We examine the corporate crackdown on environmental activists challenging the fossil fuel industry and human-driven climate change. The company that owns the Dakota Access pipeline—Energy Transfer Partners—has sued Greenpeace International and other environmental groups, accusing them of inciting "eco-terrorism." We speak to Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, and Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth. She is Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation.
AMY GOODMAN: As the unprecedented flooding exacerbated by climate change continues in Houston, Texas, we end today’s show by looking at the corporate crackdown on environmental activists trying to stop the fossil fuel industry and human-driven climate change—at least challenge the industry. The company that owns the Dakota Access pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, has sued Greenpeace International, Earth First! and other environmental groups, accusing them of inciting "eco-terrorism" against the pipeline’s construction. The pipeline’s construction was delayed for months last year after thousands of Native Americans, led by the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota, and their non-Native allies launched a nonviolent encampment to stop the pipeline from crossing the Missouri River, saying a spill could contaminate the drinking source for millions. Earlier this year, the Trump administration greenlighted both the Dakota Access pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. Dakota Access pipeline goes taking oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, then hooking up with a pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico.
For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, and Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth. She is Ojibwe from the Couchiching First Nation.
Annie Leonard, you are named both personally and as executive director of Greenpeace USA in this lawsuit brought by Energy Transfer Partners. Can you respond?
ANNIE LEONARD: Yeah, actually, I brought the lawsuit here. For those on the radio, you can see I’m holding up a four-inch stack of papers. We were just served yesterday with this lawsuit. This lawsuit is a SLAPP suit. "SLAPP" means strategic lawsuit against public participation. And that’s what it is. It is an attempt to criminalize and silence protest, at the exact time that this country needs people rising up more than ever.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what it is that this suit alleges that you’ve been involved with, using terms like "eco-terrorism."
ANNIE LEONARD: Right. Well, the term "eco-terrorism" was used, really, just to taint constitutionally protected, science-based free speech advocacy. They’re trying to criminalize healthy, righteous protest. The suit alleges two specific charges. One is defamation, which is sort of lawyerspeak for lying. They’re saying that we lied to exaggerate the environmental and human rights impacts of the pipeline. The second one, that is really ludicrous, on so many levels, is that they’re claiming that Greenpeace was the head of a criminal enterprise that orchestrated all of this protest. And that’s the RICO part of this lawsuit. But again, it’s not really about the facts. It’s not really about the law. If you read this massive document, the allegations are absolutely ludicrous. What it’s about is trying to intimidate, silence and chill protest.
Right now, our government has stepped back from offering any kinds of protection for human rights and public health. And the fossil fuel industry thinks that they have just absolute free rein to go for it. The one thing in the way is public opposition. It’s civil society. It’s activism. And so they’re trying to squelch that, not—to punish us for Standing Rock, but also to squelch it moving forward. And that’s just simply not going to happen. We are not going away. We will not be intimidated. We will not be silenced.
AMY GOODMAN: The law firm that is representing Energy Transfer Partners is President Trump’s—well, his former White House lawyer, is that right?
ANNIE LEONARD: Right. It’s President Trump’s go-to law firm. And this is actually the second lawsuit that this firm, Kasowitz firm, has filed against Greenpeace in the last year. Last year, they filed a lawsuit on behalf of a large Canadian logging company called Resolute. It was a very similar lawsuit, accusing us of racketeering and all sorts of criminal activity. That lawsuit, we have a motion to dismiss that lawsuit. It’s going to be heard October 10th in San Francisco. So if all goes well, that case will be dismissed. But then we still have this one to face.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Tara Houska into the conversation, with Honor the Earth. The Red Warrior Camp is also named in this lawsuit. Can you respond to the owner of the Dakota Access pipeline suing the environmentalists who have been protesting for a year?
TARA HOUSKA: I mean, you’re basically seeing a corporate head that is seeking all of the allies and support mechanisms that were in place for the indigenous-led movement that happened at Standing Rock. You know, this was people showing up and deciding to give up their—potentially their freedoms and put themselves on the line to stop a pipeline that was going through the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and all of the people living along the Missouri River. You know, to say that this is somehow some type of criminal operation, you know, orchestrated by Greenpeace and all these folks who really didn’t have a very large presence there—this was indigenous-led. These people were supporting what we were doing, not leading and, you know, trying to manipulate us. I thought it was particularly disparaging and paternalistic that they basically characterized these organizations as misleading the tribe somehow and misleading the indigenous people.
AMY GOODMAN: You are not named?
