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.
Editor’s note: People who confront the destruction of the planet find a legal system that prioritizes corporations and not uncommonly become the targets of police surveillance. Unless we take precautions, police surveillance tools can uncover our plans and organizational structures—and can contribute to a culture of paranoia that discourages action.
This training, from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, consists of interactive materials for learning what sort of tools law enforcement agencies use against journalists, but the material is practically applicable for organizers as well. We encourage our readers to study this material and consider appropriate countermeasures.
by Freedom of the Press Foundation
The Digital Security Training team at Freedom of the Press Foundation works with news organizations to better protect themselves, their colleagues, and sources by upgrading their security posture. In an environment where journalists are increasingly under attack, experiencing targeted hacking, harassment, and worse, we want to see systemic change in the way news organizations learn about and address their digital security concerns. While journalists come from many professional backgrounds, one place we can most reliably address this need for digital security education systemically is within journalism schools, where students are already learning many of the skills they will need in a contemporary newsroom. We know many programs feel underprepared for education of this kind, so we built this curriculum to better support J-schools’ goals for digital security education.
Below, we have created modules responsive to a variety of digital security topics. We intend for this resource to be used by journalism professors and educators looking for a starting point for digital security education. Ultimately, it’s our hope that by tinkering with these materials, you might take advantage of the parts most useful or inspiring to you, and make this curriculum your own.
Police Surveillance Tools Training
This section on surveillance tools used by law enforcement is discussion focused, and intends to get students to think critically about the relationship between surveillance, privacy, and transparency. It begins with lecture canvassing a variety of law enforcement surveillance technology, based on research from from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Afterward, the module opens into an activity to investigate surveillance technology used in a location of their choice, followed by a discussion of their interpretation of law enforcement surveillance technologies they’ve discovered.
Upon successful completion of this lesson, students will be able to distinguish between technology commonly used by law enforcement to conduct surveillance in physical spaces.
Students will be able to identify which of these tools are used in a specific physical location, based on publicly-accessible reporting tools.
Why this matters
The technical capabilities of law enforcement actors may affect journalists’ threat models when conducting work in risky situations. For example, when meeting a sensitive source their location may be tracked through a constellation of surveillance equipment, or their phone numbers and current call or text data may be scooped up when covering protests.
Have students open up Atlas of Surveillance and report back for the group with surveillance technology used in a location where they’ve lived in the U.S. (e.g., where their hometown is; the campus).
Questions for discussion
In terms of their ability to compromise journalistic work, which one of these technical law enforcement capabilities is most concerning to you? What makes it concerning?
If that’s not especially concerning, why is that?
Out of respect for peoples’ privacy, are there any issues you think should be “off the table” for journalistic coverage? If so, what are those issues, and why do you think they should be off the table?
We often talk about privacy for people, but transparency for institutions. Why the distinction? Are there times when individual actions demand transparency, and when institutions have a meaningful claim to privacy?
In this piece, Matej Kudláčik describes how a system that appears democratic, participatory, and free can actually conceal a profound totalitarianism.
His argument has similarities to Sheldon Wolin’s conception of “inverted totalitarianism,” which Wolin described as being “all politics all of the time but politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash.”
We’ve included a video in this post that discusses the concept of inverted totalitarianism in some detail. Part I of this essay can be found here.
By Matej Kudláčik
“The bargain we are being asked to ratify takes the form of a magnificent bribe. Under the democratic-authoritarian social contract, each member of the community may claim every material advantage, every intellectual and emotional stimulus he may desire, in quantities hardly available hitherto even for a restricted minority … Once one opts for the system no further choice remains.” — Lewis Mumford
It is no great secret that freedom and capitalism are incompatible and that we’re dancing painfully on the line between complete societal insanity and dreadful mental slavery, the enslavement of consumerism. In other words, we are more dependent on the will of corporations than on our own. Therefore we’re in a state where no freedom is possible.¹
Consumerism is based on tricking individuals into affirmation of pleasure, all while imposing a false image of the well-being of this world through apparent individual plenitude. This tool works against solidarity with the living and non-living. Solidarity requires a certain amount of renunciation of pleasure. It requires modesty and humility, so that the suffering of the world can be considered equal to the suffering of oneself. When one finds himself in constant “comfort” and no struggle², he hardly relates to the ones who are slowly dying. Without this realization, he lacks not only empathy and love, he lacks his humanity and he sees trenches and barricades in places where they are not.
