Maximum Instruction, Not Minimum Adage–Operation Bite Back by Dean Kuipers

The following is a book review of Operation Bite Back by Dean Kuipers about longtime ALF activist Rod Coronado.  The book came out about three years ago, but I still think it’s worth reading about; Rod to me is one of the most courageous, instructive, and effective activists this Earth has had in the last 50 years.

(For those who are not as obsessed with puns as I, but still interested, this one must be explained because it references something rather obscure;  one of Rod Coronado’s adages was “Maximum destruction, not minimum damage.”  So that’s right, I punned that in a way that actually fits.  BA-ZING!)

Article originally published in the Earth First! Journal

Operation Bite Back by Dean Kuipers is a biography of longtime Sea Shepherd, ALF and Earth First! activist Rod Coronado.  More specifically, it is a detailed description of his campaign to cripple the United States fur industry, and the radical environmental and animal rights culture out of which it arose.  Many of us know the generalities of what occurred during that time period.  But OBB gives us a whole new dimension of detail and flavor.  This alone makes it worth reading.

In it, we get to experience a level of complexity of emotion, as well as context, that is largely unavailable anywhere else.  I have read Memories of Freedom, the zine written if not exclusively by Rod, then with the assistance of other ALF comrades, and his own zine written during his four-year prison sentence, Strong Hearts, a number of times.  So I was already quite familiar with many of the events as described by the actual participant(s).  Even so, these descriptions had to necessarily leave out a lot.  So instead of the near-fearless bravado of communiques and zines, we see the full anxiety and trepidation experienced by those activists.  We find out about how the passion and fury and intimate knowledge that drove Rod to commit these audacious acts also drove him to bouts of recklessness, bouts that could have and sometimes did contribute to his eventual capture by the state.

That’s right.  Even the great Rod Coronado, one of the most successful and revered direct action activists of the 20th century, committed serious breaches of security culture.  OBB, then, is required reading for anyone interested in using direct action, or in being an ally to those who do.  We can all learn a lot from it.

Rod in his native southwest desert.

That is not to say Kuipers’ work is not without some serious problems.  Journalistic objectivity certainly has its place, but sometimes it’s okay to have a little bias—speaking as a person heavily biased toward life and the continuation of it here on this beautiful little blue gem.  In fact, if anything, the author is at times biased against Rod and his partners-in-righteous-crime.  He falls over himself a number of times to defend the hideous animal experiments performed by some of Rod’s targets.  In true “objective” fashion for a mainstream media journalist (Kuipers, after all, is an editor at the Los Angeles Times), he implies both that the experiments performed actually have application for humans, and that they are intended to and will in actuality help animals.  For anyone with half a brain and/or a third of a conscience, this is a nauseating and ludicrous premise.

He makes a number of factual and logical mistakes that only an outsider—and a negligent outsider, at that—could make.  These are so numerous and weighty that it almost seems as if they are done to intentionlly discredit a section of the radical environmental and animal movements.  For example, he mentions a car bombing done allegedly by the Animal Rights Militia in Britain during the 1980s.  He comes out strong against it, saying it is reprehensible violence and “murderous” (44).  What he fails to mention until several chapters later is that this car bombing has been widely discredited, and is now believed to have been the work of provocateurs.  Convenient ommission.  Similarly, he totes the mass media and vivisection industry’s rhetoric in calling the 2008 firebombing of a UC Santa Cruz vivisector’s front porch “attempted murder.”  Something tells me if those responsible were attempting to murder the vivisector, they would’ve done a lot more than leave a molotov cocktail on a fire-sprinkler-equipped porch.  He brings up the incident in 1987 where, at a Cloverdale, CA sawmill, a tree spike snaps a saw blade and severely injures the mill worker.  He does not mention that this tree-spiking was almost undoubtedly not done by an environmentalist, and therefore proper precautions were not taken.  Another convenient ommission used to discredit eco-radicals.  He calls Murray Bookchin a “green anarchist,” a laughable and foolish claim to anyone in the know.  Additionally, he revels in the fact that he’s witnessed Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society chowing down on steak a number of times.  Yet these days the lovably rotund Watson travels around the world heavily (no pun intended, ha!) promoting veganism for environmental reasons, and all current signs strongly suggest Watson now maintains a vegan diet.  Clearly Kuipers’ is speaking from very outdated experience here.

Despite these serious problems, Operation Bite Back is overall a very well-researched project.  It contains a bevy of information that is both interesting and very useful to all in the radical environmental or animal liberation community.  Read it with a dash of proverbial salt, but read it nonetheless.

Demonstrating the best way to consume one of his longtime favorite beverages.

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