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Animal Liberation Front

Insurgency Overview

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is an international resistance movement founded in 1976.  The movement’s main objective is to fight animal cruelty and exploitation.  Their anarchist ideology has led to them being both decentralised and leaderless.  The movement is composed of autonomous cells of one or more persons and each cell is anonymous and insular to protect the group from infiltration.  ALF cells carry out clandestine operations of ‘animal liberation’ and economic sabotage.  For nearly 50 years, the ALF has conducted operations to remove animals from laboratories, farms, factories, and related facilities, and instead place them in safe houses, veterinaries, and sanctuaries.  Despite their pacifist approach, critics and government authorities have labelled the group “eco-terrorists” due to its more controversial practices of harassment and economic sabotage, which include arson attacks and bombings.  The ALF utilize sabotage and disruption techniques to affect the revenue streams of industries they believe contribute to the exploitation of animals.

History and Foundations

The ALF has roots in an earlier resistance group known as the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA).  Hunt sabs set about sabotaging local hunts (hunters on horseback chase foxes or deer with a pack of hounds) using tactics such as distracting hounds with meat and scent-dulling compounds, blowing hunting horns and whistles, laying false trails, locking gates, and blocking roads.  These actions were often met with violence and members of the HSA were routinely assaulted and arrested. (1)

By 1971, HSA groups had spread throughout the UK.  Two members of an HSA group in Luton, England, Ronnie Lee and Cliff Goodman, decided to form a new clandestine group of militant activists.  That year they co-founded the Band of Mercy, which they named after a 19th-century Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) youth group. (2) The Band of Mercy’s first operations involved slashing hunters’ tyres and breaking car windows to prevent hunts from taking place.  In 1973, the Band committed its first act of arson against a research laboratory owned by Hoechst Pharmaceuticals, whose experiments involved operating on live animals, a practice known as vivisection.  After the operation, they released a public statement to the press explaining who they were and the philosophy behind their actions.  In 1974, the Band set fire to two boats involved in seal culling and the boats’ owner went out of business.  The operation put an end to seal culling in that area.  Later, the Band launched 8 more raids against vivisection lab animal suppliers and carried out their first act of animal rescue of guinea pigs at a farm in Wiltshire, England.  The raid put the guinea pig farm out of business. (3)

In August of 1974, following a string of successful operations, the Band were spotted by a security guard whilst raiding the Oxford Laboratory Animal Colonies in Bicester.  Both were convicted and sentenced to prison.  The press nicknamed the duo the “Bicester Two” and framed them not as terrorists, but as latter-day “Robin Hoods for the animals”.  In prison, Cliff became an informant, while Lee became more dedicated to the cause.  In 1976, Lee co-founded the Animal Liberation Front with leftover members of the Band and two dozen recruits.  Within the first year, ALF carried out 10 direct action campaigns against vivisectionists. (3)

According to the FBI, the ALF movement made its way to the United States in the 1970s.  Others attribute earlier animal liberation actions to different organizations.  Regardless, by the 1980s, the US had become a primary front for the movement.  The first wave of ALF actions included animal rescues of  “cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, pigs, and primates from experimental labs at Howard University, Bethesda Naval Research Institute, various branches of the University of California, the University of Oregon, the University of Pennsylvania, Texas Tech University, the City of Hope, SEMA lab, the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, and elsewhere.” (3) The 1984 raid of the University of Pennsylvania’s Head Injury Laboratory was a major success for the movement.  It caused $60,000 worth of damage and stole 60 hours of research footage.  The stolen footage was sent to PETA who edited it and produced a film, Unnecessary Fuss, which garnered a lot of publicity and ultimately caused the lab to close down.  Encouraged to repeat these tactics, the group continued to be met with success.  Once again, PETA’s media campaign used ALF’s confiscated footage which outraged the public resulting in The City of Hope National Medical Center losing more than a million dollars in National Institute of Health (NIH) funding.  In response to the raids, NIH director James Wyngaarden said, “Thefts of laboratory animals by animal rights groups should be considered acts of terrorism”. (4)

In the 80s and 90s, the ALF began to emphasize arson and property damage over animal rescues.  According to the FBI, ALF’s economic sabotage campaigns against animal research facilities, fur companies, mink farms, and restaurants throughout the 90s resulted in a loss of $45 million. According to the Department of Homeland Security, ALF was responsible for 45% of 239 “eco-terrorist” related arsons and bombings between the years 1995-2010. (5) In 2002, the Southern Poverty Law Center in the US made a report on the ALF’s involvement in the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty political movement, which allegedly employed terrorist tactics.  However, the SPD later noted that no one had been killed during this campaign.  Later in 2005, the US Department of Homeland Security included the ALF in its list of dangerous organizations.  The UK also started monitoring the group in 2004 for accusations of domestic extremism. (3)

Following the September 11th attacks on the US World Trade Centers, governments began to crack down on what they perceived as “terrorist threats”.  In 2006, an attempted firebombing near the home of a UCLA researcher and the kidnapping and branding of undercover investigative journalist Graham Hall influenced US Congress’s decision to pass the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). (6,7) The act increased the maximum prison time by up to 20 years for anyone interfering directly with an animal enterprise.  ALF was labelled the “number 1 domestic terrorist threat” in the US and ‘domestic extremists’ in the UK.  Critics refer to this time as “The Green Scare” reminiscent of “The Red Scare” of the 1950s. (8) The movement has never fully recovered from these crackdowns.  

