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Banned in the UK! The Home Office Says 'Stay Home!' to U.S. Animal Rights Activists

“God save the Queen
the fascist regime
they made you a moron
a potential H-bomb.

Oh God save history
God save your mad parade
Oh Lord God have mercy
all crimes are paid.

When there's no future
how can there be sin
we're the flowers
in the dustbin
we're the poison
in your human machine
we're the future
you're future.” --Sex Pistols

Anyone who follows the animal rights movement in England knows that the direct action element has become increasingly powerful. By abandoning often futile efforts to influence animal exploiters by appealing to a government they decisively influence, and by taking the fight directly to the animal exploiters themselves, groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), SPEAK (originally named Stop Primate Experiments at Cambridge), and Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs (SNGP) have developed highly effective campaigns against all facets of the vivisection industry.

If you want to know what a possible future civil war over the animal rights issue might look like, gaze no farther than England. In the last two years, for instance, pro-hunting forces have mounted massive demonstrations against immanent bans on fox-hunting. In September 2004, pro-hunters clashed with London police, broke into the Parliament, and disrupted a meeting in session. The struggles stem in part from a culture war whereby traditional rural values are attacked by modern urban values informed by an ethic of animal rights.

Similarly, in the last decade, animal rights activists have mounted intense protests against the vivisection industry, attacking it in the countryside and cities, village farms and university laboratories, alike. Animal rights activists have closed down numerous lab animal breeders and thwarted plans for major research centers at Cambridge and Oxford universities. They have captured the social spotlight and pose a serious threat to an industry of huge economic importance.

The “Terrorist Training Camp”

In the summer of 2004, SHAC was organizing the International Animal Rights Conference 2004. Along with veterans of the English animal liberation movement such as Ronnie Lee, founder of the ALF, SHAC invited key US proponents of direct action – former ALF warrior Rod Coronado, trauma surgeon Dr. Jerry Vlasak, LA activist Pamelyn Ferdin, and yours truly. In the international media, the conference was ludicrously dubbed a “terrorist training camp”; in fact, it was a forum whereby activists from numerous countries shared videotapes and experiences and held workshops on the history and philosophy of the animal rights movement in England and elsewhere.

Once the British government caught wind of the conference, it began action to ban the US activists for fear that their presence might further fan the flames of animal rights militancy in England. Rod Coronado was prohibited from leaving his home area in Tucson, Arizona due to his March 2004 arrest for trying to stop cougar hunting in Sabino Canyon. Jerry, Pamelyn, and I, however, received “Minded to Exclude” letters from David Blunkett of the British Home Office. The letters detailed specific things each of us had said, written, or done in support of illegal actions undertaken to defend animal rights.

The Home Office granted each of us the opportunity to explain and justify our positions, and stated that they would ban us from entering any part of the UK if they did not find our defense credible. Should such action be taken, each of us, already branded “domestic terrorists” under the draconian regime of George W. Bush and the USA Patriot Act, would be upgraded to the status of “international terrorist,” and thereby reside in the same category as Osama Bin Laden.

Dr. Jerry Vlasak was tarred and feathered by the UK government and media for observing that since violence has been a part of all past human liberation movements, one could expect the same for the animal liberation movement. To demonize Pamelyn Ferdin as a dangerous threat to social order, the government cited her prior arrest for possession of a deadly weapon – a bull hook used by circus trainers to terrorize elephants in “training” sessions. Thus, it is acceptable for circus trainers to terrorize elephants with this device but illegal and malicious to use it as a prop in a protest against animal abuse in the circus. The skewed values of capitalist-speciesist societies are perversely clear.

Pen Pals with David

Regarding my own case, I received the following letter from Blunkett’s Home Office on July 29, 2004. Even though the British government prohibited it from public viewing, I am all too happy to share it.

Dear Professor Best:

The Secretary of State for the Home Department has been made aware that you intend to visit the United Kingdom to attend the International Animal Rights Conference 2004 between 3 and 6 September 2004.

The Secretary of State is aware that you are an academic involved in the animal rights campaign. He has taken note of an article written by you entitled “You Don’t Support the ALF Because Why?” In that article you are quoted as confirming your support for the Animal Liberation Front and that you support the destruction of industrial properties engaged in the animal research field. You have said that you do not consider property destruction as violence but even if it is, violence is defensible in certain cases. You have also confirmed your support for the underground direct action tactics of the ALF.

In light of the above, the Secretary of State considers that you provide the intellectual justification for those in the animal rights movement to engage in violent acts in order to further their cause and has indicated that he is minded to exclude you from the United Kingdom on the basis that your presence in this country is not conducive to the public good for reasons of public order.

You are invited to make representations to the Home Secretary on why you should not be excluded. Any representations should be sent directly to this office. These should be submitted to reach this office no later that two weeks from the date of this letter.

Whilst your case is being considered, you should not attempt to enter the United Kingdom.

