The Guardian: “Revealed: how the FBI targeted environmental activists in domestic terror investigations”

cross-posted from the Guardian

Guardian– Revealed: how the FBI targeted environmental activists in domestic terror investigations

Protesters were characterized as a threat to national security in what one calls an attempt to criminalize their actions

Helen Yost, a 62-year-old environmental educator, has been a committed activist for nearly a decade. She says she spends 60 to 80 hours a week as a community organizer for Wild Idaho Rising Tide. She’s been arrested twice for engaging in non-violent civil disobedience.

Yost may not fit the profile of a domestic terrorist, but in 2014 the FBI classified her as a potential threat to national security. According to hundreds of pages of FBI files obtained by the Guardian through a Freedom of Information Act (Foia) lawsuit, and interviews with activists, Yost and more than a dozen other people campaigning against fossil fuel extraction in North America have been identified in domestic terrorism-related investigations.

The investigations, which targeted individual activists and some environmental organizations, were opened in 2013-2014, at the height of opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline and the expansion of fossil fuel production in North America.

From an FBI communication on Helen Yost, dated 24 July 2014.

From an FBI communication on Helen Yost, dated 24 July 2014.

The new Foia documents reveal the bureau’s motivation for investigating a broad cross-section of the environmental movement and its characterization of non-violent protesters as a potential threat to national security.

In 2010, the DoJ’s inspector general criticized the FBI for using non-violent civil disobedience as grounds to open domestic terrorism investigations. US citizens swept up in such investigations can be placed on terrorism watchlists and subjected to surveillance and restrictions on international travel. The designation can also lead local law enforcement to take a more confrontational approach when engaging with non-violent activists.

The FBI’s 2013-2014 investigation of Keystone XL activists in Houston violated internal agency guidelines designed to prevent the bureau from infringing on constitutionally protected activities. The investigations opened in 2013-2014 were closed after the FBI concluded that the individuals and organizations had not engaged in criminal activity and did not a pose a threat to national security.

But those decisions have been reversed in recent years. Donald Trump has approved construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and his administration has also advocated for stiffer penalties against activists who engage in non-violent direct action targeting fossil fuel infrastructure. Meanwhile, in the wake of the Standing Rock protests, seven states have passed legislation making it a crime to trespass on property containing critical infrastructure.

In its July 2014 file on Yost, the FBI cited federal anti-terrorism legislation prohibiting “attacks and other violence against railroad carriers” as the primary justification for opening the investigation. Violation of the law can lead to up to 20 years in prison. Activists who engage in non-violent civil disobedience and are charged with minor offenses such as trespassing are typically released within 48 hours.

The FBI characterized Yost as being driven by a “desire to stop fossil fuels which, in her political view, are destroying parts of the US, specifically Montana, Idaho and Washington”. In addition, the FBI discussed the case with the US attorney’s office in Idaho, local law enforcement, and BNSF Railway, which operates the main rail line delivering coal and oil to export terminals in the Pacific north-west.

FBI communication on Helen Yost

From an FBI communication on Helen Yost, dated 24 July 2014.

According to the FBI file, the bureau opened the investigation based on information that Yost “was organizing and planning on conducting illegal activities against railroad companies from Montana into Idaho and Washington”.

Yost said Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) never organized direct action protests to disrupt oil train traffic passing in the region. The heavily redacted Yost investigation concludes that “no potential criminal violations or priority threats to national security warranting further investigation were identified”.

WIRT did participate in a series of community-led events and workshops in July and August 2014 opposing the transport of oil and coal by rail. “Investigators may have conflated several community events to assume such fictitious allegations,” Yost said in an email.

For several years, WIRT, founded in 2011, had been publicizing its actions on the organization’s Facebook page. Much of its activity had focused on stopping the passage of huge trucks known as megaloads, which transport processing equipment to tar sands oil fields in Canada and weigh hundreds of thousands of pounds, along one of Idaho’s scenic byways.

