TURNING POINT – Issues 7-8 (1987, Oxford, UK)
Turning Point only produced two issues in 1987 due to a delay in an NAVS report claiming (probably erroneously) that AIDS was an unintended result of vivisection. The editors of Turning Point believed (absolutely erroneously) that the report was going to be “devastating,” and “the most important campaign that the anti-vivisection movement has ever undertaken.” By 1988 the campaign had fizzled out, but sadly pseudo-science conspiracy nonsense in the world of animal rights didn’t die with it.
Fortunately, plenty of other content made it into these pages, much of it worth reading. Direct action campaigns from around the world are covered, with mentions of Earth First!, the Central Animal Liberation League, and the Animal Liberation Front. Investigations, essays, and photographs of liberated donkeys take up the rest of the real estate in this brief volume.
BUAV Liberator (1986. London, England)
“Although the BUAV as a limited company can only organize legal activity, we aim to complement and support direct action whenever possible.” BUAV editorial, April-May 1986
Frequent readers of the site will be aware that TALON’s volunteers are big fans of the BUAV Liberator. Not only do its old pulp pages bleed with animal lib history, but the politics represented by BUAV at that time were among the most progressive (and occasionally radical) of any major national non-profit working for non-humans.
During this era the British Union to Abolish Vivisection supported any direct action which did not include pre-meditated violence towards a human, and proudly advocated a broad array of strategies and tactics. From letter writing to sabotage, legislation to arson, the BUAV gave coverage to nearly all of the activism in England at the time- and that is only a small part of what makes these papers so great.
Year after year, each volume of the Liberator gives us clues as to the mood within the movement. In 1986 for example, we see a somber tone set over the movement as the Liberation League’s began to fold, the government passed legislation expanding vivisection, and dozens of activists began prison sentences over lab raids. This blow to activist morale in 1986 was perhaps most visible in the actions of Robert Blackman, a young man who entered the Colchester cattle market and self immolated to protest the sell of living beings. His mother later said that “He gave his life because he thought the cruelty would never stop.”
Interestingly, 1986 was also a year filled with inspiring actions for animals. Issue after issue details labs shut down, vivisectors ending their careers, a dramatic rise in veganism and vegetarianism among the general public, and non-humans having their first taste of freedom. It is only within the context of the meteoric rise of animal rights in the earlier part of the 1980s could this year be seen as any kind of a failure. Indeed, if the level of activism in these issues were to occur today morale would sky rocket and great breakthroughs could be made- and all of us should take that as a challenge!
BLACK BEAST – Issues 2 & 3 (1985-1986, Oxford, UK)
Taking it’s name from the french term “bête noire,” Black Beast ran for 3 issues before changing it’s title to Turning Point.
Black Beast covered all aspects of animal liberation protest and resistance, from sign holding demonstrations, to lab raids, alongside investigations into various abuses of non-humans. It’s politics were pro-direct action, but anti-militarism, and editorials inside criticized groups like the Animal Rights Militia. Articles were published without bylines, and every aspect of the magazine was anonymous. This made it an attractive forum for groups like the Central Animal Liberation League, who sent in a first hand account of the infamous Park Farm raid at Oxford that freed 32 dogs. One issue even contains an interview with a pre-off-the-deep-end Gary Francione detailing his support for the Animal Liberation Front!
The magazine was well written, nicely produced, and also very rare! TALON is seeking a copy of issue #1. If you can share one with us, please contact us HERE.
This classic design, the “Gorilla / guerilla,” was the first widely distributed Animal Liberation Front support merchandise in the United States. The kindhearted folks over at BecauseWeMust.org have made it available again, and damn, it looks good! Proceeds from the sale of each shirt benefit our efforts to preserve and freely distribute animal liberation history. Go grab one!
Breaking Barriers (1986. Washington, D.C.)
