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“Colonizing Our Community”: Elon Musk’s SpaceX Rocket Explodes in Texas as Feds OK New LNG Projects

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We get an update from South Texas, where Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket blew up four minutes after launch Friday and residents reported particulates or ash rained down on their neighborhoods near the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. We speak with Bekah Hinojosa of Another Gulf Is Possible, who has been targeted for participating in protests against SpaceX. She says, “We’re clearly being exploited by a billionaire and his pet project.” She also responds to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval Thursday of three new liquified natural gas projects in the area.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to South Texas, where Elon Musk’s SpaceX is claiming success after the first launch of its massive new rocket, dubbed “Starship.” The two-stage prototype lifted off Thursday morning from SpaceX’s sprawling base on Texas’s Gulf Coast near the U.S. border with Mexico, becoming the largest and heaviest machine ever to fly under its own power. At least six of the rocket’s 33 engines failed during flight. The vehicle self-destructed over the Gulf of Mexico about four minutes after liftoff. Residents of Port Isabel, near the launch site, reported particulates or ash rained down on their neighborhoods. The fiery end to the launch was the latest in a series of explosions around SpaceX’s launch site near the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

This comes as three liquefied natural gas projects in the Rio Grande Valley were just approved by the FERC. That’s the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Indigenous, environmental and community organizers responded Thursday to the SpaceX launch and explosion and denounced the new projects. This is Christopher Basaldú.

CHRISTOPHER BASALDÚ: Rio Bravo Pipeline and SpaceX, none of these companies consulted with the original people of this land, the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas. None of them consulted with the tribe. None of them have our consent. But yet, they still want to destroy Native homelands, ancestral homelands. We never gave our consent, and they’re moving forward. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, they never consulted with the tribe. They don’t have our consent, and they’re moving forward anyway. That’s not justice. … They’re enabling Musk to destroy our lands and destroy this beautiful area. It needs to stop. These are all the histories of colonial genocide against Native people and Native lands.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined in Brownsville, Texas, by Bekah Hinojosa, an environmental and community advocate with the grassroots collaborative Another Gulf Is Possible. She’s one of the many people who spoke out against SpaceX and faced repression and prosecution. Last year, police broke into her home and arrested her after she was accused of spray-painting the words “gentrified” and “stop SpaceX” under a mural in downtown Brownsville. She’s still fighting these charges.

Bekah Hinojosa, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. So, yesterday, Elon Musk declared success when his SpaceX rocket exploded. Now, actually, though he was, of course, mocked by many — what does a failure mean if your rocket explodes out of control? — scientifically, it’s a chance to test different ways of trying to shoot off this rocket. But you’re on the ground. If you can talk about what SpaceX means for your communities?

BEKAH HINOJOSA: You know, we’re tired of living under the constant threat of flammable rocket explosions because of SpaceX. You know, Elon Musk is on his quest to colonize Mars, and it’s beginning — he’s beginning by colonizing our community that’s on the frontlines of the U.S.-Mexico border, you know, that’s on the frontlines of the Gulf Coast, where we’re dealing with layers and layers of injustices. You know, our community is opposed to SpaceX’s operations. Yesterday, 27 organizations from the Rio Grande Valley signed on to a letter officially opposing the rocket launch.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about how — who controls where he does this work? And, in fact, does he choose this area of Texas on the Mexico border because of the deregulation of Texas and the fact — what kind of regulation does he face? And what kind of consent is required, if any, of the local community?

BEKAH HINOJOSA: It’s very clear that Elon Musk moved into our border community to take over, to colonize the region. We’re clearly being exploited by a billionaire and his pet project. You know, we are a low-income community of color. And Texas has a long history of deregulation, of just rubber-stamping permits and approvals for any big industry, and also give out numerous tax subsidies. You know, that’s what we’ve seen with SpaceX.

He’s moved into our community and turned us into a testing ground. It’s at the point now where I hear a noise, my family and I, and we wonder, “Is that SpaceX?” And we come to find out that the rumble is because of a rocket launch. Or I hear a huge explosion or blast from 10 miles away, and it turns out that SpaceX has done some kind of unannounced rocket testing. You know, we’re constantly dealing with just the growth of SpaceX and their operations.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Bekah, last year, you were violently arrested after police broke into your home without showing you a warrant. You were detained for, what, more than a day, for 26 hours. Police took your glasses. They placed you in a cold cell, after you were interrogated, charged with what? A misdemeanor? Accused of spray-painting these words “gentrified” and “stop SpaceX” under a mural in downtown Brownsville. The outgoing Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez posted a photo of you on his social media, thanking the police for your arrest. He also wrote, quote, “Ms. Hinojosa has been quoted in several anti-SpaceX articles.” Can you talk about the former Mayor Mendez’s ties to SpaceX, and how local officials have come after environmental and community advocates, like you, over opposition to SpaceX? You’re still fighting these charges?

BEKAH HINOJOSA: You know, I’m still — I’m steal dealing, fighting to have this charge dropped against me. You know, SpaceX is growing into our community. SpaceX and Elon Musk are actively handing out money here and there, and it’s becoming political hush money. You know, it’s buying out politicians. We’ve seen when a SpaceX testing goes wrong, which it always goes wrong, and burns down wildlife refuge, you know, political officials just turning the other way.

