Newspaper Owned By Fracking Billionaire Leaks Memo Calling Pipeline Opponents Potential “Terrorists”

Jerri-Lynn here: This post reminds us of the role states play in policing and repressing protest over pipeline and fracking activities. With the Trump administration formally committed to promoting these activities, and judicial appointments expected to push courts further rightward, protestors looking to challenge such activities face formidable obstacles.

By Steve Horn, is an Indianapolis, IN-based Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist and past reporter and researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy. His writing has appeared in Al Jazeera America, The Guardian, Vice News, The Intercept, Vocativ, Wisconsin Watch, Truth-Out, AlterNet, NUVO, Isthmus and elsewhere. Originally published at DeSmogBlog

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published a report titled, “Potential Domestic Terrorist Threats to Multi-State Diamond Pipeline Construction Project,” dated April 7 and first published by The Washington Examiner.

The DHS field analysis report points to lessons from policing the Dakota Access pipeline, saying they can be applied to the ongoing controversy over the Diamond pipeline, which, when complete, will stretch from Cushing, Oklahoma to Memphis, Tennessee. While lacking “credible information” of such a potential threat, DHS concluded that “the most likely potential domestic terrorist threat to the Diamond Pipeline … is from environmental rights extremists motivated by resentment over perceived environmental destruction.”

The Washington Examiner is owned by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz, a former American Petroleum Institute board member. His company, Anschutz Exploration Corporation, is a major oil and gas driller involved in the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in states such as Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Paul Bedard, the Examiner columnist who published the document and an article about it, did not respond to repeated requests for comment from DeSmog about how he obtained it or who leaked it to him.

In his story, Bedard did not explain how he obtained the document marked “Unclassified / For Official Use Only,” and the memo is not up on the DHS website. The DHS also did not respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did Fox News 13 in Memphis, which also ran a story on the memo.

Anschutz, a major Republican Party donor, formerly owned the company Pacific Energy Partners,which was sold to Lehman Brothers and then immediately to Plains All American for $2.4 billion in 2006. The Diamond pipeline is co-owned by Valero Energy and Plains All American, which also co-owns two other pipelines, the Saddlehorn Pipeline and the Grand Mesa Pipeline, which carry the same type of oil Anschutz drills in the DJ Basin from Colorado to Cushing, Oklahoma.

DHS Report’s Sources

In the report’s preamble, it states that “This product is intended to assist government, law enforcement, emergency managers, and private sector security partners in preventing and responding to potential threats during construction of the pipeline.” DHS also admits in the report that its analysis is in large part based upon “open source” materials, or those collected mostly by doing online research.

“The information used in this [Field Activity Report] is drawn from open source reporting, DHS reporting, and other law enforcement intelligence reports,” wrote DHS.

“We have medium confidence in the information obtained from open sources, which includes media and NGO reports and websites whose information is credibly sourced and plausible but may contain biases or unintentional inaccuracies. When possible, open source information has been corroborated through other law enforcement and government sources.”

Pointing to Dakota Access Pipeline Battle

A major part of the report, based on information from DHS and its Fusion Centers in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Arkansas, details other incidents identified as potential parallels for conflicts surrounding the Diamond pipeline. The Dakota Access pipeline is prominent among those featured in the analysis.

“While the Diamond Pipeline project has not seen the same level of disruption as the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), we are concerned that negative perceptions about enforcement efforts against DAPL opponents could inspire like-minded individuals to seek out reprisal violence against similar targets, including the Diamond Pipeline,”the report reads.

“We have medium confidence in our assessment that potential attacks against the Diamond Pipeline or related entities would most likely be simple and designed to damage physical infrastructure or equipment by sabotage or arson. Our judgment is based on our review [of] law enforcement information, open source information, and official government reports on tactical trends in historical attacks and trends in attacks against DAPL construction efforts in 2016.”

