Editor’s Note: A week after the killing of a land-defender, the Governer of Georgia has signed an executive order to prepare national guards for protests against police brutality. Georgia has one of the highest incarceration rates in US. The protestors were defending a forest that was ordered to be cut down to build a “Cop City.” The protestors had set up camps and treehouses, which were being demolished by the cops before Tortuguita, the land-defender was shot. While the police claim that the victim had first attacked the police, it remains disputed by other demonstrators.
As a resistance gets more effective, the powerful use all means necessary to crush the resistance. Police crackdown is one of those tactics. Some activists, regardless of their dedication, may not be in a position to bear it for one reason or another. There will be others who are prepared to be on the frontline. Good organizing includes preparing the frontliners for any anticipated events.
While the move comes after law enforcement in Georgia killed a “Cop City” protester, one official said it is a “purely precautionary” measure before the anticipated release of video footage from an arrest in Tennessee.
Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency through at least February 9 that will enable him to deploy up to 1,000 National Guard troops “as necessary.”
The order follows protests in Atlanta after 26-year-old forest defender Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran was shot dead last week during a multi-agency raid on an encampment to oppose construction of Cop City, a nearby law enforcement training center. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), which is investigating the case, has said Teran was killed after he shot and wounded a state trooper.
While the order begins by stating that “protests turned violent in downtown Atlanta” last Saturday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Kemp’s aides signaled that the move was not about the Cop City demonstrations but rather in anticipation of any potential response to video footage from Memphis, Tennessee showing the arrest of Black motorist Tyre Nichols.
As Common Dreams reported earlier Thursday, five fired Memphis cops were charged with second-degree murder and other crimes related to Nichols’ death. Footage of the 29-year-old’s arrest is expected to be released sometime after 6:00 pm local time on Friday.
“We understand the executive order is purely precautionary based on possible unrest following the release of the videos from Memphis,” an official in Georgia with direct knowledge of the situation told the AJC. “There are no immediate intentions to deploy the guard.”
The Atlanta Police Department also mentioned the Memphis case in a statement Thursday:
We are closely monitoring the events in Memphis and are prepared to support peaceful protests in our city. We understand and share in the outrage surrounding the death of Tyre Nichols. Police officers are expected to conduct themselves in a compassionate, competent, and constitutional manner and these officers failed Tyre, their communities, and their profession. We ask that demonstrations be safe and peaceful.
In a series of tweets Thursday, the Atlanta Community Press Collective named several people killed by law enforcement in recent years and suggested that Kemp’s order is about “trying to instill fear in anyone who stands up against police brutality.”
Meanwhile, national groups and progressive lawmakers have echoed local demands for an independent probe in Teran’s case.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has highlighted that it is separate from the Georgia State Patrol and said that GBI “is conducting an independent investigation,” after which it will “turn the investigative file over to the prosecutor.” The agency noted Wednesday that DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston has recused herself from the case so a special prosecutor will be assigned.
Some have pushed back against the “police narrative” that the “corporate media has ran away with” for Teran’s case, as forest defender Kamau Franklin told Democracy Now! last week, adding that “we find it less than likely that the police version of events is what really happened.”
“And that’s why we’re calling for an independent investigation, not one that’s done by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, not one that’s done by any federal authority, but a complete independent investigation,” Franklin said, “because that’s the only way we’re going to know what really happened.”
This is a press release by Process of Liberation of Mother Earth, originally published in Liberacion de la Madre Tierra. The Nasa people of Cauca had been pushed to the mountains by the invaders in the 16th century. For the past 17 years, they have shifted to direct action to get back their land. Although their pursuit had been disrupted in the past, they have now stayed in their original land despite state attempts to remove them. Both right leaning and left leaning governments have attempted to remove them from their rights to their land. DGR extends our solidarity to the Nasa people of Cauca valley in their struggle for land reclamation.
Now that the 48 hours have passed, we send this letter to the world to tell about our struggle and the danger that awaits us, and what we are going to do in face of the danger. The great chief sent word, that we are invaders and gives us 48 hours to abandon our struggle and the land where we fight, or the full weight of the law of the Colombian state will fall on us.
First we tell you about our struggle. This last September 2nd, 17 years have passed since we returned to direct action to fight for the land, a struggle that has roots in 1538, when our people decided to declare war to the invaders. The invaders took over our land and pushed us into the mountains, the invaders made of dispossession a way of life, the how of their civilization, and today they have in their possession the most fertile lands and they have documents that prove they own and they are an organized power that moves the strings of politics and economy and justice and the media in Colombia to keep the documents up to date and to exploit Mother Earth more and more until skinning her and sucking her blood and digging into her entrails and this is called progress, development.
For us, families of the Nasa people of northern Cauca, the land is Uma Kiwe, our mother. Everything that is in it has life, all of it is life, all beings are our brothers and sisters and all beings are worth the same. The invader indoctrinated us to teach us that we humans are outside our Mother and that we are superior to her, but deep in our hearts, nasa üus, we know that people are Uma Kiwe just like the condor and the butterfly and the corn and the stone are Uma Kiwe. The invader indoctrinated us to teach us that the moor is a resource that produces money, that by cutting down the jungle we can increase bank accounts, that by digging into Uma Kiwe’s entrails with large tubes we can access a life of well-being. That is the word of the invader and he calls it the goal, the life plan.
The lands of the Cauca river valley, where we now live, from where we fight, is the house and home of hundreds of animals, plants, rocks, waters, spirits, in a way of life that in Spanish they called tropical dry forest. The invader destroyed everything, that house and home no longer exist, he has damaged the face of Mother Earth. In their eagerness to impose their civilization, those who have the documents of these lands, planted the entire valley of the Cauca River with sugarcane and there are 400 thousand hectares where the cane is planted up to the riverbank. In other regions of Colombia, the invader displaced communities with war and planted oil palm on thousands and thousands of hectares, and in other regions they have displaced communities to build dams or to extract gold or petroleum.