The campaign involved posting public records on the megaload routes, tracking their progress, and at times blockading their movement.

Yost was also active in protesting against the shipment of coal and oil by rail to export terminals in Seattle. In the summer of 2014, WIRT, along with several other environmental organizations and native groups across the Pacific north-west, sponsored a series of rallies and workshops in the region.

Those protests were peaceful – a handful of activists in Montana including the environmental writer Rick Bass were arrested for trespassing – and in the end the FBI concluded that Yost did not pose a threat to national security. Several months later the investigation was closed.

However, in the file closing the case, it appears that Yost has been watchlisted, which is standard for named subjects of FBI domestic terrorism investigations, according to Mike German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice. Being watchlisted can lead to heightened scrutiny from law enforcement and delays or additional screenings when traveling. Yost said she had not traveled overseas since the FBI investigation.

Yost, who was contacted by an FBI agent when the case was still active, said she was not surprised by the agency’s actions. Surveillance was a form of suppression, she said, and this was another attempt to criminalize the actions of “normal people” working to protect natural resources. But she remains undeterred.

“Assume they know the color of your underwear every morning and get up and resist anyway,” Yost said.

Herb Goodwin, a 70-year-old activist, has a similar philosophy. “We’re all under surveillance,” Goodwin said. “If they want to look at your stuff, they’re going to.”

In 2013-2014 Goodwin frequently participated in actions organized by Yost and WIRT. He was also part of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Bellingham, Washington, in 2011 and was one of 12 individuals arrested that year for blockading a BNSF coal train passing through the city. They became known as the Bellingham 12.

Goodwin was one of at least a dozen environmental activists, many of them affiliated with the group Deep Green Resistance, contacted by FBI agents in autumn 2014. In early October that year, not long after Goodwin returned from a megaload resistance campaign in Idaho, an FBI agent and a police intelligence officer showed up at his residence. According to Goodwin, they wanted to ask him questions about the environmental group Deep Green Resistance. Goodwin refused to cooperate and referred the agents to his lawyer, who himself became a subject of interest to the FBI.

Founded in 2011 Deep Green Resistance (DGR), based on the principles laid out in the book of the same name, describes itself as a radical organization that “uses direct action in the fight to save the planet”. Though the group supports underground movements, its members abide by a code of conduct that includes a commitment to nonviolence and operating entirely above-ground. According to the group’s website, “We do not want to be involved in or aware of any underground organizing.” In another FBI interview with a DGR member documented in the files, the activist even invited the agents to attend one of DGR’s presentations.

FBI files show that the bureau initiated the two-year investigation into DGR to determine if the group or any of its members were planning to engage in the destruction of energy facilities or attacks against railroad companies, referring to the same federal statute cited in the Yost investigation.

But the FBI also took an interest in constitutionally protected activities, including DGR members’ participation in public meetings and lectures and the group’s early organizing efforts.

Even though the FBI investigation found no evidence that DGR was planning to engage in violent activity, it often portrayed the group as an extremist organization. One individual contacted numerous times by the FBI was said to have been a “suspected member of the Deep Green Resistance’s extremist wing” and a participant in DGR’s “Midwest extremist planning process”. DGR did have a strategic planning conference in Wisconsin in spring 2012 which they said was attended by about 30 people, but it was publicly advertised and focused on building the organization, fundraising and leadership training.

From an FBI communication on Deep Green Resistance, dated 28 November 2014.

From an FBI communication on Deep Green Resistance, dated 28 November 2014.

The FBI also focused its attention on DGR organizing at Western Washington University, which hosted a lecture in 2011 by two of the group’s members, Max Wilbert and Dillon Thomson. Information about the lecture, titled Environmentalism for the New Century, and about the professor who hosted it was included in the FBI files. Wilbert, who attended WWU, is also a member of DGR’s board of directors.

As part of the investigation, the FBI met with the university’s police department to “discuss possible Deep Green Resistance presence on the WWU campus”. The FBI also said it would attempt to determine whether any of the professors in the environmental sciences department were involved in the “DGR movement”.

