The History and Background of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)

The History and Background of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)

Animal Liberation Front (ALF) has no firmly established date of origin. It was founded either in the late 1970s or early 1980s. ALF maintains an association with PETA, (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). In the mid-1980s, PETA often reported to the press when anonymous ALF activists took animals from U.S. laboratories.

ALF activists have also been closely associated with Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a movement aimed at shutting down Huntingdon Life Sciences, a European animal testing company. Actions against HLS have included bombing property.

The Animal Liberation Press Offices, which operate on several continents, issue statements on behalf of not only ALF, but also more militant groups such as the Animal Rights Militia, which emerged into public view in 1982 when it claimed responsibility for a letter bomb sent to former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and several English legislators.


ALF's objective, in its own terms, is to end animal abuse. They do this by 'liberating' animals from exploitative situations, such as in laboratories where they are used for experiments and causing financial damage to 'animal exploiters.'

According to the group's current website, ALF's mission is to "effectively allocate resources (time and money) to end the "property status of nonhuman animals." The objective of the mission is to "abolish institutionalized animal exploitation because it assumes that animals are property."

Tactics and Organization

According to the ALF, "Because ALF actions may be against the law, activists work anonymously, either in small groups or individually, and do not have any centralized organization or coordination." Individuals or small groups take the initiative to act in the name of the ALF then report their activities to one of its national press offices. The organization has no leaders, nor can it truly be considered a network, since its various members/participants do not know each other, or even of each other. It calls itself a model of 'leaderless resistance.'

There is a certain amount of ambiguity about the role of violence for the group. ALF pledges its commitment to not harming either 'human or non-human animals,' but its members have taken actions which can justifiably be considered as threatening violence against people.

Origins and Context

Concern for animal welfare has a history stretching back to the late 18th century. Historically, animal protectionists, as they were once known, focused on ensuring that animals were treated well, but from within a humanist framework that envisions humans as responsible for the earth's other creatures. Beginning in the 1980s, there was a noticeable shift in this philosophy, toward an understanding that animals have autonomous "rights." According to some, this movement was essentially an extension of the civil rights movement.

Indeed, one of the participants in a 1984 break-in at the University of Pennsylvania to retrieve animals used in scientific experiments, said at the time that:

We may seem like radicals to you. But we are like the abolitionists, who were regarded as radicals too. And we hope that 100 years from now people will look back on the way animals are treated now with the same horror as we do when we look back on the slave trade.
(quoted in William Robbins' "Animal Rights: A Growing Movement in the U.S.," New York Times, June 15, 1984).

Animal rights activists have been becoming increasingly militant since the mid-1980s, and increasingly willing to threaten people, such s animal researchers and their families as well as corporate employees. The FBI named the ALF a domestic terrorist threat in 1991, and the Department of Homeland Security followed suit in January 2005.

Notable Actions

  • July 1984: ALF activists stole three cats, two dogs and eight pigeons from University of Pennsylvania laboratories
  • The ALF and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) took responsibility for smashing Bank of New York windows and posting graffiti such as "BNY Kills Puppies" to protest the bank's business with Huntingdon Life Sciences.
  • 2004: Construction of an Oxford University research lab intended to include animal experimentation was halted following repeated vandalizing at the construction site, and threats to shareholders, attributed to ALF
  • 2006: ALF claimed responsibility for leaving an incendiary device on UCLA researcher Lynn Fairbank's front porch for her work as a "sadistic monkey killer."