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Jake Conroy

SHAC USA Volume 2, issues 2 and 4 (2002, Philadelphia, PA)

It is hard to describe the feeling of constant elation that I had working on the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences. After years of grassroots organizing it seemed that the movement was finally moving forward with speed and determination. News constantly poured in from all corners of the globe that a new target had been chosen- and eliminated. Everyone participating was energized, hopeful, and on the attack.

One of the reasons that so many people were inspired to take action against HLS was the SHAC USA newsletter. Each issue featured the groundbreaking graphic design work of Jake Conroy. His layouts and other artistry made each copy a pleasure to behold, and also left other organizations scrambling to improve the designs of their own publications. If you doubt that a periodical could prompt someone to pickup a sign, bullhorn, or brick, than you feel very different than the US Government. They were so threatened by Conroy’s print and web work that he was indicted in the SHAC 7 case, and received one of the longest sentences of all of the defendants.

These two issues of the newsletter date from 2002, which was an exciting time in the campaign. After Stephens Inc. had capitulated, thousands of people suddenly had faith that they could, in fact, change the world. We all knew that we were a part of something special, and I think that comes across in the text and imagery of of these two movement gems. Sure, we were cocky, our rhetoric sometimes went too far, and we weren’t always as organized or prepared as we claimed- but we walked our talk to the best of our ability and our efforts took the movement far.

SHAC USA newsletters, Various Issues (2001-2006, Philadelphia, PA)
Diaries From Hell (2001, Princeton Junction, New Jersey)
The Mandate & Strike Back – Shac Videos (2002, Philadelphia, PA)

Today marks the end of a very long journey for me. After more than two years on pre-trial release, eight months on house arrest, three years in prison, and three years on probation, my life is now my own again. As of this morning I no longer need to fill out monthly reports, open my home to law enforcement at any time without probable cause, give the government constant access to my e-mail and social media accounts, or stay confined within the western district of Washington. Best of all, I can return to the kind of organizing that I love and live the life of conscience that I committed myself to so many years ago.

The people who took away my freedom did not do so because I was breaking the law. In fact, they knew that I was not doing so. FBI documents show that I was under almost constant surveillance for years of my life. One field office after another followed me in an attempt to prove that I was “the nexus of illegal [animal and earth liberation related] crime in the Northwest.” They hired informants to befriend me, went through my garbage, paid off my mail carrier to write down the return addresses of my incoming mail, attempted to entrap me, raided my home… the list could go on and on. In the end they had some tapes of lectures I gave advocating forms of hacktivism, and for that speech activity I had my life interrupted for the better part of a decade. An appeals court later said this about my conviction: “Harper’s personal conduct does not cross the line of illegality; to punish him simply on the basis of his political speeches would run afoul of the constitution.” They then went on to uphold my conviction.

If all of the years stolen from me were not about crimes I had committed, what was the government’s motivation? The answer to that question is complex, but I believe the primary concern for the ruling class was that I had begun to see through their illusions of status and power. I know how grandiose- even absurd- that may sound, but please bear with me for just a moment. I was born to working class parents so poor that my first crib was made from a dresser drawer. My mother worked in convenience stores, cleaned homes, and toiled away her health in a frozen foods warehouse. My father was a Vietnam veteran who had survived a fire in the tank he was driving. The horror that he experienced in our government’s imperialist venture in south-east Asia colored every moment of our home life. He returned from his time in the army addicted to drugs, disabled, and in constant pain from shrapnel that was still lodged in his skull. He worked off and on as a mechanic and small time drug dealer. This is the situation that I was raised in, but I am not complaining. My parents loved me and my sister, and despite their mistakes they did their best to help me become a good person. My dad once saw two cops harassing a homeless man outside of a 7-11. They kept asking him if he was “an illegal” and made several references to his race, repeatedly calling him “amigo.” Everyone sat in their cars and watched. Everyone except for my dad, who got out and challenged the police. That moment taught me more than any private school or university ever could have. And while my mom couldn’t always afford the clothing that I selfishly demanded when I was kid, she never bowed down to anyone higher on the social ladder. When some entitled rich kid gave her shit at work, she gave it right back and then some. My heart swells with pride when I think about the warning she got from her bosses at one job: she was required to provide service to police officers and had better begin doing so or else she would be fired. After years of seeing the cops in Eugene, OR beat and harass the underclass she wouldn’t sell them coffee and doughnuts, and continued in her disobedience even when her job was on the line.

I always knew that no matter what my economic status was, that my life was just as valuable as that of a billionaire or a president. I do not care about their titles or money or connections, but I began to care an awful lot about their abuses of power. The wealthy elite, who strip this planet of its life support system, who benefit from racism, sexism, and homophobia, who view our non-human kin as machines for profit, who turn the masses against each other, are made of flesh and blood just like you and I. They want us to believe in corporate personhood because it distracts from the man behind the curtain, the vulnerable decision makers who use towers of steel and concrete to appear more powerful.

This was the threat of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty; we saw through all of the social conditioning that tells us that we are too weak to effect change. We went straight to the homes of those in power, challenged them on their golf courses, screamed at them while they vacationed at summer homes. We were the barbarians at the gate, an alliance of the kind of people who did not usually get heard by the mega-rich of the world. Tooth and nail we went after their profits, and along the way refused to divide and fracture over broken windows or graffiti. Everyone was welcome if they would fight, and I smile so big it hurts when I think of the grandmothers, the punks, the students, and all the other unlikely comrades who marched together in defiance of the false hierarchy that tells us to keep separate and leave the rich to their own devices. We didn’t stay in our place. In fact, we recognized that our place was wherever the hell we chose, and the world of finance and animal abuse was rocked as a result.

This isn’t to say that we were perfect. We made so many mistakes, and we must be accountable for them. As Conflict Gypsy completes its archives of Huntingdon Life Sciences campaign materials we will be critical of the movement’s failures. But today, as I leave Washington to see my family and friends and celebrate my new freedoms, I hope that the spirit of the campaign will infect you. All of us have a revolutionary spark in our hearts, and together these individual sparks provide a beautiful warmth that melts away the cold sterility created by our rulers. Together we can turn the tide of ecocide, of prejudice, of economic and political exploitation. Never, ever believe otherwise.

For animal liberation, for global revolution, and for joy! Yours always,
Josh Harper
July 2nd, 2012

Breaking Free #2 (1999, Eugene, OR.)

The second and final episode of Breaking Free has some glaring faults: jokes that are not funny, computer animation that is antiquated and was already embarrassing upon it’s release, and no shortage of bad titling choices. It also contains footage of some of the most important and influential campaigns of the era it was produced, especially the Consort Kennels and Hillgrove protests which eventually led to the international fight against Huntingdon Life Sciences. Many long forgotten ALF raids are also shown, along with the final major civil disobedience actions at the end of the voluntary arrest era of the 1990s.

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