Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Charging Environmental Protesters With Terrorism - The Potential Dangers of Glitter

A group of protesters from locked themselves to the entrance of Devon Towers in Oklahoma City.

Tulsa's Channel 9 report focused on the protesters.  The target, other than Devon Towers, is never mentioned.  The closest they come to explaining the reason for the protest was the term "anti-fracking protesters" and giving the names of the organizations sponsoring the protest:  "Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and Cross Timbers Earth First."

The reporter, Lisa Monahan, says,
"although they had nothing to say to authorities, the protestors had plenty to say about their agenda."
What did we hear about their agenda?
"I don't know if I was scared, but I was angry."
That's it.  That's the plenty they had to say about their agenda.  Was the agenda in the original piece cut by the station editors?  It sure makes Monahan look bad. 

Channel 9 concludes the report with a list of charges that included:

"Biological attack by throwing an agent or substance"

According to one of the protesters,  Eric Whelan,
"the black substance was simply glitter,  it was just to make good pictures and video and to make it pretty."

The Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance website gives us more explanation about the protesters' target and agenda: 
Devon Energy is a key player in the deadly tar sands industry. And though Devon Energy has been touted as practicing the safest and greenest form of tar sands extraction, the form of extraction that Devon practices, steam assisted gravity drainage, emits 2.5x the greenhouse emissions as open mining according to the Pembina Institute. Additionally, since 80% of tar sands reserves lie too deep within the earth to mine, this type of extraction will utilize 30x more land area than open mining.
“I’m opposed to the industry’s blatant disregard for human wellbeing in the pursuit of profit,” said Cory Mathis of Austin, TX—one of the activists locked down inside Devon. “These industries poison countless communities, often deceive and coerce folks into signing contracts, and when that doesn’t work, they use eminent domain to steal the land. Texas and Oklahoma have long been considered sacrifice zones for the oil and gas industry, and people have for the most part learned to roll over and accept the sicknesses and health issues that come with the temporary and unsustainable boost in employment.”
TransCanada Teaching Police and FBI how to use Terrorism laws to prosecute protesters puts this into a larger context of TransCanada training police and FBI on how to use anti-terrorism laws to prosecute environmental protestors.

When they got to jail, they found out they were being charged with a "terrorism hoax," a state felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.
Their attorney, Doug Parr, has been involved in dozens of protest cases like this one in Oklahoma and Texas. In other arrests, protesters have faced trumped-up charges, but this is a radical escalation. "I've been practicing law since the 1970s. Quite frankly, I've been expecting this," Parr said. "Based upon the historical work I've been involved in, I know that when popular movements that confront the power structure start gaining traction, the government ups the tactics they employ in order to disrupt and take down those movements."
TransCanada has been putting pressure on law enforcement to do exactly that. In documents obtained by Bold Nebraska, the company was shown briefing police and the FBI on how to prosecute anti-pipeline protesters as terrorists.
In Ohio, the Athens County Emergency Management Agency recently held a training drill that involved a fake anti-fracking group. The scenario was meant to prepare emergency first responders for a terrorist attack. Focusing the training on non-violent environmentalists caused such an uproar that the county had to issue a public apology.

Image from KWTV
Look at Sarah Totten as she was interviewed by KWTV channel 9 Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Image from KWTV

And here's Eric Whalen interviewed by KWTV.

Above are two of the protesters from tv news screenshots.  They looked terribly normal and non threatening.  But here is another set of pictures that Channel 9 says were the four who were arrested.  It takes these clean cut white kids (yeah, we're profiling here) and makes them look a lot edgier.  I'm not sure if this image was from the television station or from the police. In both cases, it's problematic. 

Image from KWTV
I'd note that before I wrote this post, I did a bit of googling to be sure I was getting the story reasonably correctly.  I do this when responding to stories I find online to be sure I'm not responsible for spreading hoax stories like the one the Anchorage Daily News reported about a SF school that was reported to having suspended a kid for wishing an atheist teacher a Merry Christmas.  That story quotes a psychologist on how we tend to believe what we want to believe:
"We tend to apply lower standards of evidence to information that confirms our predispositions," said Brendan Nyhan, assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. "What that means in practice is people seize onto these online nuggets that confirm what they believe.
"They're certainly unlikely to seek out information to see if it's true."
Yet research shows that even if confronted with a correction to false information, it won't change people's minds, he said.
"Even in the case where someone accepts that this story is false, it isn't clear that they'll accept an actual 'war on Christmas' is false," Nyhan said. "No one thinks they're misinformed."
 This doesn't just apply to conservatives who seemed to have been the major group that keep this atheist story spreading.  Liberals can be just as vulnerable.  So constantly check your crap detectors and make sure they are working.   

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