Forget true crime—we should make animal liberation stories into a movie or TV series!
I first learned about Free the Animals: The Amazing True Story of the Animal Liberation Front from Angela Bell, who shared some vegan books that impacted her when we met her at VEG Networking Canada. The book was first published by Noble Press in 1992. Lantern Books reprinted and revised the book in 2005 and released a 30th anniversary edition in 2012. I knew about PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, but did not know she’d authored this book.
Is Free the Animals a memoir?
This book is not a memoir because, by definition, a memoir is a book that chronicles the author’s story. This is not Newkirk’s story but that of a former cop named Valerie (not her real name) who led several animal liberation initiatives across the USA in the 1980s. Newkirk is a great writer and makes Valerie’s story seem like fiction, which is why I’m surprised this book wasn’t made into a movie.
Chapter 1 starts with Valerie seeing monkeys that were freed from Edward Taub’s lab in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1981. Reported by then PETA President Alex Pacheco, a two-week trial followed at which Taub was found guilty of 6 counts. Although he was successful in an appeal, it was overturned. That was when Valerie flew to London to become a part of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).
Valerie—only to be called “V”—was blindfolded en route to the ALF HQs, which were somewhere in North England. She learned the group’s vocabulary and how to speak in code (to avoid being caught by phone taps). There was no drinking of alcohol and using phones was forbidden. She learned the ALF was inspired by the Bands of Mercy groups that were established in the 19th century.
After learning how to break into buildings to rescue animals (as safe as one can), alert the press, and use other physical tactics, Valerie returned to the US, quit her job at the police force, and recruited a small team. Their first rescue involved cats at Howard University.
Is Free the Animals a vegan book?
While this nonfiction book does not touch on veganism at all (Valerie is mentioned as a vegetarian at the time of the book’s publishing), I’d say it’s a seminal vegan nonfiction book. Freeing animals from horrible and cruel experiments or activities is, by definition, living by vegan values because to be a part of the harm and exploitation or turn a blind eye is inherently anti-vegan.
Here are just some of the book’s highlights I found fascinating:
- Under Valerie’s leadership, the ALF saved two dogs from being used in diving chamber experiments at the Bethesda Naval Research centre.
- The ALF collected tapes from the anatomy/chemistry departments at the University of Pennsylvania where chimpanzees were used. PETA compiled them into the documentary film above, titled Unnecessary Fuss. While scientists and regulatory bodies argued the ethics of the experiments, sit-in protests at the university resulted in funds to the department getting cut. (This doc was used to stop GM from testing on animals in 1991.)
- Students at the UPenn’s School of Veterinary Medicine blew the whistle on activities that involved dogs, cats, and pigeons.
- The ALF saved over 30 dogs, rodents, rabbits, and cats from the City of Hope rare cancer facility in Los Angeles.
- The ALF saved over 700 animals and baby monkeys that were in University of California Riverside’s possession.
- The ALF saved 264 animals that were used by psychology professors at the University of Oregon.
- The SEMA Lab in DC (now Bioqual) was infecting chimpanzees with AIDS, and ALF saved one of them. In addition, a parasite that was given to the animals infected a technician working there. Jane Goodall even visited to see its conditions.
- The ALF got into property damage. In 1987, they burned one of the University of California Davis’s labs, resulting in $3.5m in damages.
- The Beltsville Agricultural Research Center did experiments on hundreds of animals in their facility, which spanned a few hundred acres. The rescue of pigs and cats required a team of 17 people (including new people Valerie had not worked with before and a reporter for The Rolling Stone tagging along) at 3 separate entrances/exits.
- As the watch over the ALF’s activities escalated throughout the 80s, Joe, one of Valerie’s team members, became the new west coast leader. The group would target almost 2000 game bird and fur farms in the US. Although Valerie retired from action, she was still involved in ALF operations and I assume still might be even if she’s now in her 70s.
While what the ALF does is breaking and entering, theft, and sometimes, arson, animal liberation is an important part of the vegan movement and must continue to be done so long as the law isn’t defending animals. After all, if the animals were free, there wouldn’t be a need for the ALF. Free the Animals powerfully demonstrates why the ALF’s work and the anonymity of its members is so important.
While there is no website for ALF, there is a site for the North American Press Office and an FAQ page by the North American A.L.F. Supporters Group.
Below is a sweet message in the book I borrowed from the library that was written by a reader before they ran out of ink.
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