Yours Sincerely,

On behalf of the Secretary of State

Upon reading the missive – emailed, snail-mailed, and faxed to me -- I was stunned. I was possibly being banned from the UK and vilified as an international terrorist for exercising my right to free speech. I was under attack for the crime of compassion toward animals and defending the defenseless. In their hysterical, McCarthyesque mindset, I was deemed a threat to the “public good” and “public order.” In case I was snoozing, I was rudely awakened to the reality that I am living in the world of Bush and Blair, a 1984 dystopia of government surveillance and suppression of constitutional rights, a farcical and hypocritical regime that condemns “terrorism” as it kills over 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians. The UK government was threatening to annul my right to speak as well the right of their own citizens to hear controversial viewpoints.

After a thousand deep breaths, I sent my reply:

Dear Mr. Blunkett and the Home Office:

As a citizen in a leading “democracy” hearing from a government official in another leading “democracy” that I could be banned merely for exercising my rights to free speech, I honestly am shocked beyond belief. My remarks may be controversial, but they are not illegal and do not warrant the harsh action you are contemplating.

I do not deny writing the words you cite; I posted the essay you refer to on my web site for the public, or any government officials such as yourself, to read. I do not disavow my belief in the justice of animal rights or the ALF. I am fully aware of, and completely respect your concerns for public order and the public good, given the intensity of passion of people in England for the animal rights cause. I hope I can persuade you that you have nothing to fear by my presence in your country. Indeed, by diminishing the opportunity for free expression, I fear that you yourselves might injure the public good and public order in England because surely this will inflame the situation there.

I support the ALF, but I do not advocate violence in the sense of causing physical harm to another human being. Because they attack the property of animal exploiters, and never the exploiters themselves, I consider the ALF to be a non-violent organization. Just to be clear, I am not a member of the ALF. I am a philosophy professor who writes about, and often expresses support for, social justice and liberation movements

It is true that I have provided an “intellectual justification” for the ALF, but then again so does any modern democratic constitution or bill of rights, so did J.S. Mill, Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., along with anyone who promoted concepts such as rights or justice that can be used on behalf of the ALF. Moreover, the ALF and other direct activists hardly need or await my justifications to act, so I don’t quite see how my words have inflammatory potential.

I have never incited violence against anyone. I believe that both the US and UK allow their citizens a great deal of latitude in the exercise of free speech, including defending organizations that use property destruction as a tactic to win justice for animals. As long as my speech does not incite others to violence where there is an immediate possibility of such violence, I believe it is arbitrary, unwarranted, and discriminatory to ban me from England. I clearly did not cross this line in the essay you cite, nor have I anywhere else.

In this threatened ban, you are heading down a dangerous slippery slope. Would you also ban Professor Peter Singer, for his defense of euthanasia and infanticide, also illegal acts? Would you ban Professor Tom Regan, another leading US animal rights philosopher and activist who wrote an essay in one of my books entitled “How to Argue for Violence”? Where do you stop after barring me from your country?

I urge England not to make the same mistakes made by my own government. In the dark times of the USA Patriot Act, the Bush administration has gutted the Constitution and Bill of Rights in the name of fighting “terrorism.” After 9-11, the US government detained thousands of foreigners as terrorist suspects. Except a precious few, they remain in prison without rights to legal council or a hearing of the charges brought against them. This dragnet netted only one suspected terrorist, by pure luck. Similarly, the provisions introduced under the UK’s Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 have done little to make Britain safe from terrorist attack and much to infringe on the civil liberties of those living in the UK.

It is frightening to see England follow the same path of the US in the surveillance of activists and repression of civil liberties in the name of domestic security. The recent involvement of the FBI in Britain’s domestic “security” affairs is hardly reassuring, as their specialty in the US has been to suppress democracy and disrupt political organizations.

England has a long and distinguished history of democracy that must not be extinguished. From the Diggers to the suffragettes to the animal liberation movement, struggles in England have advanced democracy, rights, and moral evolution for our species as a whole. Facing a second prison sentence in the Bastille for his satires of the government, Voltaire sought shelter in England in 1726-1729. He subsequently described to the world how much more free, liberal, and advanced England was than his native France. In the 1840s, Karl Marx was expelled from several European countries for advocating free speech, workers’ democracy, and, indeed, global revolution, but he found a safe haven in England.

Such examples of the progressive heritage of England could be multiplied many times over. I urge you to grant Dr. Jerry Vlasak, Pamelyn Ferdin, and me safe passage into your country to attend the International Animal Rights Conference 2004. This is a peaceful and entirely legal gathering. It is this ban that you are proposing, not my words, that is “not conducive to the public good.”

If you do not respect our right to free speech, or the right of your own people to hear free speech, your words stand a far greater chance than my own of offending the public good by damaging democracy. This will have a chilling effect on free speech far greater than in my own case, for when academics and others learn they may be banished from international travel for exercising their right to free speech, they may well practice self-censorship. You may not like my free speech but it poses no credible threat to you that warrants harsh retaliations such as a ban.

