Billionaires for Coal Celebrate Dominion in Richmond

Fun was to be had today in Richmond, Virginia around noon today, at the offices of Dominion Resources.  About two dozen folks identifying themselves as “Billionaires for Coal” assembled  to ostensibly voice their praise for the company’s many coal-fired power plants.

Dressed in formal attire and sipping beverages from wine glasses, the group chanted pro-coal, anti-environment slogans and held signs expressing similar sentiments. In addition to rousing recitations such as, “Up with sea levels, up with profits,” the mid-day merriment included a live bluegrass performance by ‘The We Love Money String Band’ who frequently reassured their audience that they’re “only in it for the money.”

Addressing recent displays of opposition to Dominion’s proposed Wise County coal plant, as well as the escalating presence of anti-coal activism on an international scale, Stan Sneezley an alleged billionaire from Harrisonburg said. “I am insulted by all of these people talking about asthma and climate change and their children’s future. These people obviously don’t care about me and my money at all! I say if a few million kids have to wheeze a little for me to breath easy, then so be it! I’m rich!”

The theatrical display at the corner of 8th and Cary bewildered and amused passing motorists and pedestrians. Though the group’s signs and chants kept on message with the façade of billionaires celebrating their controversial investments, leaflets distributed to on-lookers shed a different light on the events of the day. Made to look like large dollar bills, these leaflets revealed that the demonstration was in-fact organized by Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!), the same environmental organization that twice staged protests blocking entrance to Dominion’s Tredegar St. headquarters in the Spring and Summer of last year. Citing coal’s role as the chief cause of climate-change among other grievances, the leaflets starkly displayed the alleged “billionaires” alignment with the breadth of grassroots opposition to Dominion Power.

Breaking character, Luis, an Earth First! activist from Charlottesville put it plainly, “Coal is dirty, dangerous and deadly. The public knows it and our political representatives are beginning to reflect our concerns on the matter. The one and only reason that companies like Dominion are still pushing for new coal plants is money. By continuing to pursue a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County, Dominion is saying that the wealth of it’s investors is more important than the health and well-being of that area’s residents.”

Local, Local, Local

My ideal social ideology is libertarian socialism. I believe in localized, non-hierarchical, self-governed communities with shared resources and lack of oppressive social hierarchies that cause and reinforce harmful social dynamics. I think there are inherit flaws in capitalism that cannot be remedied with market-based or state-created solutions. This being said, I find the need to write on how this affects my everyday life and my activism.2378897283_f799b3b3e0_m1

In relating my ideal social ideology to most people, the immediate response is that the abolition of the state would never work because there would be chaos and power-hungry people which would result in mass-violence. Or they try to fit this ideology within the framework of electoral politics, also declaring it would never work. Of course libertarian socialism would not work in the context of our nation, that goes against its own definition and theory! No radical believes that libertarian socialism would be the ‘policy’ of a nation. It is highly localized and obviously cannot be ‘applied’ to a community from the top down. With that said, most of the radicals I know and work with believe that the creation of their ideologies in their own lives and communities will reduce the reliance on the capitalist economy at least on a personal level, and in theory will make the ‘state’  less powerful by the creation of alternative institutions and ideas.

Therefore, my actions lead not to the direct abolition of the state. The purpose of my activism is to do what is within my reach to end social and environmental injustice caused by or perpetuated by oppressive hierarchies and power dynamics, and to participate in the creation of non-hierarchical alternative institutions. Contrary to popular belief about anti-authoritarian activists, my activism is not centered around urgently trying to impose my ideal society in the current context of our nation, as that would be unrealistic, contradictory, and unproductive. Rather, my ideal social ideology serves as a framework for my community relations, friendships, projects, attention, and opinions.

Resistance to Dirty Coal Goes Nat’l

This week Time published an article highlighting the national resistance to dirty coal plants, and the entire, deadly cradle to grave cycle of coal. They focused on the fight closest to home for us here in the Blue Ridge, and interviewed my good friend Lyric. Of course, greasy clean coal scumbags have been buying up adds in Time for a long time, along with all the other green washers. Oh well, any news is good news, er… something.

