The Myth of Free
By Steven Best
Editor’s note: On May 18 the Senate Committee on Environment
and Public Works conducted a hearing into the actions of the Animal
Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. Dr. Steve Best was
out of the country at the time and unable to testify. After the hearing
began, Professor Best was removed from his post as Chair of the Department
of Philosophy at the University of Texas, El Paso.
The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were
not made for humans anymore than black people were made for white or
were made for men.—Alice Walker
With some irony, I listened to the testimony against me during the
recent Senate Environment and Public works Committee meeting on ecoterrorism
from Prague, land of Franz Kafka. From an Internet cafe in the Old
Town sector, I heard Senators, the FBI’s Director for Counterterrorism,
and a raving lunatic from a front group for animal exploitation industries
demonize me as a terrorist. They tarred and feathered me as a philosophy
professor who supports the illegal actions of the Animal Liberation
Front (ALF). Some even accused me of using my position to recruit students
into the criminal underground of masked liberationists.
Czechoslovakia has nothing on the U.S. when it comes to the “Kafkaesque.” Tragically,
our nation has reverted to the witch hunts of the 1950s and once again is in
the frenzied throes of McCarthyism, persecuting free speech and dissent. The
House Un-American Activities Committee now goes by the name of the Environment
and Public Works Committee, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) presides in place of
Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the bogeyman of “communism” has been
replaced with that of “terrorism.” The Red Scare has morphed into
a “Green Scare” where bands of radical environmentalists and animal
rights activists allegedly threaten the security of the nation.
For years, I have openly expressed support for the courageous and just actions
of the ALF. The ALF is the abolitionist movement of the present day with the
exception that, unlike its 19th century predecessor, it liberates nonhuman animals
from slavery. Similar to the Underground Railroad’s “criminal” actions
during the earlier abolitionist movement, the ALF frees captive animals, provides
them with much-needed veterinary care, and funnels them to loving homes. Unlike
those who torture, exploit, and kill animals for profit and dubious “research” purposes,
the ALF does not fit any viable definition of terrorism. They will destroy the
property of animal exploiters in order to weaken or eliminate their capacity
to harm animals, but in over 30 years of action, the ALF has never harmed one
of these exploiters. It is an odd “terrorist” indeed who has never
harmed anyone, but rather liberates beings from dire suffering and death.
After 9/11, President Bush said that, “A nation has a right to defend itself
against terror.” I believe this right holds for the animal nations too.
But since they cannot defend themselves, animal rights activists come to their
aid. Whereas legal approaches can reduce the suffering of animals, they can never
alone eliminate it, for the political and legal apparatus of the state is controlled
by powerful corporate interests that profit from exploiting and killing billions
of animals every year.
Animal liberationists seek not bigger cages, but rather empty cages. The ALF
belongs to a noble direct action and civil disobedience tradition in the U.S.
This began with the Boston Tea Party; extends through Henry David Thoreau, the
abolitionists, the suffragettes, Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle for
civil rights; and continues today with the environmental and animal rights movements.
The tradition is rooted in the belief that there often is a profound distinction
between what is legal and what is ethical, such that to do the right thing might
require one to break the law and even destroy property.
I think most people intuitively support ALF principles. If a sadist were laying
traps to kill dogs and cats in one’s neighborhood, would it be wrong to
destroy these traps? If children instead of animals were kept confined in cages,
pumped full of household cleansers until they died, and the police did not respond,
wouldn’t we all break down the damn doors to free them? Why then is it
any different when we are talking about illegal actions on behalf of animals?
Because they have four legs instead of two?
In fact, it is not ALF tactics that people disagree with, but rather the species
the tactics represent. Since I believe animals have the same basic rights as
humans, I reject the prejudice of speciesism and simply follow a logical train
of thought, as my profession trained me to do.
I understand that my views are controversial and unpopular, but they are protected
by the Constitution. I defend the ALF only in words, never deeds. I work for
animal rights only in legal ways, never illegal ways, and I operate openly in
the aboveground movement and never clandestinely in the underground movement.
I am not a member of the ALF, nor do I know or communicate with anyone in the
ALF. I support their courageous actions in defense of animal rights, but to respond
to the malicious claim made to the Senate by the Center for Consumer Freedom,
I have never attempted to recruit students into the ALF. That is an outrageous
and absurd lie characteristic of McCarthyesque hysteria and persecution.
In a sane Washington, the legislative branch of government would be holding hearings
on how to eradicate all forms of animal exploitation, not how to perpetuate them.
It would be going after the real domestic terrorist threat—that posed by
extreme right-wing hate groups with a long record of violence—not the ALF.
It is so unfortunate that the U.S. government is wasting precious resources on
persecuting activists like myself, while leaving our nation unprotected from
the real foreign and domestic terror threats.
Free speech does not exist in the U.S., and one realizes it as soon as one begins
to exercise the alleged right to it.
Dr. Steven Best is former Chair of the Philosophy Department
at the University of Texas, El Paso. Many of his writings can be read on his
website at drstevebest.com.