FBI communication on Deep Green Resistance

From an FBI communication on Deep Green Resistance, dated 21 November 2013.

The sweeping investigation into DGR’s activities was formally closed in 2014 but Wilbert assumes that the group is still being closely watched. Wilbert, who is also a writer and photographer, frequently posts short polemical essays on his Facebook page or the Deep Green Resistance website.

Wilbert said that on 7 September 2018, nearly four years after the investigation was closed, he got a call from an FBI agent in Seattle informing him that the bureau had received an anonymous tip regarding something he had written online. The agent also left a card at Wilbert’s parents’ home.

“I’m pretty outspoken about being a revolutionary, somebody who believes in the necessity for revolutionary change,” Wilbert said. “It’s not something I hide.”

An FBI file documenting the online tip describes Wilbert as “an environmental extremist” involved in “inciting violence in Seattle”.

German, the former FBI agent, whose recent book, Disrupt, Discredit, and Divide, chronicles the troubling post-9/11 expansion of the FBI’s domestic surveillance powers, said the agency had failed to heed the warnings laid out in a 2010 justice department IG investigation that criticized the FBI’s targeting of certain domestic advocacy groups. According to German, the Yost files and the two-year DGR investigation show how “ineffective these internal oversight mechanisms are to preventing abusive and wasteful investigations of non-violent protesters”.

WaPo: 32 arrested as ‘climate rebels’ shut down intersections across the District

September 23, 2019

Climate change protesters shut down several intersections from Capitol Hill to downtown Washington during Monday’s morning rush, the latest of rallies around the world designed to force policymakers to respond to Earth’s rising temperatures.

D.C. police said they arrested 26 protesters across the city for blocking traffic, while Capitol Police arrested six others near the U.S. Capitol. Authorities noted 15 locations that were blocked at various times, forcing motorists to navigate blockades at some of the city’s busiest intersections as the workweek began.

Shut Down DC organizers urged “climate rebels” to flood the District’s streets to bring “the whole city to a gridlocked standstill,” according to the group’s website. Sites were chosen for traffic volume and also their proximity to the offices of “climate criminals,” organizers said, such as petroleum companies or lobbyists for the oil and gas industry.

The protest comes after youth-led protests in more than 150 countries Friday ahead of a United Nations climate summit Monday, where policymakers were urged to aggressively take up climate change.

Protesters shut down parts of K Street, Dupont Circle and Connecticut Avenue, as well as 4th Street and New York Avenue NW — forcing police to divert traffic at the 3rd Street Tunnel. Kaela Bamberger, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Shut Down D.C., said the protest is an escalation in tactics to draw attention to a warming planet.

“I think that we were very successful in holding the majority of the blockades people had planned,” Bamberger said. “We significantly impeded traffic in some of the main areas we were in for about three hours.”

Transportation officials had warned commuters last week to allow extra time and expect delays on their normal routes. Commuters also were advised to try other modes, including biking or taking Metro — or the best bet, transportation experts suggested, might be telework.

Shut Down DC organizers said protesters had set up blockades at 22 District locations at various times.

Protesters chained themselves to a boat to block the intersection of 16th and K streets NW in downtown Washington, three blocks north of the White House grounds. D.C. police used power tools to cut the bonds, covering protesters with riot shields and fire blankets as sparks flew.

Waiting to be cut from the boat, a 22-year-old protester who identified himself only as George as he risked arrest shouted to a reporter outside the police cordon that he had chained himself to the boat around 7 a.m. and wasn’t sure when he would be cut free. He said the action was necessary to bring attention to the “climate crisis.”

“I’m doing something that’s right, moral and just,” he said. “I’m doing this so I can look my kids in the eye one day.”

Jeffrey Johnson watched as a protester was being cut from the boat at around 8:20 a.m. The protest hadn’t disrupted his commute — he’s an “early bird,” he said, starting work around 6 a.m. at a high-end downtown hotel.