And once, in a region called Antioquia, the Cauca River rebelled and damaged the machines and equipment of the dam and it overflowed and the people who had already been displaced by the hydroelectric project had to move again because once again their lands were flooded. For these facts there are no guilty parties, the invaders of the Cauca River, the displacers of those communities and those who committed the massacres to impose development, have not yet received the full weight of the law of the Colombian state. And so, every corner of this country they call Colombia, the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America, is made up of patches of development projects installed where the war displaced entire communities, where the forests, moors, savannahs, mountains, jungles and plains were or are being razed so that a few people can enjoy the honeys of development.
We, the indigenous families of the Nasa people who walk the struggle platform of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC -by its acronym in Spanish), our organization, we don’t believe in that development and we don’t believe in that civilization that imposes death through laws and legal actions to generate coins. They indoctrinated us to believe in their civilization and told us that humans are superior to other beings, but we see that among humans there are levels, some humans who are superior than others, the superiors take all the wealth and the inferiors have to live cornered in the corners that development leaves us available, but they tell us that if we try hard or sell ourselves we can rise to the level of the superiors. We don’t like that way of life, we don’t accept it.
That is why 17 years ago, on September 2, 2005, we came down from the mountains to make a struggle that we continue today and that we have called the liberation of Mother Earth. Because we say that people will not be free while Uma Kiwe is enslaved, that all animals and beings in life are slaves until we get our mother to recover her freedom. At that time, September 2005, we had a tactical error, as one liberator said, and we negotiated an agreement with the Uribe government, an error that cost us a nine-year delay. But then we came back to enter the sugarcane agribusiness farms in December 2014, which means that we are almost eight years old, and in these eight years the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America has not managed to evict us from the farms despite more than 400 attempts, and we are not going to leave, and we have been advancing by entering in these lands, so much that we already have 24 farms in process of liberation, already eight thousand hectares.
When we enter the farms we cut the cane and instead of the cane the food we sow grows, the forest also grow because Uma Kiwe has to rest, chickens, ducks, cows and little pigs grow, wild animals return… We are returning the skin and the face to Mother Earth. That is our dream, or if you prefer, our life plan. And there is still a long way to go, sometimes the word of the invader arrives and confuses us, but as a community we are talking and clarifying things. And other times the media from agribusiness or power in Colombia arrive and brand us as terrorists, lazy, that we slow down development, and tell us that we are invaders, as the current government of Petro and Francia says, and now they have planted the lie that we are stealing the land from our neighbors of the Afro-descendant communities who live cornered on the banks of the cane fields: what we can tell you with complete certainty is that the documents of the 24 farms that are in process of liberation, they are listed in the name of Incauca, the largest owner, and other landowners, or their land is leased to Incauca or other mills that process cane for sugar or agrofuels.
And also the judicial apparatus of Colombian democracy says that because we are terrorists they are going to capture us at checkpoints or with arrest warrants and they are going to take us to jail. And the paramilitaries, organized by the sugar cane agribusiness say that since the Colombian state has not managed to kill us, they are going to do it and they have already arrived at the farms in process of liberation to shoot us with short and long range weapons, but our range is longer because we already know how they are organized and how they work. And the agro-industrialists -Incauca, Asocaña, Procaña- have been sending us negotiation or association proposals for seven years and we have answered NO because a struggle is not negotiated and NO because for them being partners means that we put the labor as cheap as possible and that they provide the capital, NO gentlemen, we are not here to change bosses, we fight so that there are no more bosses.
And now that a new government and a new congress have arrived to strengthen the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America, the congress tells us that we can send proposals for the agrarian reform law “because the liberation of Mother Earth is a concrete agrarian reform”; we haven’t responded yet, but we know how to restore the balance of Uma Kiwe, our Mother Earth, and it goes far beyond an agrarian reform. And the latest thing that has happened is that the new government of President Petro and Vice President Francia tell us that we are invaders and that we have 48 hours to leave these lands where we fight, we sow, we graze, we watch the forest grow and the wild animals return, well, in this land where we live, and that’s how we started this letter.
At the end of 48 hours, this September 2, the state attacked with the army and esmad (Mobile Anti-riot Squadron (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios or ESMAD), there was no half hour of dialogue, as the new government had promised, the tank came in shooting gas. Later the army fired its long-range weapons against us, the communities that are liberating Mother Earth, there was no dialogue either. 17 years ago, on September 2, 2005, it was Uribe who ordered the esmad and the army to fire their weapons at us. This new government is from the left, the Uribe government was from the right. After eight hours of trying to evict us from one of the farms in process of liberation, the esmad and the army of the oldest democracy… they failed to evict us, here we continue, from here we launch this letter to the world.
We, the process of liberation of Mother Earth in northern Cauca, send word to the great chief that we are NOT going to evict, that here in these lands we are staying because this is our home to live and fight II. We say II because before we have already written that this is our home to live and fight I. At that time, 2018, the paramilitaries gave us a deadline to leave this land, but the paramilitaries gave us a slightly longer, more rational deadline, because they gave us two months, and when the two months were up we told them NO, that we couldn’t leave because this is our house to live and fight. That’s why we say II, because despite everything we don’t lose our smile. And you have to know that neither Uribe, nor Santos, nor Duque ever told us “they have 48 hours.” And we also tell you that we are not leaving because here in these lands in process of liberation, 12 compañerxs have fallen since 2005, murdered by the private company of Incauca, Asocaña and Procaña, and by the Colombian state. Here we already take root. We continue here until the government completes the process of delivering the documents to our indigenous authorities, either through agrarian reform or by the fastest way, and if it doesn´t happen, for the years of the years, we will continue here.
