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    Subpoenaed Fossil Fuel Documents Reveal an Industry Stuck in the Past

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Saturday, 24 December - 17:00 · 11 minutes

The BP-Husky Toledo Refinery stands at sunset in Oregon, Ohio, June 13, 2017.

The BP-Husky Toledo Refinery at sunset in Oregon, Ohio, on June 13, 2017.

Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images


It’s remarkable how little some industries’ strategies change over the decades. How little they need to change, given how effective they are. That holds especially true for the fossil fuel industry, which has revealed itself via documents submitted to Congress to be hopelessly, permanently trapped in the 1990s.

As part of its investigation into climate disinformation , the House Oversight Committee subpoenaed documents in November 2021 from four of the world’s largest oil companies; their U.S. trade association, the American Petroleum Institute; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The chamber did not comply with the subpoena, but the rest submitted a variety of responsive documents, the most salient of which have been published by the Oversight Committee in two batches . The more than 1,500 pages include internal communications about media relations, advertising, and marketing campaigns from 2015 to 2021.

Taken together, they reveal that the industry’s approach on climate really hasn’t changed since scientists first started warning that the burning of fossil fuels was becoming a problem: push “solutions” that keep fossil fuels profitable, downplay climate impacts, overstate the industry’s commitments, and bully the media if they don’t stay on message. It’s the same five-step plan, deployed to the same end: preserving power, subsidies, and social license.

Step One: Set the Terms

The fossil fuel industry is exceedingly good at seizing the narrative before anyone else even thinks about it. It was doing polling, market research , and focus groups before most industries knew what those things were. So when it sets up the idea of gas as a “bridge fuel” to cleaner sources of energy, it knows how to make it so fundamental that it can come back to it again and again. The “low-carbon” (another winner!) strategies laid out in these documents could have been from the 1990s or even the 1980s when oil companies described “ natural gas ” (another one!) as an “ alternative fuel .”

They’re once again pushing the idea that methane gas — a fossil fuel that emits a greenhouse gas some 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide — is somehow an alternative to fossil fuels. The plan for extending the life of the industry as long as possible appears to lean on “low-carbon solutions”: gas, a reduction in operational emissions and what they call “carbon intensity” — the CO2 emissions associated with each barrel of oil — and carbon capture and storage, or CSS, which they’re banking on as a way to sell business-as-usual as “low carbon.”

And despite the industry’s frequent assertions that it’s not subsidized by the federal government, various internal emails from the oil majors tell a different story.

In 2021 emails in which Shell is mulling whether to join a major carbon capture project with Exxon Mobil, one executive states that the project moving forward is entirely dependent on dramatically expanding 45Q — the tax credit for carbon capture — from what the government has proposed ($35 to $50 per ton of carbon sequestered) to $100 per ton of carbon sequestered. That price tag — $100 per ton of carbon — is one the industry fought against for decades when the shoe was on the other foot, and folks were talking about taxing carbon as opposed to storing it. Now, being able to store carbon and get the right price for it is critical to the industry, as is the government’s support of that paradigm. “If the government funding and regulations don’t happen, Exxon’s management team will not move forward,” the Shell executive writes.

The industry wants to see so much government funding for carbon capture locked in that there’s no choice but to continue down that path.

Throughout the documents, there’s a real sense of urgency around securing a future for gas and scaling up carbon capture (because it magically turns oil into “low-carbon” fuel). Exxon, for example, seems positively jubilant that “IPCC models predict need for CCS as part of future energy mix to reach 2C!”

The documents also make clear that the industry is intent on maximizing a small window of opportunity for CCS — getting the government to invest heavily in this “solution” before everyone figures out it’s not a solution so much as an enabler of the status quo. In a 2017 document outlining the potential for CCS on the Gulf Coast, Shell notes that “the window for CCS to remain relevant with governments and society is closing quickly and action needs to occur within the next decade.”

The industry wants to see so much government funding for CCS locked in that there’s no choice but to continue down that path. And the purpose is clear: enabling the continued burning of fossil fuels. “The value of CCS to Shell is the ability to decarbonize our products,” the document explains. CCS will also help Shell to “retain a larger market share for our products in the energy transition, in addition to reputational value.”

