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Report on Direct Action Groups

‘Report on Direct action groups’ is not a activists guide, such a guide might be considered as ‘incitement’ in some countries. This report covers progressive direct action groups, their campaigns and some of the many tactics that have been or could be, used by these groups. The information here is given in the spirit of free speech and is not intended to incite individuals or groups to commit any acts of physical violence against any living being.

Direct Action is not new, however it is a developing area and as such new groups, campaigns and tactics are evolving all the time. The report is created by no specific person and takes contributions from anyone who has something of worth to add.



1.0 – Demonstrations & Protests

1.1 – Blockades and Occupations

  • How not to be moved
  • Action in the water coming soon..!

1.2 – Contamination and ‘Vandalism’

  • Tree Spiking
  • Pelt Painting
  • Product Contamination

1.3 – Windows and glass

  • Blow Torch
  • Masking tape etc.
  • Catapults
  • Glass etching fluids
  • Stickers and posters
  • Spring loaded center punches

1.4 – Privacy and Keeping Secrets

  • Tapped phones and spoken codes
  • Intercepted mail and written cyphers
  • Computer encryption
  • Public key cryptology
  • Pretty Good Privacy



Direct Action Campaigns, Organizations, Grass-roots groups

  • Sea Shepherd
  • Green Peace
  • Earth First
  • No M11 link road
  • Animal Liberation
  • Campaigns against Live Export
  • Hunt Sabs
  • Campaigns against Criminal Injustice Act


1.1 – Blockades and Occupations

How not to be moved.

Why would you want to prevent yourself from being moved? Not moving is a major tactic for direct action. Not moving can is a method used successfully to prevent things from happening; missiles entering a base by road, live animals being loaded onto ships for export, trees being cut down, buildings being demolished, etc.

It is practically impossible to prevent yourself from being moved, however some methods have been used with varying success as a means to delay the inevitable. Delays can cost the opposition considerable sums of money and can result in victory.

Sit downs / sit in’s

Sitting down is often used as a method to prevent a demonstration being moved on. It can work but it seems increasingly ineffective in most cases. It is naive to think that being in a sitting position will make it significantly difficult for you to be forcibly moved. However, it does require a lot of people to move a large crowd of people sitting down. It also takes a long time. During the time it takes to move people out of the area, people who have already been moved off have the opportunity to move back in and sit down again, unless there are great numbers of police or security etc. to prevent this from happening. Sitting down can work, but if the opposition really want you moved they will do so, it just takes time and a lot of people.

Linking arms

Linking arms with other direct action protesters (or objects) can also make removing protesters more difficult. Doing this means that greater effort is required to move each protester, it may also requires more people and will certainly mean it takes a longer time to clear the protesters. However it also invites more violence and a greater chance of injury to the protesters. This can be used to advantage when there are a lot of reporters and cameras around, violence to non-violent protests makes good publicity.

Chains and handcuffs

People don’t like pain. This is used by the opposition when trying to detached protesters from things they are clinging too (whether other protesters or objects like railings). Bending back thumbs and fingers etc. will usually result in the grip being loosed or given up voluntarily to stop the pain.

To prevent this from occurring, protesters sometimes chain or handcuff themselves to things. This method is not particularly effective since it is usually only done by small numbers of protesters. When the unchained protesters have finally been removed, the opposition is free to use bolt cutters or a hacksaw to remove the chained protesters. It is perhaps the cost of the hardware that prevents the technique from being used in large numbers. Even if a large crowd of protesters did all handcuff themselves to each other and around lamp posts etc. eventually all the cuffs would be cut off. A very expensive delaying tactics from the point of view of the protesters.

Hi-bred systems

Used to great effect by groups such as the ‘No M11 link road campaign’, hi-bred systems are very successfully in delay the removal of protesters. The basic principle in most of these systems is to place protesters in a way that only they can choice to leave, efforts to force them to leave will be very dangerous either to the protester or better still, to the opposition and the protester.

One such method is to use the handcuffing tactic but to do it in such a way as to make it virtually impossible to get to the ‘handcuff’ in order to remove them. Take a plastic pipe of large enough diameter to place your entire arm inside. Drive a metal rod or pipe through the plastic pipe so that it passes though at right angles. Place this object into something large and cumbersome then cement it in so that at least one end on the pipe is free to place your arm down. Now take a careabena hook (as used in rock climbing, sailing etc.) and fix this to your wrist with strong but comfortable binds of rope. You can now place you arm down the pipe and hock onto the metal bar. Only you can unhook yourself, if anyone else wishes to move you, they most either move both you and the object at the same time, or they must take apart the object until then can unhook you, or carry you away attached to a smaller part of the object.