It should be noted that the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing by white supremacists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, which killed 168 and injured 680, was still fresh on the minds of the American public. (9) Some argue that choosing eco-extremism as the primary domestic terrorist threat was either an oversight or intentional. (8)

In 2005, a multi-agency criminal investigation known as “Operation Backfire” led to the convictions and imprisonment of several members of ALF and ELF, including members of the cell known as “The Family” responsible for over $40 million in damages from ‘96 to ‘01. (7) This crackdown has proven effective with only one to zero acts of eco-terrorism reported since 2012. (10)

While ALF activity has significantly diminished, ALF communiques continue to report small operations throughout the world.  For example, in 2019, ALF launched a campaign against McDonald's in Colorado and Wisconsin and as recently as 2022, ALF claimed responsibility for sabotaging 26 hunting towers in Belgium.  The North American Animal Liberation Press Office (NAALPO) continues to post communiques left anonymously by ALF members and other animal liberation groups online. (11)

Objectives and Ideology

The Animal Liberation Front’s ultimate objective is to end animal abuse by organizations that profit from the cruelty and exploitation of animals. (12) Their practice of direct action is implemented with the “aim to save as many animals as possible and directly disrupt the practice of animal abuse.”  Their targets include scientific laboratories, research institutions, zoos, circuses, fur farms, and factory farms.  ALF believes that animals are not property and, therefore, cannot be owned.  They believe that non-human animals are conscious beings who experience pain and pleasure, and therefore have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  They attribute what they see as the unethical treatment of animals as a form of bigotry they refer to as “speciesism”.  ALF considers themselves to be akin to the anti-Nazi resistance movement during World War 2 and the Underground Railroad in 19th century America. (13)

Historically, the movement has operated under several guidelines:

  • To liberate animals from places of abuse, i.e., laboratories, factory farms, fur farms, etc. and place them in good homes where they may live out their natural lives, free from suffering.

  • To inflict economic damage to those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals.

  • To reveal the horror and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors, by performing direct actions and liberations.

  • To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human, and non-human.

  • Any group of people who are vegetarians or vegans and who carry out actions according to these guidelines have the right to regard themselves as part of the Animal Liberation Front.


According to ALF, violence can only be inflicted on human and non-human animals. Therefore, they believe property destruction is permitted because they do not believe the destruction of inanimate objects is a form of ‘violence’.  In their eyes, organizations being targeted are guilty of violence against animals.  They refer to their campaigns as “extensional self-defence”.  This recently coined term refers to humans acting in defence of animals who cannot defend themselves. (11)

Military and Political Capabilities

As with the ELF, ALF’s precise numbers are impossible to configure.  The cell's autonomous and anonymous structure obfuscates any attempts to track membership.  According to the CSIS Transnational Threats Project, the years the movement was most active occurred between the 90s and early 2000s.  A conservative estimate of ALF and ELF raids number 1,100 of which have caused a total of $110 million in damages. (11)

ALF’s main tactic involves sabotage.  Arson is ALF’s most implemented and effective use of sabotage.  Explosives and incendiaries have been the most common weapons.  Some incidents involved Molotov cocktails.  Others used small, homemade incendiary bombs with timing devices strategically placed around flammable targets. According to the Department of Homeland Security, about two-thirds of ALF’s attacks were bombings, and one-third were arson attacks.  

Due to increased security measures, government crackdowns, and long prison sentences, the movement has been greatly diminished.  Currently, small acts of arson and vandalism are reported but nothing to the scale of previous campaigns. (11)

To this day, no one has ever been severely injured or killed by ALF. (14) 

Approach to Resistance

ALF’s direct action campaigns target industries involved in animal exploitation with tactics involving sabotage, animal release, and espionage.  After nearly 5 decades of actions, fewer than 40 activists have been arrested.  Before initiating their assault, cells will often take time to plan out operations with intense surveillance of the target.  Intel is gathered through open-source information, photographic/video surveillance, confiscated confidential information or sympathetic insiders.  Information on potential targets can be found online.  An example is, which uses Google Maps to chart and compile information and locations of organizations involved in the fur industry. (14)