He may ask: “And how does the extinct species concern us, if it is no use for us?”, because all of his material needs are fulfilled and thus, he’s unable to sympathize with horrors which don’t directly concern him and many times he does not even believe they really are. What he fails to see is that all life concerns him and what consumerism manages to do is to make him addicted to cheap pleasure which he will refuse to give up and may even defend; an addict won’t resist.
Consumerism makes us puppets of cheap pleasure
Yes, consumerism leads to pleasure but specifically only a certain amount of pleasure because this way, a person will always want more. As opposed to providing a person with a great amount of pleasure which would make the person realize the futility of such joy, similar to teasing a dog with a treat, systematically giving him services and trumperies so that he becomes obedient. A mere puppet of cheap pleasure. Overconsumption is a sickness of the spirit and ruthless spit in the face of nature and its resources.
Solidarity, reason, empathy, care and love can’t function solely on their own and each needs the help of others in order to thrive and create a human. Just as a symphony requires attendance of all the instruments and when only one violinist stops playing, the melody loses its magnificence. To an inexperienced ear, it may seem otherwise at first, but listen closely and the gap can’t be unheard. If you dismantle just one of these virtues, you dismantle a person, his humanity. For human isn’t a construction of temporal flesh. Unassailable parts of one’s humanity are his virtues and what’s beyond them. This exploitation of humanity makes capitalism a dehumanizing system. Socialism clearly exploited humanity in great extent, too, since freedom of artistic and intellectual expression are majestic human virtues and every system denying them deserves to die. The method and speed of this dehumanization differs, but both are vicious.
We could argue: it’s only exploitation when one allows his humanity to be exploited and it’s only manipulation when one allows himself to be manipulated — but here comes the problem of masses.
Opiates of the masses
Masses have and always will have a negative character – collective opinion is an error. The dismal reality of people gathering together is that they become subservient to prevalent trends, no matter how ridiculous and absurd they are. Moreover, masses love getting drunk by their leaders, masses enjoy being thrown around, for the majority finds comfort in sloth. Prevalent culture will always seem pleasing to them because it’s easier to be conforming and safer than to fight a hard fight. Because of this, only individuals and small groups are capable of making a difference and proper decisions. As an example, compare any great patriarchal civilization with any small matriarchal community. Furthermore, compare any true revolutionary and his impact with any democratic so-called change voted for by the majority. Or at any rate, compare the greatest true thinkers of history with countless followers of today’s popular world-views. The masses hold uncountable torches, yet never shine light:
The individual and small groups hold just one, yet are capable of enlightening; “Man is distinguished from other animals not only by the advantages which are commonly enumerated, but qualitatively by the fact that the individual is more than the species.” – Søren Kierkegaard
Ceasing from the masses and industrial civilization is the real solution to the catastrophes caused by man. No minor socio-political change as “regulated capitalism” or “socialism” can be sufficient to fix what is broken for this long. All political systems will fail and malevolent tendencies of man will always appear. Thus, the Big Brother has always been present, yet wore a different mask each time and acted with small modifications. Catholic Europe in Middle Ages, where the propaganda had been the word of God and every nonconformity led to burnt bodies at the stake. Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had gulags, concentration camps, propaganda, persecution. But the main thing that connects them is distortion of knowledge, truth, love, understanding and solidarity. It’s absurd to serve the interests of the government and leaders. These interests are not the interests of life. They oppose solidarity, they oppose love – it is their nature. And here we are again, wonderfully cloaked: utopistic flyers, posters, advertisement, and distortion of concepts as happiness, love and truth. You are welcome to define happiness as you wish but you are not likely to assume that it is equal to consuming and wealth. In fact, try all the pleasures of this world and see that nothing will make you happy;
“Happiness is not easy to find. It’s very difficult to find it in yourself — and impossible to find anywhere else.” – Nicolas Chamfort
The moral heart
Love is not limited to one species, rather it is a deep connection with all that is living. Implications are being made that economy stands above everything else, including life of animals and breath of trees.