While it is true that direct action is often the best means to accomplish our goals, the way we conduct those actions can be an impediment to long term change. Early militants in the animal liberation movement were inspired by the aesthetics of groups like The Angry Brigade, and we have been saddled with that sort of ski-mask and army jacket imagery ever since. The problem is this: that appearance is heavily associated with anti-social behavior, crime, and random violence. While we may romanticize the bolt cutters and balaclavas, the general public does not. If our fashion sense harms the propaganda and recruitment value of our actions, than perhaps we need a makeover.
There have been efforts to part with the bank-robber-meets-gun-nut costumes, however. One of the most dramatic involved a spectacular raid, and… um… mime masks. This attempt at softening the imagery of underground activism was carried out by the aptly named “True Friends.” The video below, Breaking Barriers, was produced by PeTA in their more radical days, and acted to publicize the liberation of four baby chimpanzees from isolation chambers at the SEMA lab in Rockville, MD. While the effectiveness of their eerie masks and wigs is questionable, the beauty of these young primates being freed from a life of torture is not. This was a notable raid that garnered considerable public sympathy when it occurred, and just because the attempt at re-inventing our look failed in this instance doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.
North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office Subcommittee on Eco-Terrorism (2002, Portland, OR)
One of the most frequently repeated myths about direct action is that is so damaging to public opinion that if people didn’t already do it, the government would in order to criminalize movements. If this were true it certainly seems that the system would spend less time trying to prevent radical action by silencing it’s proponents and more time harassing the Sierra Club. The truth is that nothing scares corporations and their paid-in-full politician pets like a well organized group with a willingness to fight and the ability to reach the public with their ideas.
In the late 1990s environmental sabotage was happening all across the world, but was particularly frequent in the northwest of the United States. At the forefront of these actions was the Earth Liberation Front, an anonymous, underground group, who utilized above ground spokespeople to reach the public. Their primary conduit for media relations was an activist from Portland named Craig Rosebraugh and his organization, the North American ELF Press Office. For his role in publicizing the motivations and rhetoric of the ELF he had his arm broken by the police, his home raided by Joint Terrorism Task Forces, his break cables cut, was repeatedly subpoenaed to grand juries, and eventually was called to testify before a congressional sub-committee who hoped to imprison him on contempt charges. The so-called “Eco-Terror committee” surely hoped that Craig would be an easy target, but that didn’t exactly work out for them. Snarky, educated, and angry, Craig’s testimony ran the gamut from stonewalling, to educational, to hilarious. For example, while running the Press Office with his friend Leslie James Pickering, Craig owned a bakery. When asked how the press office was funded, Rosebraugh simply replied “muffins.” When asked who had asked him to become the ELF press officer and how he was contacted, Craig responded, “Jesus Christ. It was a spiritual sort of thing.”
Jokes aside, a congressional subpoena represented a shift in the way environmental sabotage was being treated by the system, and publicizing that fact fell to Leslie James Pickering. In order to spread the word about the hearings, the NAELFPO sold a DIY booklet containing all of the testimony presented by both sides at the hearing and the subsequent written questions sent to Craig by the subcommittee. In a recent conversation with Conflict Gypsy about the booklet, Pickering had this to say:
“I can’t say for sure, how many of these were printed, but it was definitely less than 500. I had a little production line going, with people wearing gloves and hats, only half-jokingly, recently having learned about the WUO and Prairie Fire. The subcommittee was in February of 2002 and I left Portland in June of 2002. These booklets were produced somewhere in between there…probably March or April, because I utilized some machinery they had at college before the semester let out and because this was actually in peoples’ hands before it was easily found online. They were distributed through the ELF Press Office, which means that people could send us $10 and get a copy mailed, or get one at one of our event tables. A good chunk of them also went to AK distro, but we never saw a cent from those, which is another story. One of the more interesting aspects were the complaints from anonymous anarchists about it costing too much. This was when the PO was being bombarded with anonymous comments which were critical from many angles. I often think of how much work went into this and how cheap these people were, assuming for a moment that they weren’t all feds. If we didn’t have the old magnet scam going [where large magnets would be used to reset the copy keys at Kinkos – ed] we would probably have lost money at $10, because it was a pretty thick booklet.”