There is evidence that ALF’s actions have been effective.  For example, Susan Paris, the president of vivisection front group Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) admitted, “Because of terrorist acts by animal activists like [Rod] Coronado, crucial research projects have been delayed or scrapped.  More and more of the scarce dollars available to research are spent on heightened security and higher insurance rates.  Promising young scientists are rejecting careers in research.  Top-notch researchers are getting out of the field.”  Another example includes an August 1993 Report to Congress on Animal Enterprise Terrorism which writes: “Where the direct, collateral, and indirect effects of incidents such as this are factored together, ALFs professed tactic of economic sabotage can be considered successful, and its objectives, at least towards the victimized facility, fulfilled.” (12)

Not all animal rights activists agree with ALF’s methods of resistance.  In his essay, “A Personal Overview of Direct Action in the United Kingdom and the United States,” British animal rights activist Kim Stallwood condemns ALF’s engagement in property damage as ‘violence’.  He believes the group should only engage in animal liberation and expose the animal industry with documents, photographs, and videos.  In his opinion, engaging in sabotage has isolated the movement. (4)

Some folks don’t think the group is violent enough.  During the 80s and 90s, several ALF cells targeted people with letter and car bombs.  ALF condemned the group's actions which goes against its policy of non-violence.  Then, spin-off groups like the Animal Rights Militia (ARM) and Justice Department (JD) organized to carry out acts that involved threats and acts of violence against individuals with car bombs, letter bombs, and poison.  Some people suggest ARM and JD remain affiliated with ALF and were only distanced from the movement for public relations purposes.  Another belief accuses ALF of creating the side groups as scapegoats for plausible deniability in case an action goes wrong.  Others believe these threats and acts of violence have been perpetrated as a form of psyops by the government or private companies to “bad-jacket” the movement. (4)

There is no way of knowing if the ALF will see another resurgence or drift into obscurity.  While they have no doubt made an impact, it is hard to see the exploitation of animals going away any time soon.  Regardless, you can’t kill an idea, especially when it’s made a footprint both online and around the globe.

International Relations and Potential Alliances

ALF’s decentralized structure prevents it from establishing an official alliance with other groups but there have been cases of crossover and friendliness with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF).  Both groups share a similar structure and guidelines.  It is common for government agencies or media to refer to both under the “eco-terrorist” umbrella.  It is obvious they share a sort of solidarity and comradery.

PETA has a history of providing support and public relations for ALF.  On their website, PETA states they “will not condemn (ALF) for carrying out illegal actions in which no sentient being is harmed.” (15)

Support groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front Support Group (ALF SG), provide financial and practical support to incarcerated ALF members. (16). Press organizations like the North American Animal Liberation Press Organization (NAALPO) share communiques from anonymous animal liberation activists (including ALF).  They also provide information about the group and how to get involved. (11)  Peter Young continues to publish archived collections of ALF-related material including essays, guidebooks, communiques, and action reports through his publication, WarCry Press. (17)

Works Cited

(1) - Poole, Steven.  “The History of the Hunt Saboteurs Association: 1963: From Protest to Resistance,” Archived April 8, 2008.  Accessed March, 20, 2024.

(2) - “Bands of Mercy,” The Exhibition, Be Kind: A Visual History of Human Education, 1880-1945)

(3) - “Animal Liberation Front (ALF),” Other Groups, Influence Watch, accessed March 28, 2024,

(4) - Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, Terrorist or Freedom Fighters: Reflection on the Liberation of Animals (New York: Lantern Books, 2004)

(5) - “The Seattle Times: Education: Chancellor Taking Steps to Protect UCLA,” Seattle Times.  Published August 27, 2006.  Updated: March 30, 2024.  Accessed March 30, 2024.

(6) - “TV Investigator Kidnapped and Branded ‘ALF’,” The Independent.  Published: November 7, 1999.  Accessed: March 30, 2024.

(7) - Brown, Allen. “The Green Scare: How a Movement That Never Killed Anyone Became the FBI’s No. 1 Domestic Terrorism Threat,” The Intercept, published March 23, 2019

(8) - “Examining Extremism: Violent Animal Rights Extremist,” The Center for Strategic and International Studies, published August 20, 2021

(9) - “Oklahoma City Bombing,” Famous Cases, History. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Accessed: March 30, 2024

(10) - “Animal Liberation Front,” Far-Left Extremist Groups in the United States, Research Databases, Counter Extremism, Accessed March 28, 2024

(11) - “FAQ’s,” North American Animal Liberation Press Office, accessed: March 28, 2024.

(12) - “Animal Liberation Front,” Petside, Accessed: March 28, 2024

(13) - ALF Primer (3rd edition)

(14) - “Home.” N.d. Final Nail.  Accessed: March 30, 2024

(15) - What’s PETA’s Position on the ‘Animal Liberation Front?” FAQ. PETA. Accessed: March 30, 2024

(16) - “Homepage,” Animal Liberation Support Group, accessed March 28, 2024

(17) - “Warcry Communications,” Animal Liberation Frontline


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