The Diamond pipeline, set to cross through territory which includes the infamous, 19th-century forced relocation of Native American tribes known as the “Trail of Tears,” has come under opposition by citizens in all the states it traverses. Like Dakota Access and the encampment set up at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, the Choctaw Nation has announced it will open a similar one called Oka Lawa Camp, situated near the town of McCurtain, Oklahoma.

Dakota Access protesters at the Standing Rock site often clashed with out-of-state police brougt in to North Dakota with heavily militarized garb and gear. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, who oversaw the emergency response at Standing Rock, is now advising other states as they prepare for protests over the Keystone XL pipeline, recently approved by President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma Pipeline Protest Bills and DAPL

The DHS report isn’t the only sign of backlash against pipeline opponents unfolding in the Sooner State.

On February 28, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed HB 1123, which was introduced by Republican Rep. Scott Biggs and sets harsh mandatory punishments for trespassing and a list of other crimes related to “critical infrastructure.” In the most severe scenario, citizens could receive a felony sentencing, $100,000 fine, and/or 10 years in prison if their actions “willfully damage, destroy, vandalize, deface or tamper with equipment in a critical infrastructure facility.”

The bill, currently under consideration by the state Senate, defines “critical infrastructure” mostly as it pertains to oil and gas industry-related assets, including oil and gas pipelines.

Credit: Oklahoma House of Representatives

Minutes before voting on the bill, Biggs — who received a $1,000 campaign contribution from Energy Transfer Partners for his successful 2016 electoral run — cited protests in other states as the impetus for the legislation.

“Across the country, we’ve seen time and time again these protests that have turned violent, these protests that have disrupted the infrastructure in those other states,” he said on the House floor, as reported by StateImpact Oklahoma, a state-level National Public Radio affiliate. “This is a preventative measure … to make sure that doesn’t happen here.”

Similarly, the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association pointed to protests at Standing Rock as the rationale behind Biggs’ bill.

Coinciding with that bill’s passage in the House, Republican Rep. Mark McBride introduced the related bill HB 2128, which grants companies the ability to bring civil damages lawsuits in similar scenarios outlined in HB 1123. It also calls for civil liability for those paying the salaries of “paid protesters.”

“A person who is arrested or convicted of trespass may be held liable for any damages to personal or real property while trespassing,” reads the bill, which passed in the House on March 2 and now awaits a Senate vote. “A person or entity that compensates or remunerates a person for trespassing as described in subsection A of this section, may also be held vicariously liable for any damages to personal or real property committed by the person compensated or remunerated for trespassing.”

McBride received a $2,500 contribution for his 2016 campaign from Continental Resources — a company whose oil flows through Dakota Access. He said his bill will help get rid of “paid protesting” from potential out-of-state activists opposing the Diamond pipeline.

“What this bill does, if you are a paid protester and you cause damage to public or private property, we will hold the person who paid you liable for the damages,” he said on the House floor minutes before his bill passed. “You can get on your computer and Google ‘paid protesters,’ there’s websites there that hook people up to paid protesting. We currently have a pipeline that [will go] through Oklahoma and they’ve already said that they’re moving people from North Dakota down here to protest that pipeline, so I think it’s something we want to be ahead of and not let it happen like in North Dakota.”

McBride also made the unsupported claim that those protesting Dakota Access were paid $3,000 per month for their activism and recevied an “arrest bonus.” Minutes after McBride’s bill passed, Arnella Karges — executive vice president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association — tweeted out her thanks to him for his “work and leadership on this important issue.”

The Oklahoma American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has come out against both bills, saying their purpose is to quell free speech and public protest.

“The First Amendment protects our right to stand in the Capitol rotunda,” Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the Oklahoma ACLU, recently told the Oklahoma Gazette. “It also protects the rights of Oklahomans and Americans to engage in speech and activity, knowing that if they engage in civil disobedience, that the penalties they face should not be disproportionate. If we chill and keep people home, away from the cameras and away from the public they are trying to wake up on any number of issues, we are doing a real disservice to our democracy.”