We also sent word to the great chief that we are going to enter in other farms because our struggle doesn’t stop. Yesterday we were in a great action to accompany a community that is liberating a farm because the esmad has been bothering them with gas every day for several days, despite the fact that they promised us that the esmad was going to end, then to transform and then that it was going to change it’s clothes, and it’s true because they wear a sports uniform for a soccer game while here they continue to shoot gas at us. We will continue our actions to root ourselves more with this land , so that our word has sustenance, because otherwise it would be like a decree or a campaign promise, which is written and signed but not fulfilled.
To the communities that in other regions of Colombia are fighting directly for the land, we invite to not leave the farms. We invite more families, more communities in the northern Cauca and in Colombia and in the world to enter in more farms and take possession and build life and community as we are already doing in these lands, the same way as many struggles that have been branded as invaders by the great chiefs of the country, because no fight has been won with little kisses on the cheek.
We also send word to our compañerxs who are now in the power of the Colombian state not to get tangled up along the way. Because they have walked alongside our struggles but now we see that they are forgetting where they come from, something that can happen to anyone who reaches a peak, who doesn´t see that after the top comes the descent. That is why we also sent word that we will enter to another farm where we will carry out rituals and plant food to share with them and we will pray for them so that when they finish their time in the state they continue to be the same people who one day arrived there with the votes of millions of people who saw in them some kind of hope.
So far this letter ends, but our word goes on. We write our word on the farms where we are liberating, that is our first word. The documents, the letters, the videos, the radio…, the second word, that helps us to tell the world what we do, the danger that awaits us and how we will continue walking in the face of danger. Thanks to the struggles and peoples of the world who listen to us and stand in solidarity with us. As we have already said in “this is our house to live and fight I”, the best way to support us is to strengthen your fight: it will be very difficult for capitalism to evict or bring down with the full weight of the law thousands and thousands of battles throughout the world.
Editor’s note: Any movement, if effective in challenging the status quo, is bound to face persecution from the state. The persecution may come in many forms, from defamation, to legal action, to outright murder. The twenty year long COINTELPRO program was run by the FBI to destabilize many movements including African-American, Native Americans and communist movements across the United States. A variety of methods was used to achieve the goal.
The Green Scare is the set of tactics used by FBI in the early twenty-first century to discredit and persecute the radical environmental movement. The following article discusses the Green Scare, putting it in context of the recent demise of Dave Foreman, a found of Earth First! and an early target of Green Scare.
Dave Foreman, whose vision spawned a radical wave of the US environmental movement, passed away this week at the age of 74 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was controversial, he was stubborn, but he wasn’t one to compromise the fight to save wilderness and open space. The following piece on Foreman’s foray with federal law enforcement first appeared in our book, The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink. – Jeffrey St. Clair & Joshua Frank
Dave Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!, awoke at five in the morning on May 30, 1989, to the sound of three FBI agents shouting his name in his Tucson, Arizona home. Foreman’s wife Nancy answered the door frantically and was shoved aside by brawny FBI agents as they raced toward their master bedroom where her husband was sound asleep, naked under the sheets, with plugs jammed in his ears to drown out the noise of their neighbor’s barking Doberman pincher. By the time Foreman came to, the agents were surrounding his bed in bulletproof vests wielding .357 Magnums.
He immediately thought of the murder of Fred Hampton in Chicago, expecting to be shot in cold blood. But as Foreman put it, “Being a nice, middle-class honky male, they can’t get away with that stuff quite as easily as they could with Fred, or with all the Native people on the Pine Ridge Reservation back in the early 70s.”
So instead of firing off a few rounds, they jerked a dazed Foreman from his slumber, let him pull on a pair of shorts, and hauled him outside where they threw him in the back of an unmarked vehicle. It took over six hours before Foreman even knew why he had been accosted by Federal agents.
Foreman’s arrest was the culmination of three years and two million tax dollars spent in an attempt to frame a few Earth First! activists for conspiring to damage government and private property. The FBI infiltrated Earth First! groups in several states with informants and undercover agent-provocateurs. Over 500 hours of tape recordings of meetings, events, and casual conversations had been amassed. Phones had been tapped and homes were broken into. The FBI was doing its best to intimidate radical environmentalists across the country, marking them as a potential threat to national security.
It was the FBI’s first case of Green Scare.
The day before Foreman was yanked from bed and lugged into the warm Arizona morning, two so-called co-conspirators, biologist Marc Baker and antinuclear activist Mark Davis were arrested by some 50 agents on horseback and on foot, with a helicopter hovering above as they stood at the base of a power line tower in the middle of desert country in Wenden, Arizona, 200 miles northwest of Foreman’s home. The next day Peg Millet, a self-described “redneck woman for wilderness,” was arrested at a nearby Planned Parenthood where she worked. Millet earlier evaded the FBI’s dragnet.
Driven to the site by an undercover FBI agent, the entire episode, as Foreman put it, was the agent’s conception. Foreman, described by the bureau as the guru and financier of the operation, was also pegged for having thought up the whole elaborate scheme, despite the fact that their evidence was thin.
Back in the 1970s, the FBI issued a memo to their field offices stating that when attempting to break up dissident groups, the most effective route was to forget about hard intelligence or facts. Simply make a few arrests and hold a public press conference. Charges could later be dropped. It didn’t matter; by the time the news hit the airwaves and was printed up in the local newspapers, the damage had already been done.
It was the FBI’s assertion that the action stopped by the arrests under that Arizona power line in late May 1989, was to be a test run for a much grander plot involving Davis, Baker, Millet, and the group’s leader, Dave Foreman. The FBI charged the four with the intent to damage electrical transmission lines that lead to the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility in Colorado.
“The big lie that the FBI pushed at their press conference the day after the arrests were that we were a bunch of terrorists conspiring to cut the power lines into the Palo Verde and Diablo Canyon nuclear facilities in order to cause a nuclear meltdown and threaten public health and safety,” explained Foreman.
