Guardian | 07.11.2001 12:38
In life he was a nobody, a failed dustman turned firebomber. But in death Barry Horne will rise up as the first true martyr of the most successful terrorist group Britain has ever known, the animal rights movement. Already the tributes, and the vows of vengeance, have begun to flow. Animal Liberation Front founder Ronnie Lee said that some ALF members "whose thing is to carry out personal actions on animal rights abusers" felt a lot of sadness and anger over Horne's death on hunger strike. Spokesman Robin Webb says Horne was "killed" by the government.
Horne died in the same week as the leaders of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac) pressure group went on trial on conspiracy charges in Basildon. And his funeral will be a further rallying point in the activists' long crusade against a cruel animal-killing world. "Remember Barry Horne!" does not have much of a ring to it but there is no doubt that British scientists working in animal research laboratories such as the besieged Huntingdon Life Sciences in Cambridgeshire will soon be encountering the same slogan, and worse, on their doorsteps.
Horne, who was convicted of arson in 1997 and sentenced to 18 years, may at last provide the ALF, and its nastier sub-groups such as the Justice Department, with a justification for taking "an animal abuser's life". He could be the ALF's equivalent of the IRA's Bobby Sands, who also died on hunger strike.
To an outsider, Horne's sad death in a Worcester hospital, isolated and largely ignored by the outside world, will seem pointless. How can anyone starve themselves to death? Horne actually died on his fourth hunger strike for reasons that are not entirely clear. His liver had been damaged from previous protests and he was not well. There were none of the outside protests, website shrines and campaigning that accompanied his last 68-day fast in December 1998. That ended in a humiliating climbdown amid accusations that he had been secretly sipping sweetened drinks.
At that time Webb was also implicated in distributing a list from the Animal Rights Militia of four individuals who would die in revenge for Horne's death. Horne's retraction of his death vow diminished his standing among many in the animal rights movement and the whole episode was seen as a public relations disaster. But to animal rights activists, Horne's death will be the final redemption, the ultimate self-sacrifice in a life of struggle that began, for most of them, in their early teens.
Horne was a dedicated animal rights terrorist. He was convicted after being caught red-handed with incendiary devices that he had used to set light to department stores for daring to sell fur coats. In another attack he burned a branch of Boots on the Isle of Wight - causing £3m worth of damage - for selling animal-tested medicine. He had no qualms about risking the lives of innocent shoppers to further his own cause.
To his fellow activists, his lone firebombing campaign was part of a liberation war. Horne was a freedom fighter on behalf of those who could not fight for themselves: animals.
To try and understand how some people think, it is important to understand something of the enveloping embrace of the animal rights movement. Membership of the ALF is like membership of an extraordinary fundamentalist religion. Since its foundation in 1976, animal rights terrorists have targeted butchers' shops, science laboratories, fur farms, live exports, dog breeding farms and high-street chemists. Property worth millions of pounds has gone up in smoke but the ideological glue that underpins this fire-fest is not a tract or manifesto but a diet - veganism.
Most animal rights activists begin their career around the family kitchen table as young teenagers by refusing to eat meat, and then going on to become vegans - who reject the use of all animal products, such as milk, cheese or leather. This rejection is based not on taste but the moral conviction that killing animals for human consumption is wrong. But the flipside of that moral conviction is equally proscriptive; the rest of us who eat meat are cruel and wilfully ignorant of the pain we inflict on innocent animals to sustain our selfish human lives.
In their own minds, ALF members are possessed of a blinding religious truth: our society is built on the unnecessary killing of animals and they, like Horne, are morally bound to use all means, including violence, to stop the daily holocaust of animal lives. This truth is backed by endless propaganda pamphlets purporting to show animal experiments where kittens have metal boxes inserted into their brains. It is all powerful emotional fuel for the conversion of new adherents.
In the eyes of founder Ronnie Lee, homo sapiens is a "Nazi species" that has bred indiscriminately and raped and polluted the planet. The Earth would be a better place if there were far fewer humans around - maybe as many as 5.9bn fewer. Where 5.9bn human beings are supposed to go remains a mystery, but the power of the animal rights philosophy has shaped huge parts of British society - from university research departments to the fashion industry.
To be a committed animal rights activist you have to turn away from the cruel animal-killing ways of your fellow Britons. You must reject those, including family and friends, who blindly butcher their way through hundreds of animals a day by boiling eggs, drinking milk, eating burgers, wearing leather, using make-up and taking medical drugs - all of which are tested on animals.
Every meal, every drink, is an affirmation of your separate political identity and a source of potential transgression. How can you stay pure? How can you avoid gelatine, that "hidden animal ingredient" that lurks in thousands of innocent-looking vegetarian products? And how can you share your animal-loving faith with those who daily kill the innocent for the pleasures of their dining table?
Ultimately veganism dictates what you eat, where you eat, who you eat with and who you sleep with. Some vegan activists will not eat in non-vegan restaurants for fear that the utensils have been "cross-contaminated" by being used on meat or dairy products. Inevitably those who follow the animal liberation path live an entirely separate life from mainstream society around them.
And yet the ALF's aims have been endorsed by countless celebrities, including the late Linda McCartney. For years, the wider British public largely approved its actions: "rescuing" laboratory animals and smashing up science labs were seen as acts of liberation rather than crimes.
And as a political movement the animal rights lobby continues uniquely to attract a wide cross-section of British society. Attend any animal rights demo and you will find grey-haired matrons pulling down police barricades alongside black-hooded anarchists. The demonstrations are always energetic and frequently violent.
The seeming chaos masks the actions of a dedicated organised leadership whose tactics have outwitted the police and brought Britain's biggest animal research laboratory Huntingdon Life Sciences to the brink of bankruptcy. It survives only because of extraordinary financial guarantees from the government, which knows that if the laboratory fell to the animal activists' cause it would spell the death of Britain's lucrative pharmaceutical industry. So HLS is not the site of a minor skirmish, but of a war between the animal rights movement and a science-based state.
Police say the movement is a series of concentric rings; thousands of supporters who donate small amounts of money, or man high-street stalls; hundreds of activists prepared to break into labs; a hundred full-time leaders who provide the organisational muscle; and a handful of bombers, like Horne.
During Horne's previous hunger strike in the autumn of 1998, activists were bussed from different parts of the country to take part in "mass demos" targeting a small cat-breeding farm in Oxfordshire. Thousands of demonstrators invaded the cat farm, pulled down fences and smashed every window they could throw a brick at. The police tried everything, from exclusion zones to infiltrators, but the protesters eventually won their battle. Hillgrove cat farm closed, and the new campaign against HLS began. Horne's death will undoubtedly be used to garner fresh support for further assaults on Huntingdon.
To the majority of Britons, most of the animal rights agenda is just madness. But no one should underestimate the dedication and the determination of the ALF leadership. They are people who have sacrificed almost everything for their cause. They have given up jobs, careers, most of their lives to "free" animals. There are akin to a religious cult and they will not stop until their goal of a non-meat-eating, non-animal-killing Britain is achieved.
All religions thrive on martyrs, and now the animal rights movement has its very own.