A demonstration against Devon Energy and the company’s role in fracking and tar sands mining, including the Keystone XL pipeline, ended with four individuals being placed under arrest last week. Two of them were arrested by police on the basis that they had violated an Oklahoma anti-terrorism law prohibiting “terrorism hoaxes.”
It is strongly suspected that this happened as a result of advice that TransCanada has been giving local law enforcement in states, where protests against the Keystone XL pipeline have been taking place. They have been meeting with law enforcement and suggesting how terrorism laws could be applied to stop citizens from protesting the corporation’s activities.
I spoke with the two individuals arrested on terrorism charges, their lawyer and a spokesperson for Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance (GPTSR), which for months has been conducting nonviolent direct actions against construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma.
On December 13, several people entered Devon Tower in downtown Oklahoma City to protest Devon, an energy company involved in natural gas and oil production that involves fracking. They are also invested and involved in tar sands mining in Canada. Devon Energy CEO John Richels sits on TransCanada’s Board of Directors.
In an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, two individuals locked themselves with a bike lock inside one of the multiple revolving doors that lead into the atrium of Devon Tower. Two other individuals unfurled a banner from the second floor. The banner had the Mockingjay emblem on it from The Hunger Games and a slogan read, “The odds are never in our favor.” Simultaneously, another banner was unfurled that indicated support for indigenous activists in Canada who have been fighting to prevent energy extraction on their land.
According to attorney Douglas Parr, who is representing the two individuals who unfurled The Hunger Games banner, glitter “fell off the banner” and on to the floor of the atrium. All protesters inside the building were asked to leave. The two individuals, who dropped The Hunger Games banner and left the building when requested to do so by security, were then sought after by police and arrested. The two people locked inside the revolving door were eventually removed and arrested as well.
Stefan said he allegedly let go of The Hunger Games banner and it unfurled. “Consequently, some glitter that was on the banner fell [from the second floor] to the ground.”
“At which point, we were approached by Devon employees,” Stefan added. He and the second individual, Bailey, explained they were engaged in “nonviolent peaceful protest.” What had fallen was glitter. Building security told everyone to leave.
A janitor, according to Stefan, came over to sweep up the glitter. Security did not have the building evacuated. However, FBI and a HAZMAT team were later called to the scene to inspect the substance that had unintentionally landed on the atrium floor of Devon Tower.
“I was present after banner droppers were arrested but before the individuals who had locked themselves in a revolving door were extracted,” Parr recalled. “Police on the scene were communicating with someone off site attempting to find some statute in the Oklahoma anti-terrorism statutes.” They were “trying to figure out if one of those statutes could be applied to the banner droppers.”
But, Parr added, “The building was never evacuated. The atrium was never evacuated. People were never warned off of the building at all.”
Stefan and Bailey were booked into jail for a violation of an Oklahoma felony statute called “terrorism hoax.” The statute is intended to prohibit people from “willfully faking a terrorist attack. The two individuals, who locked themselves in the revolving door, were charged with trespassing.
“To my knowledge,” Parr stated, “it is the first time that any of these statutes in Oklahoma have been used with regard to protest activity.” It’s also the “first time terrorist charges” have been “used as a basis for an arrest” against individuals protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.
Both Stefan and Bailey have not been formally charged with violating a “terrorism hoax” statute, a felony which carries a potential sentence of ten years in prison. They were arrested with “terrorism hoax” as the basis and reports have to be submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorney’s Office. The District Attorney’s Office will ultimately decide if they will be charged.
A spokesperson for GPTSR, Eric, noted that the group had video of the action. “Nobody is panicking” in the video when the banner was dropped. “There’s no chaos.” A janitor, he said, cleaned up the glitter with “no protective gear.” But Devon Energy and police chose to escalate the scene and began to discuss possible charges of “biochemical assault” and “terrorism hoax” against protesters.