Step Two: Move the Goalposts

That 2 C thing is another persistent trend. While the rest of the world has only just begun to acknowledge that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is unlikely to happen, it turns out that the oil companies — all of which supposedly support the Paris climate agreement and its 1.5 C limit — were always shooting for 2. BP was talking about 2 C warming as the goal as early as 2017.

Chevron had officially skipped past 1.5 C as of 2020. The company also seems pretty cynical about the viability of the industry reaching net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, a commitment the United Nations sees as fundamental to keeping warming to 1.5 degrees or less. Fossil fuel companies, the aviation industry, utilities, and the U.S. government have signed onto this commitment.

Chevron has hedged a bit more, committing to net zero by 2050 only in its operations, which leaves out the emissions associated with the use of its oil and gas. And now we know why. A 2020 presentation to the company’s board of directors titled “Chevron’s Approach to Net Zero” points out that a 2050 goal will be much more expensive than, say, 2070. In a 2019 document put out by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative — a project that brings the global oil majors together to collaborate on climate solutions — Chevron suggests changing “net zero emissions” as a goal to “reduced emissions.”

Step Three: Social License

For all the eye-rolling and snark about their critics and how they just don’t understand the industry, oil executives remain deeply concerned about maintaining a social license to operate: tacit approval from the public to keep on keeping on, an acknowledgement that the benefits they deliver still outweigh the costs, even as the risks are increasing. Shell, the company that seems to be putting the most effort into actually transitioning — although still not what experts say is needed; none of the oil majors invest more than 5 percent of their capital in anything that’s not oil or gas — seems particularly concerned about this.

In a note to Shell’s executive committee, the company’s U.S. president, Gretchen Watkins, and VP of U.S. energy strategy, Jason Klein, explain that in the absence of federal policy on climate, states and cities have filled the void with policies that are often more aggressive than federal policy would be. “While this patchwork of policies and markets creates challenges for a coordinated U.S. energy transition,” they write, “it also creates opportunities for an integrated, respected and credible energy company like Shell to take on an increased leadership role to shape effective policy at multiple levels in the transition, while maintaining a strong societal license to operate.”

In a 2019 energy transition plan, Shell directors also lay out a U.S. reputation strategy , noting that while Shell is a leader among its U.S. peers, “our industry continues to have low credibility and trust with specific stakeholder groups (energy engaged audiences), amidst rising societal expectations on climate action.”

To address this problem, according to the directors, Shell must “secure partnerships with credible external influencers and commercial entities that support and strengthen societal license to operate and grow at country and asset level.”

Step Four: Campus Control

Standard Oil of New Jersey (Exxon Mobil today) was one of the first companies to invest heavily in university research. Back in the 1940s and ’50s, when U.S. companies were just starting to increase campus donations because they came with some appealing tax write-offs, Standard Oil Chair Frank Abrams saw the real value: shaping the minds of tomorrow’s leaders. He encouraged his fellow executives to focus on the “indirect value” of university donations, for example, reducing the number of people who think every problem can be solved by the government. Since Abrams’s day, corporate investing in universities has exploded. Fossil fuel companies fund not only science and technology research, but also public policy, economics, and law centers at campuses across the country, the more prestigious the better.

When students organized through Fossil-Free Research last year to demand that their universities stop taking these research funds, campus spokespeople lined up to defend the practice, saying that it didn’t influence the research. The first peer-reviewed study on the topic , which came out in Nature, told a different story. Researchers Douglas Almond, Xinming Du, and Anna Papp at Columbia University found that the funding sources of various university energy centers played a major role in those centers’ positions on fossil gas.

Fossil-funded centers “are more favorable in their reports towards natural gas than towards renewable energy,” the study found. Meanwhile, centers less dependent on fossil funding “show a reversed pattern with more neutral sentiment towards gas, and favor solar and hydro power.”

Documents BP submitted to Congress back this up. In a 2019 email exchange about the company’s partnership with Princeton, Bob Stout, BP’s former vice president and head of regulatory advocacy and policy, wrote: “These relationships (along with those we have with Harvard, Tufts and Columbia) are key parts of our long-term relationship-building and outreach to policy makers and influencers in the U.S. and globally. … We do not always agree on matters of policy, but we do get valuable intel on the evolving perspectives and priorities of the environmental community and are able to tell the story of what we are doing and why in a more personal and compelling way.”