Similar anti-protest bills have been introduced in 19 different statehouses nationwide so far in 2017. Among those states are Tennessee, where the Diamond Pipeline terminates, and where the Senate has introduced legislation which offers civil lawsuit immunity to a “person driving an automobile who is exercising due care and injures another person who is participating in a protest or demonstration and is blocking traffic in a public right-of-way.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (David Kaye) and its Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (Maina Kiai) recently came out in opposition to the slate of bills, as well.

“If enacted, the Bills would highly curtail the rights to freedom of opinion and peaceful assembly in ways that are incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law,” they wrote, pointing to the Oklahoma legislation as particularly problematic. “The Bills would have a chilling effect on protestors, stripping the voice of the most marginalized, who often find in the right to assemble the only alternative to express their opinions.”

“Scare Tactics”

Oklahoma University graduate student and Oka Lawa Camp organizer Ashley McCray told DeSmog she sees the DHS report as part of a broader portfolio of “scare tactics” ultimately coming from powerful corporate interests.

“The report was crafted as a scare tactic to help deter folks from practicing their First Amendment rights and their duty as civic citizens,” said McCray. “This report and the pending legislation are just two pieces of multifarious evidence we have that show the lengths to which politicians will cater to Big Oil.”

As DeSmog reported in 2013, a DHS Fusion Center in Nebraska had similarly labeled anti-Keystone XL activists as potential eco-terrorists, based on questionable evidence. An open records request submitted to Oklahoma’s Fusion Center by DeSmog was denied on the grounds that it dealt with an ongoing investigation. Requests submitted to the Arkansas and Tennessee Fusion Centers are still pending.

DHS Fusion Centers exist as an information-sharing and intelligence-gathering network between the federal government, state-level governments, and localities. Their activities have come under fire by civil liberties advocates, with many civil liberties abuses documented in a 141-page 2012 U.S. Senate report.

The pipeline, which will cross six rivers including the Mississippi River, has received the two permits it needs from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and necessary state-level permits. It is currently under construction.

“We will not be deterred,” said McCray. “We will continue to move forward to raise awareness to what is happening in Oklahoma and throughout the route of the Diamond Pipeline as well as continue to create unity between the people who are being affected. We do so in a completely peaceful and prayerful manner and we will continue to counteract their spin factors and scare tactics in the same way.”

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  1. KYrocky

    DHS “Potential Domestic Terrorist” classification is seldom discussed. But in my observation it lies at the root of a police state, something our country is approaching. The infiltration of Occupy and its targeted destruction by the Obama administration clearly required some legal justification, and potential domestic terrorist seems to be a big enough catch phrase with no apparent legal definition. It can be applied to virtually any group organizing to protest virtually anything, and with the power that comes with the Patriot Acts domestic surveillance capabilities may have already led to the undisclosed monitoring of far more people and groups than we know.

    1. hemeantwell

      Agreed. The PDT classification is a perfect enabling concept, utterly open-ended and easily operationalized via the surveillance capabilities of the repressive state apparatus. As the crisis grinds on and as the major parties decay, increasing numbers of improperly organized citizens will fall afoul of the PDT score algorithms.

      A sad aspect of this is that I’m sure the memo isn’t just a repression-justifying fantasy. Insane, environmentally destructive policies will eventually prompt enraged and despairing responses. Frack, baby, frack and all the allied chants of infinite expansion will bring out the potential of PDT.

      1. Vatch

        The terrorism is already occurring, but the terrorists aren’t pipeline opponents. The terrorists are the frackers, whose fracking poisons drinking water supplies and even increases the frequency of earthquakes. Fracking is terrorism.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    Its an old playbook. In the 1990’s I attended anti-roads protests in England and the police strategy was very obvious. They more or less ignored the scruffy hard core, but focused on the more respectable looking protestors – i.e. people who had more to lose with a criminal record – and in some cases quite blatently lied to get convictions. They would poke video cameras in their faces and try to provoke a reaction, and they would single them out for arrest.

