Random clips (1996 and 1998, various locations.)
Speciesism is so entrenched that your average person sees nothing wrong with the anal electrocution of a mink in order to steal their fur. This same person, however, will scream bloody murder over an empty building being set alight to prevent such torture. Our society habitually denounces those who resist our everyday cruelties, until somehow logic manages to penetrate and suddenly the rebels are seen as being right all along. At one point in the United States the majority of (invading European) citizens saw nothing wrong with human slavery, and newspapers shouted their outrage over slave revolts, the underground railroad, and the burning of auction blocks that sold thousands of people into bondage. Through the efforts of generations of abolitionists, however, the tide was eventually turned, and none of those aforementioned papers would now dream of supporting the slave trade. The rebels who were hated by the public, who were jailed and hanged and ridiculed to the delight of the media, are now seen as heroes.
There are, of course, very real differences between the movements to end human and non-human slavery, but the role of the media has remained very much the same. Luckily our movement has had, from time to time, articulate spokespeople who can explain why direct action is taken on behalf of animals. In the 1990s Freeman Wicklund, then the publisher of No Compromise magazine, would act as a press liaison in order to explain the motives of the underground. Later, Katie Fedor would start the North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office. Working closely with former ALF prisoners and the Canadian SG, she appeared regularly on television defending the actions of anonymous saboteurs. (As an interesting side note, Kevin Kjonaas once interned for Katie’s press office, and actually received college credits for defending the ALF!)
We present here several news clips featuring Freeman and Katie in the 90s doing one of the hardest jobs a good press officer must do: defending the use of arson to save animals.
Angels of Mercy? (1995, London, England)
In 1995 Channel 4’s Warcries news program aired Angels Of Mercy?, a 30 minute investigation into the Animal Liberation Front. The show focused primarily on Keith Mann, an ALF volunteer who was then serving England’s longest sentence for animal rights motivated arson. While most commercially funded news has a clear bias in favor of the status quo (and the channels sponsors,) Warcries was known for fairer journalism. The result in this case was a surprisingly sympathetic look at what pushes a young person to commit criminal acts on behalf of non-humans. Given developments since it first aired, it also serves as a remarkable lesson about public credibility and how difficult it is to regain once lost.
In the 1990s our movement had a variety of articulate, savvy spokespeople, and the release of Angels of Mercy? quickly made Keith Mann foremost among them. His voice-overs from a prison phone are heard over shocking footage of animal abuse, and interviews with his family and supporters act to assure the audience that he is a rational, and passionate activist to working to stop what can only be described as horrific cruelty. When Keith was later released from prison he was highly sought after as a speaker and a source for reporters. I always felt reassured when I saw his face in the news since I knew it meant that at least one positive quote would make it’s way to the public.
Sadly, in the last few years Keith has become a devotee of British new-age guru David Icke, a man who believes that a race of reptilian shape-shifters secretly controls the world, that cancer is a fungus, that some humans are actually half-dead, inter-dimensional beings, and a host of other pseudo-scientific nonsense. After being literally laughed off of television in 1991 when he wrongly predicted the end of the world, he has resurfaced in recent years as a lecturer and author with a depressing number of followers.
Since his conversion to odd-ball conspiracy theorist Keith Mann has lost much of his credibility both inside and outside the movement. Most recently he has become a holocaust denier, thereby severing his ties with many of us who still held some hope that he would come to his senses. It’s a shame, because as I watch Angels of Mercy? I am reminded of the rare power he once had to make everyday people understand direct action and animal liberation, a power whose benefit is now lost to the animal nations. It is my hope that by posting this video others will consider how desperately the animals need trustworthy advocates, and how easy it is to damage that trust.
Animal Liberation: The Movie (1992, England)
An early and wonderful example of DIY video production and anonymous distribution, Animal Liberation: The Movie was brought to the US by Freeman Wicklund in the early 90s. Often sold on the same tape as the moving Kieth Mann documentary “Angels of Mercy,” it quickly became a must have in the video collection of activists everywhere.
Documenting the high-water mark of daylight raids, department store arson, hunt sabotage, and undercover investigations in England, this sub-rosa video remains one of the best catalogs of direct action in the 80s and early 90s.
Breaking Free #2 (1999, Eugene, OR.)
The second and final episode of Breaking Free has some glaring faults: jokes that are not funny, computer animation that is antiquated and was already embarrassing upon it’s release, and no shortage of bad titling choices. It also contains footage of some of the most important and influential campaigns of the era it was produced, especially the Consort Kennels and Hillgrove protests which eventually led to the international fight against Huntingdon Life Sciences. Many long forgotten ALF raids are also shown, along with the final major civil disobedience actions at the end of the voluntary arrest era of the 1990s.
Breaking Free Video Magazine #1 (1998, Eugene, OR)
Back in 1997 I was kicked out of the Liberation Collective house in Portland and moved back to my home town of Eugene. Portland was a great place for activism in those days, but Eugene didn’t have much going on… yet. So, me and an old friend decided to start an Animal Defense League chapter. Right from the start we had a tough time getting people in the streets, but we had another idea…
I grew up skateboarding, and one of the most fascinating things about that art form is how coverage of skateboarding ultimately progresses the art of skateboarding. Every time a new skate video came out kids all over the world would see new possibilities, would feel the fire lit beneath them to try new tricks, and would find courage to do so because they had just seen other people do it right in front of them. They would film their tricks, and then the whole process would happen again and again, with each new video being more impressive than the one that preceded it. My buddy had just bought a top of the line video editing setup- A pentium II with a 9 gig drive, an SVS deck, and a copy of Premiere 3.2 with a $3,000 analog video capture card. Maybe we could do for activism what skate videos did for skateboarding.
The world of non-human liberation movements was fast paced and loaded with action back then. I knew that someone needed to document everything going on, but I couldn’t afford to travel and film it all. Most AR groups had a cheap camera though, so I put out the word that we wanted to get everyone’s footage for a video, and slowly the tapes started to trickle in. We learned how to edit through trial and error, and after several months of frustration in front of the computer, Breaking Free #1 was available.
The video is not perfect in any way, and there is a lot about it that embarrasses me. Still, there was nothing else quite like it at the time. Sales were high, it was translated into German and Spanish, bootleg copies were everywhere, and even mainstream publications like Animals Agenda were praising us. While I cringe at the mispronunciation of “Nietzsche,” the bad joke of an opening, and yes, the techno music, (Sorry, Mr. K!) I feel pride that we created such an accurate picture of the state of the movement, and insured that so many acts of anger, disobedience, and compassion were not forgotten. Please watch it with critical, but forgiving eyes.