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Peaceful Anti-Fracking Activists Pursued by FBI as 'Eco-Terrorists'

Continued FBI surveillance of environmental activism amidst expanding definitions of 'eco-terrorism'

- Common Dreams staff

In recent years, the broad definition of 'eco-terrorism' has come to include environmentalist activities ranging from arson to setting mink free at fur farms to protests in front of the homes of corporate executives. Environmental activists have seen increased imprisonment (including maximum security sentences) for non-violent crimes.

Now, as the FBI suggests that 'eco-terrorism' is in decline, the Washington Post reports that the FBI has increased heavy surveillance of environmentalists including anti-fracking protesters.

Will Potter, who's work exposes the growing expansion of governmental prosecution of environmental activists, comments, among others.(Photo: ALAMY)

Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post reports:

Ben Kessler, a student at the University of North Texas and an environmental activist, was more than a little surprised that an FBI agent questioned his philosophy professor and acquaintances about his whereabouts and his sign-waving activities aimed at influencing local gas drilling rules.

“It was scary,” said Kessler, who is a national organizer for the nonviolent environmental group Rising Tide North America. He said the agent approached him this past fall and said that the FBI had received an anonymous complaint and were looking into his opposition to hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” The bureau respected free speech, the agent told him, but was “worried about things being taken to an extreme level.”

Even as environmental and animal rights extremism in the United States is on the wane, officials at the federal, state and local level are continuing to target groups they have labeled a threat to national security, according to interviews with numerous activists, internal FBI documents and a survey of legislative initiatives across the country.

“It was scary,” said Kessler, who is a national organizer for the nonviolent environmental group Rising Tide North America. He said the agent approached him this past fall and said that the FBI had received an anonymous complaint and were looking into his opposition to hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.”

Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad (R) signed a law this month, backed by the farm lobby, that makes it a crime to pose as an employee or use other methods of misrepresentation to get access to operations in an attempt to expose animal cruelty. Utah passed a similar bill, nicknamed an “ag-gag” law, on Wednesday. Last month, Victor VanOrden, an activist in his mid-20s, received the maximum sentence of five years in prison under a separate Iowa law for attempting to free minks from one of the state’s fur farms. [...]

“There’s been very little change under the Obama administration,” said Will Potter, author of the book “Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Movement Under Siege.” After factoring in several state initiatives on top of federal enforcement, Potter said, “The political climate as a whole has gotten a lot worse.”

In the past few years FBI agents have suggested District police monitor animal rights protests outside the Vanguard Group’s offices downtown because of its investment in a controversial animal testing facility, and they have mined a Web site, the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, for hints on upcoming activities, according to FBI documents obtained by Ryan Shapiro, an animal rights activist, through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests and other contacts. [...]

The FBI agent, David Rogers, told Kessler he started looking into him after receiving an anonymous tip. Rogers, along with a Dallas police officer, also approached Kessler’s philosophy professor, Adam Briggle, last month. Briggle, who chairs a citizens advisory group aimed at imposing new restrictions on rules governing gas drilling in the Denton area, said the two men spoke to him for half an hour about subjects including his course syllabus and the line between civil disobedience and terrorism.

“I don’t know how law enforcement works, but it seemed like a total fishing expedition to me,” Briggle said, adding that when they discussed the controversy surrounding fracking, “they pointed to the Pacific Northwest and how there’s a culture up there of eco-terrorism, and they wanted to keep it from spreading down here. . . . To have the FBI come in here and interrogate me as an academic, it was pretty off-putting.” [...]

[Ryan Shapiro, an animal rights activist] questioned this surveillance. He and four others are suing the federal government on the grounds that the American Enterprise Terrorism Act has a chilling effect on free speech, since they are now intimidated from “documenting conditions on factory farms so [consumers] can make informed choices about if they want to continue to pay people to abuse animals on their behalf.”

 

 

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