In the late 1980s, the FBI launched operation THERMCON in response to an act of sabotage of the Arizona Snowbowl ski lift near Flagstaff, Arizona that occurred in October 1987, allegedly by Davis, Millet, and Baker. Acting under the quirky name, Evan Mecham Eco-Terrorist International Conspiracy (EMETIC) — the eco-saboteurs wrecked several of the company’s ski lifts, claiming that structures were cutting into areas of significant biological importance.
This was not the first act the group claimed responsibility for. A year prior EMETIC sent a letter declaring they inflicted damage at the Fairfield Snow Bowl near Flagstaff. The group’s letter also included a jovial threat to “chain the Fairfield CEO to a tree at the 10,000-foot level and feed him shrubs and roots until he understands the suicidal folly of treating the planet primarily as a tool for making money.”
The group used an acetylene torch to cut bolts from several of the lift’s support towers, making them inoperable. Upon receiving the letter, the Arizona ski resort was forced to shut down the lift in order to do repairs, which rang up to over $50,000.
But the big allegations heaved at these eco-saboteurs weren’t for dislodging a few bolts at a quaint ski resort in the heart of the Arizona mountains, or for inconveniencing a few ski bums from their daily excursions. No, the big charges were levied at the group for allegedly plotting to disrupt the functions of the Rocky Flats nuclear facility hundreds of miles away. Ironically, at the moment of their arrests, the FBI was simultaneously looking into public health concerns due to an illegal radioactive waste leak at the nuclear power site, which led Earth First! activist Mike Roselle to quip, “ [the FBI] would have discharged its duty better by assisting in a conspiracy to cut power to Rocky Flats, instead of trying to stop one.”
Gerry Spence climbed into his private jet in Jackson, Wyoming estate almost immediately upon hearing about the FBI arrest of Dave Foreman in Arizona. Spence had made a name for himself among environmental activists in the late-1970s for his case against energy company Kerr-McGee, when he provided legal services to the family of former employee Karen Silkwood, who died suspiciously after she charged the company with environmental abuses at one of their most productive nuclear facilities. Silkwood, who made plutonium pellets for nuclear reactors, had been assigned by her union to investigate health and safety concerns at a Kerr-McGee plant near Crescent, Oklahoma. In her monitoring of the facility, Silkwood found dozens of evident regulatory violations, including faulty respiratory equipment as well as many cases of workers being exposed to radioactive material.
Silkwood went public after her employer ignored her and her union’s concerns, even going as far as to testify to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) about the issues, claiming that regulations were sidestepped in an attempt to up the speed of production. She also claimed that workers had been mishandling nuclear fuel rods, but the company has covered up the incidences by falsifying inspection reports.
On the night of November 13, 1974, Silkwood left a union meeting in Crescent with documents in hand to drive to Oklahoma City where she was to meet and discuss Kerr-McGee’s alleged violations with a union official and two New York Times reporters. She never made it. Silkwood’s body was found the next day in the driver’s seat of her car on the side of the road, stuck in a culvert. She was pronounced dead on the scene and no documents were found in her vehicle.
An independent private investigation revealed that Silkwood was in full control of her car when it was struck from behind and forced off to the side of the road. According to the private investigators, the steering wheel of her car was bent in a manner that showed conclusively that Silkwood was prepared for the blow of the accident as it occurred. She had not been asleep at the wheel as investigators initially thought. The coroner concluded she had not died as a result of the accident, but possibly from suffocation.
No arrests or charges were ever made. Silkwood’s children and father filed a lawsuit against Kerr-McGee on behalf of her estate. Gerry Spence was their lead attorney. An autopsy of Silkwood’s body showed extremely high levels of plutonium contamination. Lawyers for Kerr-McGee argued first that the levels found were in the normal range. but after evidence was presented to the contrary, they were forced to argue that Silkwood had likely poisoned herself.
Spence had been victorious. Kerr-McGee’s defense was caught in a series of unavoidable contradictions. Silkwood’s body was laden with poison as a result of her work at the nuclear facility. In her death, Spence vindicated her well-documented claims. The initial jury verdict was for the company to pay $505,000 in damages and $10,000,000 in punitive damages. Kerr-McGee appealed and drastically reduced the jury’s verdict, but the initial ruling was later upheld by the Supreme Court. On the way to a retrial, the company agreed to pay $1.38 million to the Silkwood estate.
Gerry Spence was not cowed by the antics of the Kerr-McGee Corporation, and when he agreed to take on Dave Foreman’s case pro-bono, justice seemed to be on the horizon for Earth First! activists as well.
“Picture a little guy out there hacking at a dead steel pole, an inanimate object, with a blowtorch. He’s considered a criminal,” said Spence, explaining how he planned to steer the narrative of Foreman’s pending trial. “Now see the image of a beautiful, living, 400-year-old-tree, with an inanimate object hacking away at it. This non-living thing is corporate America, but the corporate executives are not considered criminals at all.”
Like so many of the FBI charges brought against radical activists throughout the years, the case against Dave Foreman was less exciting than the investigation that led up to his arrest. The bureau had done its best to make Foreman and Earth First! out to be the most threatening activists in America.
Spence was not impressed and in fact argued as much, stating the scope of the FBI’s operation THERMCON was “very similar to the procedures the FBI used during the 1960s against dissident groups.” Spence was right. Similar to the movement disruption exemplified by COINTELPRO against Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panthers, and the American Indian Movement, the FBI’s crackdown on Earth First! in the late 1980s had many alarming parallels to the agency of old.