Best part? “Hard-core activists like Morgan”

Taking On King Coal

Activists don�t want more coal plants, like this one near a Pennsylvania playground.
Activists don’t want more coal plants, like this one near a Pennsylvania playground.
Robert Nickelsberg / Getty for TIME

Nothing could sway the Dominion 11 from their mission–not the cops and certainly not the prospect of free food. Early on the morning of Sept. 15, activists from a range of environmental groups formed a human barrier to block access to a coal plant being built by Dominion in rural Wise County, Virginia. As acts of civil disobedience go, this wasn’t exactly Bloody Sunday. The police took a hands-off approach and even offered to buy the protesters breakfast if they unchained themselves. (They declined.) But the consequences were far from trivial. The activists who had formed the barrier to the construction site were arrested and charged with trespassing, and they eventually paid $400 each in fines. That’s nothing, of course, compared with the punishment the Dominion plant will inflict on the environment. If completed, the plant will emit 5.3 million tons of CO2 a year into the atmosphere, roughly the equivalent of putting a million more cars on the road.

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Peaceful Protesters Lock their Bodies to Dominion Power Plant

Update: After four hours blockading the construction site this morning, 11 protesters were arrested and charged with trespassing and unlawful assembly. They are currently being held in nearby Duffield jail. As of 2:30 Monday afternoon they are still being processed, and bail is not yet set. Check back here or here for details.

At roughly 6 A.M. this morning more than 20 peaceful protesters locked themselves to steel barrels with functional solar panels attached at the construction site for a giant new coal-fired power plant in Wise County, VA. Right now, at 7:33A.M. the lockdown, which is the first project of Rainforest Action Network’s new Action Tank, continues at the site where Dominion Virginia wants to build a 585 megawatt plant. Pictures from the action deployment are up on RAN’s Flickr site and you can follow all the news and updates today at www.wiseupdominion.org more coming soon to itsgettinghotinhere later.

activists lock down at SW Virginia Coal Plant Construction Site in St. Paul VA

activists lock down at SW Virginia Coal Plant Construction Site in St. Paul VA

SE Convergence Rocks Climate Criminals

Reports from the field start coming. Last week over 150 earth warriors from across the South East and beyond came together to our humble bio-region and brought fire and knowledge to share. Below is a report from the Snaking Climate Criminal march yesterday in Richmond. Check out more about the convergence. Thanks to everyone who came down to say No More! to the sons of bitches eviscerating our future!

August 11 Richmond, VA Despite a massive police presence throughout the city and our major action plan derailed by law enforcement harassment, 50 activists snaked their way through Richmond today in an un-permitted march, paying visits to several climate criminals. Carrying banners reading, “No Nukes, No Coal, No Kidding” and “Social Change not Climate Change,” people marched to the headquarters of Massey Energy, Dominion, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and Bank of America.

At Massey Energy, a notorious coal company involved in mountaintop removal coal mining, activists surrounded the entrance and yelled, “Hands off our mountains!.” The group then moved on to the Department of Environmental Quality which recently rubber stamped Dominion’s dirty coal plant in Wise County, VA. Next the group brought the party to Dominion, who is building the aforementioned coal plant as well as proposing a new nuke plant in Louisa County, VA. Chanting “No coal, no nukes, we won’t stop until you do!” the activists attempted to take over Dominion’s plaza but were repelled by police on horses. In a show of interspecies solidarity one horse bucked a cop off its back.

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Tredegar 12 Sentenced

On Tuesday I and nine others of the Tredegar 12 accepted a plea bargain from the Commonwealth, for 200 community service hours to be completed in the City of Richmond. It’s a lot of time, and a lot of time in a town none of us live in, but it gives us all a chance to network and connect with folks doing good positive work in Richmond. Below is a post by a friend, with excerpts from the Richmond Times Dispatch’s article about the decision. The one thing I want to add is my favorite comment from that article so far:

“this is indeed an outrage. civil disobedience must be punished harshly! if these agitators can’t participate in an exchange of ideas controlled and monitored by law enforcement then they should suffer the consequences. this is a sad day for our state and nation. these horrible people should be dealt with the same way the romans dealt with history’s all-time worst agitator – jesus. if green likes hanging from a harness so much, maybe he’d like to try a cross on for size!”

Jesus Christ, the all time worst Agitator (if by worst, they mean the most effective and badass community organizer ever seen in old Judea, then I agree!).

