FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Real Father of the Animal Liberation Movement

It’s about time. Someone has finally written a biography on the real father of the animal liberation movement – Ronnie Lee. Lee’s lifelong work for animals spans five decades and counting. During this time, he has been involved in just about every form of animal advocacy imaginable – direct action, grassroots vegan outreach, political campaigning, public interest campaigns, and animal fostering, to name a few. Perhaps best known for founding the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and being jailed numerous times for illegal direct actions, Ronnie Lee now focuses exclusively on above-ground animal advocacy, having retired from his earlier, extensive underground career.

Author Jon Hochshartner’s access to Lee (and some of his friends and family) provides us an intimate window into Lee’s life as a freedom fighter for animals. Lee’s childhood and early adult years are shockingly unremarkable in the sense that there is little to indicate he would go on to become a pioneer in the animal liberation movement. Although it is clear Lee grew up with a fondness for animals, an aversion to authority, and a keen sense of justice, the same can be said of many people who neither become vegan nor pursue animal liberation. What specifically led Lee to become The Animals’ Freedom Fighter, one can never know. But this unremarkable childhood makes Lee’s segue into full-fledged warrior all the more startling and exhilarating.

Lee’s come to Jesus moment seems to have instead been a confluence of events – no single one having been definitive. One early turning point appears to have been Lee’s innocuous story of how he became vegan. As a teen, Lee, by then a vegetarian, was introduced to veganism by his older sister’s boyfriend – a healthy, robust, vegan athlete. As with many vegetarians, Lee came to understand the hypocrisy of abstaining from eating animal flesh while at the same time continuing to consume other animal byproducts. It only took a single vegan role model for Lee to connect the dots and realize veganism is not only just, but healthy too.

Lee’s subsequent entry into the world of direct action gives us an exciting new window into the early 70s-era radical animal advocacy scene in the United Kingdom. Lee’s involvement with the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) began to blossom into more pointed forms of direct action as time went on. In an effort to refine the efficacy of his hunt sabbing efforts, Lee became more and more motivated to declare full scale war on all animal exploiters. While still “hunting the hunters” with the HSA, Lee felt it more impactful to engage in covert, preemptive forms of hunt sabotage, such as disabling the hunters’ automobiles and ransacking hunt lodges. Lee and some of his more daring saboteur partners eventually leveraged their hunt sab experiences, directing similar attacks against other institutional exploiters like butchers, factory farmers, and vivisectors, whose labs Lee would burn to the ground under the cover of darkness.

Lee’s shift to more aggressive tactics are praiseworthy. If the war against animal exploiters is truly that – a war – no options can be taken off the table no matter what the law has to say about them. In the war for animal liberation, there is a role for everyone to play, from the underground saboteur to the aboveground political actor. Some of these tactics may seem at odds, and activists wedded to one or another tactic may accuse the other of setting the movement back. At various times in history, certain forms of activism may prove more beneficial and strategically sound than others. But in the grand scheme of things, any action for animals is an important brick in the wall, and they will all add up to achieve total liberation for animals in the long run. Lee’s life exemplifies the value of this veritable smorgasbord of tactics.

Lee’s willingness to serve hard time for his involvement in illegal direct actions has given way to his more systemic approach. Lee now prefers to focus his efforts on vegan tabling and leafletting, and taking part in Green Party politics. Having spent a considerable amount of his life behind bars, one cannot blame Lee for the shift. Nevertheless, it is hard not to look at Lee’s hard-edged ALF years with great admiration. Hochschartner paints a picture of a tireless Robinhood-for-animals who threw caution to the wind, never missing an opportunity to put a brick through an animal exploiter’s window, rescue an animal from captivity, or burn down a torture chamber. On more than one occasion, Lee tells Hochshartner that he knew his sprees would end in jail time, but that each time he simply sought to extend them for as long as he could. One has to wonder whether animal exploitation could survive if all vegans became this courageous overnight.

Alas, Lee’s direct action did inspire many to become that courageous. As with many social movements, the actions of one or two brave souls can serve as a greenprint for others to follow. The ALF continues to thrive to this day as an anonymous, leaderless movement, as the baton gets passed from one liberationist to the next through a series of direct actions and communiques describing them. Lee’s ALF actions in the UK quickly encouraged others, uncoordinated and unbeknownst to Lee, in all corners of the globe. These actions continue to flourish today even despite a conservative political climate which punishes them increasingly harshly.

Any student of animal liberation would be well-advised to read The Animals’ Freedom Fighter in order to help them determine what role is appropriate for them. The book is a welcome addition, as both a tactical encyclopedia and an important historical account. Lee’s life as an animal advocate has been full and diverse, and one has to wonder what else Lee might have up his sleeve. Hopefully Hochshartner will have no choice but to update Lee’s biography in the coming years.

More articles by:

Chad Nelson is senior editor at the Center for a Stateless Society. He’s an attorney based out of Providence, Rhode Island and a Fellow at C4SS. He considers himself one of the world’s biggest Pearl Jam fans despite their blind obedience to the Obama administration. Follow him on Twitter @cnels43.

September 25, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Fact-Finding Labour’s “Anti-Semitism” Crisis
Charles Pierson
Destroying Yemen as Humanely as Possible
James Rothenberg
Why Not Socialism?
Patrick Cockburn
How Putin Came Out on Top in Syria
John Grant
“Awesome Uncontrollable Male Passion” Meets Its Match
Guy Horton
Burma: Complicity With Evil?
Steve Stallone
Jujitsu Comms
William Blum
Bombing Libya: the Origins of Europe’s Immigration Crisis
John Feffer
There’s a New Crash Coming
Martha Pskowski
“The Emergency Isn’t Over”: the Homeless Commemorate a Year Since the Mexico City Earthquake
Fred Baumgarten
Ten Ways of Looking at Civility
Dean Baker
The Great Financial Crisis: Bernanke and the Bubble
Binoy Kampmark
Parasitic and Irrelevant: The University Vice Chancellor
September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will There Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail