by Dr. Steven Best
“Brothers and sisters, friends, and I see some enemies. I think we’d be fooling ourselves if we had an audience this large and didn’t realize that there were some enemies present.”
Malcolm X often started his talks with this ironic greeting, as his audiences often contained a nest of agents, traitors, and spies. And when I look out at the diverse aspects of the animal advocacy movement, I see the same, including FBI and law enforcement, those who condemn militant direct action while knowing nothing about it, those who monitor my pages to report to their pacifist leaders, and those sad victims of the Stockholm Syndrome who have more sympathy for the “humanity” of seal killers than for the courageous members of the underground who risk it all for the animals.
There are splits, divides, factions, and opposing camps, and the different philosophies and tactics sometimes lead to insults and name-calling. But, while they may not like each other, adversaries generally harbor no malice and there is no intent to seriously harm the other.
Gary Francione, however, has stepped beyond the bounds of professional rivalry, maliciously trying to damage my character and reputation. He has put on some brass knuckles, dangerously escalated the conflict, and intensified the tensions between the pacifist and direct action camps of the vegan and animal rights movements. He has no problem using for his purposes the corporate-state discourse that demonizes animal activists as criminals, violent, and terrorists. He is a menacing McCarthyite on the loose, taking aim at anyone who dares challenge his infallibility. Ironically, Francione wears a halo of ahimsa and speaks with the golden tongue of nonviolence and compassion. When wearing his public mask, he appears as principled, professional, fair, and kind; in his private dealings, however – as his former disciples and critics consistently reveal – he is arrogant, controlling, insulting, duplicitous, conniving, aggressive, and verbally abusive. He walks on water as a 21st century Jain, but he is a Machiavellian wrestling in the mud.
On the occasion of a profile story on me in the El Paso Times, Francione seized on a reporter’s mistake that linked me with the underground activity of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) rather than the aboveground work of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office (NAALPO). Hurling wild accusations throughout the Twittersphere, Francione revived two, long-discredited charges against me, namely: (1) I am not only a supporter of the ALF, but a bona fide member, and (2) I recruit my students into this movement. Under the cover of privacy (or so he thought), Francione made accusations the National Enquirer would not print, and then proceeded to cover up his lies with more lies.
Francione has a history of making totally unfounded and serious accusations against me. In September 2009, for instance, he accused me of orchestrating death threats against him and others, and used this for his pretext to pull out of a debate (for a second time!) with me that apparently he was not up to. Moreover, he “named names” of individuals listed as administrators on a Facebook page, with the intent to smear them as violent extremists, unconcerned that some had no responsibility for, or control over, the page and others were his loyal – now former – supporters.
With these new accusations, we see a clear pattern and intent to harm by any means necessary, a strange ambition for an avowed pacifist. Criticism I invite, it is how I correct and improve on flaws in my reasoning and positions. Insults I can do without, but I even look for any productive criticism that might be buried in the invective. Misinterpretations, distortions, and straw men caricatures compel me to set the record straight. But malicious charges that I am involved in criminal activity and that I lure my students into the same underground world of balaclavas and sabotage, such as could cause me serious legal, professional, and financial trouble — these accusations are beyond annoying, they are insidious, dangerous, and destructive on many levels.
My apologies to readers and activists exasperated with the Best-Francione wars. I know, I tire of them too. But a few remarks are in order here. First, these conflicts are not mere ego battles between two trifling academics, as serious issues are at stake. My polemics against Francione were motivated by a grave concern over the hegemonic influence he wielded over the vegan and abolitionist movements, one that stifled a healthy pluralism of ideas and ossified in a dogmatic cult of followers who served as his attack dogs. My goal was to expose the many serious weaknesses and flaws in his theory, and to create a radical alternative, sharply different in methodology, philosophy, politics, and tactics. Relatively satisfied with the success of the critical work, I shifted to the constructive work of a far broader and more political concept of veganism, abolitionism, and social change. But Francione – a pseudo-pacifist who thrives on conflict and hostility – apparently grew restless in the calm of the détente and not only revived the conflict, he escalated it in a provocative and dangerous way that cannot be ignored.
Thus, I write this essay to vindicate myself from Francione’s lies, to expose him as a hypocrite and charlatan whose character is as flawed as his positions, and to denounce his McCarthyesque and greenbaiting tactics designed to demonize and destroy individuals and unleash forces of repression and fear. We must never tolerate these insidious ploys, not from those outside our movement and certainly not from within. I therefore draw a line in the sand right here and now and hold Francione accountable for his lies, defamations of my character, and allegations of criminal activity. With this essay, I throw down the gauntlet, and I challenge Francione to prove his malicious claims. But since he cannot produce evidence that does not exist, I demand a public apology and retraction, and recommend that since he so evidently cannot lead the movement, have the decency to get out of the way.
Me, Myself, the ALF, and I
It is no secret that I have been a vocal supporter of the ALF. In fact, I am the only US academic (or anywhere in the world to my knowledge) who openly supports and defends an illegal underground group that is universally denounced as a “terrorist” organization and which along with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) the state baptized as the number one “domestic terrorist” group in the US. In 2001, after careful study of their history, arguments, and results, I moved from a neutral to a supportive stance. Never one to hide my commitments and beliefs, I came out in favor of the ALF because I concluded that their actions are effective, necessary, and just. Governments, animal exploitation industries, and most mass media characterize the ALF as violent terrorists, but I see them as freedom fighters and counter-terrorists.
In 2004, I published, with Anthony J. Nocella II, the first academic volume on animal liberation, Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (Lantern Press). In 2006, I co-founded the North American Animal Liberation Press Office (NAALPO), and currently am listed as an “advisor.” I made dozens of forays into the public realm in which I openly defended the ALF, such as I did in 2005 at the University of Iowa, just two weeks after a dramatic raid that rescued 401 nonhuman animal prisoners. In 2004, I was banned for life from the entire UK, as the British Home Office had deemed my ideas and words a “threat to the public order.” [Note: this banned was reaffirmed in July 2011 as I tried to enter London from Gdansk, Poland.]
It is crucial to emphasize that my support for the ALF has only taken the form of philosophical justification for and defense of sabotage and liberation tactics. But in his relentless bid to demonize me and, more generally, to discredit the entire militant direct action movement, Francione accuses me of deeper and more problematic levels of involvement. Depicting me as an irrational “chest pounding” demagogue who exhorts others to take the risks I am too cowardly to accept myself. Francione thereby charges me with “criminal solicitation” of young people in general, and my students in particular.
But even this absurdity is not enough to quench Francione’s thirst for revenge, and so he leaps to the next level of damnation, accusing me of being a bona fide member of the ALF. In his over-active imagination, I somehow maintained anonymity, successfully evaded FBI surveillance, and slipped into the night at will to assume my Superman role of animal liberator, returning by daybreak just in time to return to my Clark Kent role as professor.
In Good Company
Francione is not the first to level these absurd accusations against me. No, the honor belongs to David Martosko, “research director” of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a Washington-based corporate front group that lobbies on behalf of food, liquor, and tobacco industries. In May 2005, on C-Span live, Martosko appeared before the Environment and Public Works Committee, a contemporary version of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Presiding over the staged affair was Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a student of McCarthyite politics best known for his insistence that global warming is the greatest “myth” and “hoax ever perpetuated. In attendance were not only powerful politicians, but also top FBI brass. This was not a setting in which one wants to be falsely accused of criminal actions, yet it was here that that Martosko described me as the ALF Kingpin, the Bossman, the Capo, the Mack Daddy, the one who brings the ALF to the classroom and the classroom to the ALF.
In his most somber “war on terror” tones, Martosko informed the court: “Dr. Best is at the epicenter of the organizational aspects of what the ALF is doing. Dr. Best is part cheerleader, part recruiter. He uses his classroom freely and openly to indoctrinate adolescents with ambitions and simultaneously praises the ALF and ELF. He is a conduit for terrorism to the mainstream.” When asked by Inhofe about my alleged influence in the ALF, Martosko – conjuring up surreal images of me as the ultimate salesman, the Willie Loman of the underground, quick with a smile and a handshake — smugly replied, “He closes the deal, he seals the deal.” When asked by Inhofe if he believes that I “advocate criminally-based activity,” Martosko intoned before the court: “It is a fact.” He railed against the injustice that I, as a “spokesman for terrorists” and liberation army recruiter should be able to use my faculty post to indoctrinate my students and mend “violent extremists” a dash of intellectual legitimacy.”
In true McCarthyist form, Martosko took the license to spew outrageous accusations of serious consequence without responsibility or burden of proof. He strutted from the chambers as I was left to deal with the radioactive fallout. Martosko’s testimony no doubt played a role in my being deposed from my position as department chair. They could have caused no end of financial and legal trouble for me, as well as set the wheels in motion for firing me from a tenured position (others have been fired on flimsier grounds). If they were not already surveiling me, the FBI had good reason to begin doing so, on a mission to find a connection between me and the underground and the conduit through which I channeled students into criminal action.
Certainly, my university was compelled to investigate the charges, and perhaps wanted to find them true and thus remove a lone critical voice on campus. I imagine that the administration and campus police interviewed students and reviewed my phone messages and email correspondence. Needless to say, no evidence surfaced against me, the Dean of Liberal Arts informed me the charges were viewed as politically motivated, and the case was closed. It strikes me as impossible for a high-profile advocate of MDA such as myself to be involved in the underground without being caught and arrested, and ludicrous that I could shuttle students in and out of the underground like Harriet Tubman did in the 19th century with the underground railroad. And what exactly is the lure to motivate students with no deep conviction in animal rights to sacrifice a decade of their lives in prison — extra credit?
For the record, Herr Martosko, Herr Inhofe, and Herr Francione: I defend the ALF only in words, never deeds; I defend, but do not exhort. I work for animal rights only in legal ways, never illegal ways, and I have no criminal record. I operate openly in the aboveground movement, and never clandestinely with the underground. I am not a member of the ALF, nor do I know or communicate with anyone in the ALF. My relation to the ALF as an outside sympathizer is entirely peripheral, and hardly stems from a command post at its “epicenter,” a ludicrous metaphor for a decentralized movement. Knowing full well how difficult it is to lure students to free food at a vegan pot luck for extra credit, it is amusing to wonder how they could be persuaded to enlist in an underground “domestic terrorism” organization, and lose years of their freedom for a grade.
The Lies That Liars Tell
And so, with the semantic confusion provoked by a reporter, Francione rehabilitated an old lie, long discredited, to see what mileage he could get out of it. As journalists often do, the reporter who interviewed me and wrote the story made a serious error in associating me with the Animal Liberation Front, rather than the NAALPO. The seemingly small semantic difference has huge implications as it aligns me with the underground rather than the aboveground. Francione acknowledges the conflation, admits it is an understandable but “significant” journalistic mistake, and yet goes on to exploit it.
Francione’s accusations were brought to my attention by Ian Smith. During the course of a Twitter conversation with Francione, Smith became alarmed at the accusations he was mounting against me and found Francione’s behavior objectionable enough to contact me. The most important part of the exchange follows below (I translated Twitterspeak into conventional dialogue format). To his credit, Smith adopts a skeptical approach, looks to see what should and should not be read into the story, and refuses to affirm something as true for which he has no clear grounds to accept. Francione, in contrast, is quick to assume, see what he wants to see, and hurl wild and reckless accusations.
Francione: I should also say that I think it is remarkably irresponsible for Best to be engaging in criminal solicitation of young or otherwise impressionable people. They will end up going to jail because of his chest pounding/heavy breathing.
Smith: Are you claiming that Best is actively recruiting for the ALF and/or inciting individuals to commit criminal acts? As opposed to a philosopher arguing that it is moral (perhaps requisite) to break the law on certain occasions?
Francione: Yes, I am.
Smith: That strikes me as reckless but perhaps you are privy to much that I am not – either way it is a bold claim.
Francione: It is not bold at all. It is absolutely clear.
Smith: It’s certainly not clear from the El Paso Times article – I’m not sure what you are relying on to make this assertion…
So we see Francione in fact was pressing not just the criminal solicitation claim, serious enough of a falsehood, but also the direct involvement claim, thereby repeating Martosko’s slander that I am an ALF member and recruiter, drawing from a ready-at-hand pool of students and young supporters.