    The presumable aim was to scare off regular people so the protestors could be labled as a bunch of dreadlocked anarchists, and then dealt with off-camera in the traditional manner. They used legislation aimed at football hooligans and illegal raves to get convictions for quite minor offenses, like not responding to police instructions. If they could have used anti-terrorism laws, I’m sure they would have.

    The establishment will always know that protests can be ignored if they consist of the marginalised and the politicised. It is when ‘regular’ folks start taking part that they get worried. Using the ‘terrorism’ label is an obvious way to scare people off.

  3. a different chris

    >would most likely be simple and designed to damage physical infrastructure or equipment by sabotage or arson.

    Yeah, and “terrorist” means that you literally terrify an actual group of people with the potential of direct physical harm. Not one, not many but just for money, that’s simply a criminal, but personal harm to many. And a piece of pipe fears nothing. Blow it up, it doesn’t care, it just becomes another shape of metal.

    The most chilling thing about this is the turn towards “a word means exactly what I say it means”. Do our top law schools turn out, are our “white shoe” law firms made of, nothing but cowards nowadays? How can they not instinctively sue the pants off of people that say things like this?

    In a real society, the word “terrorist” should be a no-no until an open court of law has determined that to be factually accurate.

  4. Kalen

    Very interesting angle missing elsewhere even on the environmental left.

    If somebody thinks that somehow fighting for preservation of the healthy environment and entire ecological chain is somehow mild intellectual activity, appeal to simple reason and humanity and not hard core political movement aimed directly to overthrow the US abhorrent regime he/she is utterly wrong.

    Anybody who wants to protect land,water, air from capitalist exploitation is a enemy of the state that is founded on destruction and plundering of the environment and repugnant externalization of all the cost to be paid by population at large whose lives have been engendered by ruling oligarchy and their genocidal plans.

    Yes, environmentalists should be proud of their label or badge as radicals, even terrorists as even George Washington was labeled by Times of London back then.

    Yes, we environmentalists want to overthrow the regime that knows nothing but destruction of human habitat for profit of few oligarchs.

    That is the truth, forget labels. What you call when terrorists call people who want simply to survive, to defend themselves and their families from disease and death terrorists, they lie for their moneyed interests that’s all.

    The war on environment by global oligarchy is a brutal, vicious class war, not an academic disputation in a country club.

  5. L

    This report also further undermines the legitimacy of the “Fusion Centers”. In theory the centers were supposed to pool intelligence to find problems and to support better coordination between federal and local forces in the face of actual threats. However as this story and others like it indicate much of their work seems to be focused on writing general reports of potential threats that serve largely to reinforce their existing assumptions.

    This reminds me much of the Priest series “Top Secret America” which pointed out that much of the intelligence reporting that is kept classified has in the words of one military officer “not helped in four wars.”

  6. Vatch

    Six years ago, a book about this type of activity, Green is the New Red, was published. I regret that I haven’t had time to read it, since current events seem to have made it even more relevant than when it first appeared on bookstore and library shelves. We’re living in a dystopia.

  7. Keith Howard

    When people recognize/realize that they have nothing to lose, their behavior becomes unpredictable. Our rulers’ greed for money, power, and control is leaving more and more human beings with nothing to lose. If simply waving a sign and (maybe) blocking traffic can result in years in prison and financial ruin, it seems reasonable to expect that some will decide to take more effective action.

  8. Arizona Slim

    Slim checking in from Tucson. And I oppose fracking and unnecessary pipelines.

    Does that make ME a terrorist? Pretty please, does it? When will I get my terrorist membership card?

    1. Susan the other

      No it does not. I almost don’t know where to begin on this stuff. The bottom line is that any, any and all, pipeline(s) can be built to protect the environment. It is a question of how much money you are willing to spend. Along the route of all these pipelines a trench of clay and impermeable plastic (recoverable and recyclable) can be dug and maintained; the pipeline fittings can be maintained to almost perfection; and the very geology of the course of the descent of the oil – all downhill – unless the engineers are totally-out-to-lunch – can be maintained and used to divert any remote spillage into contained collection ponds, themselves lined with impermeable liners, and on and on. It is a question of how much we are willing to spend. imo, we should spend every last dime to protect the land and water. No questions asked. And create those scientific, engineering, and construction jobs necessary. Duh.

