“Sometimes We Had a Brick” An Interview with former SHAC 7 prisoners Jake Conroy and Josh Harper
by Mike Klepfer
Jake Conroy and Josh Harper are two former prisoners. Part of the animal rights campaign Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), the two were engaged in an international effort against the private animal experimentation laboratory Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), which drew activist ire after undercover video showed HLS workers abusing animals; punching beagle puppies in the face, slamming and shouting at them.
Using a decentralized approach and targeting not only the lab, but investors and key corporations that did business with HLS, the campaign nearly toppled the multimillion dollar company in 2000, before HLS received a bailout from American investment bank Stephens. Because of the success of the campaign, its tenacity and its militancy, U.S. lawmakers sympathetic to HLS and other animal-exploitation industries sought prosecution of SHAC organizers Harper, Conroy, Lauren Gazzola, Kevin Jonas, Darius Fullmer, Andrew Stepanian and John McGee, collectively the SHAC 7. With the exception of McGee, who was dropped from the case, all were charged under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, receiving sentences between three to six years in March 2006. Stepanian spent a portion of his incarceration in a Communications Management Unit, a federal prison within a prison meant to drastically isolate prisoners and restrict their ability to communicate. For a further examination of the SHAC campaign, read Crimethinc’s “The SHAC Model: A Critical Assessment,” available online.
Conroy and Harper both spoke at the Resistance Ecology Conference at Portland State University, held from May 31 to June 2, this year. Gazzola, unable to travel to the event, made a statement via video.
Radicle: This is the first time you’re reuniting since your trial. It was obviously emotional. When are the rest of the SHAC people off of probation and are you all planning on getting together?
Jake Conroy: Lauren gets off on the 13th of August, I think. And then I think she’s planning on coming out to the West Coast for a short visit. I’m not sure if she’s coming to the Northwest or not. I think she’s coming to San Francisco and maybe L.A. And after that, the only one left is Kevin and I think he got five years probation, so he probably has three or four more years to go. So it’s going to be a while before we can all see one another, en toto.
Are you looking forward to that?
JC: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. You spend so much time with these people and really grow strong bonds, friendships, and all that’s taken away from you. Obviously it’s going to be really emotional and overwhelming, but exciting to see people you haven’t had a chance to see in such a long time. Especially when those bonds are broken by forces outside of your control.
You said repeatedly yesterday that “prison fucking sucks.” Do you have advice for people potentially facing prison sentences, people about to go into prison? Can you talk about the things people face in prison that other people should know about and ways to beyond the prisoner support that is usually offered?
Josh Harper: One thing that I try to be really careful about, and sometimes I’m not as careful as I should be, is extrapolating my prison experience and saying it’s the prison experience. Every prison sort of has its own culture. Even depending on the era that you’re in one prison, it can change quite drastically. There’s an old political prisoner by the name of Claude Marks and he did time out at Sheridan, where I did my time, and even though there were some similarities between the prison environment that he was in and the one I was in, over a space of ten years, there were also some very drastic changes. I talk a lot about the negative things that happened to me in prison because I want people to know when they’re being asked to make sacrifices for a movement, that those sacrifices are real and severe. But what happened to me will not necessarily happen to others. In fact, I’ve had some friends who have done their times in low-security, minimum-security and even medium-security where they didn’t have to face the sorts of things that I did, so I try not to make everyone panic by saying “What you’re going to see is exactly parallel to mine.” I also try to be realistic about my own experiences.
JC: I agree with that. For me, before I went into prison, when we were on house arrest, I wrote as many political prisoners as I could, including people who were in prison at the time and just asked for advice and I would write just pages and pages of letters back and forth just to get an idea of what things were going to be like. And I even wrote someone that was, after I found out what prison I was going to be in, in another prison, at the same security level, in the same facility, of the four prisons in total at Victorville. And what he told me was going on down there was not the same as what was going on one hundred yards away at another facility. It was completely different. I think the other thing to remember is that before the SHAC convictions, there really wasn’t a lot of political prisoners in the United States doing a significant amount of time in the animal rights movement. Within the animal rights movement, there wasn’t a whole lot of people to correspond with and get information from. And primarily, they did their time in low-security prisons or camps, and so there wasn’t a lot to [assess] what we were going to be facing. I think now, as the government repression continues and increases, people are doing more and more time in larger and more terrifying institutions and I agree with Josh that a lot of the rhetoric, before we went to prison, was like “the hardest thing about prison is the long walk to the salad bar” and that’s just not the case anymore. It probably wasn’t then, either. I think you have to be very aware of what you’re getting yourself into. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around the country, talking about my prison experiences, and at the end I say the same thing, that I’m not here to tell stories like “Look at me, look how great I am, look what I did, look what I accomplished,” but “Look at me. I’m this scrawny little vegan white kid that somehow managed to come out the other side intact.” While it’s terrifying and awful, it is do-able, but you have to just be prepared for the worst, expect the worst and figure out how you’re going to survive.
JH: I think that there are a few basic things that people can hear, but there’s really nothing that can prepare you. Prison, incarceration is an experience that’s not quite like any other. All of us have some unique factors that affect our incarceration, and how our incarceration effects us. I guess what I would say is that there are some things that people can do to keep themselves safer while they’re in. One thing I always tell people is do not gamble, do not drink, do not smoke, and do not do drugs. I think some folks immediately assume I’m saying that because I might be straight-edge. I’m not. I drink. I use drugs in the outside world. And I enjoy them quite a bit, and that’s my business. But in prison, the thing is is that one of the quickest ways to get abused or exploited is to get in debt. And gambling is a quick way to get in debt. Cigarettes cost $7 each and they’re addictive. And you’re in a stressful environment where you’re going to want access to these vices. And so you’re going to start purchasing them on credit and I knew people that ended up having to prostitute themselves to be able to afford their cigarette habit. So don’t smoke. The people that manufacture alcohol in prison have a commodity that everyone wants and that what that means is that you’ve got to have it protected, which means that if you’re manufacturing it, you’re almost certainly part of a gang, almost certainly high up in in the gang, because you’re going to have revenue. Don’t get involved with those people. Don’t purchase alcohol, because, again, you’re setting yourself up to be vulnerable, in a weakened state, mentally impaired, and then you’re going to owe money to people who are quite dangerous, as well. So I always recommend that people don’t do that. There’s also some very commonsense things: don’t gossip. That was a hard one for me. Don’t run your mouth. Listen more than you talk. Finally, I would say you’ve got to be very conscientious. There are people in there who are going to be there for the next thirty years, forty years. There are people who are never going to see the street again. And that means that that environment is their environment. It’s their home. You can’t fuck things up for them. If you get angry at your girlfriend on the phone and you slam that phone down, well that phone might be the only way that they have to communicate with their child, their mother, so you can’t get away with that stuff. You’ve got to be clean. You’ve got to be tidy. It sound like a weird point to make about staying safe. If you disrespect that space, you’re disrespecting someone’s last bit of comfort in a hellacious environment. And so, keep your voice down, don’t whistle. Keep your cell mopped and make sure you’re respecting that environment. Unfortunately, I think that’s the only advice I can give, as far as staying safe.
