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”.

Sandpoint, Idaho: Fifth Panhandle Paddle, September 6-8

Cross-posted from Wild Idaho Rising Tide

September 2, 2019

Media contact: Helen Yost, Wild Idaho Rising Tide, wild.idaho.rising.tide@gmail.com, 208-301-8039

September 6-8 Fifth Panhandle Paddle

Annual Event Offers Rail Bridge Talk, Action Training, & Flotilla Rally

Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) and allied activists invite Northwest residents to participate in weekend, Fifth Panhandle Paddle activities on September 6 to 8 in Sandpoint, Idaho. Grassroots movement organizers are calling for rail line community resistance to Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway’s proposed bridge and track expansion across Lake Pend Oreille, Sand Creek, and downtown Sandpoint, and to regional trains hauling volatile Alberta tar sands, fracked Bakken crude oil, dusty Powder River Basin coal, and other hazardous materials. Ongoing, increasing, fossil fuels railroad infrastructure and transportation recklessly risk and pollute water, air, climate, lands, lives, and communities, evident in seven 2017, north Idaho and northwest Montana, train derailments and collisions within 44 miles of Sandpoint and beyond. These incidents include disastrous coal and oil train wrecks, spills, and fires along the Clark Fork River near Heron, Montana, in the Columbia River Gorge town of Mosier, Oregon, and weekly throughout North America.

#No2ndBridge Talk

6 to 8 pm Friday, September 6

Gardenia Center, 400 Church Street, Sandpoint

At this informal forum and discussion, participants will provide information and brainstorm tactics for creative opposition and regulatory and legal recourse to the myriad, significant impacts of BNSF’s still federally unpermitted, $100 million, Sandpoint Junction Connector project and fossil fuels pipeline-on-rails across the Panhandle and almost one mile over Idaho’s largest, deepest lake, Pend Oreille. Bring your concerns, ideas, snacks, and beverages, and gather for conversations.

Direct Action Training

10 am to 3 pm Saturday, September 7

Gardenia Center, 400 Church Street, Sandpoint

Local and visiting, West Coast trainers will offer their expertise through interactive, presentation and practice workshops on topics such as knowing your rights, strategizing, target selection, scouting, action design and roles, media and police interactions, security, safety, and self-defense. RSVP to request particular, adapted sessions, and join WIRT and guests at any time during the workshops, to learn and share frontline skills, stories, and insights, and to contribute potluck food and trainer travel funds and arrangements.

Rallies & Paddle

10 am to 1 pm Sunday, September 8

City & Dog Beach Parks, Sandpoint

Come to the south boat ramp at City Beach, for music, speakers, and a flotilla around the present and proposed, Lake Pend Oreille, railroad bridge sites, launching after participants arrive by land and water. Around 12 noon, another rally will converge after paddlers reach Dog Beach Park, before they return. Bring canoes and other manual watercraft and distantly visible banners and signs. Respond to WIRT to reserve and help rent single or double kayaks or paddleboards from downtown businesses.

To access further, issue background and event descriptions, offer boats or supplies for these free events, print and post the color, PDF version of the Paddle flyer, or donate to cover the costs of watercraft rental, trainer travel and accommodations, and media advertising, visit the WIRT website,* and contact WIRT with your questions, suggestions, and contributions. Join us in these opportunities to support environmental, climate, and public health and safety, and to protect basic, global, human rights.

*Fifth Panhandle Paddle

https://wildidahorisingtide.org/2019/08/28/fifth-panhandle-paddle/

https://www.facebook.com/events/373303406915881

Wild Idaho Rising Tide: #No2ndBridge Regional Talks, March 5-10

Cross-posted from Wild Idaho Rising Tide

#No2ndBridge Regional Talks

During the upcoming week, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) and allied activists invite concerned, community members to participate in #No2ndBridge, regional talks and slide show presentations with refreshments in Missoula, Moscow, Sandpoint, and Spokane.  Event hosts of these free, open meetings ask everyone attending to bring and share snacks, stories, images, and donations, and learn about the natural and human environment of Lake Pend Oreille and the ongoing and potentially increasing traffic, noise, pollution, and derailment dangers of Northwest and north Idaho, railroad ‘funnel,’ fossil fuels and hazardous materials trains.

