Doing time with the Animal Liberation Front:
An Interview with Darren Thurston
from No Compromise Issue 4
 

NC: How did you get involved in animal rights?

DT: I started getting involved in the hard-core/ alternative/straight-edge music scene in 1985/6 and through that got involved in animal rights/ liberation. I stopped eating meat and, shortly after, stopped eating dairy and eggs. I formed an Animal Rights group called Citizens Organized for Animal Liberation because none of the local AR groups wanted to do civil disobedience actions or even demonstrations. They would do their annual anti-fur pickets and the odd anti-rodeo and anti-circus pickets and sit on the fence the rest of the time.

NC: What led you take a more militant approach to animal liberation and join the A.L.F.?

DT: First off, animal rights organizing was very frustrating. I saw animals every day getting killed and tortured for human greed, vanity and food, while people wanted to write letters and talk to vivisectors about the 'problem.'

Secondly, you can't join the Animal Liberation Front. It has no central command, address, or membership list. The A.L.F. is everywhere. It's composed of dedicated people who take the first step and do something~smash a window, glue a lock, spray paint a butcher shop, free some mink, burn a meat truck, liberate some animals from a laboratory. Remember, YOU ARE THE A.L.F.! and the animals need you NOW.

NC: How did you learn to do A.L.F. actions?

DT: I never really learned from anywhere or anyone. But I do remember an old adage that "practice makes perfect" or something along those lines. For those that would like to learn the finer details of how to do certain things, they are available in numerous booklets.

[Recommended reading; An Animal Liberation-Liberation Primer 2nd edition, Interviews with A.L.F. Activists, The Power is Ours and The Final Nail.]

NC: What security precautions did you see activists take while involved in the A.L.F.?

DT: Physical security was a major concern of everyone as it always should be. You have to assume that every word you say over a telephone is being heard, pay telephones included. Never talk inside anyone's home or vehicle, both can and are bugged very easily.

The best cover of course is to have never been involved in above-ground animal rights organizing at all. Animal Rights groups are the first place the police will start looking for suspects. Police regularly video tape demonstrations so they know who is active. More and more activists are forming small tight knit groups of close friends that they can work with. We are also seeing activists both here in North America and in England go underground so that they may continue direct action against the animal abusers and/or avoid arrest.

NC: What was the University of Alberta doing to the animals?

DT: I had done some research in the University library and found information about the ongoing experiments at the University of Alberta such as the testing of drugs on primates, spinal cord research on cats, smoking experiments on dogs, etc. A lot of the cats that were liberated would have ended up having their spinal cords broken and drugs tested on them.

NC: How did you obtain that information?

DT: A lot of it came from lab animal research journals and other University publications at the University libraries. The vivisectors love publishing papers of how they torture and mutilate animals in order to get further research grants. It doesn't take that long to figure out how to use any University's computer search functions and check out ongoing experiments and specific researchers.

NC: What did you do to prepare for the raid?

DT: I watched the entire facility for numerous days and nights familiarizing myself with the normal routine of the facility; the time the staff came and left work, when staff that lived on the farm/facility were at home and when they went to sleep, at what time University security did their routine checks. I also obtained both road and aerial maps of the area from local libraries.

The facility was quite large - it has approx. a dozen buildings including breeding facilities for mice, cows, pigs, sheep, dogs and cats. Two caretakers (both vivisectors) lived in separate houses on the facility.

NC: Any other planning?

DT: I picked a night that I knew would be quiet, a new moon when there would be very little moonlight. We also made a visit to the facility the night before the raid to make sure everything was in place and to familiarize everyone of what the facility looked like and what their roles were.

NC: What equipment was necessary to do the raid?

DT: hmm...... Well, let,s see; crowbar, large ball-peen hammer, portable electric drill, radios, radio frequency-scanners (so we could listen to both University Security and the Police), pick-up truck, cat carriers, paint, large bags.

NC: How did you carry all of the equipment inside?

DT: There wasn't all that much equipment needed, a duffel bag and back-pack worked fine.

NC: How did you handle the security systems and enter the building?

DT: The facility had a security system including an ADT card entry system at the front door, and an intrusion alarm system - the vast majority of the facility was totally insecure though. There were numerous windows that it would have been very easy to break and enter through, including windows directly into the large cat colony cages. There were many doors that could have been opened in a variety of different ways; pushing hinge pins out, drilling large holes right through, drilling or picking locks, or forcing the locks with a crowbar. Mysteriously though, the door we went to, which opened directly into the cat kennel room, was left unlocked?!