JC: There really are these minute things that that you would just not think of, in your everyday life, that’s that big of a deal. Like Josh said, these are people’s homes. You’re going into their homes and if you disrespect them, you’re going to find yourself in a lot of trouble. I think a couple of the big things are that you should be prepared. If you’re a political prisoner, and someone asks you, and everyone will ask you, what you’re in for, you need to have a quick answer. You can’t sit there and be like “Well, it’s this law called the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. Let me tell you all about it.” They want to know what you’re in for in about five seconds, and if you can’t give them a clear and concise answer that they’re going to understand, you’re suddenly different, and being different in prison is a terrible thing because that means you’re going to be exploited, you’re going to get beat up, be taken advantage of, and eventually you’re just going to get rolled off the yard, beat up so you get moved out of that prison yard because they don’t like you, they don’t want you there. You kind of have to appear normal. And that’s difficult for certain political prisoners that have certain politics who go into prison. That was something that was told to me that I thought I could pull off and the first couple months I just came off terribly and everyone was like “Who’s this guy?” You just have to be aware that people are looking at you and they’re sizing you up and they’re judging you constantly, and you have to preapred to put on a particular face, give them the impression that you’re a normal person, you’re not to be fucked with. The second big thing for me was that was told to me before I went in that I thought was great advice was that when you first get there, it’s best to just sit back and watch. Just observe what’s going on. I was told to spend two to three months doing that, until you see the inner workings of the institution and your unit, and your cells, and the politics, the gang politics and the racial politics, and how all that works, and learn it and understand it before engaging in it. I remember that after two or three weeks I thought “I’ve got all of this down,” and I started spending more time in front of the TV and trying to get to know the people I was in with and I felt a little cocky about the situation and one of the few people that I became friends with, on a dime, he did something wrong, and in a heartbeat, this guy had his face rearranged by two skinheads, beaten up so badly that you wouldn’t be able to even recognize him, and it reallyclicked in my head that I don’t know what’s going on. I never felt ready to enter this prison world, but after a couple a couple weeks I thought “I can handle this,” and it was just a real big reminder that you really need to take this process really slow and carefully and really thought-out, or you’re going to get seriously hurt.
Have you talked to Andy [Stepanian], about his time in the CMU?
JH: Him and I had a phone call a few months back where we spoke a little bit about his experience and one thing I have to say I really admire Andy for is one, he’s very open about his beliefs, even if they’re not popular in radical communities. He’s a Christian. While he was in, he was held in this facility that was predominately incarcerating Muslims. The compassion he felt for these men and the concern he’s had for their continuing existence was really striking to me. He’s on the outside communicating with their families. He’s trying to make sure that those of them that are the most impoverished are getting a little bit of money on their books. He’s trying to take some of the worst stories of the abuses of the war on terror and what it’s done to Muslim Americans and publicize them and make sure that the reality that the rest of the United States is aware of. I can’t speak for Andy, or know what he physically endured, or what he saw in there, but I am very much honored to know him and proud of the work he’s done since he was released from the CMU.
You’ve heard about Daniel McGowan’s situation, where he was taken back into custody for a day for publishing an article. Do you have any thoughts about his situation, what he’s had to go through since he’s been out?
JH: Daniel is an old friend of mine. I first met him on an e-mail list in 1996 and he came out and visited Eugene, Oregon, where I was living again in late ’97. [At this point, a group of tourists on Segways rolls through the park and I joked that things had changed since the two had been out. Josh Harper then proceeded to sing part of the chorus to “A Whole New World” from Disney's Aladdin.] He came out to Eugene and we had a lot of mutual friends and it was difficult for me when he was indicted. The thing that a lot of folks probably don’t know is that Daniel did attend SHAC events. We had national demonstrations when he was living in New Jersey and he would come out and attend, and hold signs. He was opposed to Huntingdon Life Sciences and what they did, and he was supportive of SHAC and what we did. So seeing him go away was difficult. Three days before he self-surrendered, his atorney was based in Seattle and I was on house arrest there. Daniel actually came to my house and brought me vegan Thai food and beer and it was the last time I saw him, and I won’t be able to communicate with him for many years, but I certainly have him on my mind and hope that he’s doing well and that the state quits fucking with him.
What has your adjustment been like to the outside world?
JC: It’s a very slow and difficult process, and I think all of us probably try to put on a brave face and show that we’re strong and we came out the same, but the truth is that you try as hard as possible to be the same person that you were when you went in as you get out, but the truth of the matter is, and I hate to be like a broken record, but it’s an awful, awful place and it changes you. You have to change in order to survive. You can try to hold on to as much as you possibly can, and you succeed for most of the time, but some things will just change you. Some things are little and some things you’ll just never get over. You’ll never forget the things that you saw, or forget the things that you felt. It’s a long process. And they’re experiences that very, very few people can relate to. As much as people want to try, and it’s very nice, I’m not trying to say I don’t appreciate the support, but it’s hard to sit down with people and explain to them what it’s like to see someone get stabbed, what it’s like to feel a riot jump off and there’s hundreds and hundreds of people trying to beat the living hell out of each other, kill each other, and you’re just trying to survive. That’s something that you can’t explain to someone and expect that they would understand that feeling of terror and trauma that lasts the rest of your life. So I personally feel that the support that I got from friends, family and supporters was unbelievable. It was more than I ever could have expected. It was beautiful and touching and I continue to get that, even three years after being out of prison, but the hardest things, the hardest obstacles to overcome are the ones that you have to do by yourself. Some of it you’ll never overcome. You learn to just deal with it.