Most Sincerely,

Dr. Steven Best
Chair, Department of Philosophy
University of Texas
El Paso, Texas, USA

The Aftermath

“Anarchy for the UK
It's coming sometime and maybe
I give a wrong time stop a traffic line.
Your future dream is a shopping scheme
cause I wanna be anarchy,
It's in the city.” --Sex Pistols

Upon considering our appeals, the Home Office banned Jerry and Pamelyn as dangerous agent provocateurs, but curiously granted me free passage into England. I had mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, I was proud to represent the militant face of animal rights in the US and delighted to be among some great activists in the UK. On the other hand, I was somewhat embarrassed for not being militant enough to be considered a threat!

The story of the ban was picked up by the international press as Jerry and I received calls from reporters in Britain, France, Australia, and elsewhere. As always happens, government attempts to ban free speech only call attention to the suppressed ideas and publicize them far more than would have been possible otherwise. We conducted dozens of interviews with media around the globe, exploiting the opportunity to discuss the horrors of animal experimentation and the validity of the direct action campaigns against it. As it turns out, Jerry did in fact make his appearance at the conference – in virtual form before an audience of over 300 eager people via a videotaped talk.

Still, this was the first time anyone had been banned from another country for advocating animal rights and the UK has taken a dangerous step toward tyranny. The ban created terrible ironies that testify to a warped sense of values and priorities. Although the Home Office banned two animal rights activists driven by their compassion for animals, they permitted Gen. Augusto Pinochet – the former Chilean dictator who tortured, murdered, and “disappeared” thousands of Spanish citizens -- to enter their land. Blunkett barred Jerry and Pamelyn, but they granted passage to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric who has defended suicide bombings.

While the UK rolls out the red carpet for dictators and religious extremists, Jerry and Pamelyn must wait six years before they can apply for permission to speak or travel again in the UK. In a context where the US banned Muslim peace activist Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) but let the 9-11 terrorists slip through its borders despite ample advance warning, and where a majority of Americans re-elected Bush despite his lies and failed policies over the Iraq war, the illogical somehow is perfectly logical.

Industry leaders, scientists, state officials, and media reporters and pundits alike never talk about the terrorism inflicted on animals in hunts, vivisection labs, fur farms, and slaughterhouses because their speciesist definitions prohibit this. If animals – innocent “non-combatants” -- can suffer and experience terror like humans, then those who torment them ought to be called terrorists. Nor do those who decry the animal rights movement as “violent” ever apply the term to denounce what thugs and police do to activists, many of whom have been killed while defending animals or the forests from being massacred and plundered for profit. While reporters unconsciously drop the loaded phrase “animal rights extremists,” you will never hear or read the phrase “vivisection extremists” in the speciesist mass media in relation to the horrific suffering “researchers” often inflict on animals.

Free speech is a lie and myth on the same order as “democracy” itself – a vicious fiction peddled to gullible publics in the land of corporate plutocracies such as the UK and the US, the latter nation now distinguished by two successive rigged and stolen elections. The right to free speech exists only until you begin to use it and speak out against the prevailing powers. Clearly, with so much money at stake in the billion dollar vivisection industry, the animal rights movement in England has become not only an ideological and political threat, but, far more seriously, an economic threat.

Just as human slavery was once a huge part of modern capitalist economies, so animal slavery is fundamental to capital accumulation today. The state can no longer ignore a movement that has discovered its power lies not in the vote but rather in the ability to shut down production. The direct action movement thereby has transcended (all-too-often) meaningless gestures of protest – such as letter writing, demonstrations, and lobbying – pre-approved by the state like a political credit card in order to exercise the power available to those no longer narcotized by the reality principle of capitalist politics.

The animal rights movement has rocked the core of the British establishment and the Home Office is beginning to take extraordinary measures against it. England is a barometer of the kinds of political storms one can expect in the US and elsewhere around the world as the struggle over animal rights moves to entirely new levels.

Every justice struggle up to now was has been relatively easy. Now it gets hard. We are involved in a serious battle -- a war -- that will be lengthy, protracted, costly, and most likely violent as it heats up (exactly like earlier struggles to end human slavery). Animal liberation is the most difficult liberation struggle of all because speciesism is primordial and universal. Speciesism is arguably the first of any form of domination or hierarchy and it has spread like a deadly virus throughout the entire planet and all of human history. The problem is not limited to Western culture or to the modern world, such that there is some significant utopian past or radical alternative to recover. The problem is the human species itself, which but for rare exceptions is violent, destructive, and imperialistic. Universally, humans have vested interests in exploiting animals and think they have a God-given right to do so. To change these attitudes is to change the very nerve center of human consciousness. That is our task – no more and no less.

 

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