NC: What did you do when you entered the building?

DT: Immediately went to work getting the cats out. The most important part of the action was getting the animals out safely. Once that was done the other tasks could be completed; finding and taking important files and of course economic damage.

NC: There was approx. $100,000 in damage done to the facility could you tell us what equipment you damaged and why?

DT: There was only one small laboratory in the dog and cat kennel we were in. We damaged as much as we could in the entire building after all the cats were safely away from the facility. Damaging torture devices and other equipment makes them inoperable to torture and kill animals anymore otherwise they could go back to torturing animals the very next day. Destroying the actual instruments of torture is practical. It ensures that the sadism will be stopped at least temporarily. It also ensures that they will be wasting money (which would have otherwise gone to vivisection) to hire extra security and install expensive alarm systems.

NC: How did you damage it?

DT: Inside the laboratory itself, we forced open every locked storage cabinet dumping the contents on the floor, smashed sterilizers and other equipment and splashed red paint everywhere. In their office, boxes of files pertaining to illegal sources of the dogs they used and research were taken, everything else was scattered on the floor and then soaked in muriatic acid. Throughout the facility, slogans were spray painted, red paint splashed on walls, electrical cords cut, toilets and sinks smashed.

There was also one delivery truck outside used to transport animals from the facility back and forth to the main University lab, it had paint stripper dumped all over and the tires slashed and was also spray painted with slogans.

NC: How did you leave the "blood" marks on the wall?

DT: Red paint that had been thinned a little and placed into several plastic 2 liter soda bottles, which made it very easy to splash anywhere and everywhere.

NC: What did you wear during the raid?

DT: Coveralls to keep clothes underneath paint free, gloves, inexpensive throwaway shoes and balaclavas (in case of video security cameras.)

NC: How did you get the animals out and how many were there?

DT: The cats were originally going to be placed in large cloth bags and then carried to an awaiting vehicle and placed into cardboard cat carriers. Upon putting the first cat into a bag it was promptly shredded. So much for that plan - plan two went into effect as the cardboard cat carriers were carried two at a time across a long field, two cats placed in each box and then carried all the way back to the awaiting vehicle. 29 cats were liberated all together.

NC: How long did the University raid take?

DT: The entire time inside the facility probably took 3 hours or so, mostly because it took so long transporting the cats across a field to the truck.

NC: How did you re-home the animals?

DT: I did not take part in the re-homing of the animals. The cats were supposed to go to a home that would hold them for a while and then send them off to other homes where they could live out their lives free. The homes didn't get set in advance as they were supposed to. With a lot of hard work and stress, homes were finally found.

NC: Is there anything you would have done differently?

DT: The film and video footage taken and sent to the media had too many traces of where they were taken and helped police to track down the motel we used after words. More thought definitely needed to be put into not leaving any trace of location as to where the photos were taken.

NC: How did you get caught?

DT: An informant named Jessica Sandham. She was a woman who had rented a motel room where the cats were to be taken after the raid (where video and still photographs for the media were taken). Jessica who rented the room didn't have to show any identification at all but instead showed her own and did not tell anyone else that she had done this. Investigators, who started checking every motel/hotel in the entire city looking for similarities to the media, video and still photographs tracked down the motel we used. The room was rented by Jessica who was already in the National Crime Index Computer (unknown to me or her at that time) as a suspected animal liberation radical which of course rang big warning bells. After placing her under physical surveillance for over a week, on June 19th members of the Integrated Intelligence Unit knocked on her door and asked her to answer questions. Instead of saying "NO COMMENT" or "call my lawyers" or "fuck off," she went with them to answer questions.

She was questioned for 4 1/2 hours on video-tape (unknown to her). Where the police tried all the typical police tricks and traps and she went for them all and talked freely about all she knew including rumors about the UofA raid. The police led her questions and tried to scare her by mentioning the so-called increasing "violence" in the animal liberation movement and my completely legal possession of several firearms.

[Recommended reading; War at Home by Brian Glick, If An Agent Knocks, Agents of Repression by Ward Churchill.]

NC: What happened to Jessica Sandham?

DT: Jessica Michelle Charlotte Sandham (DOB Jan. 31/1973) is free, has always been free and was never arrested, we know immediately after the arrests she moved to another city and has since moved back to Edmonton and lives with her parents (12033-4t St., Edmonton, AB, Canada 403-479-1898). She was immediately disowned by the animal liberation community in which she was active, she has been labeled a traitor and informant in Canada.

NC: Can you tell us about your initial arrest experience?