From Beth Wellington, a good friend over at The Writing Corner

Eco-Terrorism, Not

The photo, uncredited, was posted at GaMoonbat and shows the Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!) protest at Dominion Resources headquarters on June 30, the day Dominion started construction of its proposed new coal-fired plant in Wise County, Virginia.

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I wouldn’t have suspected the folks, pictured above, were considered eco-terrorists, had not Don Thieme at GaMoonbat linked to my June 30 blog post on their sit-in. Thieme, a self-described geologist, archaeologist, and college science teacher in Valdosta, Georgia, tagged his entry “eco-terrorism.”

As I noted in my post, opponents argue that the Wise plant would serve to accelerate mountaintop removal. Before undertaking the sit-in, BREF! activists joined many of us throughout Virginia in signing petitions, testifying in state hearings, sending letters to the editor and to Governor Kaine to oppose the plant. In fact, the last time I heard from Marley Green, one of those arrested, was July 5, when he emailed all his contacts to ask that we sign another petition–this one in support of the wind power initiative started by folks in WV’s Coal River Mountain Watch. Coal River. (Coal River Mountain is another area being destroyed by MTR. Marley, Holly Garrett–another arrestee–and I were all among the first 16 signatures. This petition is so-mainstream that I received a second request to sign it last night from an anthropology research scholar.)

So what is mountaintop removal (MTR)? What is ecoterroism? And should the term apply to these folks?

MTR, as practiced in Appalachia has been called, as I wrote for LLRX.com, “Strip Mining on Steroids.” Coal companies denude mountains of their trees and topsoil, drill holes to insert AMFO (ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil–a combintion similar to that used in car bombs), and after detonation tear down the mountains, removing the coal and dumping the refuse to bury headwater streams. In the process, drinking water is poisoned, communities destroyed. And when folks who have lived in these mountains for years question the process, they receive threats to themselves and their families. For several examples of the latter, consider this description from the Washington Post about Larry Gibson and this piece from the Bristol Herald about Larry Bush. And many people tell me that complaining to the sheriff in rural counties does no good, and that in some cases deputies even serve as enforcers of the coal companies’ will.

Eco-terrorism occurring within the U.S. is a subset of domestic terrorism. Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Pub. L. No. 107-52), according to the American Civil Liberties Union, [my emphasis added]

expanded the definition of terrorism to cover “domestic,” as opposed to international, terrorism. A person engages in domestic terrorism if they do an act “dangerous to human life” that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. Additionally, the acts have to occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States…

In testimony before Congress, the FBI defined ecoterrorism as [my emphasis added]

the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.

Sourcewatch reports in an article I’d recommend reading, that Ron Arnold, the Executive Director of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise has been instrumental in conflating civic protest and terrorism. [my emphasis added]

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the word ‘terrorism’ has become a potent political weapon. Since the 1980s, Arnold has blurred the boundaries between nonviolent civil disobedience and more contentious tactics such as vandalism and sabotage – which have on the whole been rejected by mainstream environmentalists – and elevated property damage to equal terrorism as a societal threat. More recently, he has been joined by other prominent anti-environmentalists including self-styled “eco-terrorism expert” Barry Clausen and Nick Nichols, the now retired chair of PR firm Nichols-Dezenhall. (After Nichols retirement the company was renamed Dezenhall Resources).

The deliberate conflation of civil disobedience with terrorism by Arnold, Clausen and Nichols has paved the way for the introduction of draconian legislation, such as the so-called Ecoterrorism Prevention Act of 2004 , to ban or increase penalties for civil disobedience protests.

Apparently Arnold et. al’s efforts are succeeding. Take the definition of eco-terrorism promoted by the National Forum for State Legislatures, which has the slogan “The Forum for America’s Ideas.” NCSL’s annual legislative summit, which finished up last week in New Orleans is

an opportunity for state lawmakers from around the country to exchange ideas and debate issues being considered in Washington that will affect state public policies. The resolutions enacted will guide NCSL’s lobbying activity in Washington over the next several years.

Denver staff member L. Cheryl Runyon (email) wrote a piece posted at the group’s site entitled “Eco-terrorism-A New Kind of Sabotage”which ranks towards the top of a Google search on the word “eco-terrorism.” Her second sentence is:

Eco-terrorists commit arson and burglary, trespass, issue death threats, and engage in malicious destruction of property and vandalism-usually against farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers, researchers, manufacturers or home builders.