JH: It is a difficult thing to talk about. People who haven’t experienced incarceration don’t understand how much it takes from you, how painful it is to get out and have it continue to affect you. You want to shut it off, you want to believe that you’re going to walk outside of those gates and return to who you were and then you find that you can’t. Since I’ve been out, I’ve suffered through horrible nightmares and because I have institutionalized responses to things, at times my behavior can seem really erratic. People talk about prisoner support, but I don’t think they understand the degree to which they might have to tolerate poor behavior from us at times when we get out, because we aren’t who we were and we aren’t quite right. But, that said, when I got out, I wanted something that was a reminder that I’ve held onto the most important parts of myself, my compassion, my concern for others, and my willingness to fight to make revolutionary change and it would have been easy after the prison sentence to walk away, to isolate myself from the movement, stop participating and not go on, but I cared too much to do that, so I tattooed “CARE ALOT” on my hands because I needed something to tell me that that concern, that care, that was gonna get me through.
Lauren, in her video, said that she was dismayed to see that this backlash had occurred, the the world she’s returned to is a lot more reform-based. In this period of environmental and animal rights repression, a lot of these mainstream groups were pressured to disavow the actions of other groups, the more militant tactics that other people were using. What can be done to bridge the gaps between these groups and people like yourselves that have tried more confrontational things and have been repressed because of it?
JH: I think there are some really interested lessons right now coming out of places like Austria and Italy about state repression, and how state repression care very much end up backfiring on the powers that be. In was only 12 years ago in Italy that police waded into animal liberation demonstrations and beat several people so badly that they were hospitalized. Nowadays at anti-vivisection demonstrations in Italy, we’re not seeing the same kind of response. The reason is is that they stopped isolating themselves, they stopped only organizing people that were already vegans, already anti-vivisection, and they started bringing people along on demonstrations that, frankly, are the type of people the police can’t afford to beat. If someone was a local city council member that was anti-vivisection and they wanted to come out, not to further their political career, but to oppose vivisection, they were welcomed to do so. People who owned small businesses were welcome to come along. People were welcome to bring their children. These are the sorts of folks who the cops have a more difficult time marginalizing and criminalizing and the abuse, when they’re being beaten with a truncheon. I think that that really is step one. A lot of radicals bristle at the idea of movement building. The folks that most often talk about it are most often reformist in nature. But can we really not imagine a mass militant movement? Can we not imagine a popular movement that is willing to utilize more radical tactics and have a more-radical analysis? If we can’t imagine that, in my opinion, we’ve already lost, because we will never have the kind of numbers that are needed to turn this tide. In Austria it was very interesting because there was a gentleman by the name of Martin Balluch. Martin was someone who had engaged in an awful lot of direct action. At one demonstration at a lab breeder called Consort, he has been one of the people who had broken into the sheds and took a dog out. He was running across a field when he was confronted by police officers, and he would not give up the dog. He held onto the dog, clinged on. So the police had to come in and bring multiple officers, pick him up off the ground and move him into the police car. All the while, he’s holding onto the dog, won’t let go, won’t allow himself to be handcuffed. They get him to the police station. They eventually had to beat the guy to make him let go of the dog, because he was not willing, without a fight, to give him up. I’m an anarchist. I do not like the idea of participating in the state because I think it is inherently coercive and violent, and yet the state is a fact. It is a daily reality in our lives, and sometimes, by refusing to engage with it, we almost ensure our own abuse, and so Martin, who again was not somebody who was inclined to love or care about the government, became involved in politics, to small degree and he began making these political connections and eventually, when he himself was facing charges over there, he had people that he could draw upon to fund his legal defense, and to back him up in the media and say “No, this person is not a terrorist.” Having those inroads are valuable. And to be quite frank, the state is willing to use a certain amount of deceit to get their goals. Do I think Martin really loved the politicians he allied himself with? No. But it was a strategic choice, and one that I think might be smart for us to begin making in the United States.