And I’ve been personally impacted now by SpaceX buying out community member — buying out politicians, when, you know, last year, four police broke into my apartment. When I asked for a warrant and tried to put on my shoes, they threatened me with resisting arrest. They jailed me for 26 hours. And then I come to find out, once I’m released, that Mayor Trey Mendez, who’s still in office for the next month, has doxed me. You know, he posted my mugshot on his official Facebook page.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s the current mayor.

BEKAH HINOJOSA: He is the current mayor. His term ends in May. He’s chosen not to run for reelection. And I’ve come to find that the mayor has doxed me. He published my mugshot on his official Facebook platform. He posted my job, trying to get me fired. You know, he singled me out and targeted me because I’ve been publicly — I’ve been speaking up about the dangers of SpaceX for years.

And what this means is that, you know, the city is signaling to us that any community organizer speaking up could be next. They’re targeting community activists. And we are actively rallying and pressuring the city to investigate Mayor Mendez for abuse of power. You know, we won’t tolerate elected officials singling out and targeting and doxing community members. You know, the city is signaling to us that they’re selling out to a private space industry.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how the environment has been impacted. For people who were watching TV to see the SpaceX launch, you see in the upper left “Boca Chica.” Talk about Boca Chica, where the fresh waters of the Rio Grande trickle into the Gulf of Mexico, the beaches and protected lands, such as the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, near SpaceX.

BEKAH HINOJOSA: Yeah. I want to make it clear that Boca Chica Beach was never for sale. You know, Elon Musk has come and colonized our region. Boca Chica Beach is part of a state park. It’s part of the Lower — near the Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Refuge. It’s part of an international wildlife corridor that’s very important for species to migrate, for genetic diversity. Boca Chica Beach and the entire region is also sacred lands of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe. And, you know, families have been going there for generations to fish. Boca Chica Beach is considered the poor people’s beach, because it’s for local people that go, don’t have to pay fees to enter, and can go fish to feed their families. It’s also where the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe hold their sacred ceremonies.

And Elon Musk and SpaceX have been using their private police force and the local police to turn people away, so he can host his press conferences and parties and test dangerous rocket equipment. You know, that’s what we’ve been seeing. You know, some of the routine testing has caused over 60 acres of the wildlife refuge to burn down, has sparked grass fires. We’ve seen threats and death of migratory birds and endangered species like the ocelot.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask about this point that we raised in the lede, as well, and that is, last year, the Federal Aviation Administration determined that SpaceX’s plans for orbital launches would have no significant impact on the Gulf Coast region. The FAA’s ruling came after SpaceX founder Elon Musk accused the agency of having a fundamentally broken regulatory structure, after it didn’t rapidly approve an early Starship test flight. The FAA has also reportedly faced pressure from major SpaceX contractors, including NASA, Pentagon and the National Reconnaissance Office, all of whom rely heavily on SpaceX to launch satellites and astronauts to orbit and beyond. NASA has selected, for example, a version of SpaceX’s Starship as a lander for its upcoming Artemis III mission, which aims to return astronauts to the moon for the first time in half a century. So they’re using this private company for the Pentagon, for the FAA, for all of this NASA work.

BEKAH HINOJOSA: No, it’s very clear that Elon Musk and SpaceX has become — you know, is becoming too big to hold accountable, and is getting away with harming our community. And what we need are real solutions. We need investments, you know, in Earth, the problems we have here on the planet, climate change. And instead, we see our tax subsidies go towards a billionaire’s pet project, for a billionaire to go to space as part of his sci-fi adventure.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to finally ask you about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approving the Rio Grande LNG, Texas LNG, you know, liquid natural gas, and the Rio Bravo Pipeline Thursday, just hours after the SpaceX explosion. These projects are within a few miles from SpaceX and have faced fierce opposition from groups like yours. Talk about what’s at stake with these projects, especially in the Rio Grande and the Gulf of Mexico as area of the country that are on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

BEKAH HINOJOSA: Yeah, we’re dealing with layers and layers of environmental disasters here in the Rio Grande Valley. You know, communities, we’ve been — I’ve been fighting back to stop these LNG terminals for nearly a decade. Rio Grande LNG, Texas LNG and the Rio Bravo Pipeline plan to build next door to SpaceX, within six miles. And we’re terrified of the very real threat that exploding rockets next to giant tanks of gas, next to giant tankers of gas, where we’ve already seen, you know, rocket shrapnel raining even further past six miles.

And we’re being left in the dark. We haven’t heard from regulatory agencies about the flammable risks. And communities here have made it absolutely clear that we oppose these LNG export terminals. All of our communities have passed anti-LNG resolutions — Port Isabel, South Padre Island, Laguna Vista, Long Island Village — because of the threat of flammable explosion from SpaceX, because this would completely destroy our way of life. We are one of the last little pieces of the South Texas coastline that doesn’t have refineries or flare stacks. And, you know, LNG would completely change our way of life for the worse.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bekah Hinojosa, I want to thank you for being with us, environmental and community advocate with the grassroots collaborative Another Gulf Is Possible.

Coming up, we go to Yemen, a leading human rights activist there, where at least 79 people died this week in a stampede. He’ll talk about his country being devastated by the U.S.-backed Saudi war. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Morning (Manhã)” by Azimüth. It was announced this week that Ivan “Mamão” Conti, the founding drummer of Brazilian jazz-funk greats Azymuth, has passed away.

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