“Essentially what we need to understand is that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was formed during the Palmer Raids in 1921, was set up from the very beginning to inhibit internal political dissent. They rarely go after criminals. They’re thought police,” said Foreman of the FBI’s motives for targeting environmentalists. “Let’s face it, that’s what the whole government is. Foreman’s first law of government reads that the purpose of the state, and all its constituent elements, is the defense of an entrenched economic elite and philosophical orthodoxy. Thankfully, there’s a corollary to that law—they aren’t always very smart and competent in carrying out their plans.”
The man who was paid to infiltrate Earth First! under the guise of THERMCON was anything but competent. Special agent Michael A. Fain, stationed in the FBI’s Phoenix office, befriended Peg Millet and began attending Earth First! meetings in the area. Fain, who went by the alias, Mike Tait, posed as a Vietnam vet who dabbled in construction and gave up booze after his military service. On more than one occasion, while wearing a wire, Fain had tried to entice members of Earth First! in different acts of vandalism. They repeatedly refused.
During pre-trial evidence discovery, the defense was allowed to listen to hours of Fain’s wire-tapings, when they found that the not-so-careful agent inadvertently forgot to turn off his recorder. Fain, while having a conversation with two other agents at a Burger King after a brief meeting with Foreman, spoke about the status of his investigation, exclaiming, “I don’t really look for them to be doing a lot of hurting people… [Dave Foreman] isn’t really the guy we need to pop — I mean in terms of an actual perpetrator. This is the guy we need to pop to send a message. And that’s all we’re really doing… Uh-oh! We don’t need that on tape! Hoo boy!”
Here the FBI was publicly vilifying these Earth First!ers, while privately admitting that they posed no real threat. “[The agency is acting] as if [its] dealing with the most dangerous, violent terrorists that the country’s ever known,” explained Spence at the time. “And what we are really dealing with is ordinary, decent human beings who are trying to call the attention of America to the fact that the Earth is dying.”
The FBI’s rationale for targeting Foreman was purely political as he was one of the most prominent and well-spoken radical environmentalists of the time. Despite their claims that they were not directly targeting Earth First! or Foreman, and were instead investigating threats of sabotage of power lines that led to a nuclear power plant — their public indictment painted quite a different story.
“Mr. Foreman is the worst of the group,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Dokken announced to the court. “He sneaks around in the background … I don’t like to use the analogy of a Mafia boss, but they never do anything either. They just sent their munchkins out to do it.”
But agent Michael Fain’s on-tape gaffes were simply too much for the prosecution to manage, and the case against Foreman, having been deferred almost seven years, was finally reduced in 1996 to a single misdemeanor and a meager $250 in fines. The $2 million the FBI wasted tracking Earth First! over the latter part of the 1980s had only been nominally successful. Yet the alleged ringleader was still free. Unfortunately, the FBI may have gotten exactly what they wanted all along. Dave Foreman later stepped down as spokesman to Earth First! and inherited quite a different role in the environmental movement — one of invisibility and near silence.
Peg Millet, Mark Davis, and Marc Baker were all sentenced separately in 1991 for their involvement in their group EMETIC’s acts of ecotage against the expansion of Arizona Snowbowl. Davis got 6 years and $19,821 in restitution. Millet only 3 years, with the same fine, while Baker only received 6 months and a $5,000 fine.
Little did these activists know that their capture and subsequent arraignments were only the beginning. THERMCON’s crackdown of Earth First! would prove to be a dry-run for the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Editor’s note: Land defenders, especially indigenous land defenders, are at risk across the world, more so in some places than others. In their fight to protect their communities and their land, they directly confront structures of power, challenging the powerful’s sense of entitlement. In order to maintain the status quo, the powerful employ any means necessary to silence the resistors. In some places, this may take the form of political and legal attack, in others, this may lead to murder. Either way, the objective of such repression is not merely to silence one voice, but to set an example, to shut down those hundreds of voices which may have been raised in resistance. This strategy has been used through history.
Even so, resistance lives on. Where the repression becomes strong, defenders find new ways to adapt to their political situation and to continue fighting the powerful. Statistics say that one land defender is killed every two days. While it is necessary to hold the states accountable for these unlawful killings, it is also important for defenders to take measures to protect themselves. This may include being familiar with the laws of one’s region, or to learn self-defense, or whatever is appropriate for one’s situation. Following rules of security culture may help in increasing security for defenders.
“I could tell you that, around the world, three people are killed every week while trying to protect their land, their environment, from extractive forces. I could tell you that this has been going on for decades, with the numbers killed in recent years hitting over 200 each year. And I could tell you, as this report does, that a further 200 defenders were murdered in the last year alone. But these numbers are not made real until you hear some of the names of those who died.” – Dr. Vandana Shiva
In Brazil, two Yanomami children drowned after getting sucked into a dredging machine used by illegal gold miners. A 14 year old Pataxó child was shot in the head during a conflict over land in the northeastern Bahia state. A Guarani Kaiowá person was killed by military police during a clash over a farm the Guarani had reclaimed from settlers. “There has been an increase in the amount of conflict – socio and environmental conflict – in our lands,” said Dinamam Tuxá, of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), Brazil’s largest coalition of Indigenous groups. ”It’s destroying communities and it’s destroying our forests.”
Between 2011 and 2021, at least 342 land defenders were killed in Brazil – more than any other country – and roughly a third of those murdered were Indigenous or Afro-descendant. That’s according to a new report by Global Witness, an international human rights group, that documents over 1,700 killings of land and environment defenders globally during the same time period. The report says that on average, a land defender is killed every other day, but suggests that those numbers are likely an undercount and paints a grim picture of violence directed at communities fighting resource extraction, land grabs, and climate change.
“We will continue to protest, we will continue to show up.” -Dinamam Tuxá, APIB
“All over the world, Indigenous peoples, environmental activists, and other land and environmental defenders risk their lives for the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss,” reads the report. “They play a crucial role as a first line of defense against ecological collapse, yet are under attack themselves facing violence, criminalisation and harassment perpetuated by repressive governments and companies prioritizing profit over human and environmental harm.”
