THE NEW GREEN SCARE: Lawmakers are ramping up penalties for protesters who take the kind of drastic action needed to save the planet.

AuthorKing, Elizabeth

Alex expected to be arrested. The Maryland resident and environmental activist knew it was only a matter of time before the police showed up; the only question was what the charges would be.

It was May of this year, and Alex (a pseudonym) was physically attached to cement-filled tires inside a section of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia. The project, an under-construction natural gas pipeline owned by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, will span the Virginias and poses a major threat to the local ecology, including many endangered species.

After police arrived at the scene, a state trooper used a rope to drag Alex from the pipe, feet first. "What was going through my mind was, 'Try not to say anything that will be considered a threat of terrorism, because they've been charging people with that,'" Alex tells The Progressive.

Just a month before, twenty-two-year-old activist Holden Dometrius became the first Mountain Valley Pipeline protester to be charged with a terrorism crime, after he chained himself to construction equipment. Two more protesters were charged soon afterward for similar offenses, and dozens of people have been arrested since. Activists have now been using direct action to block construction of the pipeline in West Virginia for more than a year.

After being removed from the pipeline, Alex was brought to the police station, facing two felonies and a terrorism charge--exactly what Alex had feared.

Such charges are part of a wave of penalties faced by eco-activists in recent years, spurred in part by new laws passed in the wake of the massive protests near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. For Michael Loadenthal, visiting assistant professor of sociology and social justice at Miami University in Ohio and an expert on the repression of social movements, these penalties indicate a resurgence of the Green Scare.

"I do believe we are re-entering a phase when there is greater and more obvious cooperation between corporate interests, especially energy and extractive industries, and the state," Loadenthal says.

The original Green Scare was a period in the 1990s and early 2000s when the U.S. government, in the interest of companies who profit from damaging the Earth, sought to squash animal rights and environmental activism.

The new crackdown comes amid urgent warnings from climate scientists about the dangerous impacts of climate change. In October 2018, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report confirming that there is very little time for world governments to avert irreversible climate catastrophe. The IPCC said, at the time the report was released, just twelve years remain for political leaders to take action.

Yet the dire effects of climate change have been apparent for some time already. Not only have a number of animal species become extinct, but extreme weather events from hurricanes to droughts are causing hardship around the globe. Nearly a quarter of the world's people are now contending with water scarcity, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, the administration of President Donald Trump appears to be doing everything it can to make the problem worse, from eliminating fuel efficiency standards to letting private mining and fossil fuel companies lease public lands.

Political leaders in Washington, D.C., refuse to enact the changes that scientists and environmentalists insist are needed to prevent catastrophic and permanent harm as officials at all levels of government continue to mount increasingly hostile campaigns to eliminate the most effective modes of environmental activism.

During the Green Scare, law enforcement agencies cracked down not only on eco-activists who used direct action tactics including sabotage, but also on such standard political activity as canvassing.

In the early 2000s, when the administration of President George W. Bush had garnered significant...

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