Animal Rights Extremism

Most animal rights activism worldwide is legal and peaceful. Tactics used include protests, letter-writing campaigns and public information stalls. However, a very small number of individuals have carried out illegal actions in order to pursue their agenda – this is animal rights extremism. Such extremism has historically targeted many different animal rights interests including agriculture, whaling, hunting, fur farming, the pet trade and, of course, animal research.

Today, thankfully, animal rights extremism is at an all-time low in the UK, with almost no recorded incidents during the last five years. In the past Understanding Animal Research set up a dedicated website to track animal rights extremism ( and provide advice to those potentially affected. Fortunately there is no longer a need to keep this site updated and it has been archived.


The UK has many laws which cover illegal activity, including those against assault, property damage, blackmail and malicious communication. In 2005, in response to the rising levels of extremism, the UK parliament introduced the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA), which contained clauses (s145-149) specifically designed to challenge certain actions taken by activists against individuals and organisations involved in animal research.

Section 145 introduced harsh penalties for those found to have “interfered with contractual relationships so as to harm an animal research organisation”. This included threatening to commit a criminal act unless a specified organisation stopped an activity key for animal research.

Section 146 introduced harsher penalties for those found guilty of “intimidation of persons connected with animal research organisations”. This might include researchers, technicians, funders, suppliers and contractors to research facilities.

Brief History of Animal Rights Activism

A detailed history of animal rights extremism can be found here

Animal rights extremism in the UK first became a major issue in the 1970s. In 1972, hunt saboteur Ronnie Lee formed the group “Band of Mercy”. The following year Lee committed two acts of arson at a Hoechst Pharmaceutical plant, a crime he was later jailed for1. In 1976, Lee founded the Animal Liberation Front, an umbrella group for those wishing to take direct action (including economic sabotage) on behalf of animal rights. The 1980s saw the founding of the Animal Rights Militia, which escalated the violence to the point of sending bombs to politicians and researchers.  Finally, a string of high profile campaigns during the 1990s and early 2000s forced the Government to act. Alongside new legislation (see previous section), the Government set up the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit to investigate and work against the rise in extremism. The result was a crackdown on illegal activism which saw more than a dozen activists jailed for up to a decade.

The Situation Today

Since 2008, there has been a rapid decline in animal rights extremism, which is now at an all-time low. Occasionally one may hear about a verbal threat or some graffiti, but large-scale property damage or attacks on individuals are now unheard of. The extremism of the early 2000s resulted in a public backlash that has made illegal direct action unpopular among even the most committed activists.

Extremist Groups

The main animal rights extremist groups have been:

Animal Liberation Front (ALF) 
The ALF is an umbrella name for those who wish to take direct action against those who, in the words of its founder, “exploit animals… The long term aim is to increase activities, to escalate to a point where all of these industries are under threat and can’t operate”2. Officially the ALF does not support violence against individuals, however many individuals associated with the movement have been convicted of crimes which either harmed or risked harming, individuals, such as the attempted firebombing of Prof Fairbanks in 2006

The Animal Liberation Front continues to operate in countries across the world, through their actions in the UK continue to decline. 

Animal Rights Militia (ARM) 
Unlike the ALF, the Animal Rights Militia does not have any official position against violence directed at individuals. Many of the most violent attacks of the 1980-2000s were done under the flag of the ARM. Many activists have belonged to both the ALF and ARM, leading some to claim a false division between the two.

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) 
SHAC was an animal rights group set up to campaign against HLS in 1999 by Greg Avery. The group also set up a chapter in the US under the leadership of Kevin Kjonaas3. This targeted campaign aimed to shut down the research organisation HLS. The campaign wound down in 2014, but not before 18 British activists had received a total of 91 years in sentences and suspended sentences.

More information on the structure and motivation of animal rights groups can be found here.

What should you do?

If you are concerned about animal rights extremism, please contact us today. We can point you in the right direction of resources to protect your staff and facilities.

Lorenz Otto Lutherer and Margaret Sheffield Simon, 1992, Targeted: The Anatomy of an animal rights attack, University of Oklahoma Press.

Maldon Institute, 1991, Animal Rights: Militancy and Terrorism. Washington DC

Tom Holder, 2014, Standing Up for Science, EMBO Reports

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