GOP Coal Ally Hits Activist with Child Porn Accusation

This is beyond ridiculous. In a moment where our politics are exceptionally and unabashedly dirty, this strikes me as downright filthy: Maria Gunnoe, an award-winning anti-coal activist from West Virginia, testified before Congress about the ills caused by mountaintop removal mining. So a coal-allied member of Congress responded by accusing Gunnoe of being a pedophile.

Why? Because her testimony included an innocuous image of a child bathing in polluted bathwater. I know the GOP can be puritanical, but this is preposterous.

Here's the background, via Tim McDonnell at Mother Jones:

On Friday, Gunnoe testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources in a hearing on the Obama administration's contentious relationship with the coal mining industry. She had prepared a slideshow presentation that included a photograph by the photojournalist Katie Falkenberg depicting a nude young girl sitting in a bathtub filled with murky brown water. The photo was meant as a salient statement to legislators on the impact of coal mining on society's most vulnerable. "We are forced to bathe our children in polluted water," she said. "Or not bathe them."

Such water is common in taps near mountaintop-removal sites, Gunnoe told me yesterday by phone, and often contains high levels of arsenic, which can seep into groundwater via underground cracks caused by mining explosions.

It was a point she never got to make: Shortly before she testified, Gunnoe was approached by staffers for Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and told she had to remove the photo from her presentation. She complied, but after testifying was escorted into an empty side room by Capitol Police Special Agent Randall Hayden and questioned for nearly an hour about the photo, which she had gotten the approval of the photographer, the child's parents, and Democratic committee members to use. Gunnoe said Hayden, whom she described as kind and professional, told her the committee believed the photo to be suggestive of child pornography, and that he would be following up on the possibility of her being involved in such illegal activity.

I have no reservations sharing the photo in question, because it is quite clearly not pornography. It is an image of a child bathing in polluted water, taken with the express consent of the child's parents by a professional photographer. It is stark, and affecting. But it's not pornographic.

This is nothing but an intimidation tactic. Lamborn has ties to the coal industry, and Gunnoe's testimony probably pissed him off. The photo was entirely appropriate in the context of the presentation; Lamborn is abusing his station to send a pretty unambiguous message—back off.

Tags: Activism | Coal

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