“I don’t even know what the message is,” he said. “They need to get some signs up.”

But Johnson appeared broadly supportive of any critique of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“They’re protesting in the wrong place,” he said. “It should be two blocks up where that knucklehead is at.”

Other commuters seemed to take the delays in stride.

Sitting in a car at 16th and L streets NW, Jackie Hilliard tried to remain philosophical about her delayed commute.

She had been “detoured,” she said, circling through downtown after a failed attempt to make a right on Rhode Island Avenue on the way to her job at a law firm. The net effect on her commute wouldn’t be that bad — an 11-minute delay — but she didn’t like being late.

She also didn’t want to get too distraught about it.

“I don’t care,” she said. “It is what it is. There’s no use getting upset over something I have no control over.”

At least one D.C. school opened later Monday because of the expected gridlock. Basis DC, a downtown charter middle and high school, informed families Friday that the school would open two hours late because of possible delays stemming from the protest.

By 7 a.m. Monday, health-care workers and other activists had gathered at Folger Park on Capitol Hill. They marched toward Independence and Washington avenues in Southwest, intermittently blocking traffic. After being pushed back by police onto the sidewalk, they set up a tent outside the Department of Health and Human Services, where nurses and physicians conducted high blood pressure and glucose screenings for a few passersby. The tents were taken down by 9:30 a.m.

Southeast D.C. resident Jerry Griffin was on his way to work downtown when he got caught in the traffic mess. After getting stuck at Independence and Washington avenues in Southwest, followed by further delays elsewhere, Griffin said he missed an 8:30 a.m. meeting and decided to drive back home.

While Griffin said he agreed with protesters that action is needed on climate change, he didn’t like the disruption to Washington’s already-messy traffic. He said protesters were inconveniencing “the everyman” rather than those in positions of power.

“Do I approve of efforts to address climate change? Yes,” Griffin said. “Do I approve of a sit-in on a main thoroughfare during rush hour on Monday? People can be terminated because of this — not so much.”

Not everyone was as frustrated.

Don Smith, a small-business owner in the District, texted clients to apologize for missing a meeting. Even though it affected his work, he said he was glad the strike occurred.

“I’m inconvenienced, but I’m all for it,” he said. “Civil unrest is how this country was founded. As an American, I’m proud of them.”

As the crowd marched down 2nd Street NE toward Independence Avenue, their voices rang loudly in the empty streets. Some bleary-eyed townhouse residents peered out from their windows; several passing joggers cheered them on.

“The house is on fire!” the group chanted. “Put the fire out!”

A D.C. police spokeswoman said no specific street closures were planned ahead of the protests, but rolling closures occurred where protesters showed up. Authorities on Monday didn’t respond to questions about police procedures during the event.

One Lyft driver named Jude, who didn’t want to give his last name because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said Monday he had no idea about the protests.

“I haven’t gotten an alert on my phone or anything,” he said at 8 a.m. as he drove south from Petworth. “But I’ve also been paying less attention to the news.”

He said he wasn’t worried about hitting roadblocks from demonstrations and would call passengers who might be waiting for him to inform them of delays. During a recent Women’s March demonstration, Jude said, he suffered five cancellations from passengers who waited 20 minutes or longer for a ride.

While he hates lost business, he said, he also saw opportunity. The Women’s March provided some of his best fares, the result of the upcharge Lyft instituted because of demand, he said.

Motorists who began the week with citywide protests could end the week in similar fashion.

Bamberger said activists decided Monday afternoon to return to District streets Friday — the final day of coordinated climate change strikes worldwide. Specific protest sites haven’t been selected, but she called Monday’s demonstation “a huge success.”

“I might remind the disgruntled drivers that we are responding to the youth call for action on climate change,” she said. “Their futures are at stake.”