JC: They added animals to the Constitution of Austria, and they actually asked Martin to draft that legislation.
JH: Right. It’s at a point now in Austria where the rights of non-humans are being written into the Constitution. Is it the Constitution of an illegitimate state? Yes. But would you rather have animal rights as part of that Constitution, or no? We aren’t at that revolutionary moment where we’re able to overthrow power. Until we are, we need to make the gains that we can, that move us in that direction, and so I think it’s fabulous that a person that is a militant and has participated in direct action, and who does appreciate those things is now, in some way, making the decisions that affect millions of non-human lives. That’s going to be pretty controversial, I know. I’m going to get angry e-mails.
JC: I’m gonna write the first one.
What would you have done differently in the SHAC campaign?
JH: It’s a difficult question to answer, because there’s a lot of that stuff that I haven’t quite processed, and it’s hard, when you’re removed from that moment, and you are more able to think more rationally. Hindsight’s twenty-twenty. It’s easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback, as Lauren would say. I really think we did the best we could with the knowledge we had at the time. There’s a lot about the rhetoric that I personally used that I regret. I said some very ugly things, some things that were unlikely to get us widespread support, to grow our numbers. If there’s one mistake that I think the campaign, at large, was guilty of, it was using almost an absurd language of militancy that wasn’t likely to build our numbers, that was macho, that was posturing. I wish we had strayed away from that. But the actions themselves, by and large, I support, and I still think were wonderful. A rich guy had his boat sunk. I’m glad that it happened. A lab got broken into and beagles got taken out. I’m glad that it happened. People who daily make profit off of suffering animals in cages, when they had their cars spray-painted, or the windows of their homes broken, I didn’t really feel sorry for them and I do appreciate that that occurred, that there were people who stilled cared enough and weren’t beaten down by the system to such a degree that they were willing to let that pass. So we used the tactics that were available to us. We didn’t have political power. We didn’t have billions of dollars. We didn’t have the money that HSUS has, the political connections, but sometimes we had a brick, and I think we were justified in using it.
JC: Of course there were mistakes made. That’s just the nature of that campaign. We didn’t know what we were doing. It had never been done before, and it was a learning experience. Some people did amazing things, some people did terrible things, and you tried to sort it out the best that you could, figure out how to move forward, and learn from the mistakes that you made. I don’t disagree with Josh. There was a lot of machismo and chest-pounding that probably cost us some supporters. I think there was an idea that, since this was based on campaigns like Consort and Hill Grove, Shamrock, and Regal Rabbits, one month to 18 month campaigns, I think we realized that HLS would be a much harder victory than those, but the campaign was designed to be a short-term campaign, and so there was a lot of posturing. “We’ll shut this place down,” “If we can get rid of this target, we’ll shut this place down.” In theory, it should have worked that way. If you get rid of their last investor, and there’s no one left to invest, then it should be shut down. But I think there should have been a little bit more conversation on longevity, and I think, in the end, in the SHAC office, we recognized that, and were trying to build, in the last year and a half, we were working on plans to build that into more of a long-term, stable, organization, and expand on some of the ideas, but that didn’t happen because we all went to prison. I think one of my favorite quotes, and it’s pretty simplistic, is “Capre diem is great, but with focus and duration.” Like “let’s live for today. Let’s live to fight these battles, but let’s also live to fight the battles tomorrow, the next week, the next month, the next year, the next generation.” And I think we didn’t necessarily plan for that.
JH: Was it David Hilliard who got brought out to one of the SHAC events?
JC: Yeah, Bobby Seale and David Hilliard.
JH: David Hilliard, I remember, was talking to me and an organizer from Texas, and was talking about the Black Panther Party, and said “It was really our words more than our actions that sunk us, and that pushed people who otherwise would have supported us away.” I didn’t listen. It’s something that always occurs to me now, that I wish I hadn’t been so blinded by my urge to militancy that I didn’t hear the experience of someone who had been there before.