Step Five: Creative Confrontation

Back in the 1970s, legendary Mobil VP Herb Schmertz pioneered the art of bullying journalists or, as he called it, “ creative confrontation .” If journalists weren’t covering Mobil’s point of view, or he thought they were being too critical of Mobil, he called them up and let them know. And he let their bosses and their bosses’ bosses know too. Sometimes he threatened to pull advertising. Once, he cut off the Wall Street Journal from any information whatsoever: press releases, comments from executives, even quarterly earnings reports.

It’s similar to what the American Petroleum Institute and Shell tried to do to Hiroko Tabuchi, the New York Times’s climate accountability reporter. Publicists for the two entities followed Schmertz’s playbook in response to a tweet (now deleted) in which Tabuchi referenced the shared history of the fossil fuel industry and white supremacy, and again in response to a story about the American Chemistry Council, which counts several oil majors as members, lobbying against regulations that would limit the ability to sell single-use disposable plastic. Accusing Tabuchi of bias, inaccuracy, and misunderstanding the industry, Shell and the American Petroleum Institute reached out to her bosses, asking them to “do the right thing.”

If it were only a group of smug flaks congratulating themselves for sending “nastygrams” and saying things like “Let’s work on taking away their birthdays next,” it would be easy to dismiss as clownish theatrics. But there’s quite a bit of evidence that it works. Not just in the ’70s and ’80s, but also today.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who co-chairs the Oversight Committee and helped spearhead the investigation, says he thinks it worked to pull Tabuchi off certain types of climate stories. The Times did not respond to a request for comment on this assertion, and Tabuchi declined to comment. But after covering the committee’s hearings on climate disinformation for a year, Khanna said, “Hiroko’s not covering it anymore. She’s been taken off. So, you know, unfortunately Big Oil succeeds sometimes when they engage in this kind of bullying.”

The House Oversight Committee seems to be susceptible to pressure of some kind itself. Khanna previously told The Intercept that before Republicans take control of the House, the committee would release all the subpoenaed documents to the Senate to continue the investigation or at least finish reviewing them for pertinent information — a task the committee has not had the time or staff resources to complete. But the decision to release the documents has since been reversed, according to Khanna’s press secretary. The committee also decided not to send letters to the Department of Justice or the White House requesting that the investigation continue, Khanna staffers said.

Asked what might stop the fossil fuel industry from continuing to run this same strategy on repeat for the foreseeable future, Khanna said “accountability.” If the House Oversight Committee takes no action by January 2 to either release the documents to the Senate or recommend that the Biden administration pick up the inquiry, that goal will die alongside the unfinished investigation.

The post Subpoenaed Fossil Fuel Documents Reveal an Industry Stuck in the Past appeared first on The Intercept .

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    The Scorched-Earth Legal Strategy Corporations Are Using to Silence Their Critics

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Friday, 16 December - 11:00 · 26 minutes

W eeks before he was murdered, Victor Hugo Orcasita presented his wife with a letter describing his last wishes.

Orcasita, a union leader, had been pushing for better conditions at his workplace, a mine in northern Colombia owned by a subsidiary of the Alabama-based coal company Drummond. Then the death threats started coming in. He believed that the armed strangers who had started appearing around the mine’s cafeteria would soon make those threats a reality.

“He foresaw his death,” said his widow, Elisa Almarales Viloria.

On March 12, 2001, paramilitary gunmen dragged Orcasita and another union leader, Valmore Locarno, from a company bus as the men returned home from work. The gunmen shot Locarno on the spot and carried Orcasita off in the bed of their pickup truck. His body was found the next day. He’d been shot in the head, his teeth knocked out.

The miners’ union was convinced that Drummond was involved in the murders. They suspected that the company was secretly paying the paramilitary group that executed their leaders. Ultimately, a Drummond food service contractor who ran the mine’s cafeteria was convicted of plotting the murders and sentenced to 38 years in prison.

To make the case that the company was complicit in the killings, the union turned to Terry Collingsworth, a lifelong human rights attorney based in Washington, D.C.

