Flickr Photo by Tar Sands Blockade

More than fifty people reportedly risked arrest in Winnsboro, Texas, today, as they walked on to the area where TransCanada is constructing its Keystone XL pipeline and engaged in civil disobedience. Multiple individuals chose to defend and show solidarity with people who have been in the trees for the past three weeks taking direct action against TransCanada. There were solidarity actions in Washington, DC, Boston, Austin and New York City. At least ten people were arrested in Winnsboro.

In the morning, a blockader was arrested when he sat down in a path and refused to leave. Tar Sands Blockade reported he was handcuffed and laid face down in the dirt for hours before being removed on a stretcher. His action helped to delay police and “allowed other blockaders to breach the police  line and enter the tree blockade.”

Just after 9 am, three more were arrested. Two blockaders locked down to excavator equipment. Live streamer Lorenzo, who was arrested by police last week, was handcuffed and detained by police. A TransCanada supervisor in an ATV rolled up to yell orders to the goons that the multinational corporation is paying thirty dollars an hour to transform the location into a police state.

By mid-afternoon, six blockaders had been arrested. “A 70-year-old woman participating in the blockade was thrown to the ground and tackled,” by officers who were likely ordered to do so by TransCanada. Two blockaders remained locked to the excavator equipment.

Right before 4 pm, the two locked to the excavator equipment were arrested. People cheered as they were taken away.

Lorenzo was not arrested and was eventually released. He managed to record a male officer talking to him about his views on the situation. The officer said, “I understand y’all’s position and I understand where you’re coming from. What you all need to understand about us as police officers is we’re certified police officers in the state of Texas. And we’re bound by duty to uphold the law 24/7.” He said something about a tree “sitter” coming down because he “finally realized” they were burrowing underneath the trees, “fifty foot under.” He claimed TransCanada is just clearing small brush so they can put stakes into the ground. They are not touching any of the “September growth” because the “district” made sure the trees blockaders are in go untouched. Lorenzo told the officer that all pipelines leak and he should look into that.

The officer responded, “I’m not so much different from y’all.” Everybody has an opinion. “If I am going to protest something, I’m going to go to the representative’s house or his place of business. I’m going to protest there with a bunch of people cause they’re the ones that can change what’s going on.” Lorenzo reacted, “From what I am hearing, all this was done—This is technically in some weird way legal to take away land from Texas land owners. So how do you protest when all the representatives seem eager to give away the land they are supposed to protect?” The officer answered, “It’s not illegal, but the only way you’re going to change the law to keep them from giving away the land is through representatives.” Lorenzo brought up the civil rights movement and how a small group had to make it clear that a change had to be made. The officer asked, “Where did they march?” He said think about it. Lorenzo continued the conversation saying there were people marching all over in addition to this action. The officer maintained it needs to be at state capitals and the capital of the United States, even though Lorenzo had just said protesting is happening in many locations.

First arrest of the day (Flickr Photo by Tar Sands Blockade)

People arrested are being charged with trespassing. Spokesperson for the Tar Sands Blockade says, “In reality, Tar Sands Blockade is not trespassing on TransCanada’s property. Many of TransCanada’s easement contracts were brokered through fraud and intimidation, and their entire legal foundation is being challenged in the courts for those reasons. If anything, TransCanada is trespassing on the property of landowners who never wanted anything to do with their dangerous tar sands pipeline.”

As this blog has reported, the area around the construction site in East Texas has been transformed into a police state. Police officers are demanding to see identification from anyone they spot nearby. Police, who are off-duty police officers or hired additional security, are patrolling private property, space beyond the easement that TransCanada has claimed through fraudulent contracts landowners were coerced into signing. They are arresting and harassing just about everyone, including people on property that they own. Farmers have been told not to walk to certain areas of their land and, if they do, they could face arrest.

Freedom of the press is being obstructed. Media are being kept away from the tree blockade. Two live streamers have been arrested. A New York Times journalist and a photographer were detained but later released for “trespassing,” even though they had been invited by the land owner to be on the property. (No charges have been brought against any press yet.)

Off-duty police officers are engaging in this conduct. They come on to the land to arrest people while wearing their government-issued police uniform. They carry state-issued weapons. They arrest people with taxpayer-bought police equipment. But, they are not working for any city or state. They are paid goons serving TransCanada.

Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson thumbing through SLAPP lawsuit filed by TransCanada (Flickr Photo by Tar Sands Blockade)

The multinational corporation has also launched a civil suit against twenty-one people, three organizations and six anonymous tree sitters. The suit is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) and is specifically aimed at curbing free speech and assembly rights of citizens. The people named are “former arrestees of Tar Sands Blockade actions with the exception of media spokesperson Ron Seifert, who has yet been arrested in connection with a protest, and area landowner Eleanor Fairchild,” who was arrested with actress Daryl Hannah in a civil disobedience action.

The California Anti-SLAPP Project (CASP) explains that SLAPPs in general are “civil complaints or counterclaims (against either an individual or an organization) in which the alleged injury was the result of petitioning or free speech activities protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” They are “often brought by corporations, real estate developers, or government officials and entities against individuals or organizations who oppose them on public issues. Typically, SLAPPs are based on ordinary civil tort claims such as defamation (libel or slander), malicious prosecution, abuse of power, conspiracy, and interference with prospective economic advantage.”

Their sole purpose, though they are “legally meritless,” is to chill public debate on a specific issue. This kind of suit aims to divert one’s attention away from any public campaign by forcing one to focus money, time and legal resources on defending one’s self in court.

Finally, “Democracy Now!” did a segment on the Tar Sands Blockade this morning. One of the landowners, Susan Scott, spoke about being threatened with an eminent domain lawsuit and forced into signing away property to TransCanada:

…I didn’t want my pristine forest messed up, screwed up, whatever you want to call it. Didn’t want it—didn’t want it touched. And so, I held them off for two years. And then he told me that they had eminent domain. And now, then, it’s become an unselfish thing, when I really found out what they was fixing to put through there. It’s going to ruin our water system. It’s going to take away everything that we’ve worked for. And from the very beginning, they never told me the truth. And I just watched a thing on TV about Geraldo at Large the other night, and he was talking about it, and it was pretty bad.

And I feel like that our constitutional rights have been just wiped completely away, that we don’t have any more. I feel like that the government has bailed on us, and I told that openly. And I wrote the president and all the commissioners and whoever else, and their response was to pass the buck to somebody else. And I don’t know what else I can say other than that. I’ve always said I didn’t want them. And, yes, I did take the money, because they said they were taking my land anyway…

This is what Blockaders have been protesting for weeks now. In the longest tree sit in Texas history, they have been calling attention to intimidation and harassment by TransCanada of not just activists but also private property owners in Winnsboro, Texas.

Like Seifert said on the program, “This is a corporation, a multinational corporation, that is trespassing on stolen land. And although they claim to be a great neighbor, the have little to no regard for the health and safety of those that are defending their land, those individuals that are rising up and defending homes here in Texas.”

Here’s the full “Democracy Now!” segment (and, for video from the Tar Sands Blockade, go here):