FBI investigators with nebulous intentions have attempted to question anti-tar sands activists in several states, the Canadian Press reported over the weekend.
While the dozen or so protesters who have been contacted hail from different organizations, they have one thing in common: mutual participation in so-called "megaload protests"—intermittent highway blockades set up the last few years to complicate the enormous, football-field-sized shipments of processing equipment up to Canadian tar sands mining operations.
"It’s actually pretty spooky to have the FBI show up at your door, ask one question and leave. I think they were there to put me on notice that I was being watched."
—Herb Goodwin, eco-activist
Larry Hildes, a lawyer working with the protesters, said the phone calls and visits have been happening the last few months in the northwestern states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
"They appear to be interested in actions around the tarsands and the Keystone XL pipeline," Hildes told the Canadian Press. "It’s always the same line: 'We’re not doing criminal investigations, you’re not accused of any crime. But we’re trying to learn more about the movement'."
Journalist Alexander Reid Ross first detailed the FBI probe last month for the Defending Dissent Foundation. He wrote:
On Oct. 9, Herb Goodwin was approached at his home in Bellingham by two FBI agents asking about a group called Deep Green Resistance (DGR). The FBI and Joint Terrorism Taskforce had previously contacted several members of DGR and their families both by phone and through home visits in places as dispersed as Georgia, New York and Seattle.
Goodwin was alarmed but not surprised when the lead agent "flashed a badge and claimed to be from the FBI." Refusing to tell him anything beyond her first name, "Brenda," she provided a sloppy excuse for not presenting a business card. The other person identified himself as "Al Jensen," and his card identified him as a member of the Criminal Intelligence Unit of the Bellingham Police Department.
"Jensen jocularly mentioned that we knew each other from the Occupy movement/camp and train blockade, attempting to coax up conversation," Goodwin said in an e-mail. "I did not take the bait."
"It’s actually pretty spooky to have the FBI show up at your door, ask one question and leave," Goodwin told the Spokesman-Review. "I think they were more interested in megaloads than in Deep Green Resistance. I think they were there to put me on notice that I was being watched."
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Another environmentalist, Helen Yost of the group Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) received an ominous text message on December 10, just days after returning from a road trip organizing for the third annual Stand Up! Fight Back! Against Fossil Fuels in the Northwest! protest.
"I work with the FBI," the message read. "Could you give me a call back—I would appreciate it."
According to Ross, "Yost believes that the agent’s calls were related to her role as an organizer with WIRT."
She told the Associated Press in January that she refused to talk to the agent. "We don’t see ourselves as posing any threat," she said. "We see the FBI contact as being unwarranted."
ClimateProgress points out:
The FBI investigations may be unsettling for activists, but compared to environmentalists in other countries, activists in the U.S. have little to fear. A report last year found that Brazil is the most deadly country for environmental activists, with 448 deaths in the country between 2002 and 2013. In Honduras, 109 environmental activists were killed during that time period, and in the Philippines, 67 were killed.
"Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation," the report states.
For its part, the Bureau claims it only investigates potential crimes, not political movements. "The FBI has the authority to conduct an investigation when it has reasonable grounds to believe that an individual has engaged in criminal activity or is planning to do so," said FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich. "This authority is based on the illegal activity, not on the individual’s political views."