BREAKING: Chase Bank Branch in Chicago Shut Down for Being the #1 Funder of the Climate Crisis, Part of International Week of Climate Action

Pic via Rising Tide Chicago

Chase Bank Branch at 150 N Michigan Shut Down for Being the #1 Funder of the Climate Crisis, Part of International Week of Climate Action

Media Contact: Colin Crowley

217-720-9803, jccrowley@gmail.com

CHICAGO, IL –A Chase Bank branch at 150 N Michigan in downtown Chicago was shut down when three people locked to one another and refused to leave the bank. This action was taken because Chase Bank has increased its investments in fossil fuels since the Paris Climate Accord, and because scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have issued a report stating that we have just 11 years to stop using fossil fuels and pull back from the brink of the climate crisis.

This direct action is part of a week of international climate action from Sept. 20-27 in which youth are striking for climate and asking adults and decision makers to join them in protest and to take swift and bold action to address the climate crisis.

The Chicago protest organized by Rising Tide Chicago included concerned Chicagoans outside the bank supporting those inside by chanting, holding signs and banners and passing out information to passersby. Organizers of the event highlighted Chase’s role as the number one funder of fossil fuels, how the bank has doubled down on financing fossil fuels in the past three years, and the bank’s role in funding new fossil fuel infrastructure projects like Line 3 in Minnesota and deforesting of the Amazon Rainforest, both of which threaten the traditional way of life of Indigenous people.

“Direct action is currently needed to interrupt the climate crisis we are facing,” said Colin Crowley, one of the participants in the protest. “The science is clear about what we need to do in the next 10 years to provide a liveable earth for current and future generations, yet Chase Bank continues to prioritize profits over people and planet by continuing to funnel billions of dollars into the fossil fuel industry.”

Rising Tide Chicago is a local group that is part of a global grassroots network that uses education and direct action to address the root causes of climate change. Rising Tide Chicago is working with other groups across the U.S. to pressure Chase Bank CEO Jaime Dimon to divest from tar sands oil immediately, respect the rights of Indigenous groups and fully divest from fossil fuels within ten years.

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NY Times: Climate Activists Hope to Bring U.S. Capital to Standstill on September 23

By

September 11, 2019

WASHINGTON — Environmental groups, including Extinction Rebellion, said on Wednesday they plan to shut down traffic in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23 and bring daily life to a standstill to demand action by U.S. politicians on tackling climate change.

The roughly 15 groups planning the protest include traditional environmental groups like 350 DC and Friends of the Earth Action, as well as groups that focus on other issues, such as Black Lives Matter and Code Pink, a women-led group promoting peace and human rights.

Kaela Bamberger, an activist aligned with Extinction Rebellion DC, said the coalition plans to ratchet up pressure on policymakers by shutting down traffic at major intersections because rallies, marches and petitions have not worked.

“This is definitely a next-level action. The urgency of climate change warrants such an attempt to disrupt business as usual… to make it impossible for people with decision-making power to go about their daily lives as if we are not in the climate emergency,” Bamberger said in an interview.

The protest is also timed to draw attention to a global climate strike on Sept. 20 and a U.N. climate summit on Sept. 23.

Employees of large U.S. companies are also participating in the strike. About 1,000 Amazon workers will walk out that day, a group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said in a piece on Medium.

Thousands of supporters of the Extinction Rebellion climate activist group occupied four sites in London in April and stopped trains in one of the largest civil disobedience campaigns there in decades. London police said the group will not be allowed to repeat https://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL8N24J3XI that kind of disruption when they hold demonstrations in October.

Heathrow Pause, a splinter group of Extinction Rebellion, plans to disrupt London’s Heathrow airport on Friday by flying drones within a restricted zone. The group plans to fly drones no higher than head level and give the airport one hour’s advance notice. The airport has said the plan is illegal but that it had plans to make sure it can continue to operate.

Alaina Gertz, a spokeswoman for the DC Metropolitan Police Department, said it was aware of an environmental protest scheduled on Sept. 23 and that it is “equipped to handle any-sized First Amendment demonstration.”

The U.S. Secret Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the protest.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Dan Grebler)