Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty
Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) was a decentralized, militant animal liberation campaign in the US and UK from 1999 to 2014 that repeatedly brought Europe's largest animal testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) to the brink of bankruptcy. In addition to directly targeting HLS, SHAC campaigners focused on "secondary and tertiary targets"--the company's investors, suppliers and business partners--in an attempt to isolate HLS from funds, supplies and clients. Tactics included demonstrations outside investors' homes, destroying investors' possessions, and rescuing animals. By 2009, about 250 companies, including Citibank, HSBC, Marsh, and Bank of America, had dropped their business with HLS. By the campaign's end in 2014, HLS was $100 million in debt.
SHAC began campaigning against HLS in 1999, responding to footage that aired on British television of HLS staff shaking and punching beagles. The US chapter of SHAC formed in 2001, and in October of that year SHAC USA gathered hundreds of people to Little Rock, Arkansas for a weekend of demonstrations outside the house and office of Warren Stephens, the head of HLS' largest funder Stephens, Inc. Within six months, Stephens divested from HLS, breaking off a five year contract after one year.
In February 2001, a HLS manager was attacked at his home with axe handles and hospitalized. In July, Pirates for Animal Liberation sank a Bank of New York executive's boat, and the bank thereafter ended its ties to HLS. In 2002, smoke bombs exploded at Marsh Corporation's offices in Seattle, and Marsh ended its ties with HLS as well. Animal Liberation Front firebombed a Canaccord executive's car, leading the company to drop one of its clients that did business with HLS. In Green is the New Red, journalist Will Potter describes some of the campaign's additional tactics:
While aboveground activists took to the streets, the phones and executives' homes, there were underground, anonymous activists playing their own role. They set off stink bombs and smoke bombs, they smashed windows, hacked computers, super-glued ATMs, stole credit cards, made threatening phone calls, and paint-stripped cars. They snuck into a job fair at Rutgers and stole the files of Huntingdon applicants--and then told them their prospective employer kills puppies. One executive awoke to find a boulder on his car. A Huntingdon director received a subscription to a magazine called Revolver; it was in her son's name.
The nonprofit known as SHAC USA managed a website that published the names and addresses of potential targets and published news on both the campaign's aboveground and underground actions. On 26 May 2004, six SHAC organizers and the SHAC USA corporation were indicted with federal charges, including violation of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, a law passed in 1992 which forbade "physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise". Even though the defendants were not accused of personally engaging in acts of disruption, prosecutors said their website and speeches incited illegal acts. On 2 March 2006, the jury found all defendants guilty, and the six defendants were sentenced to prison for terms from one to six years.
Twice during the campaign, the British government bailed out HLS when it was on the verge of bankruptcy, first when Stephens, Inc. divested in 2002 and then when Marsh Inc. broke off ties. According to Crimethinc Ex-Workers' Collective, "[I]t was only the British government intervening again that enabled HLS to negotiate a refinancing and continue. Essentially, SHAC did win, only to have its victory stolen away."
Animal Liberation Front founder Ronnie Lee estimates that even though the campaign failed to shut down HLS, it scared the the entire animal research industry into significantly curtailing some abuses of animals.
Crimethinc describes the "SHAC model" as having four key elements:
• Secondary and tertiary targeting: The SHAC campaign set about depriving HLS of its support structure. Just as a living organism depends on an entire ecosystem for the resources and relationships it needs to survive, a corporation cannot function without investors and business partners. In this regard, more so than any standard boycott, property destruction, or publicity campaign, SHAC confronted HLS on the terms most threatening to a corporation. Starbucks could easily afford a thousand times the cost of the windows smashed by the black bloc during the Seattle WTO protests, but if no one would replace those windows—or the windows had been broken at the houses of investors, so no one would invest in the corporation—it would be another story. SHAC organizers made a point of learning the inner workings of the capitalist economy, so they could strike most strategically.
Secondary and tertiary targeting works because the targets do not have a vested interest in continuing their involvement with the primary target. There are other places they can take their business, and they have no reason not to do so. This is a vital aspect of the SHAC model. If a business is cornered, they’ll fight to the death, and nothing will matter in the conflict except the pure force each party is able to bring to bear on the other; this is not generally to the advantage of activists, as corporations can bring in the police and government. This is why, apart from the axe handle incident, so few efforts in the SHAC campaign have been directed at HLS itself. Somewhere between the primary target and the associated corporations that provide its support structure, there appears to be a fulcrum where action is most effective. It might seem strange to go after tertiary targets that have no connection to the primary target themselves, but countless HLS customers have dropped relations after a client of theirs was embarrassed.
• Complementary relationship between public and underground organizing: More than any other direct action campaign in recent history, the SHAC campaign achieved a perfect symbiosis of public organizing and underground action. To this end, the campaign was characterized by an extremely savvy use of technology and modern networking. The SHAC websites disseminated information about targets and provided a forum for action reports to raise morale and expectations, enabling anyone sympathetic to the goals of the campaign to play a part without drawing attention to themselves.
• Diversity of tactics: Rather than pitting exponents of different tactics against each other, SHAC integrated all possible tactics into one campaign, in which each approach complemented the others. This meant that participants could choose from a practically limitless array of options, which opened the campaign to a wide range of people and averted needless conflicts.
• Concrete targets, concrete motivations: The fact that there were specific animals suffering, whose lives could be saved by specific direct action, made the issues concrete and lent the campaign a sense of urgency that translated into a willingness on the part of participants to push themselves out of their comfort zones. Likewise, at every juncture in the SHAC campaign, there were intermediate goals that could easily be accomplished, so the monumental task of undermining an entire corporation never felt overwhelming.
This contrasts sharply with the way momentum in certain green anarchist circles died off after the turn of the century, when the goals and targets became too expansive and abstract. It had been easy for individuals to motivate themselves to defend specific trees and natural areas, but once the point for some participants was to “destroy civilization” and everything less was mere reformism, it was impossible to work out what constituted meaningful action.
- Crimethinc Ex-workers' Collective, "The SHAC Model: A Critical Assessment," Rolling Thunder, 2009, http://www.crimethinc.com/texts/rollingthunder/shac.php.
- SHAC, "SHAC Ends: We Made History...The Future is Ours," Earth First! Newswire, http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2014/08/12/shac-ends-we-made-history-the-future-is-ours/.
- Crimethinc, "The Shac Model."
- Crimethinc, "The SHAC Model."
- Will Potter, Green is the New Red (San Francisco: City Light Books, 2011).
- Potter, Green is the New Red.
- Crimethinc, "The SHAC Model."
- "Ronnie Lee, Animals' Freedom Fighter," Which Side Podcast Podcast audio, 26 June 2017, http://whichsidepodcast.com/ronnie-lee/.
- Crimethinc, "The SHAC Model."