ROD CORONADO: A Voice for Liberation
The following is a transcript of a radio interview conducted by Mirha-Soleil Ross with Rod Coronado on June 15, 2000 for ANIMAL VOICES (CIUT 89.5FM – Toronto). It was subsequently published in Issue #17 of the UNDERGROUND: The Magazine of the North American Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group. Rod Coronado is an indigenous traditionalist, earth warrior and convicted ALF activist who spent 4 and a half years in a federal prison for actions carried out on behalf of the earth and the animals.
MIRHA-SOLEIL ROSS: Hi and welcome to Animal Voices. There are many people listening to the show who are familiar with you and your work but for new listeners, could you start by giving us a bit of an overview of your involvement with the Animal Liberation Front? ROD CORONADO: Well, first I’d like to thank everybody, all of your listeners and yourselves for all the support that you gave me during that time while I was incarcerated. It definitely helped to know that I had support of people in the Toronto community, in Canada in general, and over the world really. It showed exactly how much support there is for illegal direct action as much as the government would lead us to believe otherwise. To answer your question about how I first got involved with the ALF; what elevated me to that level of awareness and activism was pretty much just being raised always with a respect and reverence for animals and nature. It wasn’t a process I went through like first exhausting letter writing and petitioning, then protesting and demonstrations. I didn’t go through that progression simply because I was exposed to such an extreme level of animal cruelty and abuse and witnessing that via documentaries and through newsletters and magazines and newspapers, that for me the situation required immediate action. There was no time for those animals suffering in labs and fur farms and factory farms to wait to exhaust more legal means. I could see already that people for many, many years had chosen that path and although it is effective at times, it was not bringing about results quick enough for those animals now suffering. So I became involved in direct action with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Earth First! and eventually with the Animal Liberation Front. And I became involved by being in Britain in the mid-eighties and seeing that the ALF was not a highly structured organization. You can just call yourself an ALF activist if you abide by three basic guidelines that respect life above property and if you commit yourself to rescuing animals from places of abuse and exposing the horrors of vivisection and animal abuse. That gives you the right to be an ALF activist. So when I saw people in England doing this without any lead, by pretty much just taking the direction themselves and being self-confident and empowered on their own to form their own ALF cells, then that’s what I did. I began what became a very effective ALF cell that into the eighties and nineties eventually elevated to raiding university laboratories and government research institutions.MSR: Your focus seems to have been on fighting the fur industry. Why have you focused specifically on the fur industry?RC: I’m a member of the Pascua Yaqui Nation and as an indigenous person, the fur trade represents so much more to me than just animal abuse. It represents cultural genocide. They were the foot soldiers of an invasion and conquest in the “new world.” They were the ones who introduced disease. They were the ones who introduced alcoholism. They were the ones who introduced gunpowder and many, many things that led to our decimation. So for me the extension of the fur trade into the 20th and 21st century is a continuation of that genocide. But now that its impact has been so detrimental to the indigenous human people, it is continually being directed towards indigenous animal people. So every bit as much as its damage was in the 14, 15, and 16 hundreds, it is now continuing that damage today, threatening the very last nations of wild beings who just happen to be four-legged. So it’s a continuation of a centuries’ old resistance to conquest and colonialism and imperialism. So for me, I have an incredible empathy with the animals that are on fur farms and in the wild in steel-jaw leg hold traps because they are my relations and they are suffering just as my ancestors suffered. And the fur trade today is the modern incarnation of those very same people who murdered and destroyed my people and my homelands. So it’s a very, very deeply held belief of mine that has a lot to do with heritage as well as ecology. Also, I think that as a representative of all that, it’s very important that we face them head on and that we tell them that it’s time to no longer be in existence. That we have evolved as human beings morally and ethically to recognize that these industries are unacceptable in our society today.MSR: I got involved in the animal rights movement around 1985-86. I was about 15-16 years old and I remember at the time, in Canada, there was a lot of tension between the animal rights’ movement and the fur industry. You mentioned that what you feel the fur industry has done is nothing less than genocide against indigenous people. The fur industry in the eighties, at least in Canada, was trying to propagate the idea that animal rights’ activists were actually committing genocide against indigenous people by attacking an industry that was linked to their survival and economic independence. Do you find that there are remnants from the eighties of that attempt by the fur industry to attack the anti-fur movement by using indigenous people or do you feel it’s been a total flop?RC: I think it’s a PR move on their part solely to try to maintain a valid argument for their existence. But I also feel that it is akin to plantation owners in the 1800’s arguing that abolitionists were harming the livelihood of black slaves. It is a slap in the face to any indigenous person that the people who were the most responsible for our genocide are also now claiming to be concerned about our well-being. I mean that is offensive. And I think that hopefully they’ve realized that because the longer that they tout out that argument, the more obvious I think they make it to indigenous people, ourselves, that they are just exploiting us one step further.MSR: There’s a lot of confusion about what violence is and whether the Animal Liberation Front finds some forms of violence acceptable or not. In your articles, you talk about how you do not perceive the