GPTSR’s action was the second action the group has done at Devon Tower. Previously, they had done a mock oil spill cleanup and engaged in a performance to show how ridiculous and ineffective some of the industry’s methods happen to be. It did not receive as much attention as last week’s action and nobody was arrested.
“Devon Energy is a key player in the deadly tar sands industry,” according to a posting on GPTSR’s website. “And though Devon Energy has been touted as practicing the safest and greenest form of tar sands extraction, the form of extraction that Devon practices, steam assisted gravity drainage, emits 2.5x the greenhouse emissions as open mining according to the Pembina Institute. Additionally, since 80% of tar sands reserves lie too deep within the earth to mine, this type of extraction will utilize 30x more land area than open mining.”
“We wanted to take an anti-fracking stance and also symbolically represent that Devon in Oklahoma is a symbol of power,” Bailey explained.
The group had mostly been engaged in actions in rural areas. Stefan had participated in such an action targeting TransCanada in February. But, Eric said, “You do get attention in the city whereas it’s much more easier to ignore you in the rural areas.” That is why the group has begun to plan nonviolent direct actions against Devon Energy in Oklahoma City.
On June 14 of this year, Bold Nebraska, an organization that fought construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska, obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act request that showed TransCanada was “providing security briefings to Nebraska authorities warning them to look into the application of ‘anti-terrorism laws’ on people who oppose the pipeline.”
A presentation consisting of private intelligence gathered by the company on protesters and organizations demonstrating against the corporation advised, “District Attorneys may have more information regarding the applicability of State or Federal Anti-Terrorism laws prohibiting sabotage or terroristic acts against critical infrastructures.” It suggested resident FBI offices “explore federal charges with the US Attorney.”
The presentation was given to local law enforcement in Nebraska to hype the threat to TransCanada. It contains what could be considered dossiers on activists. As GreenistheNewRed.com’s Will Potter described, it is “a playbook on how to go after activists.”
Up and down the route of the pipeline being constructed, TransCanada has been meeting with law enforcement to advise them of what they could do to control protesters and deter them from challenging TransCanada.
Parr cited an open records request and said law enforcement from Oklahoma City had met with TransCanada. He believes that is what police did in trying to apply an Oklahoma anti-terrorism statute to protest activity was a result of advice from TransCanada.
According to Eric, police from Oklahoma showed up to a “week-long training” hosted by GPTSR. Police have conducted surveillance on the group and there has been cooperation among law enforcement in Oklahoma so that protesters are heavily monitored. FBI questioned some of the protesters as they were leaving Devon Tower on Friday.
Parr has “represented a number of people over the course of this last year who have been arrested in protest activity against construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and tar sands extraction.” TransCanada has managed to obtain temporary restraining orders in two counties in Oklahoma against specific individuals, who were arrested in direct actions. The temporary restraining orders prohibit these individuals from “invasion of the property of TransCanada.” They can be viewed as part of an effort to stifle resistance to the corporation’s pipeline construction.
Environmental groups in Canada, which have been fighting energy corporations, like TransCanada, have been targeted as if they were extremist or terrorist organizations.
To TransCanada, groups like GPTSR and the larger environmental movement targeting pipeline construction are a part of an insurgency to be preemptively halted. The corporation is engaged in psychological operations to, as Sasha Ross has written, “promote an image of popular satisfaction, compliance and respect for authorities in order to facilitate the plans of the state or employer.”
An army field manual, FM 3-24, on counterinsurgency states, “Some elements of culture should be identified and evaluated in a counterinsurgency operation.” This operation can help law enforcement learn how to best approach the population.
To authorities criminalizing protest activity in Oklahoma as terrorism, Eric said this is very “disrespectful to Oklahoma’s history,” since it is a city in America that actually has experienced a terrorist attack, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
The group condemns “corporations trying to put folks away just for being nonviolent protesters and using very scary language that strikes at the heart of people in Oklahoma City.”