Well-known to anyone in the movement to end mountaintop removal—the destructive practice of blowing up mountains to get to coal, Keeper of the Mountains Larry Gibson had a heart attack and died yesterday at the age of sixty-five.
Gibson was an activist, who lived in Welch, West Virginia, and courageously and valiantly stood up to the coal industry in the Appalachia Mountains, particularly Massey Energy. His activism made him a marked man. At Appalachia Rising in 2010, a conference for anti-mountaintop removal activists, Gibson delivered a speech describing how he had been the victim of drive-by shootings at his home. He highlighted how Homeland Security was interested in his activism. He told of how he had been followed, harassed, had his phone tapped and had staff at the capitol building in West Virginia threaten to call Homeland Security on him.
His story appears in the recently published book by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco called Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. As described in the book, Gibson would wear a straw hat and overalls. He had a moustache and would often “walk his property with a loaded Glock .45 pistol.” He had a dog whose name was “very complex.” He called him “Dog.”
Explosions took place daily at the edge of his property. The explosions would typically shower rocks on his property.
Gibson protect grave sites near his home that Massey Coal wanted to demolish to get to coal in the ground. As Hedges and Sacco detail, Gibson refused to sell his property to coal companies, even though there was probably hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of coal beneath his home.
He spent his childhood on Kayford Mountain, an area that coal companies have now blasted and decimated in order to get to coal. Kayford Mountain is also where Gibson was working in the hours before he experienced a heart attack.
The Keeper of Mountains Foundation said in a statement:
As part of his effort to preserve the mountains, Larry traveled across the country, to schools, churches and a wide range of public gatherings where he spread his simple gospel about the mountains: “Love em or leave em; just don’t destroy em.”
Struggling against Big Coal came at a great cost. From Hedges and Sacco’s book:
…Coal companies are the only employers left in southern West Virginia, one of the worst pockets of poverty in the nation, and the desperate scramble for the few remaining jobs has allowed the companies to portray rebels such as Gibson as enemies of not only Big Coal but also the jobs it provides. Gibson’s cabin has been burned down. Two of his dogs have been shot and Dog was hung, although he was saved before he choked to death. Trucks have tried to run him off the road. He has endured drive-by shootings, and a couple of weeks before we visited, his Porta-Johns were overturned. A camper he once lived in was shot up. He lost his water in 2001 when the blasting dropped the water table. He has reinforced his cabin door with six inches of wood to keep it from being kicked in by intruders. The door weighs five hundred pounds and has wheels at the base to open and close it. A black bullet-proof vest hangs near the entrance on the wall, although he admits he has never put it on…
Gibson was against coal entirely. He knew firsthand how diseases brought about by coal mining were leading to the loss of thousands of people. He said, “You heard about the World Trade center terrorists? You heard about them? Bombing, three thousand people dying, but have you heard that with the emissions of coal we lose twenty-four thousand people a year in this country? You know, eight times bigger than the World Trade Center.”
He was an Appalachian, who constantly put his body on the line to stop the immense environmental destruction of the Earth by the coal industry. He stood tall against mass devastation of land by the corporate state, a practice that enjoys bipartisan political support.
He lived life by the creed that Appalachia would be better without coal. He took on government and corporations when they tried to intimidate, harass and target him. And everyone in the movement to end mountaintop removal knew Gibson and found him to be an inspiration.