Academics In Defense of Animal Rights Terrorism

Over the past few years, I have received no small amount of criticism for this 1999 article about the spread of animal rights law courses at institutions of higher learning. That article concluded with this prediction,

Alan Ray, Harvard Law SchoolÂ’s assistant dean for academic affairs, defended the course by saying, “It took a 13th Amendment to the Constitution for us to outlaw slavery at a time when people were treated as property because of the color of their skin. There are occasions in the law for taking a very fundamental look at the treatment of other living things.”

With PrincetonÂ’s hiring of Peter Singer and Harvard’s hiring of [Steve] Wise, the day will not be too far off when our universities will find scientists on one end of campus victimized by animal rights terrorists while legal professors on the other side of campus teach students that the violent activists are simply modern day abolitionists.

In one sense I was wrong — there are no law professors, to my knowledge, who make that claim yet. However, the last five years have seen a number of professors at universities come out in support of animal rights terrorism.

The most prominent and prolific of these is the University of Texas at El Paso’s Steve Best who chairs that university’s philosophy department. Best is also affiliated with the Center on Animal Liberation Affairs and is the editor of that organization’s Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal.

In article for Satya defending animal rights terrorism, Best outlines his beliefs,

It is obvious that not all violence is justified, but it is equally obvious that not all violence is unjustified. Self-defense is one example where it is acceptable and prudent to use force against another person if necessary. Beginning in 1974, the ALF declared war against animal oppressors and the state that defends them, but the ALF did not start the conflict. It entered into a war that animal exploiters long ago began. If one party succumbs to a war initiated by another party, it employs violence in self-defense and so its actions are legitimate. Acting as proxy agents for animals who cannot defend themselves, ALF actions in principle are just.

Without getting into a detailed analysis of Best’s views, note that this is simply the same tired argument made by anti-abortion extremists only with “animals” substituted for “unborn children.” Yawn.

Later Best argues that rather than being condemned for violent acts, ALF, SHAC and other groups should be commended for showing restraint,

. . . But, as nonviolent groups (I do not define property destruction and psychological intimidation as violence), the ALF and SHAC never attack or injure human beings, however righteous their anger against animal exploiters; they attack property, not people. Given the gravity of the situation for the animals they represent, such direct action groups should not be criticized for using excessive force but rather commended for exercising moderation and restraint.

The journal Best edits runs articles like Tim Phillips’ Who is the Legally Defined Terrorist: HLS or SHAC? which argues that,

It is an Orwellian irony that violence and dangerous science are commonly considered beneficial while the resistance to this activity is considered terrorism. Delving beyond these considerations and focusing on the current government definitions unexpectedly shows that HLS is an international terrorist organization, and that SHAC is using counterterrorism in its attempt to save countless animals and protect human lives. The dominant view of animal testing fails to accommodate cases of this kind, in which animal rights activists are praiseworthy individuals an animal research is terrorism. Because animals are capable of becoming victims of terrorism and SHAC is not responsible for any illegal actions against HLS, there is no excuse for the current private and state protection of HLS. The cruel and dangerous practices HLS employs for profit warrant not only our attention, but our action as well.

Phillips is apparently a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Morris and that institution’s public relations department chose to include the publication of Phillips’ article in its weekly bulletin highlighting the recent accomplishments of its faculty and students.


Thinking Pluralistically: A Case for Direct Action. Steve Best, Satya Magazine, April 2004.

Who is the Legally Defined Terrorist: HLS or SHAC? Tim Phillips, Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal, Issue 2, 2004.

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