Ft. Worth Weekly: Playing Nice? Alleged Tip Sends The FBI Out To Question Denton Drilling Activists

Playing Nice?
An alleged tip sends the FBI out to question Denton drilling activists.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012 09:45 Photos and story by ANDREW MCLEMORE

North Texas environmental activists frequently feel as though local
officials ignore their protests against gas drilling, but it turns out
it’s easy enough to get the federal government’s attention — if the FBI
thinks you might be planning eco-terrorism.

That’s what happened to University of North Texas student Ben Kessler, a
Marine veteran and dedicated activist on fracking, who spent several
months last fall dodging FBI phone calls that he felt were attempts to
intimidate him and pump him for information about legitimate, peaceful
environmental groups. Kessler is an organizer with Rising Tide, an
international network of environmental groups that sometimes employ civil
disobedience as a protest tactic.

Kessler: “I thought they were going to invade my house.”
In early February, an FBI agent and Dallas police officer came to campus
to question one of Kessler’s professors as well. David Rogers, the FBI
agent who called Kessler repeatedly, told him the agency was following up
on an anonymous tip about environmental activism in the area.

“The first conversation we had, he was kind of lecturing me about
ecoterrorism,” Kessler said. “All of the following conversations were him
basically trying to convince me that I didn’t need a lawyer and should try
to come in as soon as possible.”

For Rising Tide leaders, the monitoring by federal law enforcement sends a
clear message: Back off. “We saw that as an act of intimidation,” said
Scott Parkins, a spokesman for Rising Tide North America.

Lydia Maese, the spokesperson for the FBI’s Dallas office, would not
confirm whether the agency was conducting an investigation. It’s FBI
policy to conduct at least a preliminary investigation of any tip, she
said, though she acknowledged that not every anonymous call results in an
agent spending months trying to contact a college student and his
associates.

“We do investigate any potential ecoterrorism violations that could
potentially cause harm to the public,” Maese said. “We do this hundreds of
times. We are obligated to resolve the matter.”

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