These people aren't easy to find. Members of these groups have been involved in illegal activities like arson, breaking and entering, and sabotage. "Eco-terrorists", as they are known, have been branded by the FBI as America's top domestic terrorist threat.
On September 30th, 2005, 60 Minutes producer Graham Messick received a telephone call from a man claiming to be an active member of an ALF cell. The voice at the other end was barely audible. The reason, the caller said, was because the call was being "re-routed" to prevent it from being traced.
The caller said he had heard we had interviewed Dr. Jerry Vlasak, a spokesperson for several radical animal rights groups, who has publicly advocated the assassination of researchers to slow down what he believes is the abuse of animals. The caller wanted us to know that the Animal Liberation Front was a non-violent organization, that targeted property, not people.
After some discussion, the caller said he would consider granting an on camera interview, the group's first in over 20 years according to him, if we could protect his anonymity. The man wanted to discuss this with other members of his ALF cell, and said he would call back in about a week.
We had no way to ascertain where the man was calling from or if he was who he claimed to be. In fact, throughout this process we have never learned any names, phone numbers, or any other personal information about these purported ALF members.
A week later, there was a second barely audible telephone call. The caller suggested we conduct an interview in a neutral place and mentioned Mexico. We discussed a possible interview in New York City. We told him he would need to provide details of an ALF action that only the perpetrators would know. The man said he would consider this, and would call back in another week. He didn't.
But on Tuesday, October 18th, the man called a third time. This time the voice was loud and clear. Traffic could be heard in the background, indicating to the producer that he was calling from a pay phone. The caller said "they" were in New York City and were ready to grant an interview. Right now. He also insisted that we not record his voice. Reluctantly, we agreed to film the interview, transcribe it on paper, and make no audio recording of the man's voice.
We agreed that correspondent Ed Bradley would be ready for an on-camera interview in a neutral location -- a place with no security cameras on the street -- between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. that night, and that they could meet us there if they decided to go ahead. We had no way of knowing if they would show up, and no way of reaching them.
At 7:45 p.m., two masked men -- whose faces we never saw -- arrived. One man never talked. His job was to make absolutely sure we did not record any audio of the interview. The other man sat for the interview, which we filmed. The following interview transcript is taken from notes that were taken by producer Graham Messick and associate producer Michael Karzis:
ED BRADLEY: Lets begin by asking, who do you represent? Are you ALF, ELF, or some variation or splinter group?
ALF CELL LEADER: We're representative of an autonomous ALF cell, the animal liberation front… I can't sit here and be a voice for every ALF cell. But I can represent at least one cell.
BRADLEY: How many people are in your cell?
ALF CELL LEADER: It varies. I can't go into details.
BRADLEY: Do you know people in other cells?
ALF CELL LEADER: I can't go into that.
BRADLEY: Do the cells communicate with each other?
ALF CELL LEADER: Cells operate autonomously from each other and don't want to know the other people. I don't really want to know the people in other cells, and I don't want people in the other cells to know who's in my cell.
BRADLEY: So you can't make a direct contact between your cell and another cell?
ALF CELL LEADER: There's a one-way method of communication that's from the cell to the public only…. There's no reason to communicate with any other cell.
BRADLEY: Have you or anyone else in ALF ever given an interview before?
ALF CELL LEADER: The last interview given like this was in the 80's… There's never been an interview given like this before.
BRADLEY: So why do it now? Why take the risk of coming here and to talk to us on 60 Minutes.
ALF CELL LEADER: It's a big risk. Everything we do, we look at the benefits versus the adverse consequences. We don't believe there's an accurate representation of who [we are] and what we do.
BRADLEY: Who are you and what do you do?
ALF CELL LEADER: The ALF is an underground movement that engages in things ranging from economic sabotage… documenting animal abuse.... Part of the reason we do what we do is to show the public what goes on behind closed doors. If people could see what goes on behind those doors, they would be outraged…
BRADLEY: What goes on behind closed doors?
ALF CELL LEADER: We live in a society that is founded on exploitation of life, whether it's in a lab or a factory farm. Animals feel the same pain, the same emotions as you or I… I can't endure their suffering.
BRADLEY: Under that mask, who are you? If someone was to look at you, would seem to be an otherwise normal law abiding citizen?
ALF CELL LEADER: We're all normal people. We're just people who said enough is enough. I'm a normal person and I have a normal life… We just believe that to continue to turn our backs on what happens to animals is to be an accomplice to that exploitation and to be a part of it…
BRADLEY: Most people watching would say that most normal people don't burn down research labs.
ALF CELL LEADER: Most normal people would find it unacceptable to see animals have the skin burned off them while they're alive…to see primates that share the same DNA as humans, cut open while they are still alive day in and day out. I challenge anyone who sees this to go to a farm or a lab to see what happens. I challenge people to look at those videos. If you want to know why we do what we do it's as simple as watching those videos.
BRADLEY: Do your friends and families know anything about what you do?
ALF CELL LEADER: No idea. None whatsoever
BRADLEY: Then, how can you speak for the movement if you're just one cell in this movement and the cells don't communicate directly with each other?
ALF CELL LEADER: I'm not a spokesperson for the movement. I'm one person in the movement, one person expressing the movement. No one person can speak for the whole movement. I can speak for ALF in broad general terms. The ALF guidelines speak for themselves.
BRADLEY: Have you been involved in "direct actions?"
ALF CELL LEADER: I have. I won't go into specifics. I would like to go into specifics. But since we are America's number one domestic terrorist threat, it isn't worth it. I can speak generally, but I will provide proof of who I say I am.
BRADLEY: Generally, without naming specific events, what have you done?
ALF CELL LEADER: We've liberated animals in labs, from fur farms, breeders… destroyed property.
BRADLEY: Destruction of property? Arson?
ALF CELL LEADER: I can't be specific.
BRADLEY: How did you destroy property? Arson you wouldn't admit to?
ALF CELL LEADER: I can destroy property by throwing a brick. But telling somebody what I did, like an arson, what would I benefit from a sentence of 80 years behind bars?
BRADLEY: I'm just trying to get at what it is that you do? I mean… if you picket in front of somebody's house that's one thing. If you burn down a lab that's another thing.
ALF CELL LEADER: I can say that I support arson generally. We support arson. Extreme times call for extreme measures. We don't choose our methods. If picketing worked, I'd be first one out there. If writing letters worked then I'd be writing letters until my hand fell off. But it doesn't work… the status quo is exploitation of life.
BRADLEY: Do you consider arson "non-violent?"
ALF CELL LEADER: I don't look at it as being violent or non-violent. Many people think you cannot commit a violent act against a piece of property. The debate goes on and on. The question should be how violent is it to rip the skin off a mink's back, anally electrocuting a fox, that's violent. To equate destroying property with killing is something I don't understand.
BRADLEY: But why take the risk of going to prison?
ALF CELL LEADER: I think it's a risk worth taking. I've been to hell, and I've seen what goes on in those labs, and seen what happens to animals. After seeing that I cannot, not act.