After Brazil, the Philippines and Colombia recorded the most killings: 270 and 322, respectively. Together all three countries make up more than half of the attacks recorded in the global report.
In the Philippines, Indigenous and local environmental activists have been fighting huge infrastructure projects like the Kaliwa Dam and the Oceana Gold Mine, both of which Indigenous leaders say threaten their land and the environment. According to Global Witness, over 40% of the defenders killed in the Philippines were Indigenous peoples.
“It’s clear that the government has not taken this crisis seriously,” said Jon Bonifacio, national coordinator at Palikasan People’s Network for the Environment. “This statistic has not been recognized in any way by the Philippine government, despite the crucial role environmental defenders play in the fight against climate change.”
According to Global Witness, those statistics are uncertain due to a lack of free press and other independent monitoring systems around the world and other types of violence are also not counted in the report. “We know that beyond killings, many defenders and communities also experience attempts to silence them, with tactics like death threats, surveillance, sexual violence, or criminalization – and that these kinds of attacks are even less well reported,” Global Witness said.
An April report from the nonprofit Business and Human Rights Resource Centre documented some of those other tactics, tracking 3,800 attacks, including killings, beatings, and death threats, against land defenders since January 2015. But even those numbers aren’t the complete picture. “We know the problem is much more severe than these figures indicate,” Christen Dobson, senior program manager for the BHRRC and an author of the report said at the time.
The Global Witness report’s authors say governments should enforce laws that already protect land defenders, pass new laws if necessary, and hold companies to international human rights standards. Global Witness also says companies should respect international human rights like free, prior, and informed consent, implement zero-tolerance policies for attacks on land defenders, and adopt a rights-based approach to combating climate change. The report specifically calls on the European Union to strengthen its proposed corporate sustainability due diligence law by adding a climate framework and more accountability measures for financial institutions.
While international advocacy offers some hope for Indigenous leaders on the front lines, those leaders also know that they have to keep fighting to protect their land, lives, and environment. In Brazil, resistance to Indigenous land demarcation and advocacy for resource extraction in the Amazon pushed by President Jair Bolsonaro, has led to record deforestation in the Amazon since he took office in 2019. Dinamam Tuxá and other Indigenous leaders in Brazil are hopeful that the upcoming presidential election may lead to change, but remain skeptical. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president and current leading candidate, has promised better treatment for Indigenous peoples in Brazil but Tuxá says that Indigenous peoples cannot rest all their hopes on politicians.
“President Lula would not solve the problems of Indigenous peoples,” Tuxá said. “Regardless of who gets elected we will continue to protest, we will continue to show up.”
“Joannah Stutchbury loved trees, practiced permaculture, was an environmentalist, and bravely advocated for the environment, with a fiery and unwavering passion.” And she was wonderfully crazy and full of life and joy to be alive. She was shot dead on her way home in the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, in July 2021. “
Editor’s note: Monday’s article covered the murder of environmentalists—at least 207 were killed last year. These killings are the extreme end of a spectrum of violence and repression used against environmentalists and land defenders. Another weapon on that spectrum is draconian laws that prioritize business interests over communities and the natural world.
These laws are common globally. Here in the United States, for example, corporations have more rights than human beings and protests are increasingly criminalized. Today’s story comes from Indonesia, where a new mining law is being used to punish activists. These measures are a predictable corporate/government response to grassroots resistance movements, and they must be fought.
It’s also noteworthy that these laws may unintentionally lead to an increase in underground action and eco-sabotage, as clandestine action may be both a safer and a more effective option when civil dissent is outlawed.
Activists in Indonesia have highlighted what they say is an increase in arrests of people protesting against mining activity since the passage of a controversial mining law in 2020.
They’ve singled out the law’s Article 162 as “a devious policy” that’s meant to quash all opposition to mining activity, even at the expense of communities and the environment.
Of the 53 people subjected to criminal charges for opposing mining companies in 2021, at least 10 were charged with violating Article 162, according to one group.
Groups have filed a legal challenge against the law, seeking to strike down Article 162 and eight other contentious provisions on constitutional grounds.
JAKARTA — In the nearly two years since Indonesian lawmakers passed a controversial mining law, the legislation has increasingly been used by police to arrest villagers and local activists opposed to mining operations on their lands.
Human rights activists, including the national rights commission, Komnas HAM, have criticized the law, an amendment to an old mining law, for its provisions that are widely seen as undermining the rights of local communities for the benefit of mining companies.
“After the revision of the mining law [in May 2020], Article 162 has often been used to silence people’s fights against mining operations,” Melky Nahar, campaign head for watchdog group Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), told Mongabay, referring to the most contentious provision in the new law.
Article 162 states that “anyone who hinders or disturbs mining activities by permit holders who have met the requirements … may be punished with a maximum prison term of one year and maximum fines of 100 million rupiah [$7,000].”
Of the 53 people subjected to criminal charges for opposing mining companies in 2021, at least 10 were charged with violating Article 162, according to Satrio Manggala, environmental policy manager at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).
“So these people protested [against mining activity], but in their protests, they’re perceived as hindering and disturbing mining activity,” he said at a recent online press conference.
Hairansyah, a commissioner with the government-funded Komnas HAM, called the article “a major setback” as it poses “a serious threat to human rights defenders.” He said the article goes against the 2009 law on environmental protection, which states that no criminal charges may be brought against anyone for campaigning for their right to a clean environment. Activists warn that Article 162 adds to a growing list of measures encouraging the prosecution of dissent against extractive and other environmentally harmful activities.
‘To cripple people’s fight’
Prosecutions under these measures are known as SLAPP, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, and in the case of the mining law’s Article 162, they have proliferated in the past two years.
