Staying Free and Avoiding the
Activist Hall of Shame
from No Compromise Issue 25
 

 

In the more than 25 years of the Animal Liberation Front, relatively few people have been arrested and an even smaller number have been convicted. Considering the tens of thousands of animals that have been saved, the millions of dollars of damage that have been inflicted on abusive industries, and the invaluable images of suffering and rescued animals that have resulted from A.L.F. actions, it seems a fair trade indeed.

Why have so few been caught? According to most A.L.F. activists, preparation and reconnaissance is the key to staying safe. Of course, luck always plays a small role. In the end, those who have been arrested have typically been discovered for two basic reasons: dumb luck and/or snitches.

In the former situation —dumb luck—police or other witnesses just happen to be in the right place at the right time. This was the case with “the Santa Cruz 2,” Matthew Whyte and Peter Schnell. On January 23, 2001, police arrested the duo in Capitola, California, after spotting them with plastic milk jugs, a drill, birthday candles, and gasoline. Unbeknownst to the two, they were located behind a police station as they assembled the incendiary devices, which they planned to use on dairy trucks. The two pleaded guilty and Schnell was sentenced to two years, while Whyte was sentenced to 14 months. This is not the only case in which activists were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The main lesson here is that being careful is the best precaution one can take against getting caught.

The second, and unfortunately more common, factor in the arrest and conviction of ALF activists is the involvement of an informant or a snitch. Throughout the years, there have been several instances of snitches and informants landing activists in jail. Here, we focus on a few in the hope of driving home two points: Few activists are ever caught for A.L.F. activity, and those who are caught are usually discovered via the use of an informant or snitch.

The lessons to be learned here are many. As long as the repercussions for snitching/informing are fewer than the potential time an activist is facing for participating in ALF activity, snitching will be seen as a viable option for those lacking the moral fortitude to stick it out. We as a movement have a responsibility to ensure that the consequences for snitching are many and severe. Second, as the old adage goes, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. The reality is that many go out and engage in direct action without considering the consequences. Under the tremendous pressure of questioning and of a potentially lengthy prison sentence, some have cracked and turned informant on their (former) allies.


Jessica Sandham

In early June 1992, the Animal Liberation Front entered the labs at the University of Alberta (Canada), liberating 29 cats and causing over $100,000 in damage.

Shortly thereafter, Darren Thurston and a friend of his, Grant, were arrested for allegedly participating in the raid. An arrest warrant was subsequently issued for the arrest of David Barbarash.

The three were charged after police contacted Jessica Michelle Charlotte Sandham, who had rented the motel room where the cats were taken after the raid. Police identified Sandham as a suspect in the U of A raid after her name was located in the motel registry and she was determined to be an animal rights activist. During her 4 ½-hour interview with police, Sandham fell for the standard police tricks and traps. In the end, she talked freely about all she knew, including rumors about the U of A raid. She never served any time in jail for her part in the action.

Those she turned on, however, did suffer. Although Grant’s charges were dismissed for lack of evidence, Thurston eventually served two years in prison. Barbarash disappeared underground but was later arrested in California and extradited to Canada, where he was found guilty of participating in the raid and served two years in prison. Both Barbarash and Thurston maintain they would have likely never been identified by police if Sandham had not turned snitch.

Justin Samuel

In October 1997, the A.L.F. took credit for raids on five fur farms in Wisconsin and surrounding states. Thousands of mink were released, and it is estimated over one million dollars of damage was caused.

Justin Samuel and Peter Young were pulled over by police in the vicinity of the farms after suspicious fur farmers contacted authorities. A vehicle search allegedly yielded animal rights literature, as well as other “suspicious” items. In September 1998, a federal grand jury indicted the duo on charges of animal enterprise terrorism and unlawful interference with interstate commerce. Both Samuel and Young went underground and nothing was heard from the two until September 4, 1999, when Samuel was arrested in Belgium and eventually extradited to the U.S. to face criminal charges.

Despite an enormous outpouring of support from the activist community, on August 30, 2000, Samuel entered into a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's office in which he implicated Peter Young (his co-defendant) and promised to "make a full, complete, truthful statement regarding his involvement in violations of federal criminal statutes charged in the original Indictment, as well as the involvement of all other individuals known to him regarding the crimes charged in that Indictment. And the defendant agrees to testify fully and truthfully at any trials or hearings."

