Direct Action History Lessons:
The Formation of the Band of Mercy and A.L.F.

from No Compromise Issue 28
 

by Ronnie Lee

The Band of Mercy was formed by myself and five other people at a meeting in London in 1973.

All of us were either vegetarians or vegans and had been involved in various animal protection organizations. We shared the common feeling that those organizations were failing to stem the tide of animal persecution because their tactics weren't hard-hitting enough.

We felt it was vital to embark on a campaign of direct action in order to try to turn things around. We had no idea whether or not we would succeed, but we felt there was no other choice and we had to give it a go.

The name Band of Mercy was chosen, as that was the title used by a 19th century RSPCA youth group, which (very surprisingly, given the conventional nature of the RSPCA today) damaged guns belonging to hunters as part of their campaign.

We decided that our campaign should be against property and that no violence should be used against people, except in self-defense. For some of us, this was for moral reasons, but for others it was purely tactical. I personally now regret this, as I feel there would have been a place for the limited use of violence against animal abusers.

The first targets of the Band of Mercy were foxhunt kennels, where we caused damage to vehicles used to transport the hounds. Then, towards the end of 1973, we made two attempts at burning down a vivisection laboratory that was under construction. This was followed by the destruction of a boat used in the slaughter of baby seals and a wave of attacks against vehicles used to transport animals to laboratories.

In the summer of 1974, two of us were arrested and later sentenced to three years in prison for some of these actions.

I feared this could deter other people and put an end to this form of direct action. But when I came out of prison, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of animal protection campaigners who now wanted to become involved. It was at this point that it was decided to change the name to the Animal Liberation Front (A.L.F.), in order to clearly reflect what we stood for.

The A.L.F. continued in much the same way as the Band of Mercy, but because of the increased number of activists involved, it was now also able to rescue animals from vivisection labs etc.

The number of A.L.F. actions began to increase rapidly, and A.L.F. groups set themselves up all over the country and abroad. By the law of averages, this inevitably meant that more activists were arrested and imprisoned, and the total number of activists who have spent time in jail now runs to many hundreds.

The most active period for the A.L.F. (in terms of the sheer number of actions carried out) was probably the early-to-mid-eighties. This was also the period of one of the A.L.F.'s greatest successes, with the decimation of the British fur trade after department stores refused to stock fur coats following several A.L.F. attacks left stores severely damaged.

Although the total number of A.L.F. actions is fewer today, I feel nevertheless that the A.L.F. is now more effective than ever. With only a few notable exceptions, A.L.F. attacks in the past tended to be rather diffuse in nature, with little concentration on any particular target. This meant that animal abuse establishments were able to recover and continue with their business fairly easily.

These days, the A.L.F. tends more to act as a back up to existing campaigns, often delivering the killer blows to businesses that are already under pressure from other methods of campaigning. Additionally, its actions are more concentrated and thus far more successful.