In December 2020, state-owned tin miner PT Timah pressed charges against 12 residents of the fishing village of Matras, on the island of Bangka off Sumatra, after they boarded one of its vessels in a protest. The company said the villagers had disrupted its operations, in violation of Article 162.
The villagers justified their actions as an act of protest against the company’s mining activities that they said had disrupted their livelihoods, reducing their daily fish catches by nearly 90%.
In November 2021, residents of Tuntung village on the island of Sulawesi blocked the road leading to a nickel mine run by PT Koninis Fajar Mineral (KFM), also in protest against the environmental impact of the company’s activities. They saidthe water in their village had been polluted by KFM’s operations.
Following the protest, local police summoned and questioned at least 13 of the protesters under the pretext of Article 162 violations.
On Dec. 29, some of the villagers reported the police to the local office of Komnas HAM, saying they felt they were being criminalized under Article 162. On Jan. 4 this year, the rights commission sent a letter to the police asking them to stop any legal proceedings against the villagers.
In the letter, Komnas HAM called Article 162 a contentious tool for silencing the voices of people defending their rights against mining activities, and pointed out that the public’s rights to gather and express their opinions are guaranteed under the Constitution and the 1999 law on human rights.
Jatam’s Melky said there was no question that the use of Article 162 by the police was aimed at stifling grassroots opposition. “This increasing trend of criminalization is not an effort to uphold the law, but to cripple people’s fight [against mining],” he said.
‘A devious policy’
The most recent case involving the use of Article 162 was the arrest of 10 people, including villagers and activists, in Pasar Seluma village in southern Sumatra.
On Dec. 23, the protesters set up an encampment in the mining area of PT Faminglevto Bakti Abadi (FBA), an iron ore miner that they say never obtained their permission to operate in their area, and whose activities since 2010 have been mired in irregularities.
On Dec. 27, police bulldozed the protesters’ tents and arrested them, including Ayu Nevi Anggraeni, a villager who said they were dragged out of their tents like animals.
“We and our children were forcibly dragged. The police didn’t care for us,” she said at an online press conference. “We’re being treated like a thief or an animal even though we did nothing wrong. We didn’t provoke [anyone]. From deep within our heart, we want the mine to be closed.”
Another villager, who did not give her name, said she felt the same.
“We’re just asking for justice,” she said. “When we were being kicked out of the protest site, some police officers called us stupid. Why? We just want to defend our territory.”
The Pasar Seluma police chief, Darmawan Dwiharyanto, told local media that the forced eviction was a last resort after previous attempts to persuade the villagers to leave the site had failed.
Saman Lating, a lawyer representing the villagers, said police investigators had told him the villagers were arrested for disrupting FBA’s activities — that is, for violating Article 162.
“We know that this article is a powerful one in the mining law used by the powers that be,” he said at the online press conference. “This article is meant to perpetuate all mining activities in Indonesia.”
But Saman questioned the use of Article 162 in this case, given that it’s ostensibly meant to protect businesses that have the proper permits. This doesn’t appear to be the case for FBA, he said.
The company is allegedly operating without having conducted an environmental impact assessment, known locally as an Amdal, or obtaining an environmental permit. It has also allegedly failed to pay its post-mining reclamation deposit to the state as of 2018. The deposit, which is required of all miners, is meant to ensure that funds are available for rehabilitating the site once mining operations have ended.
FBA was also included on a list of companies whose mining permits were revoked by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources in 2016. Rere Christanto, manager of the mining division at Walhi, said FBA had also violated at least 15 regulations by operating in coastal and protected areas.
Usin Abdisyah Putra Sembiring, a provincial councilor in Bengkulu, where Pasar Seluma is located, said FBA isn’t fit to operate because it hasn’t fulfilled all of its obligations. In addition to allegedly not having an Amdal and an environmental permit, he said, the company has never reported its environmental monitoring and management plan to the local environmental agency.
Mongabay has reached out to the environmental agency in Bengkulu to confirm the allegations but hasn’t received a response.
If all these allegations are true, said Saman the lawyer, then the police had no grounds for evicting and arresting the villagers protesting against FBA’s presence. By doing so, he said, “the law enforcers are working to justify the mistakes of the company.”
Walhi’s Rere said the case in Pasar Seluma is evidence of how the mining law has become a serious threat to people’s rights.
“What’s happening in Pasar Seluma further convinces us that the mining law is a devious policy used to eradicate people’s participation [in fighting for their rights],” he said.
Activists from Walhi and from mining watchdog Jatam’s office in East Kalimantan province in June last year filed a constitutional challenge against the mining law. The challenge, known as a judicial review, seeks to strike down nine articles from the law on constitutional grounds, including Article 162.
In a hearing at the Constitutional Court on Jan. 5, Ridwan Jamaludin, the director-general of minerals and coal at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, said the article isn’t aimed at silencing protesters, but at providing legal certainty for investors.
It’s meant, he said, “to protect them from irresponsible people in a government effort to build a healthy climate for investment.”
Jatam’s Melky said this reasoning shows how the government is siding with companies instead of the people.
“His statement shows that the government is not working to guarantee people’s safety and [the rights to] their land, but just to make sure that the interests of companies are guaranteed without hurdles,” he said.
Melky added that during the legislative process to pass the mining bill into law, there was no public participation allowed. This, he said, explains the inclusion of provisions like Article 162.
“The problem is that nearly all mining policies in Indonesia [are issued] without involving the public as the rightful owners of land [in the country],” he said. “All [deliberation] is done behind closed doors.”
Walhi’s Satrio said this isn’t the first time Article 162 has been challenged in court.
The previous mining law also contained the same article, which critics challenged three times at the Constitutional Court. The court eventually ruled that the restrictions prescribed in the article could only be applied to people who have sold their lands to mining companies, and not to all individuals who oppose mining operations, Satrio said.