TARA HOUSKA: No, I am not personally named. I thought it was actually very careful of them not to name any particular indigenous organization, even though the indigenous organizations were out in front of this. You know, instead, they labeled Red Warrior Camp, which is interesting again, because Energy Transfer Partners is the one who hired TigerSwan and all of these counterintelligence operations and private security, whose main mission was to go in and infiltrate and cause division within the indigenous organizations and indigenous peoples there. You know, this has come out now in several TigerSwan reports that have been issued by Intercept. And so, you know, you’re seeing them trying to, again, demonize and divide indigenous movement organizing.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk more about that, turning to those reports by TigerSwan, the private military contractor hired by Energy Transfer Partners to carry out extensive military-style counterterrorism efforts targeting the indigenous-led movement at Standing Rock. In one report, TigerSwan discussing how to use its knowledge of internal camp dynamics, writing, quote, "Exploitation of ongoing native versus non-native rifts, and tribal rifts between peaceful and violent elements is critical in our effort to delegitimize the anti-DAPL movement," unquote. In the documents, TigerSwan also repeatedly calls the water protectors "insurgents" and the movement an "ideologically driven insurgency." Tara, you are also a lawyer.
TARA HOUSKA: Yeah, no, I mean, and they refer to us as "jihadists" and, you know, try to characterize us as somehow these radical people, who are instead nonviolently, peacefully trying to stop the construction of a pipeline. This is people walking in front of machines, people peacefully resisting, sitting down in the middle of the road. Yet somehow, you know, we were—had snipers trained on us around the clock, had helicopters overhead, attack dogs—that you were there for—attack dogs being unleashed on men, women and children trying to stop the destruction of a sacred site. This is like—you know, you look at this, and you think, "OK, so you’re the company that behaved very, very badly, and you were caught. You were exposed to a large, large audience that typically a Big Oil would not be exposed to, and you are also exposed to a lot of banks now looking at this and saying, 'We don't want any part of this,’ and a movement that’s now focusing on divestment and looking at these banks and saying, 'OK, pull your money out of this project,' and they are."
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, we were there on Labor Day weekend a year ago. We filmed the dogs that were unleashed on the water protectors. And I should say that we also, while not named defendants in this case, are mentioned in the lawsuit. Now, Annie Leonard, this is a racketeering lawsuit. Very quickly, if you can talk about what that means?
ANNIE LEONARD: Right, that’s the RICO lawsuit approach, that this is a SLAPP suit it’s taking. Realize it is a SLAPP suit. The RICO, racketeering, is just a type of SLAPP suit, but it is still a lawsuit designed to squelch public advocacy. The racketeering is the part about us being the head of a criminal enterprise, where they say that Greenpeace orchestrated this entire criminal enterprise. If found correct, we could then potentially be liable for anything that anyone did on Standing Rock, because the theory is that we orchestrated it.
The response is, is number one, nothing that was done was criminal. It was nonviolent. It was science-based. It was by values-led. It was peaceful. And the second thing, as my sister here said, is that this movement was indigenous-led. Greenpeace was very proud to stand up and support in solidarity, but this was an indigenous-led movement. And it is false and really offensive to say that Greenpeace orchestrated this. We were not the leaders here. We were a strong ally, and we don’t regret a bit of showing up there.
AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska, we just have a minute, but I wanted to ask you, of Honor the Earth—we’re having this conversation in the midst of what could be the greatest catastrophe this country has seen, in the greater Houston area, the epicenter of the fossil fuel industry. Can you respond to the hurricane, now a tropical depression, and the massive devastation we’re seeing on the Gulf Coast?
TARA HOUSKA: We’re seeing something that’s—you know, people have to acknowledge and step back and have a real conversation about climate change and our contribution to it. You know, this is what happens—severe storms, increased pressure towards our very existence. You know, these are coastal states, where we are at an—this is an epicenter of fossil fuel extraction and refining and all of that that’s happening down in that area, and now people have toxic water sitting in their front yards. We need to have a frank and open discussion about climate change and acknowledge the fact that we cannot engineer our way out of this.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Annie Leonard, who is the executive director of Greenpeace USA, who is named both personally and as executive director of Greenpeace in this lawsuit brought by Energy Transfer Partners, that owns the Dakota Access pipeline, and Tara Houska, Honor the Earth. In the last 10 seconds, Annie, how is this affecting your work?
ANNIE LEONARD: You know, they’re trying to silence and intimidate us. It is a burden, absolutely. We are putting our top staff on this. But it is absolutely not going to silence us. And, in fact, it is emboldening us. And we are going to be stronger and more unified with other environmental groups and indigenous groups moving forward. So we’re stronger than ever.
AMY GOODMAN: Thanks so much to both of you.