Another method used by the ‘No M11 link road campaign’ was an impressive scaffold tower built onto of the roof of a house which they were trying to protect from being demolished. The tower was so tall that the ‘cherry picker’ cranes that the opposition usually used to remove protesters who were occupying pile driver etc., could not reach the protesters on the tower. It proved to be to dangerous to send normal police officers up the tower to remove the protesters. In the end it was the cold weather and lack of food and water that made the final protester come down voluntarily after an incredible 5 day eviction attempt.

1.2 – Contamination and ‘Vandalism’

Many methods have been used in the past and no doubt others will be used in the future. When used as a form of direct action these methods are an effective means of economic sabotage. Some of the methods discussed here have also been used for immoral ends and personal gain.

Tree Spiking

Tree spiking involves hammering big nails into trees, in a ring around the stem where you would expect it to be cut. The tactic is pointless and very dangerous if used without warning the workers and the company that the trees have been spiked. If a saw hits one of those nails or spikes, the people in the imeadiate area may be injured by flying fragments.

In the one celebrated case, a mill worker was injured and he actually ended up sueing the loggin company for negligence. It has been said that a lumberjack in the US was killed when trying to cut a spiked tree. However, the incident is apparently an urban myth encouraged by the establishment.

The aim of tree spiking is not to harm the logger. It is to create the potential of damage to expensive saws and blades in the mill (some of which cost upwards of $10,000). Presenting a logging company with a potential loss of money may encourage them to leave the spiked section of forest alone.

Pelt Painting

Used as economic sabotage, this form of direct action attracted great media attention and public support during the early eighties. The culling of seal pubs was made economically less viable when activists from groups like Sea Shepherd, used indelible dies and paints of the fur of the baby seals. Although the coloring may have wrecked the baby seals camouflage, it also wrecked the economic value of the pelts.

Product Contamination

A tactic used occasionally by groups in the animal liberation movement, it is also used by greedy individuals in an attempt to make a quick buck from blackmail.

A product sold by the opposition is contaminated in some way, rendering it unsellable. With consumable products such as food or drink, the claimed contamination could be anything from mercury, rat poison etc. to razor blades or broken glass. Animal liberation activists prefer substances like salt which produce an unpleasant taste but produce no ill effects should someone actually consume it.

Often a claim is made that a product has been contaminated when really nothing has been done at all. These hoaxes are often as effective for economic sabotage as the real thing. Such hoaxes may be quite elaborate; with real contaminated products being sent to media to aid the illusion.

1.3 – Windows and glass

Plate glass windows found on shops etc. are not cheap. Destroying them is an effective method of economic sabotage. The same is true for vehicle windows which are also expensive to replace.

Windows are also possible means of entry into buildings and vehicles. Burglars and activists involved in Animal Liberation are quite adept at breaking windows in a numbers of ways, each with advantages and disadvantages.

Blow Torch

As used by burglars. A blow torch is used to heat a windows glass before a cold water is applied, for example, with a damp cloth. The cold water causes the hot glass to crack and it does so much more quietly than using a brick!

Masking tape and sticky paper

During the blitz in the second world war, people put masking tape on their windows. They did this to prevent the glass from shattering everywhere if a bomb blast should occur nearby. Today, masking tape, sticky paper etc. is used by direct action groups to prevent broken glass from making lots of noise when it falls and also to help prevent the mess of broken glass causing injury to themselves when they enter the building.


Catapults and hard, heavy objects such as marbles, ball bearings or stones are used as a means to break windows as a distance for the purpose of economic sabotage. A catapult can be purchased easily (or shop lifted) from fishing tackle shops.

Glass etching fluids

Used by activists in the animal liberation movement, glass etching fluid a quiet method of economic sabotage. Usually used on butchers windows or car windscreens belonging to companies or individuals involved with animal abuse.

Stickers, posters and graffiti

Stickers are available that use adhesive that is very difficult to remove from glass. Such stickers are used in some areas on windows of cars that park in no-parking areas.

Posters or graffiti can usually be removed from windows without much effort and fairly quickly. One method of slowing down the removal of the slogan or poster and also necessitating the need to replace the glass, is to glue a sheet of glass over the poster or slogan directly onto the windows glass. This is probably not a very popular action since it may be difficult to achieve and also time consuming.

Spring loaded center punches

A spring loaded center punch is a tool used to make a dent in metal before using a drill to make a hole. Unlike a normal center punch, it does not need to be hit with a hammer since it is spring loaded and requires very little effort. These tools are used by car stereo thieves and also adopted by ALF activists like Keith Mann. They break windows easily and quickly and can be bought from any decent hardware store.