So, to the ill minds, it seems that it doesn’t matter how many species go extinct as long as the financial gain keeps going. That might sound appealing to ill minds, but that’s not love, that’s self-centred greed.
“The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
And how could a culture in which the lives of animals mean less than money be moral? Industrial civilization cannot coalesce with life, nor with humanity. Today, we witness similar totalitarian patterns, yet with a different face and more hidden: one of the points of every totalitarian regime is to infect the individual so that even the mind restricts itself, whether in speech, art, work, or even thoughts. Therefore, totalitarianism chains the mind, infects it and imposes such infection precisely when one cannot really defend oneself or overcome such a folly, usually during his childhood. Dependence on technology and consumerism chain the mind, numb it and since they’re imposed by the regime, they are totalitarian techniques. By regime, I don’t mean government, for the government is only a puppet of the richest. No law restricting the richest could be ever approved and everything the government does is constructed in a way in which the corporations don’t get harmed.³
Consumerism is a totalitarian technique, imposed in a way that it’s unnoticed, by the highest leaders, imposed at the most vulnerable period of one’s life. Distorting one’s perception of important concepts and exploiting his humanity.
Modern capitalism is totalitarianism perfected
Never have the malevolent and destructive tendencies been so hidden as in capitalism – to protect an unhealthy economy, we burn forests and let ourselves be dependent on over-consumption. Capitalism is the ultimate totalitarian regime, closest to perfection [editor’s note: see Sheldon Wolin’s Inverted Totalitarianism]. That’s because it managed to soothe and blind the population with so-called liberty and freedom so that it’s completely unaware of all mental exploitation and chains. Other totalitarian systems weren’t better, less cruel, or more humane. All of them deserve to be eradicated, dismantled, burned down. But capitalism managed to put a fancy theatre in front of its audience, that’s why it will be supported and praised even by its victims. That is why a revolutionary will have to fight the masses as well as the system. Even when the facts are too obvious. What a great screenplay!
To cease from industrial civilization is to cease from this enslavement. Of course, a man will struggle with himself anyway, and utopistic concepts such as a “just and free society” should not be considered as the absolute goal.⁴ This does not mean that a biophilic and loving society is pure fiction, rather that modern civilization cannot convert to biophilia. There cannot be any real freedom in this civilization, for it necessarily implies dependence on the will of another and that another is based on selfish greed and destructiveness. It’s clear that we have to be dependent on another in some extent and thus only a life spent in complete solitude can be called “truly free”. Being dependent on another is in itself not detrimental and is even required. However, it’s also clear that spending a life dependent on a destructive another is extremely similar to a prison cell. On another who burns, murders and enslaves even you.
The fact that industrial civilization cannot coalesce with life does not mean that you cannot coalesce with life. It does not matter as much that you have built a wall between the birds and trees and
yourself: what matters more is that you must destroy it. Coalesce with life once again. Preserve love by preserving what you love. By preserving what you love, you show that the screams of burning trees strike your heart and make it weep, thus you can’t just hear but you must listen.
1 Purely in the context of society. So, this is not a place for denying the truthfulness of optimistic views as “an individual can reach freedom by finding it within himself and overcoming his environment” and neither pessimistic views as “an individual can never be truly free, for he is jailed by his own desires and inner struggle”.
2 Which is impossible because all are struggling with something, but consumerism has the ability to blind an individual – apparent plenitude; “we have everything we need and even more, so what’s your problem with this system? Never have we been so rich!” Yes, but you can’t have both material wealth and spiritual wealth – these two are incompatible: that’s one of the main reasons why religions like Buddhism and Christianity (religions, not churches) and many great philosophical systems put renunciation of earthly pleasures in their core for the sake of spirit and intellect.
3 Look at the COVID-19 restrictions and see that the richest got even richer during lockdown, while small businessmen went out of business.