      1. Susan the other

        lest you think I’m gung-ho-oil… I’m absolutely not, but I recognize the chaos we will inherit if we eliminate it as our major source of energy too soon. Until we can eliminate it, we need it. But because we pinch our pennies and refuse to listen to concerns that money can fix, we ourselves create terrorism.

    2. HotFlash

      Me too! Oh, if you find out where we collect those sweet arrest bonuses, can you let me know? Srsly, who trained these guys, J Edgar the Paranoid?

  9. November Wallace

    First of all the dapl were the trespassers 2nd law enforcement and private security broke our 400 treatys that was signed 200 years ago by white mans government and president which says no on can come on our reservations and destroy it nor can they put anything in our sacred waters that could kill or harm our sacred animals or our people or mother earth also no law enforcement officers. Can come on our reservations and arrest our people. Are commit violence toward our people. No federal agents can come on our reservations and commit violence toward our people nor can they arrest our people no military agents can come on our reservations an force us off nor can they arrest us are commit violence toward our people nor can they destory our sacred baruil sights or our sacred pray sights or our sacred historical sights white man came here and murderd 100,000,000Native Indian men women and children. For our land out of greed it says in the good book thou. Shualt not judge for if you judge some one so shall you be jugded the same way if you hate some one for their race or their skin it will be the same as hating me if your ancestors murderd people to get something they wanted than their next 400 and their next 1000 and so on generations shall be put to death it is called a life for a life if you take a life so shall your life be taken it also saysdo not harm on hair on my little childrens heads not even those who are in the womb for if you do you might as well tie a rope around your neck and tie the heaveyest stone on the other end and cast your self in the deepest ocean for i made man in my image i did not make just one color i made many colors

  10. different clue

    The leaked report and the coming state laws against protest with their savage and condign punishments are meant for more than scare. There may be an element of “warning the comfortably-well-off ahead of time”. But this is also a declaration of what the pro-coal/gas/oil plutogarchs and oligarchs exactly hope and intend to do.

    Ten years in Rape Tasert Prison for marching with a sign? That will deter me from marching. Different people upthread have offered different suggestions. The “International Law route” seems as hopeful as any. If any group of people decide to pursue that one, they had better have too many lawyers scattered in too many places for the Government to assassinate them all. And those lawyers will have to understand in advance that the Government would assassinate some of them. Are any lawyers that brave to run that risk?

    What else is left? If a commanding majority of people in various Blue Zonestans are deeply blue-minded, they might figure out how to legislate and regulate for Extreme Fossil Carbon Conservation within their Blue Zones. The goal would be to reduce use of coal/gas/oil within the Blue Zones deeply enough to degrade and attrit the carbon-based revenue streams flowing back to Big Fossil Carbon. Perhaps the Fossil Carbonias could have their power so degraded and attrited that they find it harder to mount these repression efforts and pay for them.

    And of course Blue Persons caught Behind the Red Lines can practice personal carbon conservation to the best of their abilities. If their red neighbors ask them why they are doing it, they can couch their answers in the language of Red National Patriotism . . . energy independence . . . etc.

    These sound like desperation ideas. If anyone else has better ideas, this thread would be a fine place to offer them.

  11. coleat23

    “Scott Biggs and sets harsh mandatory punishments for trespassing and a list of other crimes related to “critical infrastructure.” In the most severe scenario, citizens could receive a felony sentencing, $100,000 fine, and/or 10 years in prison if their actions “willfully damage, destroy, vandalize, deface or tamper with equipment in a critical infrastructure facility.””
    I don’t agree. Look at: Friendly, Coleen

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