DT: I was arrested Friday June 19th at approx. 5:30 pm. I had just finished working at a small store where I was the manager. The police, who had placed me under 24 hour physical surveillance since June 3 (two days after the action), knew where I was. I was standing at a transit stop when I heard a car screech to a stop behind me. As I glanced over my shoulder I saw two large men, obviously cops, jumping out with guns drawn.

I was originally charged with 4 counts (Break and Enter, Mischief over $1000, Theft over $1000 and including a conspiracy charge that was later dropped) related to the UOfA liberation, after I was taken to the police station. I was then put in a holding tank and finally brought into an interview room with one of the cops. He proceeded to ask me a huge list of questions, to which I responded with little except that I would like to talk to a lawyer.

As I was being arrested, the police were also executing search warrants on my partner,s and my apartment and a friend,s home. A warrant was also issued for the arrest of a friend of mine, Grant.

NC: Can you explain your experience with the courts and jail?

DT: I was finally processed after about 5 hours at the police station and 12 hours sitting in a holding tank at the Remand Center and moved to a really dirty and cold dormitory with 80+ other men. Next I was called out again and taken over to the police station to be charged with another 3 charges (arson and two mischief's). These charges were in regards to two actions at Billingsgate Fish Market.

One was in December OE91 when the store and 4 large fish delivery trucks were spray painted with slogans, tires slashed and incendiary devices left on their front seats. Three of the incendiaries ignited causing approx.. $75,000 damage. The other action (also at Billingsgate Fish Company) was the following month when their store and three replacement rental trucks were spray painted with slogans and tires slashed.

After a few days, I finally got moved into a unit in the Remand Center, bunked up with a hyperactive 18 year old car thief, and another 56 'children' on one of two units called "the zoo" (so-called because of all the fights and craziness in general).

I finally obtained a good lawyer, one of the top lawyers in Alberta, who took the case for a very low expense. He did his best and more a lot of the time. I would have much rather had an animal activist lawyer, but there's just not that many around in Canada.

About four days after my arrest late one night just after lock-up, I got called out again and was brought over to the police station to be charged with yet more charges. This time I was charged with another 7 charges related to damage done to three billboards carrying advertisements for the Fur Council of Canada "Fur Our Choice Naturally". At one of the signs a note was left for Hook Outdoor Advertising telling them to stop running the ad's or it would be their most expensive advertisement campaign ever. At the end of December the A.L.F. entered Hook's yard and wrote a long message on the side of one of their vans telling about the horrors of fur production and one of the boom trucks was gutted by fire, another charge of arson. On Jan. 1, 1992 at Oullette Meat Packers, a van had it's tires slashed, side window smashed and a timed incendiary device was left on the seat. Both the building and van were painted with slogans. The incense sticks had gone out (according to court testimony) for some reason - extreme cold, wind? And so one more attempted arson charge and another mischief charge. The police were telling me they want six years in prison.

Approximately June 29, 1992 a Canada-wide arrest warrant was issued for David Barbarash and photos of David were circulated to television stations and newspapers.

David was wanted for three charges related to the UofA liberation (Break and Enter, Mischief over $1000, Theft over $1000). The Royal Canadian Mounted Police visited several activist's homes in B.C. looking for David. David disappeared underground.

My attorney had seven separate bail hearings to try and get me released on bail, even with numerous conditions, to no avail. I was refused on the grounds that I 'was a threat to society' and that 'I may not appear for trial'. Even after my family offered to put up property and $50,000 cash for my bail. At the bail hearing before mine one day, the same judge granted bail for a person convicted of murder that was facing a trial for manslaughter.

Early September 1993, I finally got my 4 day preliminary trial, after I'd been inside for over 14 months. Jessica Sandham took the stand and testified about her role in the UofA liberation ~ renting a motel room, buying paint and meeting with several people from 'out of town'. She also talked about the Billingsgate arson and how I had allegedly said that it looked like it would have been easy or was easy. The police testified all about the actions that I was charged with. My attorney got the police to answer questions about the surveillance they undertook and we learned that they had me and my residence under 24 hour physical surveillance in December 1992 for three weeks. June 3rd two days after the UofA liberation they had set up 24 hour physical surveillance on me and Grant, both our residence's, Jessica, and several 'targets' that they hoped might get 'hit'. They had placed legal 'bugs' on both mine and Grants phones and also a 'bug' in my residence. We also got the police to testify about involvement in the case from the FBI, BATF and Michigan University Police. Members from all three had actually traveled to Edmonton to take part in a second search of my residence, looking for more 'evidence'. Police also testified that the FBI took photocopies of all of my files, an entire filing cabinet. So four days later it was over and now it was time to wait for a two week trial.