I understand the organization was decentralized and that SHAC could lend its support or promote different, diverse actions. There were definitely certain actions that went too far, or could be construed in the wrong way. One that I think of is the one where a researcher got her underwear stolen out of her garbage. What do you think of that, in hindsight?
JH: One thing that I’d like to point out here, and it’s something I should have clarified in the past is that SHAC was very diffuse. There wasn’t one single concentration of power in the organization. Things happened independently, all around the country, and one of the ways that we really, and I always say “we,” even if I didn’t exactly have participation, or other people didn’t have participation, one of the ways that we tried to prevent fracturing was through a policy that tried to limit censorship. If something was campaign-related, at times there was a drive to print the word, give a disclaimer, but also allow people to have their say. Again, the panty-raid thing is something that I have brought up an awful lot, but I want to make it clear, it wasn’t any member of the SHAC 7 who was responsible for that rhetoric. It wasn’t any of us who harbored those ideas, or thought that it was a wise choice. It was something that occurred in the campaign, and something that was a mistake, something that should not have happened, but it’s not the responsibility of any member of the SHAC 7. I have a tendency to use the term “we” a lot, and people seem to think that that points to all of us, and I sort of mean it as more of a larger movement. I personally wish that I had used my voice to speak against that more adamantly.
JC: The situation was that living in the SHAC house, the SHAC office, for five-and-a-half years, you literally get three or four e-mails a day, every day, of people sending in reports, and 99 percent of them were mundane. “Oh, we did a table,” or handed out leaflets, and that’s great. That’s awesome, and then you get something like that that comes across the e-mail and it’s hard. We would literally spend hours and hours and hours talking about these things. “What do we do with this? What do we do?” And obviously none of us supported it, or thought it was a good idea. We were absolutely disgusted by it, but we also felt that there was this mass movement. Everyone was just doing what they thought they should be doing and 99.99 percent of people thought that was a terrible thing to do and some one or two or however people people thought it was a good idea to do it for whatever fucked-up reason there was, and there were a handful of things like that throughout the campaign where we were just like, literally “What do we do with this?”. The bottom line was it got to the point that, and it always felt this way for me, that this wasn’t my campaign. I wasn’t running it. Just because I lived in this particular house, and this particular office, it didn’t mean that it was mine. It was everyone’s. If people want to do crazy, fucked up, awful, terrible things, and make really awful mistakes, is it our place to censor that? And that was very difficult. Because your instinct is that, yes, you censor it, but I don’t know. It was a very awful and terrible thing that should never have happened to begin with.
I get what you’re saying about giving people the freedom and autonomy to do something, but I wonder if either of you would concede that a certain degree of leadership or soft-centrality begins to creep into an organization, certainly of the kind you were organizing.
JC: I really love that the campaign was horizontally organized, that there really were these really large portions of the campaign that were being organized and run, that had nothing to do with the SHAC campaign. The Bank of New York campaign is a perfect example. Everyone in the SHAC office was like “This is a terrible idea.” But there was this huge group of people that had this movement to shut down Bank of New York, and we didn’t try to stop it. To me, that was the beauty of it. If you wanted to do this and you wanted to do that, then go do it. Here’s our suggestions, here are our leaflets, but if you want to do these other things, go for it, and if we can help you in some way, then we will try. I think you don’t ever stop to think, and maybe this is wrong, that someone’s going to think that it’s a great idea to fucking like take some underwear out of a woman’s garbage can. It never would have crossed my mind: “That’s a good idea.” You’re so deep into this horizontal organizing that you really have to pause to think “Is it appropriate for me, or Kevin, or Josh, or whoever’s making these decisions, to start censoring this?” And if it’s okay to start censoring this, where do we stop with the censoring next? Believe me, I can think of a handful of things where I was like “We should really think about censoring this,” and I don’t know. It’s hard to think about this. It’s such a crippling thing. This one little instance can uproot what was so beautiful about the campaign, and should have been handled differently, and shouldn’t have been handled the way that it was and, I don’t know, I would like to think that it should have been handled differently. But what effect would that have had on the 99.99 percent of the other people involved in the campaign and their voices, what they felt was appropriate, or not appropriate to do? Who were we to say what is right and what is wrong here, outside of our own personal thoughts or beliefs? It was hard. It was one of the hardest things that happened, including prison time, thinking back on all of it as a whole. Those little instances, where something would come across in an e-mail where you’re like “Oh my god, what are we going to do?” I don’t know.
