Animal Liberation Front Actions Heat Up; Will Underground Activism Make a Comeback?

Seattle Weekly
By Nina Shapiro
Jun. 26 2012

As observed in this week’s feature story, the underground movement that produced the infamous 2001 arson at the University of Washington largely fell apart afterward. Its members dispersed amid squabbles and a backlash from law enforcement. But that doesn’t mean radical activism is completely dead.

The Animal Liberation Front, one of two underground groups that the UW arsonists aligned themselves with, is showing new signs of life. In January, the ALF claimed responsibility for an arson at Harris Feeding Company, a California beef production ranch. The perpetrators destroyed 14 cattle trucks and used digital timers, just like at the UW arson. “The enemy is still vulnerable,” a communique intoned.

The proceeding September, Oregon mink farmer Carl Salo was awoken by an alarm on his property. Rushing outside, he recalls, “we found mink running around.” Three hundred of them. The wire cages that held them and the fence surrounding his farm had been cut. Over the next seven hours, holding flashlights, he and a cluster of neighbors who arrived to help ran around chasing them. They recovered almost all of them. Still, he says, “you feel violated.”

A couple months later, the ALF claimed responsibility for another mink release. “While overall mink farm liberations have declined since the late 1990s, they have surged in Oregon,” boasted an ALF press release. “This was the fourth mink liberation in the Astoria area alone in the past three years.”

Greg Harvey– a Eugene police detective who helped crack the cell responsible for the UW arson and a string of others along the West Coast– has noticed the trend. Before arsons became the rage with that cell of a decade past, Oregon experienced a spate of mink releases. The recent actions, he says, are “almost identical to the way things started” back then.

 “It’s going to come back,” says Jerry Vlasak, an ALF press officer, of underground activism.

He points to the Harris Feeding Company arson and a series of other so-called “direct actions” listed on the ALF press office website. He also cites what he sees as a growing awareness of environmental and animal rights concerns, as evidenced by the 2011 book Deep Green Resistance. An amorphous organization that sprang from the book is devoted to nothing less than stopping “industrial civilization,” according to its website, and envisions both above-ground and underground parts of the movement.

Back in the late ’90s and early oughts, the Pacific Northwest’s underground activists were divided over how violent to be–whether they should stop at property destruction or move on to attacking people. If Vlasak is any judge, that conversation is still alive.

“I’m not saying people should go out and start killing,” the California-based Vlasak says. But he’s not saying activists shouldn’t kill either, even though he’s a doctor, devoted to mending people. “There’s a lot of violence used against animals” Vlasak rationalizes. And some of those responsible won’t stop, he says, “until they are forced to stop.”