destruction of equipment or property that exploits and destroys animals and the earth as violent. Could you speak about that?RC: Well, to take a gun away from the hand of someone who is ready to use it to kill someone cannot be considered a violent action because it is understandable that you are preventing a much greater crime from taking place. Similarly, to take away the tools that are used solely for the destruction of innocent life before they can be used to cause that destruction is the prevention of a much greater and evil crime. So in such instances, I consider aggressive acts to be non-violent and we’re living in a society today that legally sanctions the destruction of the last ancient redwoods, that legally sanctions the decimation and extinction of 10 000 species a year. I think it is a non-violent action in our society to remove those tools that cause that destruction before it can be done. And to have the label of terrorist, extremist, violent offender or criminal leveled against us by the people who themselves are responsible for an incredible amount of suffering, torture, and realistically terrorism, violent terrorism, is ludicrous. I think that society and people in the public only have to look at who has the blood on their hands to recognize who the real violent members of our society are. MSR: You also mentioned in an article I read that the animal liberation movement has reached a point that has already been visited by other social movements in terms of the violence and the harassment directed at it by industries and the government. So what can we learn in the animal and earth liberation movements from these other social movements?RC: Well I think that once we begin to recognize terrorism and real violence in our society and recognize it’s something that our society will not tolerate, then we need to recognize that when governments commit murder, it is called legal military maneuvers or police operations. But when rebel forces or people that are defending their homelands or their environment do it, then it’s labeled as terrorism or violent responses. So I think it is important for us to recognize that the only reason that this type of reaction is happening is because our government and our society live in this hypocrisy and double-standard whereby not only we don’t oppose all violence in our society but in fact we legislate and legally sanction a lot of it. How could they claim to have a concern with violence when there’s so much violence happening legally in our society around us today. And these accusations are always made when we destroy property but they are never made when industry officials and their hired foot soldiers and the police practice violence on a regular basis against our non-violent protesters. The only reason we are seeing the Animal and Earth Liberation Fronts respond as aggressively and outside of the law is because we are no longer respected as non-violent protesters and demonstrators. We are seeing an increased amount of pepper spraying of activists and of civil and human rights being violated. I think that as long as our society allows our police forces and our governments to sanction that type of treatment of people who have a high degree of respect for non-violence, there are going to be people who’ll say, “Hey! To hell with that! I’m not going to set myself up to be beaten on the head by a police officer when instead I can attack this institution non-violently by targeting its property.” And in that sense, I see a lot of the actions that the ALF and the ELF take to be actions that avoid violence because we are avoiding the physical confrontations that we now recognize leads to violent confrontation. So I think it’s important to recognize that we are trying our best to adhere to non-violence. And even Gandhi recognized that the effectiveness of a non-violent passive resistance is only as effective as the oppressor is in recognizing it so in today’s society. I think that’s been demonstrated that they do not have a respect for our adherence to non-violence. And I’ve always said that if law-enforcement and society was most concerned with eliminating illegal actions in defense of animals and the environment, the best thing they can do is just do their jobs. Those agencies that are in power to protect the environment need to uphold the laws that we fought long and hard to get on the books. I know right now they are barely at the stage, in Canada, where they are passing an endangered species act. This should have come many, many years ago. Canada still has the largest slaughter of wildlife in the world, the Canadian harp seal hunt and I don’t see how they can continue this type of aggressive ecological genocide without expecting some kind of illegal response simply because it is still legally protected to kill seals in Canada. But yet it is illegal to protect them and that is just unacceptable.MSR: You’ve been part of the Animal Liberation Front movement and you’ve engaged in animal liberation front actions since 1985. Looking back on it now, fifteen years down the road, what kind of impact would you say the various types of animal liberation front actions against the fur industry have had? RC: When we look at the fur industry here in America, what I’ve witnessed in my own lifetime has been the continual decline of fur farms and furriers because now they have -in addition to protest and letter writings and petitions and lobbying- an element that’s unpredictable and uncontrollable. That is illegal direct action that tells these people that their practices are morally, ethically, and ecologically unacceptable and they not only have to answer to the government, who has obviously proven a total disregard in monitoring them, but they have to also answer to direct action groups like the Animal Liberation Front who will extract from them a tax for their evil behavior. And in that sense, I think we have made it a type of reality for these people that if they’re going into the business of abusing animals, they’re going to have to deal with possible insurance rates going up. They’re going to have to deal with increased security costs. They’re going to have to deal with not advertising their business in the storefront window for fear of that window getting smashed. And in the absence of any type of government regulation of the fur trade, that’s what society or civil action has to do. We have to hold these industries and corporations accountable. So I think that the ALF can claim a lot of responsibility in ensuring that the fur trade doesn’t grow. And just through continued pressure, we