The Music Cultures of Radical Environmental and Animal-Rights Activism (REARA)
While most recent research on radicalism prioritizes focus on religious and right wingoriented radicalism, radicalism and violence are, of course, not the sole domain of far-right political, religious, or racial ideology.1 This article addresses the most active and musical element emerging from the radical left today within the United States, Radical Environmental and Animal-Rights Activism—a movement for which I have crafted the acronym, REARA.
The first section of this study introduces the movement and addresses the problematic issue of the “terrorism” label when referencing REARA direct action, a label increasingly applied to the movement’s criminality by governmental agencies. Among the many challenges involved in studying the radical left is the fact that groups, eco-animal rights ones included, are often comprised of individuals maintaining vastly divergent and sometimes contradictory ideological commitments. Research suggests that within REARA, the uniformity of ideological motivation comes second to direct action, which defines ideology insofar as ideological inconsistencies among members appear mitigated by a deeper commitment to simply act.
The second section outlines the historical and ideological backgrounds that now root ecoanimal rights militancy; it also tackles the use of playful terminology, like “monkeywrenching,” within movement rhetoric and publications that seemingly serves to lighten the severity and destructive impact of the movement’s violence. Additionally, an assessment of REARA’s organizational models is presented, one in which traditional above-ground organizations, like Earth First!, are distinguished from leaderless resistance movements, like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) or Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Such “non-groups” operate under the domain of tactical strategies or direct-action ideology rather than conventional hierarchical models, and disavow figureheads, meetings, or even awareness of other members.
The third and fourth sections of this article consider examples of music cultures within REARA. Earth First!, the first major eco-radical group in the U.S., evidences a vibrant history of musical creation in which acoustic-guitar protest songs largely formed the cultural life of their annual meetings (“Rendezvous”) and have proven central to the group’s longevity and activism. The study closes by delving into the punk, hardcore, and metal music of animalrights activism, Vegan Straight Edge (xVx). While mostly a musical subculture of personal edification, some bands and advocates of xVx have adopted militant positions on animal liberation and enacted violence to considerable degrees in furtherance of their social politics.