1.4 – Privacy and Keeping Secrets

In this the age of; national computer databases, video surveillance cameras, DNA finger-printing, eroding civil rights and ever increasing police powers, the privacy of the individual is seriously at risk. However some of the very technology that helps to deprive people of privacy, may now help them to regain it.

When a citizen’s direct action protest questions authority or challenges the status quo, there is a possibility that the interests threatened will attempt to monitor their actions. This may be done in order to; ascertain the danger posed, identify the individuals involved, discover ways to reduce the effectiveness of the movement or, if possible, destroy it. It is the communications between the members of the movement that are perhaps the most useful to the opposition and it should come as no surprise that phone taping and intercepting mail are amongst the methods commonly used against citizen movements.

Thankfully there are methods that can be used to help minimize the problem, but most traditional methods are far from fool proof and hardly convenient, so inconvenient in fact that it is doubtful that they are used by many to any great degree.

Tapped phones and spoken codes

When making phone calls, some form of code could be implemented, substituting incriminating words with ‘innocent’ ones and also disguising sensitive information like times, dates and places. Producing an effective and flexible code is very difficult, rather like trying to invent a new language. All the people who are meant to understand the code must have been taught how to use it and the information about the workings of the code must be passed in private and must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands at any time since all messages; past, previous and future, would be compromised. Most codes are also cumbersome in use, restrictive and easy to crack unless the code is changed frequently.

Intercepted mail and written cyphers

Slightly harder to crack and less restrictive would be the use of written messages that have been manualy encrypted and then sent through the post. A safe method of passing the ‘key’ is still necessary and manual encryption can be very cumbersome to use. The drawbacks may make this method impractical to use routinely and so when used, it could appear highly suspicious. Even if the opposition could not imeadiately understand the message, they might have their interest raised sufficiently to step-up surveillance, while putting resourses into cracking the code.

Computer encryption

So what’s left? With a computer, military standard encryption algorithms may be used, that are virtually impossible to crack. They are flexible, fast and easy to use and since they are so easy to use they can be used routinely so there would be no additional suspicion raised, regardless of the importance of the actual message.

While encryption offers a solution to the problems of phone tapping or mail interception, conventional methods have their own problems. To de-cipher a message requires the recipient to have the same key as that used by the sender to encrypt it. If the sender and recipient get the opportunity to meet face to face then the key can be exchanged, however there are situations when no safe channel is available.

Public key cryptology

Public key cryptology provides the solution. Each person using the system has two related keys; one secret, one public. The public key can be distributed freely, it doesn’t mater if it falls into the hands of the opposition. Possessing the public key does not enable anyone to deduce the corresponding secret key. The secret key must be kept secure, however in case it should it fall into the wrong hands, the best systems add further protection by requiring a ‘pass-phrase’, known only by the owner, whenever the key is used.

Before sending a message, the sender encrypt its using the public key belonging to the intended recipient. The resulting encrypted file can then be sent by Electronic Mail (or by disk in the standard post). The encrypted message can not be read by anyone (even with the public key), only by the person with the matching secret key and its ‘pass-phrase’.

The system also provides message authentication. The sender’s own secret key can be used to encrypt a message, thereby ‘signing’ it. This creates a digital signature of a message, which anyone can check by using the sender’s public key to decrypt it. This proves that the sender was the true originator of the message, and that the message has not been subsequently altered by anyone else. Forgery is not feasible, and the sender cannot later disown his signature. Both privacy and authentication can be provided by first signing a message then encrypting it with the recipient’s public key. The recipient reverses these steps by first decrypting the message with their own secret key, then checking the enclosed signature with the senders public key.

The advanced algorithms used by Public Key Cryptology and conventional single-key cryptology may be practically uncrackable and potentially helps to solve the problems of phone tapping and mail interception. However no system can free us from the threat of infiltration or stupidity! Even if the intended recipient of an encrypted message is the only person who can read them, if that person is careless or, not as trustworthy as hoped, all the senders efforts will have been wasted.

Pretty Good Privacy

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), is a high security cryptographic software application based on “public key” cryptography (described elsewhere). PGP allows people to exchange files or messages with privacy, authentication, and convenience.

PGP is available for most major computers and operating systems, including ; IBM PC, Apple, Amiga, Atari and UNIX systems. It is `free-ware’ which means it costs nothing and is easy to obtain from any decent shareware library, computer bulletin board or anonymous FTP site.


Blow Torches
Glass etching fluids
Green Peace
Hunt Sabotage
Masking tape etc.
Pelt painting
Product Contamination
Road Protesters
Stickers and posters
Spring loaded center punches
Sit downs & sit in’s
Sea Shepherd
Seal culling
Tree spiking

Once again. This document is not a guide for activists! It is a document for academic interest and reference. It is hoped that a better understanding of the tactics used by direct action groups will come from reading this document.

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