Peter Young was arrested March 21, 2005, after a seven
year stint on the FBI's Wanted list for a string of fur farm
raids. He was sentenced after this interview took place, on
November 8th, 2005 to a two year prison term. Here he takes
time to talk about his case, direct action, snitches, and
what the future holds. For all the latest news on Peter's
case and how to support him visit SupportPeter.com.
No Compromise: You were wanted by the FBI
for seven years. What led to your arrest?
Peter Young: My only “mistake”
was moving several copies of the same CD across the room at
a Starbucks while an off-duty cop observed from outside. By
no stretch of the imagination was it “shoplifting,”
but when a search turned up items deemed suspicious (such
as a book titled “Evasion” and what they thought
was a handcuff key taped to the rear of my belt), they decided
to arrest me anyway. Fifteen minutes after the cops ran my
fingerprints, the warrants from 1998 came up and this new
chapter of my life began.
NC: With so much disparity among media reports
of your case, give us the nutshell version - from the actions
to the recent plea agreement.
Peter: It was just before pelting season
1997, and within a month all mink on American fur farms would
be dead. Given the heat in the Northwest from reports of recent
successful and failed mink liberations, as well as our visibility
as Seattle activists, we looked towards the Great Plains.
When the smoke cleared two weeks later, six fur farms had
been visited with 8,000 mink and 100 foxes released.
There were several close calls, such as when Tom Fasset walked
up on us as we opened one of what was to be 2,000 cages. (I
always wondered if they caught that one mink, and I found
my answer in the FBI evidence turned over last month: She
got away.) There’s no question that we exceeded the
bounds of safety – moving from one farm to the next,
even hitting two farms in one night. And while it proved in
the end to be our undoing, I can say I appreciate the sense
of urgency that drove us this far. As bad as jail can be,
I’d have always felt worse doing nothing.
Eleven months later, we were indicted on four counts of
Extortion (20-year max sentence, each) and two counts of Animal
Enterprise Terrorism (one year max., each).
Seven years later I was arrested. Factoring in my famously
harsh judge, if found guilty I was told to expect eight to
ten years. The case against me was mostly circumstantial,
resting on a list of fur farm addresses, bolt cutters and
Justin Samuel’s testimony. I was moved from California
to Wisconsin, where it became clear that they were more interested
in who my friends were for the last seven years than in an
old case, even offering me a deal of one year if I would tell
Their case fell apart when my lawyer filed a motion citing
a 2003 Supreme Court ruling that “extortion” could
not apply to political cases. Those charges were dismissed,
and my maximum sentence unceremoniously dropped from 82 years
to two. The feds lost interest, and in the end I settled on
a deal of two years for the mink releases and one count of
obtaining a driver’s license with forged documents.
NC: Why did you target the fur industry,
and what effect did your actions have?
Peter: We hit the fur industry because,
in terms of immediate effects, I know of no action with greater
yield than a mink release. The most common criticism of live
liberations – that the liberated animals are just replaced
-- does not apply. A mink farm's closed breeding system means
that when its animals are gone, they're gone. At least one
of the farms we visited is now closed. Above all, we raided
fur farms because we had no excuse not to raid fur farms.
It's just too easy. Two people can liberate 1,000 mink every
15 minutes. I believe if most people knew the simplicity of
these actions, they would spend a little less time on instant
messenger and a little more time tearing down fences.
NC: It’s important to evaluate not
only our victories but also our failures. Can you offer an
analysis of the mistakes which led to your indictment?
Peter: The plan was to hit as many farms
as we could in as short of time possible. After the second
release in Sioux City, it became clear the Midwest fur farming
community was on alert. They began waiting for us, and we
were followed several times in the coming days. The first
mistake was not admitting we were too visible to continue.
I have nothing to offer in my defense except that we were
angry and very determined.
Mistake #2 was working with an emotionally unstable, dogmatic
pacifist. I found out the hard way that being an informant
for the FBI falls safely within a code of Gandhian nonviolence.
Our two-week campaign ended when a farmer followed us as
we passed the Zimbal Minkery in Oostburg, Wisconsin. She called
the police from her cell phone, and in minutes we were surrounded.
After refusing consent to a search, our vehicle was confiscated.
Above all, I regret not cutting through the fence of the Sheboygan
impound lot that night and removing the evidence from our
car. That would have solved a lot of my problems.
NC: Take us through a few milestones of
your activist history.
Peter: Becoming vegan in 1994 was most significant,
My shift to activism was inspired by the mid-90s straight-edge
scene. Bands like Abnegation brought me from the “self-hating
vegan” phase to one of action, and understanding this
was not another “single issue,” but something
much more urgent than I had admitted. We listened to the Earth
Crisis demo every night before masking up and hitting those
farms in 1997. I’ve been vegan and straight edge for
The moment I knew that this is war came when we discovered
a chicken slaughterhouse operating in a non-descript building
just outside downtown Seattle. Animal liberation was suddenly
no longer an abstract struggle but one to be fought in my
own neighborhood. We crouched in the bushes, looking through
a cracked window, watching the massacre. It was this image--
flailing birds hung by their feet and carried to their bloody
end-- that branded into my mind a promise that I would dedicate
the rest of my life to seeing it end.
Lastly, a crucial milestone came later that year while reading
the paper and learning that anonymous activists had broken
into a Seattle-area pig slaughterhouse and removed the bolt
gun used as a killing device. Soon after, a second article
appeared reporting another local slaughterhouse had its office
ransacked and three chickens rescued from the killing floor.
