Photo by the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance
Last Friday in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Stefan Warner and Moriah Stephenson walked through the front door of Devon Tower, the headquarters of Devon Energy. The energy giant has plans to increase fracking, and its CEO is on the board of TransCanada, the corporation behind the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The activists walked to the second floor balcony of the atrium, and dropped a Hunger Games-inspired banner over the railing. It said, "The odds are never in our favor," and featured the series' logo – a mockingjay carrying a monkeywrench.
As the banner unfurled, some glitter fell to the ground. The whole thing was pretty boring as far as protests like this go, and when security guards asked them to leave, they did – Stefan had no desire to get arrested, plus Moriah had to finish her grad-school homework.
"I could have swept it up in two minutes if they gave me a broom," Stefan said. As they were leaving, he apologised to the cleaning lady. She smiled at him and said it's OK.
When police arrived, they arrested two other protesters with Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance who had locked themselves in the building's doorway. And when more cop cars kept arriving, the glitter-fabulous duo were detained because the cops wanted to investigate the substance. "I was like, 'What do you mean? The glitter?'" Stefan said. "You think glitter is a hazardous substance? You've got to be kidding me."
When they got to jail, they found out they were being charged with a "terrorism hoax," a state felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.
Their attorney, Doug Parr, has been involved in dozens of protest cases like this one in Oklahoma and Texas. In other arrests, protesters have faced trumped-up charges, but this is a radical escalation. "I've been practicing law since the 1970s. Quite frankly, I've been expecting this," Parr said. "Based upon the historical work I've been involved in, I know that when popular movements that confront the power structure start gaining traction, the government ups the tactics they employ in order to disrupt and take down those movements."
TransCanada has been putting pressure on law enforcement to do exactly that. In documents obtained by Bold Nebraska, the company was shown briefing police and the FBI on how to prosecute anti-pipeline protesters as terrorists.
In Ohio, the Athens County Emergency Management Agency recently held a training drill that involved a fake anti-fracking group. The scenario was meant to prepare emergency first responders for a terrorist attack. Focusing the training on non-violent environmentalists caused such an uproar that the county had to issue a public apology.
Accusing non-violent protesters of "terrorism" may have a similar effect in Oklahoma City – the word has a visceral sting in this town – the site of the most destructive terrorist attack in US history prior to 9/11. In 1995, the Oklahoma City bombings injured more than 600 people and killed 168.
Using that same language to describe environmentalists with a sparkly banner is only going to backfire, Stefan said. It's too soon to tell if these charges are going to stick. But either way, he said, “I don't think the police realise they might be making us a lot of allies."