As the impacts of climate change worsen globally environmental activists have found themselves increasingly targeted by repressive measures. A great deal of recent environmental activism in the U.S. focuses on resisting oil pipelines: activists have on pipelines, maintained , and suspended themselves in in order to protest existing pipelines and block new pipeline construction. For their efforts, many have been labeled “terrorists” by lawmakers, law enforcement, and private corporations.
In 2016, in response to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe launched the campaign to stop the construction of a pipeline that violate Indigenous land sovereignty and potentially contaminate the tribe’s drinking water. Now complete, the DAPL spans across the Dakotas, Iowa, and Illinois, potentially to the Standing Rock Sioux’s drinking water. of Indigenous people and allies gathered at protest camps in North Dakota to block DAPL construction, where they were met with and surveillance—much of it on Indigenous activists—at the hands of law enforcement and the private security firm TigerSwan, which DAPL owner Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) hired . An FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force also monitored #NoDAPL participants, as first reported by the .
David Naguib Pellow, director of the at the University of California, Santa Barbara, explained in an email how the “eco-terrorist” label targets “ordinary citizens who seek to make peaceful nonviolent social change and to instill fear and paralysis in them so that powerful economic and political interests are protected.”
Additional anti-pipeline activists have also been singled out and branded as terrorists since #NoDAPL. In 2018, the ACLU obtained via FOIA request documents pertaining to pipeline protest repression in Montana in 2018. The documents revealed that the state’s U.S. Attorney’s Office hosted an “” in Montana that year, raising fears that Indigenous-led protests against the Keystone XL in Montana in the same ways that #NoDAPL was. A from this year reveals that Oregon and federal authorities may be monitoring protests against the proposed , which includes a 232-mile natural gas pipeline and pipeline terminal in Coos County via a “domestic terrorism working group.”
In the Virginias, activists organizing against the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) have attempted to halt construction for around four years, using tactics including tree-sits. But in 2018, participating tree-sitters found themselves , an anti-terrorism unit that has coordinated with local sheriffs and EQM Midstream Partners, a . In 2019, three MVP protesters using civil disobedience tactics have been .
Since late 2017, conservative state lawmakers around the country have taken up created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that ostensibly protects “critical infrastructure”—in this case, pipelines—from direct action and civil disobedience. According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law’s six states have passed new “critical infrastructure” legislation in the last three years.
But the trend towards singling out environmental protesters is not a new phenomenon. There is a history of repression against both eco-activists and animal rights activists, culminating in a period in the late 1990s and mid-’00s known as the Green Scare, when lawmakers to crack down on animal rights and environmental activists, and repeatedly invoked rhetoric about “terrorism” to describe environmentalists. Tactics from this era are apparent today as well.
“This particular moment is one where we’re seeing both continued repression and the amplification of repression through the use of surveillance technologies and infrastructures (such as the rise of fusion centers) that builds on state-based neutralization practices rampant during the Green Scare,” Pellow told me. “But we’re also seeing the tried and true, age-old methods of surveillance.”
Conservative legislators contend that eco-terrorism has existed for decades since some members of Greenpeace left that group in 1977 to organize on more radical terms. People affiliated with Earth First! were among the first to experience the crackdown on eco-terrorism. The FBI infiltrated and surveilled Earth First! in the 1980s using tactics such as spying and leading smear campaigns that some critics “classic COINTELPRO” (referring to the secretive and often illegal that was officially active between ).vandalism
CT, Jim Inhofe, called