campaigners or attempts to do such things? Nobody ever has been killed or seriously injured and such attempts are few and far between, but this is still an important question for discussion.

It is a very strong tenet of the animal rights movement that the end doesn't justify the means. Thus we hold it wrong to carry out painful experiments on animals no matter what would be the benefit to humankind (if indeed there be a benefit, and many would argue that there isn't). By the same token it must be wrong to deliberately kill or injure an innocent human (or other animal) as part of a campaign for animal liberation.

A problem arises, however, when we are not dealing with innocent victims. Let's take the following imaginary situation:

We live in a society where the torturing of babies is perfectly legal. I discover the location of a baby torture chamber. I could campaign for baby-torture to be outlawed, but that will do nothing to save babies from being tortured today or tomorrow or for many months, even years, in the future. I could smash up the torture chamber, but I know the torturer is determined and will soon set up another one. I do not have the facilities to imprison the torturer. Therefore, I kill him. Is my action to be condemned?

If not, then it is very hard to condemn the Animal Rights Militia for making attempts on the lives of vivisectors without being guilty of gross speciesism. One can criticize them for not taking sufficient care to not endanger innocent life (if ordinary people are put at risk}, but how can one find fault with the main intention of the act? If vivisectors are not to be disposed of, then neither is the imaginary baby-torturer.

I am not advocating here the execution of animal abusers, for in that imaginary society it may also be wrong to kill the torturers of babies. What I am trying to point out is that things are not really as clear-cut as they may first of all seem. Should people in that imaginary society show understanding and compassion for those whose concern for the helpless and the innocent leads them to kill the baby-torturers? Or should they condemn them with the same vitriol that many in our movement have used against the ARM?