After a few weeks I finally heard that my trial date was not going to be for another 8-12 months and I would be in jail the whole time. The situation re: the UofA and the Billingsgate arson charges wasn't looking all that good because of evidence against me. My attorney had been trying to gel me a deal where I would plead guilty to the UofA and the Billingsgate arson charges and I would gel out with time served, the other charges would be dropped. On Oct. 12, 1993, I plead guilty to three charges - Break and Enter to Commit Theft and Mischief (UofA liberation) and arson (Billingsgate fire). I was acquitted of all the other charges against me. Later that day I walked out a free man after 15 1/2 months inside.

Within one week after I was out, I got a visit from the chief investigator, serving me with appeal papers. The police and prosecution didn't think that my 15 1/2 months locked up was enough. They wanted me to serve several more years. On March 8th, 1994, five months after I got out, the appeal was heard at the Alberta Court of Appeals (the highest court in Alberta). The Appeals Court reserved their decision. Their decision came several weeks later; they sentenced me to another two years, less a day inside. I was taken into custody immediately and shipped back to the Edmonton Remand Center.

From Edmonton Remand I was transferred and spent 4 1/2 months in Calgary Correctional Facility (Spy Hill) and then 5 months at Fort Saskatchewan Correction Facility (The Fort). A lot of my time was spent on the phone helping out with other prisoners' support including Rod's (who had just been arrested) and working towards an early release. I spent my spare time reading, writing, playing cards, and working out. Time went by a lot quicker than in the Remand Center because there was a little more to do.

Finally out Jan., 1995, I was granted an early release under probation and partial house arrest. I accepted it and was out yet again. For 4 months I was to be home from 6pm till 6 am, parole workers would call every night to make sure I was home and also knock on the door every other day or so. I also had to see my probation officer every week. After approx. 5 months, I was finally finished with the house arrest portion of my probation and now just had to visit every two weeks. Two days before completing it, my probation office ordered me over the phone to attend a meeting at his office on one hour,s notice - I refused. The next morning when I called him, he told me to turn myself in - he had pulled my probation because I was allegedly seen at the airport boarding a plane (I was not allowed to leave Edmonton without permission as part of my probation conditions). After contacting my attorney for advice on what to do, he told me that they could pull it at will and that I would likely have to serve another two weeks until my sentence expiration. Three days later I turned myself in and served another 10 days.

NC: What happened to your co-defendant in this case?

DT: Grant was arrested the day after me on June 20th on nothing other than complete speculation. He was charged with the same four counts related to the U of A liberation that I was. Approx. ten days later he was released on $4000 cash bail and stiff conditions including moving 3 hours away to another city to live with his parents, a curfew and report once a week until his trial. Grant did not have a criminal record and was 29 at the time. At Grant,s trial several months later the prosecutor gave him a stay of charges because they had no evidence at all.

NC: How long were you in jail?

DT: All together, just under two years.

NC: What was prison like?

DT: It was the first time I had been to jail in my life so it was quite eye opening in the beginning. I didn't know what to expect really. You got used to the routine really quick - you don't have much of a choice. Overall it really wasn't that bad though.

NC: Did you fear for your personal safety while in prison?

DT: No. Things were a little crazy at times, I got into several fights over my beliefs.

NC: Did prison have any effects on you?

DT: Being imprisoned strengthened my resolve even more. It gave me the chance to improve my mind and body. I got involved in weight training and jogging which strengthened my body. It made me realize even more that we need to keep up the pressure on animal abusers around the world on every level, both above-ground and the underground. We can win this war! I certainly knew that if I was caught doing A.L.F. activity, I could end up serving time in jail. But those are the risks we take. Every A.L.F. activist must be ready to go to jail rather than incriminate other A.L.F. activists or do anything that would put the animals' freedom at risk.

NC: Do you have any regrets?

DT: I wish we could have taken every animal there.

NC: What words of wisdom do you have for other activists?

DT: Don't let anything get you down, there's a lot of bad stuff happening out there, and things are pretty tough sometimes. Actions can still be done and NEED to happen. Work with as few people as you need to, make sure you know them all VERY well and KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT! You don't need to spread rumors or gossip about other activists and actions or about your own. I'm in this for the animals - if you're not, get the fuck out.

Thank you for your time and all that you have done for the animals. The personal sacrifices you made for animals are truly inspiring and needed if we ever want to see animal liberation become a reality. Best wishes to you Darren.