Joaquin Phoenix stars in the hit movie "Joker," an origin story of the eponymous deranged killer from the Batman universe. But the group whose logo he wore at showings of the movie is no joke. It belongs to an organization known for its real-life arson and bombing attacks, a faction the FBI considers a domestic terrorism group. "Support the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)," says Phoenix's hoodie. ALF and related groups in its loosely-organized movement are blamed for almost 200 attacks causing hundreds-of-millions of dollars in damages.
[See the full photo and story of one of Phoenix's October appearances here.] The FBI lists animal rights/environmental extremism as one of its top four categories of domestic terrorism, according to a 2019 statement. The groups were most active during the 1990s and early 2000s before a new law was passed focused on their activities and the FBI cracked down in "Operational Backfire". An alleged leader of the group, Joseph Dibee, was captured in 2018 after years on the run. “'Every act of violence comes with a choice—a choice to do harm,' said FBI Special Agent in Charge (Renn) Cannon. 'A choice to do what may be irreparable damage to a family, a business, or a researcher’s life work. A choice to risk the lives of the firefighters who will respond to an incident. Most of the defendants in the FBI's long-running Operation BACKFIRE investigation have answered for those decisions they made with significant prison sentences and millions of dollars in fines. Mr. Dibee, who traveled the world to avoid capture, will now, finally, have to answer to the allegations of violence he faces,'” the US Department of Justice said in a statement. Dibee awaits trial. His alleged accomplice Josephine Sunshine Overaker remains free with a $50,000 FBI reward for information leading to her arrest.
The arson victims, not the ALF extremists, are the real terrorists, supporters of the group assert. "Those who terrorize animals by imprisoning them, torturing them in laboratories, displaying them as objects in zoos and circuses, force them to fight each other, and murder them for their flesh and skins are the ones inducing terror, not compassionate activists who seek only to stop the suffering of animals," states a Web site heralding ALF and claiming to provide users with a way to reach the group. Friendly media reports note ALF attacks have never killed anyone. They criticize the government's focus on animal/eco attacks as a "Green Scare" that diverts resources from more serious domestic terrorism and limits the free speech rights of activists. ALF's victims, their property and businesses burned down, no doubt feel little sympathy for the group or a Hollywood star who uses his celebrity to publicize it.