Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Fifty-two-year-old Michael Foster, one of the "Valve Turners" pictured here on the day of the group's action, was among the climate action advocates classified as a threat to domestic safety in a Department of Homeland Security document. (Photo: Shutitdown.today)

US Government Lists Non-Violent 'Valve Turner' Climate Activists as Threat on Par With Murderous Neo-Nazis

"Apparently DHS hasn't gotten the memo that pipeline protesters are working non-violently to ensure that the children and grandchildren of DHS employees—and everyone else—have a habitable climate to live in."

Julia Conley

Climate action advocates on Monday condemned reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has placed non-violent environmental activists on a list of domestic terrorists alongside white supremacists and mass murderers.

Citing documents received by the non-profit group Property of the People, The Guardian reports how the Climate Direct Action members who shut off tar sands pipeline operations in an act of civil disobedience in October 2016, were called "suspected environmental rights extremists" by DHS.

In the document, the department detailed domestic terror threats and said "racial and environmentally themed ideologies" are the biggest threats facing Americans today.

The file and its equal treatment of climate campaigners and violent racists was called "highly misleading" by Brennan Center for Justice fellow Mike German, a former FBI agent.

"There is little evidence that environmentalists have engaged in the types of deadly violence that would meet the statutory definition of domestic terrorism, as codified by Congress," German told The Guardian.

Critics on social media denounced the federal government's apparent effort to "criminalize and suppress dissent."

In the largest action of its kind, campaigners Michael Foster, Ken Ward, Emily Johnston, Annette Klapstein, and Leonard Higgins shut down the delivery of about 15% of U.S. crude oil imports for several hours in October 2016 when they turned the valves on five pipelines across the country which carry the oil from Canadian tar sands.

"When governments suggest that environmental groups, violent or otherwise, are serious security threats on par with white supremacist violence, they're betraying their desire to pander as opposed to actually addressing real security threats (including, you know, climate change)."
—Anna Meier, political science researcher
The group, known as the Valve Turners, were prepared to be arrested for their action, and were charged with felony conspiracy. Charges for three of them have since been dropped; Foster, who turned a valve in North Dakota, spent six months in jail and is now serving probation. During his trial, prosecutors compared Foster to the Unabomber and the 9/11 attackers.

The Valve Turners defended their actions using the "necessity defense," arguing that they committed a crime for the sake of the greater good. Crude oil from Canada's tar sands has been called "some of the dirtiest oil in the world" by climate campaigners, causing air pollution and leaving toxic byproducts in the communities that surround the pipelines.

The activists are now being classified as criminals in the same category as James Fields, Jr., a white supremacist who was sentenced to life in prison last year for killing an anti-racism protester at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017; and Dylann Roof, who was convicted of killing nine African-American people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.

The U.S. government's decision to include the Valve Turners in the same list of threats as Fields and Roof suggests that DHS has a desire to "pander" to conservatives "as opposed to actually addressing real security threats (including, you know, climate change)," tweeted Anna Meier, a political science researcher at the University of Wisconsin.

"The making of national security is rarely about security for the population," Meier added. "It's about security for those in power, and that requires elites constructing security as objective and politically neutral, even when that means creating threats where there are none."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Stop Line 5': Valve Turner Forces Shutdown of Enbridge Oil Pipeline in Michigan

"We are here to protect the water, land, and air that support all life, including our own. Line 5 poses an immediate threat to our lives and these actions are taken out of necessity and in self-defense."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Delay Is the New Denial': Study Confirms 99.9% of Scientists Agree on Climate

"It's pretty much case closed for any meaningful public conversation about the reality of human-caused climate change."

Brett Wilkins ·


Exposed: How Pfizer Exploits Secretive Vaccine Contracts to Strong-Arm Governments

"Pfizer has used its monopoly on a lifesaving vaccine to extract concessions from desperate governments," said the report's author, urging action from the Biden administration.

Jessica Corbett ·


'A Toxic Presence in the Party': Ocasio-Cortez Joins Calls for Jay Jacobs to Resign

"India Walton is the Democratic nominee for mayor of Buffalo. No amount of racist misogyny from the old boys' club is going to change that."

Brett Wilkins ·


New Multimedia Report Details Unprecedented 'Permian Climate Bomb' in Texas

"If the Biden Administration wants to be serious about its promise to demonstrate U.S. climate leadership, it must first clean up its own backyard."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo