Indeed, the recent past foreshadows what is to come. In October 2016, a group of five demonstrators cut through padlocks and chains to enter the flow stations of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Dubbed Valve Turners, they shut off the pipeline’s valves, temporarily stopping the flow of oil through the pipeline. Local law enforcement officials in North Dakota apprehended the group. A court found two of the protestors guilty of felony charges, two more are awaiting trial, and a fifth was found guilty of second-degree burglary.
The Valve Turners were hardly the only protestors to turn to sabotage in the name of combating climate change. Anti-pipeline activists set fires and caused $2 million in damages near Standing Rock in North Dakota. Elsewhere, two women from a social justice charity proudly told the Des Moines Register how they had used oxyacetylene cutting torches to attack another stretch of the pipeline in Iowa’s Mahaska County. In another incident, damages to pipeline construction equipment in Iowa reached $2 million.
Concerns over Eco-Terrorism
Eager to spare local communities the vandalism and violence that marked the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Oklahoma enacted legislation earlier this year stiffening penalties against protesters convicted of trespassing at critical infrastructure facilities. These include pipelines, railways, refineries, power plants, chemical plants, and liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals.
Alarmed that acts of vandalism against public and private installations will not go unpunished, groups that can best be described as “Green Antifa” are conjuring up visions of noble activists facing police-state tactics.
“This crackdown is happening, because activists have been successful, and because industry realizes that protest is a threat,” Kelsey Skaggs, executive director of the Climate Defense Project, recently told ThinkProgress.
On the contrary, officials and lawmakers are rightly concerned that acts of sabotage pose a threat to public safety. Anti-pipeline protesters have the right to free speech and free assembly; they do not have the right commit acts of sabotage, arson or trespassing.
In mid-December, eco-activists opposing the proposed construction of two natural gas pipelines in Virginia trespassed on the Norfolk property of a woman serving on the state’s Water Control Board. They hung a giant anti-pipeline banner on her front porch which read “Stop Poisoning Our Community.”