photo: Stevie Rocco via flickr
Once again, law enforcement professionals seem to conflate activism and extremism: A new piece over at Pro Publica reveals that a confidential intelligence bulletin by the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security warns that "environmental extremists" are a threat to the energy sector and references opponents to natural gas fracking as among them. The briefing warns of "the use of tactics to try to intimidate companies into making policy decisions deemed appropriate by extremists." Apparently the warning was based on five recent incidents of vandalism at drilling facilities. It also groups together under the same banner "environmental activists and militants," and equates protest at public hearings and screening films detailing the dangers of fracking with anarchist rallies.
Read the original for all the details; it's all unfortunately painfully predictable. A couple things jump out at me though:
Isn't Lobbying Intimidation Too?
First, why is it called extremism when you try to "intimidate" companies into making policy decisions you prefer, when that intimidation is done through protest, campaigning and civil disobedience, when the grand old tradition of political lobbying and corporate campaign contributions essential does the same thing? Both attempt to influence political discourse and policy, and sometimes both ride the boundaries of what is legal and what is not. Somehow more or less bribing a political candidate, or using corporate wealth against the greater long-term public interest is acceptable and natural, showing your opposition to this is improper intimidation.
Calling Protest Extremism Stifles Legitimate Public Discussion & Action
Second, there is the possibility of genuine extremism out there in the broad environmental movement: Blockading a mountaintop removal coal mine or loudly protesting outside one is one thing, specifically threatening workers or mine owners with violence (which to my knowledge has never happened, I only use it as an example), would be another entirely. Putting yourself between whalers and whales to protect the whales, even harassing the whalers, could be justified by defense of the defenseless, targeting specific whaler crew members or owners with violence is another. In addition, at some rallies violent radical elements do infiltrate or try to infiltrate what is otherwise a non-violent movement and cause trouble.
But not being able to see the difference in intent and action in these situations, as fine as it may be in certain cases--by choice or by ignorance on the part of law enforcement--is blockheaded at best and insidious at worst.
The original piece quotes an attorney from Earthjustice on the intended effect of the briefing, Deborah Goldberg, and I believe she's likely correct: "It may very well be designed to chill peoples' very legitimate participation in public decision making. It people who have concerns fear that they are going to be treated as a security threat they may very well be afraid to go an express their views."
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More on Natural Gas:
Residents Speak Out on Natural Gas Fracking
Fracking is Finally Getting Some Attention and Regulation
The Folly of Fracking