In a supreme act of irony, the company that worked with police to abuse hundreds of peaceful protesters in order to gain the right to pump poison under a major water supply has decided to sue activists supporting those protesters and label them terrorists. No, this isn’t opposite world, but rather an America that has descended into a morass of corporatism and profiteering.
Yesterday, the companies behind the DAPL pipeline—Energy Transfer Partners and Energy Transfer Equity—filed a lawsuit against a series of environmental advocacy groups, including numerous Greenpeace entities, seeking damages for their activism against the DAPL pipeline.
The energy companies allege that these environmental groups were a conspiracy (they refer to them as “the enterprise” in the complaint) that funded eco-terrorism against their company and spread massive amounts of disinformation against their pipeline, both of which caused enormous financial damages. The company is seeking both compensatory damages (money lost due to the acts of the accused) and punitive damages (additional money to punish the accused) from these activist groups—these damages could total over $1 billion if the lawsuit is successful.
Put simply, this lawsuit is an absurd and abusive attempt to intimidate activists, dissuade future protests, and push a narrative that the DAPL activists are terrorists in the mind of the public.
It is certainly true that water defenders and environmental activists spread a great deal of information about the DAPL, most of which was extremely negative. To recap, here is a short summary of some of these facts:
- DAPL will leak and pollute drinking water—this is undeniable, as the pipeline has already leaked multiple times, several of which occurred before the pipeline was even fully operational.
- DAPL’s route runs through tribal land—this is undeniable, as simply looking at a map of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty’s land division shows how the pipeline runs through land promised to the Sioux.
- DAPL’s route was based on racism—this is undeniable, as the DAPL was originally going to pass through Bismarck, a white city, but was rejected for endangering their water and rerouted even closer to the drinking water of numerous Native American tribes.
- DAPL worked with police to assault peaceful protesters—this is undeniable, as we have innumerable videos of this abuse occurring. Not only did police brutally repress protests with water cannons (in freezing weather), beat protesters and make false arrests, but DAPL security set attack dogs on peaceful protesters and pepper-sprayed them with no legal justification.
While I’m sure that Energy Transfer Partners suffered losses when activists exposed how they were lying about their pipeline’s safety and how the entire project was based on racism and backed up by police brutality, but sometimes the truth hurts. Simply being damaged by true information isn’t cause to sue the person who spreads this information—it’s cause to stop engaging in reprehensible conduct that makes you look bad if it is revealed.
Similarly, DAPL’s accusation that groups like Greenpeace funded environmental extremists to damage their business and stop the pipeline because it would increase donations is equally specious. This may be hard for the businessmen and lawyers at Energy Transfer Partners to grasp, but not everything boils down to making money and some people actually care about protecting the earth. At best, they are projecting their own biases onto the protesters, and, at worst, they are lying in an attempt to repress dissent.
At the end of the day, the likelihood of this lawsuit actually seeing a courtroom is extremely low and Energy Transfer Partners knows it. Given this, one may wonder why they are choosing to engage in such a public and futile lawsuit. The answer to this is simply that they can use the lawsuit to intimidate activist groups with the threat that they will be dragged into court and forced to pay an enormous amount of money in legal fees to defend themselves from false charges if they dare offend Energy Transfer Partners in the future.
This is a fairly common tactic by big business that has become known as a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuit. Here are the key criteria that Duke Law School uses to define a SLAPP suit: “A civil complaint or counterclaim for monetary damages and/or an injunction; filed against non-governmental individuals or groups; because of their communication to a government body, official, or the electorate; on an issue of some public interest or concern.” Additionally, these “suits are without merit and contain an ulterior political or economic motive.”
As you can clearly see, the Energy Transfer Partners lawsuit perfectly fulfills each of these criteria. Unfortunately, it also incorporates a very dangerous type of language that isn’t common in most SLAPP cases; Energy Transfer Partners is alleging that activists were engaging in “eco-terrorism” and Greenpeace was funding them.
The use of the label “terrorist” to delegitimize your opposition is a tactic that repressive authorities are increasingly relying upon. They declare those who disagree with them to be terrorists and the public often fails to look into the situation further. If the media constantly repeats the narrative that the case is about eco-terrorism and the damage that it caused, many people simply never look to see if the “terrorism” actually occurred and become biased simply due to the labels applied.
Leaked documents from private security personnel working for Energy Transfer Partners shows the source of this “terrorism” terminology. Private contractors at TigerSwan security—many of whom worked in the US intelligence agencies before moving to the private sector—proposed the use of anti-insurgent tactics when dealing with DAPL protesters and asserted that protesters “generally followed the Jihadist insurgency model while active…” This conflation of terrorists with peaceful protesters is extremely toxic, not only in how it poisons the public dialogue, but also in how it causes police to repress protest.
This lawsuit needs to be stopped and the companies pushing it need to be repudiated by the public. Even if you don’t agree with the protesters (in which case I hope you have stocks in bottled water companies), you must fight against this kind of overreach and specious litigation intended to destroy our ability to protest.
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