It was these reports of simple actions with life-saving effects
that imparted upon me a profound message: While we may not
win in our lifetime, there can be many small victories along
NC: Sadly, your co-defendant Justin Samuel
turned informant. What are you feelings on him today?
Peter: He is a disgrace and I wish him the
NC: As the victim of a snitch, weigh in
on the subject of how they should be dealt with. Compassion,
banishment, or something in between?
Peter: Any person that utters one word of
excuse for an informant should ask himself how many apologies
he would make if the snitch’s victim were a close friend,
loved one, or even him or herself. The first step is confronting
the privilege of distance.
I hope any snitch who works to bury a liberation activist
in prison, yet still remains convinced he has a rightful place
in our movement, will continue to work for animals. Absolutely.
What pains me is that there would be one person willing to
work by the snitch’s side. In Justin Samuel’s
attempt at reintegration, there were a few. I don’t
expect to regain trust in those elements of our movement that
allowed Justin to move through it unchallenged, those who
looked away for the sake of harmony and those who allowed
Justin to be present in large groups of activists (such as
David Agranoff’s wedding) without showing him the door
with force. My concern is as much for myself as for the message
it sends, for the snitch culture it breeds and its future
NC: During the mid-90s, there was an upswing
in activism and direct action. What are your memories of this
Peter: A lot of hooded sweatshirts and cammo...
I remember liberal use of the term "vegan revolution."
I remember communiqués that read like hardcore lyrics,
with lines like "This is a warning to those who transgress
the natural order." It was a climate of militancy that
perhaps lacked good strategy. In the mid-90s, direct action
did surge in the actual number of actions, but it was very
scattershot, most often occurring at the retail/restaurant
level. A message was sent, but at the end of the day I'm not
sure how many lives were saved. While we recently may only
see a few significant actions a year, I'm impressed with a
big action and good strategy more than I am with a brick and
NC: Over the years, have you followed direct
action? What specific actions did you find most significant?
Peter: The 1999 raid on the University of
Minnesota, number one. The activists’ ability to liberate
animals, do $3 million damage with their hands and leave the
FBI with no idea how they had gotten in was remarkable. Nothing
like it had happened in ten years. If we assume those responsible
were not active in the 80s, we can take a lesson from a group
that started from scratch, taught themselves the skill, and
And the Ellsworth, Iowa fur farm that was emptied twice
in one week, shutting it down. This was an especially celebrated
action to me, as someone who knows the pain of hearing of
those I set free being recaptured, but not having the courage
myself to return to settle the score.
NC: Offer your analysis of direct action
today. What’s missing from the A.L.F.’s strategy?
Peter: First, trust no one who claims himself
an expert on the A.L.F. Mine is not an authoritative analysis,
just a personal one.
Second, lessen emphasis on the “two-five person”
cell structure, and reconsider the power of the individual.
One person on a bike with a backpack can potentially do as
much damage as several, without the burden of consensus and
the threat of snitches. The biggest limitation of direct action
will always be the lack of solid people to work with. One
person will not be able to do large scale liberations, but
silent actions for which a lookout may not be necessary, such
as break-ins for the confiscation of data, would happen more
often if people considered the one (wo)man cell.
Additionally, the 80s model of using actions to expose atrocities
with video footage should be revisited. There’s value
in reclaiming the A.L.F’s now –tattered Robin
Hood image. I can think of two examples of chicken liberations
in which footage was taken and played on the evening news,
giving the public its first glimpse inside an egg farm. Merge
education and liberation.
Taking out targets whose work is not easily absorbed by others
is good strategy. The business of a demolished KFC can be
picked up by the one across the street, but there are only
so many labs that are genetically engineering chickens without
What I believe would see the greatest surge of direct action
is providing people with more names and addresses. This is
what made The Final Nail so successful in the 90s, and it’s
what has made the anti-HLS campaign so successful today. It
is something that would make animal abuse no longer an abstraction
but something with an exact physical location, erasing most
people’s excuse for turning away. Knowledge bears responsibility.
I would like to see a Final Nail for labs. This, I think,
would really set things off.
And I won’t win any friends with this one, but I believe
that limiting our use of numbing agents such as alcohol, drugs,
computers/e-mail, and television would go a long way towards
eliminating distractions and keeping us motivated to act.
My faith in direct action has not changed, only my wish for
the A.L.F. to go bigger and go for the throat.
NC: Rumor has circulated that the FBI believes
you wrote a book. Can you comment?
Peter: The allegation that I authored a
’zine, later printed by a radical publisher out of Olympia
as an anonymously-authored, travel-themed short story collection,
is fairly well known in some circles. It's an interesting
NC: How do you feel about your plea bargain?
Peter: I'll say this: Last night I read the
FBI case file, added the number of animals never recaptured,
and divided it by my sentence. It works out to about 12 hours
NC: Have you received adequate jail support?
How could it improve?
Peter: "Adequate" would fall a
little short. Within days of my arrest there was a website,
support fund, phone-line assault on the jail to win me vegan
meals, money, and a lot of mail. It's been incredible. To
any activist with federal warrants, I would recommend an arrest
in the bay area. The locals will take care of you. When I
was extradited to Wisconsin, one generous person even uprooted
her life and moved to Madison to do jail support full time.
As overwhelming as it's all been, the best gesture of support
came ten days after my arrest when 58 foxes were released
from an Illinois fur farm, with the action claimed in solidarity
with me. My vision of improved jail support? A better liberated
NC: What are your plans after your release?
Peter: To be right back out there, doing
my part. You'll never be able to count me among the ones who
stopped fighting for change.