Once we first posted content from the Twitter conservation between Francione and Smith, an alarmed Australian activist wrote Francione to complain about the divisive and reckless nature of his charges. Even though he had to be aware at this point that his “private” conversations had cover had been bit is implied, my students. When confronted, he nonetheless unequivocally denied he made this accusation. Here is the transcript of their email exchange, sent to me by Ms. Reyes:
Name: Cristina Reyes
Subject: Steve Best
Message: Hello Gary Francione,
I reside in Australia and respect your work, I am an Environmental
Scientist and also work to help raise awareness for animal rights.
I have come to realize with time that the animal rights movement is
highly fragmented, due to different ideas and tactics. Ego is
something else to blame for this fragmentation.
At the end of the day we are fighting for the same cause and
different opinions and ideas are required in order to have a wider
approach to the animal rights issue.
For this reason I would ask you to please respect the approach that
Steve Best has, he too is in the same fight as us. The rainbow has
many different colors.
However, having said this, he does not recruit students for Animal
Liberation. He helps to create awareness and incite critical
Bsc. Environmental Science, Adv. Dip Environmental Management.
Dear Ms. Reyes:
I never said he tried to recruit students.
I said that he engaged in the solicitation of violent and illegal acts. And it is clear that he does.
You may disagree with me but please do not misrepresent what I said.
This is false, and Francione is a lair. Once again, in his exchange with Ian, he said:
Ian: Are you claiming that Best is actively recruiting for the ALF and/or inciting individuals to commit criminal acts? As opposed to a philosopher arguing that it is moral (perhaps requisite) to break the law on certain occasions?
Francione: Yes, I am.
Ian: That strikes me as wreckless but perhaps you are privy to much that I am not – either way it is a bold claim.
Francione: It is not bold at all. It is absolutely clear.
Throwing Down the Gauntlet
Demagogues, politicians, false prophets, charlatans, and cult leaders thrive on maintaining a respectable public face, while in private they satisfy their lust for power and control. Francione depends on the public image portraying him as a peaceful, compassionate, non-judgmental man, but anyone who interacted with him without bending their knee in fawning subservience and conformity can tell a different story.
The transcripts and emails we have published were “protected” from public viewing, and it is not hard to understand why. With these transcripts, one gains access to the real Francione, not a loving, understanding, and logical man in search of truth, but rather a spiteful person intent on destroying perceived enemies.
The ironies are too rich. Here we have a lawyer making libelous claims, an ethicist who lies, a scholar who doesn’t substantiate his claims, a philosopher exploiting vague and ambiguous terms, and a pious man of peace and love, a 21st century Jain, who, filled by toxic hated and violent emotions, launches an attack on a rival with intent to cause harm – psychological, financial, professional, legal, and otherwise.
Carl Sagan once said that “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.” Well Francione, since you have certainly made some extraordinary claims, just where is your extraordinary evidence? You excel in making them, but never substantiate them. But how does one “prove” a lie, anyway, I wonder?
 “Controversial UTEP professor Steve Best risks much in fight for animal rights,” February 8, 2010 (http://www.negotiationisover.net/2010/02/08/controversial-utep-professor-steve-best-risks-much-in-fight-for-animal-rights/).
“Alf to Vegan Death Threats?,” Will Potter, GreenIsTheNewRed, September 1, 2009 (http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/animal-liberation-front-to-vegan-death-threats/2209/).
 Steven Best, “Manifesto for Radical Liberationism: Total Liberation by Any Means Necessary,” November 13, 2009 (http://negotiationisover.com/manifesto-for-radical-abolitionism/).
 Testimony of David Martosko, Director of Research, Center for Consumer Freedom, Before the United States Senate, Committee on the Environment and Public Works, May 18, 2005 (http://epw.senate.gov/109th/MARTOSKO_TESTIMONY.pdf).
 Steven Best, “Senator James Inhofe: Top Terrorist Threat to Planet Earth” (http://www.drstevebest.org/Essays/SenatorJamesInhofe.htm).