J. D. Heyes
December 30, 2013
Environmental activists, like all activists, can sometimes be overly disruptive and a little bit kooky in what they choose to protest, but one thing that they generally are not are terrorists. But apparently some police departments and federal law enforcement officials would beg to differ.
Indeed, according to Mother Jones magazine, many activists have been subject to arrest in the past – but never for being enemies of the state. Until now:
It’s not uncommon for environmental protesters to face arrest, but here’s an apparent first: On [December 13], Oklahoma City police charged a pair of environmental activists with staging a “terrorism hoax” after they unfurled a pair of banners covered in glitter – a substance local cops considered evidence of a faux biochemical assault.
According to the magazine, Stefan Warner and Moriah Stephenson, both members of an environmental organization called Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, were part of a larger group of about 12 activists demonstrating at Devon Tower, HQ of Devon Energy, one of the largest U.S.-based independent natural gas and oil producers.
‘The substance was later determined to be glitter’
The protestors were opposing the company’s use of fracking and its role in the mining of Canada’s tar sands, as well as the firm’s ties to TransCanada, the energy company planning the Keystone XL pipeline. As reported by Mother Jones, “As other activists blocked the building’s revolving door, Warner and Stephenson hung two banners – one a cranberry-colored sheet emblazoned with The Hunger Games ‘mockingjay’ symbol and the words ‘The odds are never in our favor’ in gold letters – from the second floor of the Devon Tower’s atrium.”
Soon after, responding police arrested Warner and Stephenson, as well as two other protestors. The latter two activists were charged with trespassing, but Warner and Stephenson were nailed with additional charges – staging a phony bioterrorist attack, a charge that, if convicted, carries a prison term of 10 years in Oklahoma.
According to OKC Police spokesman Capt. Dexter Nelson, Devon Tower security officials were concerned that an “unknown substance” falling from the two banners could be toxic due to “the covert way [the protestors] presented themselves…”
“A lot were dressed as somewhat transient-looking individuals,” Nelson continued. “Some were wearing all black. Inside the banners was a lot of black powder substance, later determined to be glitter.”
In their report, Nelson said cops who responded described the incident as a “biochemical assault.”
“Even the FBI responded,” Nelson told Mother Jones.
An attorney for the activists, Doug Parr, told the magazine that he has never seen “terrorism hoax” charges, defined by Oklahoma as “the willful conduct to simulate an act of terrorism,” filed against activists.
“I’ve represented any number of political activists in Oklahoma for 35 years,” he said. “This is the first time I am aware of that anyone has been arrested on terrorism-related charges for protest activity.”
He added: “In my humble opinion, this is not at all an appropriate use of this statute.”
More reporting by Mother Jones:
Parr thinks the charges are the result of TransCanada’s recent efforts to pressure law enforcement officers in the South and Midwest to charge nonviolent environmental protesters with terrorism-related offenses.
In June, activists publicized TransCanada PowerPoint presentations delivered to law enforcement officials that encouraged them to arrest Keystone XL protesters on terrorism charges. One presentation suggested law enforcement officers contact district attorneys for “information regarding the applicability of state or federal anti-terrorism laws prohibiting sabotage or terroristic acts against critical infrastructures” when dealing with nonviolent protesters, or working with a FBI field office.
‘It was anti-climactic and boring, until…’
This smacks of the days when President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized the CIA and FBI to track and investigate anti-Vietnam War protestors.
Parr believes that OKC Police were determined to arrest Devon protestors on terrorism-related charges. He told Mother Jones that he heard a police officer on the scene – a Maj. Steve McCool – ask for guidance by phone on how to charge Warner and Stephenson under provisions of Oklahoma’s anti-terrorism act.
Warner told the liberal news magazine that, when he and Stephenson hung up the banners, “there was no chaos or panic.” Devon Tower personnel removed the banners on their own, he said, after they realized the pair were protestors.
“It was anticlimactic and boring until the cops overreacted,” he said.