Samuel eventually served two years in prison and is now free and living in San Diego, California. Despite his repeated efforts to reintegrate himself into the animal rights movement, most activists and organizations have shunned him as an untrustworthy individual and a snitch.

While bad timing and dumb luck led to the initial indictment of the two, Samuel’s fear and lack of moral fortitude is responsible both for his own prison time and for the likelihood that Peter Young (if apprehended) may be found guilty and sentenced to a lengthy imprisonment. Like so many others under police pressure, Samuel clearly fell for the oldest tricks in the book of law enforcement: To this day, he claims he did not tell his inquisitors anything they did not already know. Unfortunately, it is not Justin who will pay the price for his fears, but Peter Young-- and any other activists Justin chooses to name to protect himself.

Robyn Weiner and Alan Hoffman

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 30th, 1997, five Michigan animal rights activists were arrested for allegedly raiding a Canadian mink farm. According to media reports, at Ebert's Fur Farm, fences were cut, breeding cards were removed from cages and 1,500 mink were released, effectively costing the fur farmer half a million dollars.

Those charged in the mink raid were Patricia Dodson, Hilma Ruby, Robyn Weiner, Gary Yourofsky and Alan Hoffman. All five were charged with breaking and entering, as well as criminal mischief. Robyn and Alan were also charged with possession of stolen property (breeding cards), and Patricia was charged with possession of burglary tools.

Within two weeks after the arrest, two of the defendants--Alan Hoffman and Robyn Weiner-- made damaging statements to the police that were read in court. Alan, Youroufsky’s uncle, gave an alleged blow-by-blow account of everyone's actions (including the scouting out of farms in the U.S.), and Robyn's statement included the implication of one of the other activists in a previous raid. While Robyn claimed her informing was in everyone’s best interests, the reality is that her betrayal seriously compromised her co-defendant's legal defenses.

With two of the five defendants turned informants, the remaining defendants, “the Chatham 3,” continued to fight the case. In the end, Dodson and Ruby pleaded guilty and received 90 days in jail and a $24,000 fine. Yourofsky took his case to trial, where he was found guilty and sentenced to 6 months in jail plus $34,000 in restitution for his part in the raid. As for Hoffman and Weiner, they incurred hefty fines and community service in addition to the scorn of the animal rights community.

Robyn Weiner is, as of this writing, living in the Washington D.C. area, where she periodically shows up at animal rights-related events. No information is available on Alan Hoffman, but it is believed he is no longer involved in the animal rights movement.

The Ellerman Brothers

Early in the morning on March 11, 1997, A.L.F. activists entered the grounds of the Fur Breeders Agricultural Cooperative in Sandy, Utah. A pipe bomb and incendiary materials were placed inside the co-op, while five pipe bombs were placed beneath commercial transport trucks outside the facility. At approximately 2 a.m., all six devices exploded, causing $1 million in property damage. There were no injuries.

In June 1997, a federal grand jury handed down a 16-count indictment against activist Douglas Joshua Ellerman, who later pleaded guilty to three counts. Although he disappeared one month before sentencing, he turned himself in June 1998, whereupon he was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was reportedly given considerable leniency in exchange for substantial cooperation with authorities.

In September 1998, further federal indictments were issued in the bombing case against Clinton Colby Ellerman, Josh’s younger brother; Andrew N. Bishop; Alexander David Slack; Adam Troy Peace; Sean Albert Gautschy and one other person. The information for these indictments was garnered from statements made to law enforcement by the Ellerman brothers and fellow snitch Kevin Clark.

Later, it was learned, authorities had little direct evidence tying anyone to the action at the co-op. It was simply the Ellerman brothers falling for all of the authorities’ tricks and traps and caving under pressure that provided ammunition law enforcement needed to seek indictments.
Colby Ellerman went on to serve six years in federal prison, during which time the three remaining defendants went to trial. Ironically, because there was little direct forensic evidence tying anyone to the crime, these three were acquitted.

Both of the Ellerman brothers have recently been released from prison and are believed to be residing in Utah. Although the animal rights community had previously generated tremendous support for the Ellermans, upon learning of their cooperation with law enforcement, members of the activist community have shunned them.

When dealing with traitors like the Ellermans, like Justin Samuel, Robyn Weiner and Jessica Sandham, our movement has no choice if we want to survive to continue the fight for the animals. It is up to all of us to create an atmosphere that is not just unwelcoming--but hostile--to those who assist authorities in putting activists behind bars. We have to make the consequences for snitching more painful than potential jail time; until that time, we will have traitors in our midst.