JH: The interesting thing about things like the panty raid statement and the statements that were issued that named children, for example, where children went to school, is that people act like it was somehow our responsibility that they occurred because the campaign was decentralized and not top-down and hierarchical. That’s absurd to pass the responsibility onto us because the state certainly doesn’t take responsibility for every time a police officer harms somebody. The state certainly isn’t expected to be responsible as a whole body every time a politician robs someone, rapes someone, or commits some sort of other antisocial act. The fact of the matter is that there’s always going to be aberrations. There’s always going to be things you can’t prepare for, people whose anger you cannot temper and folks who are going to act in an unreasonable manner. That’s not an excuse for hierarchy. Hierarchy does not prevent that, either. If we had total control over the campaign, if anyone had been issuing orders to other people, the panty raid thing still would have happened. The conditions in place in that person’s life, the prejudices that they had, the privileges they had still would have been there, and I think it’s likely they still would have behaved in the same manner. So I think to ascribe guilt to all of us is wrong and I know that some of the statements I’ve made in the past may have tended to do that. I personally carry a responsibility for not speaking out more, but that’s the limit of that. It’s not on SHAC for being decentralized.
What are you working on, presently?
JC: I’m working on gaining weight, and eating a lot of food. No, I’m fresh off of probation. For the past few years I’ve been doing some low-level things I enjoy and things that I think are making a difference in a completely different way, a blog I do with a few friends called Plantbasedonabudget.com, just trying to get middle-America soccer moms to stop eating meat and start eating a healthier diet and it’s working, which is bizarre to me after doing years of vegan outreach tables, finding a blog is making such a difference is interesting. I work at Rainforest Action Network, which is a larger environmental NGO, but it sits on the fringe because we do try to institute policies, or get corporations to change their corporate policies about environmental issues, but we do that through direct action and pressure campaigns. In a way, there’s a lot of SHAC tactics, but without the getting in trouble part, which is kind of nice. So, as I get off probation, there are things we’ve been talking about working on in the Bay area, and exploring what kind of activism we can get into, what kind of trouble we can make, and I’m excited about it. I find that, as I get older, and all my comrades and friends from back in the day are getting older, that we’re not just getting older, but we’re getting wiser, which I think took me by surprise. We each have developed, over the past 15 years, some really interesting skill-sets that, I guess I didn’t think that far in advance when I was 19, just seeing these really neat skill-sets we all have and we can really start pulling together these really creative and interesting and thinking people, and really pull off something kind of epic. I’m looking forward to what we all do next. I feel like we’re all going to come up with something really great.
JH: I’ve been working on creating a digital archive of rare animal- and earth-liberation publications. I began to think about the way that information was shared prior to the internet was often on this very fragile media. There were zines and newspapers, and so on. These things have a value that I think a lot of folks aren’t yet aware of, because they are the story of our movement, as told by the participants, while they were occurring, but due to activist turnover, people just leaving, dropping out, getting rid of their old zines, and then, in our case, FBI raids, where they were taking our old publications, and things like that, and also just the passage of time, mildew, basements flooding, our history was being lost. When I first began this archive project, there were publications that were widely available in the late 90s that we couldn’t get already, and that scared me. Anyway, we’ve been going for a couple years now. We’ve got 346 publications currently online and hundreds more on the way. We’ve just begun a massive project to digitize the complete Earth First! Journal, which has been running since 1980, 1981, so that’s going to be a huge thing. But we’re serious about making sure that the stories of the previous generation aren’t lost and that the younger generations don’t have to reinvent the wheel over and over again, when it comes to tactics and strategies.