continue to see here in the United States a reduction of fur farms. Now when you look at industries like the animal research industry, I live here in Tucson (Arizona) and in 1989, we saw the largest animal liberation action in this country when 1200 animals were rescued from the University of Arizona. Following that raid, the researchers were quoted in the paper saying that as a result of the attention that was drawn to their research by the ALF raid, they have been forced to justify and rationalize every single animal experiment they do. And as a result they have been forced to reduce the animals that they used in experimentation. Now that the attention was focused on them, they know that the public is concerned about what they are doing. So regardless of what you feel about illegal direct action on behalf of animals and the earth, nobody can deny that it helps draw attention to a problem that society is overlooking. Here in Colorado, a couple of years ago when the Earth Liberation Front burned down the buildings belonging to the Vail Corporation, we had for years lawsuits trying to force the US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Canadian lynx in the United States. We had gone to every single public comment meeting. We had biologists from Colorado’s own State Department of Wildlife speaking out against the destruction of their habitat. We had written letters. We had done everything we’re supposed to do and there wasn’t a peep in the mainstream media about what was going on. Now when the ELF came into the scene and torched those buildings, instantly overnight the issue of the Canadian lynx was international news. It was all over the front pages of newspapers, network news, everywhere. People knew about what was going on. And since then, the US government has been forced to offer the legal protection to the lynx that they previously haven’t given. Now it isn’t as strong as it should be but I think that the ELF can take direct credit for helping to bring the situation to light because no matter what you think about these tactics, we can get the best biologists in the world to come forward and talk about the threats to our environment and to animals but nothing makes the media news like a direct action. So in that sense, we don’t make the rules, we’re just simply playing the game. MSR: Do you see an increase in the number and the diversity of Animal and Earth Liberation Front actions happening… And despite the harassment and violence from the government trying to shut down it down, do you see this whole direct action movement expanding and growing with more and more people who are getting frustrated with other means of protesting and lobbying? RC: I see it growing only as a matter of being forced into a corner. I don’t see it growing as a matter of choice. I think that we are seeing more young people come into the struggle who just have no faith whatsoever in legal means. And that is because we are seeing more now than ever before corporations and private industries being given more say in government policy making than the actual votes of political constituents. It’s so obvious now with the General Agreement of Trades and Tariff, with the North American Free Trade Agreement, with the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund… We are seeing all these institutions overriding any democratic achievements that environmentalists and animal welfarists have accomplished. And the more that that happens, the greater loss of faith there is in democratic means of change in our society. So we’re seeing the growth of these movements only as a result of the ineffectiveness of governments to respond to what the people want in our society. Here in the United States, there is no other issue that receives more letters in congress than animal issues. Now if we lived in a true democracy, that would translate into laws that would protect animals. But instead what we are seeing to this day are animals in laboratories with only the bare minimal protection. And some animals like rats and mice and birds and fish and farm animals aren’t even recognized as animals, they are called non-animals. So as long as our government fails to answer to the majority of the public’s concern for animals and the environment, they can be damn sure there is going to be an increase of actions by people who have no faith in the government.MSR: To get involved in direct actions and do the type of work you’ve been doing for almost two decades, you really need to put your selfishness on the side because it seems that there is so much risk and so much sacrifice involved. You’ve put your body on the line and you’ve gone to jail. So where do you find the spiritual and the political strength to be able to take your fears and your selfishness and put them on the side and drive for what you believe is something that needs to be accomplished?RC: This struggle is much older than anybody alive today. It’s much older than the institutions of government be they Canadian or American. It is a sacred resistance that has continued ever since the world view came into being that saw nature and animals as a commodity and a resource. This is a continuation of a worldview that sees it possible to live in harmony with all life and nature. And for me personally I don’t think about the sacrifices I make when people talk about prison or when they talk about government harassment. For me, this is still to this day the greatest honor and privilege I could have, as a human being, to represent the animal world, the natural creation that my ancestors fought and died for. This is something that we should treat as this incredible, incredible honor because it is. We are continuing a tradition that people have died for, for hundreds of years. And if I have to go to prison for a few years to represent that struggle, well then so be it. It is still an honor for me to do so because my ancestors who fought for the very same thing made a much greater sacrifice than any that I will know in my life. Also, we have to recognize that what we fight for is something so much more beautiful and compassionate and loving than anything that the dominant society has ever offered us. Everything that they have ever created, all this illusion of reality that they force us to live under is based on fear and intimidation and consumerism and all these things that you have to strive to achieve and respect. Not because you believe in it but because you are afraid of the consequences and of what happens if you don’t adhere to societal norms. And you have to look at what the alternative is