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Big Coal's Call to Arms? Should Feds Stop West Virginia Rally from Triggering the Next Arizona?

by Jeff Biggers

What happened to the new era of civility?

Less than two weeks since the Tucson shooting tragedy, coalfield residents in central Appalachia and around the country are stunned and increasingly concerned about a "call to arms" issued by coal industry representatives for tomorrow's planned rally at the state capitol in Charleston, West Virginia.

An emergency situation of thinly veiled threats and increasingly strident rhetoric in West Virginia now has besieged coalfield residents wondering if the Department of Justice should intervene before their state becomes the next headline tragedy.

At the very least, coalfield residents are asking whether the permit for the "call to arms" rally should be revoked for inciting violence.

More so, it is still unclear who is footing the bill for the rally's "call to arms."

Despite pleas to "cool off the rhetoric in the coalfield rhetoric", coal industry front group "Friends of Coal" is hailing a rally planned by Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin for Thursday, January 20th at the state capitol in Charleston, West Virginia as a "call to arms."

Threats from the coal industry are nothing new---I've written many times about Big Coal Gone Wild episodes of violence, threats, intimidation and the seeds of hate crimes.

In his campaign last fall, US Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) made national news for firing a rifle while invoking President Obama's name and commitment to cap and trade policies. While shooting the gun, Manchin said he would take "dead aim."

Manchin, among other West Virginia politicians, has followed the coal industry's slogan to take on the Obama administration's "war on coal."

A little over a year ago, the great US Senator Robert C. Byrd called on the coal industry and its allies in government to end the fear-mongering. Byrd wrote: "Let's speak the truth. The most important factor in maintaining coal-related jobs is demand for coal. Scapegoating and stoking fear among workers over the permitting process is counter-productive."

At the memorial service for the Tucson shooting victims, President Obama called on the nation to end such violent rhetoric and use words that heal and not wound:

At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized--at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do--it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."

Besieged coalfields residents live daily with the violence of mountaintop removal mining.

As three million pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosives continue to be detonated daily for mountaintop removal mining operations, raining fly rock and silica dust and taking the peace and prosperity from affected residents in historic coalfield towns and mountains of West Virginia--and in Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia and stripmining communities around the nation--President Obama's pleas for restraint could never be more timely.

Let's hope they are heard in West Virginia before it is too late.

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