I find conflating trespass and death threats alarming, especially in an official paper by a group that lobbies Congress. How are a misdemeanor involving civil disobedience and death threats in the same category? And, if Runyon prevails, how will that affect legislation and thus our civil liberties?

In re-defining terrorism so broadly, we risk losing the First Amendment rights so important for a democracy.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In the most recenet legislative iteration concerning eco-terorrism, Jane Harman’s (D-CA) H.R. 1955: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 passed the House by a vote of 204 to 6, on October 23, 2007. The measure would have amended the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to

add a new section concerning the prevention of violent radicalization (an extremist belief system for facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change) and homegrown terrorism (violence by a group or individual within the United States to coerce the U.S. government, the civilian population, or a segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives).

One wonders, just exactly violent radicalization might be identified and what measures will be allowed to prevent it. The only six voting against the measure were: Abercrombie, Costello, Duncan, Flake, Kucinich and Rohrabacher. The Senate has not acted on the measure to date.
<!– –>There was no violence in Richmond, nor even property damage, in any of the other activities by BREF!, who have done things like sing Christmas carols w. new lyrics protesting coal investments by the Bank of America. This time, seven had been standing with a sign “No New Coal Plant in Wise County” or a banner “It’s Up to Us Virginia. No Nukes. No New Coal. Renewables Now! No Dominion Over Our Democracy.” The seven were arrested despite disbanding upon request. The prosecutor told their attorneys that if all of them did not accept the plea bargain, she would withdraw it for everyone. Five accepted the plea, to allow the blockaders to avoid trial. But, when two women refused, the prosecutor allowed them go to trial separately on September 18, while accepting the other pleas, despite her threats to do otherwise.

The sign holders and the blockaders who accepted the plea bargain are willing to work in Richmond, VA for 200 hours with no pay. That’s five weeks, if they can find a full-time assignment, which will require a temporary move across state. Marley, who was hanging from the bridge, was originally to have been required to work an additional 50 hours with the option to go to jail for the weekend and reduce his hours to 200. Without a guilty plea, that seemed legally problematic and thus the prosecutor changed her offer to 25 extra hours. I find it exceptional that the community service would be required to take place in Richmond, entailing an extended period of work without pay, necessitating travel expenses and/or housing costs for a second location.

I ran a community service order program for 17 years in Virginia, supervising both misdemeanants and felons–including one man transfered to my caseload after being found guilty of major drug possession in another area. The current sentences, based on my experience, appear to be more severe than for many felonies and thus may have been invoked against expressive speech based on the viewpoint of the speakers.

Some of those who hold BREF! in contempt have commented at the Richmond Times Dispatch coverage yesterday with vitriol. One said that allowing community service would somehow lead to riots. I ask that they remember that the founders of our nation embodied in the spirit of our Constitution the notion that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ” They designed a government based on free speech, a free press and access to the courts. There are so many communities besides ours here in Appalachia who have had to fight for the health and welfare of their families and their neighborhoods. Whether at Love Canal or or in Times Beach, Missouri, they would not have been able to do so, without free speech and access to the courts.

Yet, in both of those cases, the affected area was relatively small, the remedy evacuation. Here we face almost 1,000,000 acres of mountains leveled, half of them in West Virginia, alone. In a single 2001 case, 1,500 homes were lost in a flood and the courts have held the coal, landholding, and timber companies liable.

When I think of domestic terrorism, the Oklahoma City Bombing comes to mind, or the Ku Klux Klan or the Army of God. For eco-terrorism, maybe the Earth Liberation Front, although its targets have not been as widespread and have involved serious property damage rather than human lives.

But Blue Ridge Earth First! activists as eco-terrorists? Five folks who blockaded Dominion Resources for a couple of hours on June 30 after that company had succeeded in convincing the State to let it build a new coal fired electric plant, which will serve to accelerate the blowing off of mountains? Another five who held signs and banners and disbanded upon request and still got arrested and have agreed to performing 200 hours each of unpaid labor for the City of Richmond hundreds of miles from their homes? Another two, who did who held the signs and disbanded, but are asking for a trial?

Just who are the eco-terrorists here? Those who engage in civil disobedience and are willing to take their punishment or those who perpetrate the destruction of our mountains and our way of life?