and what we represent. And we represent the power of love, the power of the earth. That power isn’t created by man but it’s something that you see in a river in a mountain range, in a wilderness, in a wild lynx or mink and that is something that is so sacred. For me, as an individual, when I was on the run from the FBI and being hunted, I realized for the first time that I had so much more of a similar relationship to my animal creation than I ever had previously. And I believe that I was closer to them than I had been before. Only when I got to that level of feeling like a hunted animal, did I really gain the level of appreciation for my life and freedom that we all have strived to gain because this is such a beautiful thing we have before us. This life. This earth. This jewel of a planet. This is the only thing in our lives that’s really worth fighting for because if we compromise ourselves and fail to meet the social and moral obligations that we have to protect this environment, it’s not only our grandchildren that are going to suffer. It is every single race of life on this planet that’s taken 400 million years to evolve that’s going to disappear. And I don’t want that to happen on my watch. And when I sat in prison, every night I slept comfortably ‘cause I knew at the end of the day that I had fought for what my heart told me was right. I had fought for what countless nations of human beings have fought for before. So for me, it wasn’t a question of evaluating who has the nicest car, who has the biggest house. It was a question of knowing that I can face my grandchildren in the future and when they ask me what I did to protect the environment and to prevent species from going extinct, I can look them straight in the eyes and tell them I did everything humanly possible. And that’s what we have to ask ourselves. Are we going to be able to explain to future generations that we accepted responsibility regardless of the consequences and did what we knew in our heart was right?MSR: When listening to grassroots’ animal rights activists and indigenous people talking about being a part of –not separate from- the animal world and the earth, I always felt that together they shared strong common goals. So from your perspective, what are the points you feel call for a strong alliance between grassroots animal liberation activists and activists within the indigenous resistance movement.RC: I see veganism, I see animal liberationism, I see radical enviromentalism to be the modern incarnations of indigenous resistance. I see everything that we fight for today to be the equivalent of what my ancestors fought for. I see breaking into laboratories to rescue animals and sabotaging logging equipment to be the equivalent of burning down the forts and fighting to defend your lands as it was 100 & 200 years ago. I think that this struggle is so much older than the animal rights’ and environmental movements. It goes back to people that have for hundreds of years believed in the same things that we now fight for. Now those spirits or those people that have died and suffered for the same struggle are inside of our bodies because we live in this land that they lived in. We nurture ourselves with the same energy and life force of the earth that they nurtured themselves with and their spirits speak to us. We live in this urban environment so we respond accordingly. Because we are in the belly of the beast, we respond by rejecting animal abuse and environmental destruction. And in this day and age we are called environmental or animal rights’ activists but I think it’s important for all of us to recognize that it’s much bigger than just the environment and the animals. It’s about earth rights. It’s about air rights, water rights, rock rights, the rights of every natural creation to survive. So we have to get outside of these little pockets and compartments that society tries to force us in and rip off those labels that they stick on us. We have to recognize that we’re all fighting the same opponent. We’re all fighting the same evil empire and only when we do that are we going to get beyond the divide and conquer tactics that have been used against us for ages and finally recognize the collective force we have, that we need to have, that we need to master if we are going to face up to these opponents and win. Because for us, winning is about accomplishing the end all gain. It’s about keeping the spirit of resistance without compromising our sacred mother earth and animal relations.MSR: Now that you’re out of jail, what is your everyday life like, what kind of work are you involved with?RC: Well, when you become a guerrilla fighter, you have to recognize that sometimes it’s advantageous to strike and sometimes it’s advantageous to just lie low and wait for the opportunity to strike. I’m presently under probation and I have to look at other avenues of action to continue this struggle and for me that means working in my community. I need to gather my power and my strength. I need to be with my elders who aren’t going to be on this earth for much longer. I need to learn their knowledge so that I can hand it down to people younger than me. So I practice my traditions. I go to our ceremonies. I work at a high school for indigenous youth in Southern Arizona and I talk to them about the environment. I talk to them about the animals. And whereas other people in the non-indigenous communities think that that’s extremism, people in this community tell me: “Oh, we want you to take our kids camping with you. We want you to work with them because the things that you talk about are what our grandparents talked about.” So for me, direct action isn’t only about getting out there and burning down buildings and breaking into labs. It’s about working with our youth because those are the future leaders of our society. And we need to give them the knowledge and the truth so they can make much wiser decisions than their present policy makers because frankly I don’t have any hope for the adults of our society who are in positions of control and leadership right now. I think they’ve been corrupted and infected with power and greed and the best thing we can do is invest time and energy in our communities and our children so that we can hope and pray that the next generation in charge of society will take a lot more responsible actions. MSR: Thanks a lot for being with us.RC: Thank you for the time and once again thanks for the support and thank you for keeping the struggle alive. ANIMAL VOICES can be heard every Tuesday from 10-11am on CIUT 89.5 FM (www.ciut.fm).