But when lawmakers passed the amended law in 2020, they reinstated the same old article that the court had ruled unconstitutional, and not the updated version from the court.
“We initially thought that when the mining law was amended in 2020, the article would disappear, or at least the version from the Constitutional Court will be used,” Satrio said. “However, the article reappeared in its complete form, which led to many victims [of criminalization] in 2021.”
Editor’s note: This article is a call for courage in the face of adversity, apathy, and violence. Two hundred and seven environmentalists were murdered last year—at least. Each fallen land defender is a hero. To save the planet, we must be willing to take risks and make sacrifices.
States, corporations, and vigilantes use violence because it is brutally effective. Our best defense against murder and other intimidation techniques including detention, torture, surveillance, harassment, and infiltration is solidarity, organization, and strategy.
Deep Green Resistance activists are active in many of the most dangerous parts of the world, where environmentalists are murdered regularly. This is why we advocate for security culture and teach techniques regarding privacy, anonymity, personal safety, and self-defense. As land defenders, we must be prepared. This work is dangerous, and by being prepared, we enable action.
An analysis by Front Line Defenders and the Human Rights Defenders Memorial recorded at least 358 murders of human rights activists globally in 2021.
Of that total, nearly 60% were land, environment or Indigenous rights defenders.
The countries with the highest death tolls were Colombia, Mexico and Brazil.
Advocates say the figure is likely far higher, as attacks on land and environment defenders in Africa often go unreported.
At least 358 human rights defenders were killed in 2021, according to an analysis by Front Line Defenders (FLD) and the international consortium Human Rights Defenders Memorial. Of the total, nearly 60% were land, environment or Indigenous rights defenders, and more than a quarter were themselves Indigenous. Researchers who worked to compile the data said the high proportion of activists killed while fighting against threats to community land and natural resources represented a continuation of a years-long trend.
“Unfortunately, in most if not all of the places where this is happening, there’s just flat-out impunity for these attacks,” said Andrew Anderson, the director of FLD.
As was the case in 2020, the deadliest country for human rights defenders was Colombia, with 138 verified killings — more than a third of the global total. Mexico recorded 42 deaths, the second-highest number, and Brazil came in third with 27 killings, 19 of them land rights defenders.
Anderson told Mongabay that many of the murdered activists were targeted due to their opposition to dams, illegal logging, mining operations, and other extractive projects linked to powerful interests in their countries.
“Activists who are working to document what’s happening and challenge government-driven narratives are at extreme risk,” he said.
Murders of land, environment and Indigenous rights defenders were recorded in 15 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines and Thailand.
Colombia has topped the list of deadliest countries for human rights defenders for years, partly due to violent conflicts over control of remote smuggling routes and land that was previously controlled by the guerrilla group FARC, which disbanded following a peace deal with the government in 2016. Since then, paramilitary groups vying to fill the vacuum left by the FARC have targeted Indigenous groups resisting encroachment by warring factions onto their traditional territories.
In Mexico, five Indigenous land and water defenders from Paso de la Reyna in Oaxaca state were killed in the first three months of 2021 alone, including Fidel Heras Cruz, who had worked to expose threats to the Verde River from a hydroelectric dam and illicit rock quarrying. FLD said in recent years the Mexican government has given the military a greater role in the implementation of development projects, in part to intimidate Indigenous and other communities who object to those projects.
Many of those who were killed spent years facing threats and harassment as a result of their work, suggesting that if their governments had acted more forcefully on their behalf, their deaths could have been avoided. In the Mexican state of Sonora, for example, José de Jesús Robledo Cruz and María de Jesús Gómez were killed in April 2021 after organizing a campaign against Mexico’s largest gold-mining company. It wasn’t the first time the married couple had been targeted: In 2017, they were kidnapped and tortured by unknown assailants dressed in army fatigues. When their bodies were discovered last year, a note with the names of 13 other activists was attached to one of them.
Nearly three-quarters of the human rights defenders killed in Mexico were protecting land, the environment or Indigenous rights.
As staggering as the death toll is on its own, the true figure is likely much higher. Front Line Defenders relies on local partners to report on killings, and generally looks for at least two sources to verify each victim’s identity, background, and the cause of death. In countries where there are significant constraints on the ability of local human rights groups to gather and publicize data, deaths and other forms of retribution against defenders can simply go unrecorded.
Across the entire continent of Africa, for example, only 20 deaths were noted — less than half the total for Mexico alone. Advocates from the continent say that’s almost certainly an undercount.
“Because of the remote nature and way in which these people live and where they exist, you can hardly find any information,” said Alfred Brownell, a Liberian activist who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2019, two years after he was forced to flee his country.
Anderson said that in Central and South America, human rights reporting networks are more robust than in Africa, where media coverage in rural areas where extractive projects take place is often limited.
“In pretty much every country in Latin America you have an umbrella organization that’s a network of human rights defenders. Sometimes you have multiple networks, whereas in West Africa, with a couple of exceptions those entities don’t yet exist,” he said.
The report highlighted the death of Joannah Stutchburry, a 67-year-old environmental advocate who was shot to death in Kenya last year after campaigning against development in the Kiambu forest national park. And in northern Uganda, police and military forces shot and wounded 16 members of the Paten clan who were protesting against an irrigation project that they say is threatening their farmland.
“These are our first responders who are responding in a very effective way to the climate crisis,” Brownell said. “These are our democracy heroes who aim for transparency and accountability, and are blowing the whistle on these violations. We have to secure this firewall and protect them.”
Banner image: A mural in Palma, Majorca (Chixoy via Wikimedia Commons). Berta Cáceres was a Honduran (Lenca) environmentalist and indigenous leader fighting dams in Central America. She was assassinated in 2016 by armed men, several of whom were trained at the U.S. military’s infamous “School of the Americas” (now known as WHINSEC) at Fort Benning, Georgia.