Discussions will cover the significant, adverse impacts of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway’s proposed Sandpoint Junction Connector construction and operation of two temporary and three permanent, parallel, railroad bridges and doubled tracks across Sandpoint, Sand Creek, and almost one mile over Idaho’s largest lake.  As described in the WIRT petition to deny and revoke permits for this BNSF project, which we encourage you to sign with comments, this flawed, railroad expansion risking bi-directional train passage would degrade lake and aquifer water (is life!) sources, air and scenic qualities, native fish, wildlife, threatened bull trout, and their habitats, indigenous cultures, treaties, and rights, public and environmental health and safety, historic sites and private properties, boat navigation and emergency and vehicle travel, and recreation, tourism, residence, business, and economic interests and values [1].

Missoula: Tuesday, March 5, at 7 pm in the Union Hall, upstairs ballroom, 208 East Main Street in Missoula, Montana, co-hosted with 350 Montana

Moscow: Wednesday, March 6, at 7 pm in the 1912 Center, Fiske room, 412 East Third Street in Moscow, Idaho, co-hosted with the Palouse Environmental Sustainability Coalition (PESC)

Sandpoint: Saturday, March 9, at 10 am in the Gardenia Center, main floor chapel, 400 Church Street in Sandpoint, Idaho, with guest speakers

Spokane: Sunday, March 10, at 1 pm in the Liberty Park United Methodist Church, community room, 1526 East Eleventh Avenue in Spokane, Washington, co-hosted with The Oak Tree

Seeking to amplify regional resistance and rejection of this culpable, railroad scheme to build fossil fuels pipeline-on-rails infrastructure, by installing and removing over one thousand piles in train-spewed, stream and lake bed, coal deposits and bull trout critical habitat, WIRT activists will provide suggestions for oral testimony on March 13 at two Ponderay, Idaho, hearings and for comments due by March 25, on a draft environmental assessment (EA) released on February 6 by the project’s lead regulator, the U.S. Coast Guard [2].  Unless public processes or the courts secure a more scientifically-rigorous, community-preferred environmental impact statement (EIS), March 2019 offers the last opportunity for review and input on this BNSF proposal.  Presenters will also give updates and request support for the nine-month, WIRT petition for judicial review challenging the BNSF, lake encroachment permit granted on June 21, 2018, by the Idaho Department of Lands and State Board of Land Commissioners [3, 4].  Litigants currently await a district court decision on a February 8, 2019, hearing and state and intervenor BNSF motions to dismiss the case, after petitioner WIRT filed strong, meritorious arguments in a December 13, 2018, opening brief.

For further event and issue information, visit the WIRT facebook and website pages and outreach tables at regional, public events and farmers markets, contact us with your concerns, and print and post the accompanying flyer [5].  Ask the federal agencies reviewing BNSF applications and deliberating permit decisions to extend the comment period to 90 days, hold hearings in Sandpoint, include your comments in the project’s public record, and fully analyze this railroad expansion with an environmental impact study and statement.  Thanks!  #No2ndBridge!

[1] Petition to Deny and Revoke Permits for the BNSF Sandpoint Junction Connector Project, September 30, 2018 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[2] Railroad Bridges Hearings, Comments, and Updates, February 23, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[3] WIRT v. IDL/Land Board/BNSF, March 1, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[4] Crowdfund WIRT Litigation of Lake Railroad Bridges Permit, October 23, 2018 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[5] #No2ndBridge Regional Talks, March 1, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

Rising Tide North America Statement of Solidarity with Anti-Fossil Fuel Activists in the Northwest

wild-idaho-rising-tide-on-cornerRising Tide North America Statement of Solidarity with Rising Tide and Anti-Fossil Fuel Activists in the  Northwest

In response to the recent news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continues its harassment of climate activists in Idaho, Washington and other parts of the Northwest, Rising Tide North America issued the following statement:

We believe that the extraction of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and tar sands oil, and the expansion of pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, is a dangerous threat to our communities, our wild places and the climate. We further believe that grassroots organizing and non-violent direct action are bold and effective tools used to stop these threats.

The FBI’s recent harassment of activists and organizers in Idaho and Washington is nothing less than a concerted effort to intimidate and stifle dissent. It’s ridiculous that the FBI spends its time and resources investigating peaceful environmental activists, while the corporations responsible for oil spills, water and air pollution, toxic environmental racism and climate change continue to run amok.

We stand in solidarity with our friends and allies with Wild Idaho Rising Tide, and others in the Northwest, who’ve taken courageous stands against the Keystone XL pipeline, tar sands heavy haul shipments, natural gas extraction and coal exports. Furthermore, we stand in solidarity with all communities that have chosen to take a stand against this horrible industry and protect a livable future.”

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Rising Tide North America is continental network of climate justice groups and individuals challenging the root causes of climate change and for social, environmental and climate justice.