Victims suing multinational corporations for alleged crimes committed abroad face steep odds. Collingsworth has made a specialty of these uphill battles, devoting his career to holding companies accountable in American courts for human rights abuses overseas. In his struggle with Drummond, he collaborated with activist groups, spoke out in the media, and wrote letters to Drummond’s business partners accusing the company of “hiring, contracting with, and directing” the paramilitaries who committed the murders.

Collingsworth’s decision to file suit in the United States made Orcasita’s widow hopeful that justice would prevail. For years, she had felt that justice would be impossible in Colombia due to Drummond’s political clout.

“What we were most excited about was bringing the lawsuit in Alabama,” she said. “There it would not be so easy for them to traffic their influence.”

Collingsworth lost an initial trial in 2007, when a jury found there wasn’t clear evidence tying the company to the crimes. Another of his lawsuits was dismissed for being too similar to the first. But Collingsworth continued to press his case, offering new witnesses with firsthand testimony implicating Drummond.

Then, in March 2015, the case took a surprising turn.

Drummond had returned fire in the legal fight with an unusual accusation. The company charged that Collingsworth — an advocate who recently brought a case before the U.S. Supreme Court — had led a “multifaceted criminal campaign” to extort Drummond into paying a costly settlement. This campaign, Drummond alleged, was in fact a racketeering conspiracy as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO.

Drummond’s charges represent a scorched-earth legal strategy in which corporations are turning the tables on attorneys and advocates who accuse them of wrongdoing. The technique was popularized by the elite corporate law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, whose clients include a who’s who of America’s most powerful companies. Representing the oil giant Chevron , Gibson Dunn convinced a judge to block one of the largest environmental verdicts ever reached by deploying a novel formula: using the civil provisions of RICO to charge opposing attorneys with racketeering.

Companies that have used RICO against their accusers say they brought the charges on themselves by committing fraud, bribery, and extortion. In Chevron’s case against environmental attorney Steven Donziger, a federal judge agreed; in the case against Collingsworth, a judge ruled that there was enough evidence of malfeasance to allow discovery. Human rights and environmental advocates contend that the true purpose of the cases is to send attorneys and activists a message: Going toe-to-toe with heavyweight corporations can lead to personal ruin.

“Companies with functionally limitless resources can come in and bigfoot like this, and no one can withstand it.”

Legal experts say some plaintiff’s attorneys made themselves vulnerable to RICO claims because they operated at the most aggressive edge of their field, overstepped ethical lines, and by their own admission made mistakes. By shifting the spotlight to these attorneys’ conduct, corporations effectively sidestepped the original allegations against them. Following these victories, other companies adopted similar theories to target advocacy groups directly.

If the goal is to hold attorneys accountable for unethical behavior, RICO is an odd choice. George Washington University law professor and international human rights attorney Ralph Steinhardt noted that RICO is a “very heavy club to swing” when there are more direct penalties, like sanctions, which punish the advocate without invalidating the entire case.

“One wonders why you would bring out the big guns of racketeering to send a message,” he said. “It’s a take-no-prisoners approach that’s intended to distract from whatever good faith allegations there may be.”

Ken White, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in First Amendment law, said responding to alleged misconduct by opposing attorneys with RICO charges is “like going after raccoons knocking over your trash cans with a tactical nuke.”

What’s missing, White says, is a universal mechanism to secure quick dismissals of baseless RICO claims. “Companies with functionally limitless resources can come in and bigfoot like this, and no one can withstand it,” White said.

Climate activists are gathered outside Gibson Dunn office to protest against the Chevron Corp, New York City, June 10, 2021.

Climate activists gather outside the Gibson Dunn office in New York City to protest against Chevron on June 10, 2021.

Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Getty Images

The RICO Playbook

As scientists issue dire warnings about climate change , advocates have turned to the courts and public campaigning to try to impose consequences on companies they accuse of serious attacks on the environment. Energy and extractive industry giants targeted by these efforts have been particularly eager to turn the tables by deploying this no-holds-barred strategy.

One of the world’s biggest oil companies, accused of dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste in the Amazon rainforest, won the first high-profile victory that relied on this approach. Drummond filed RICO charges in response to allegations that it financed the murder of union leaders who threatened the productivity of its coal mines. A pulp and paper company accused of destroying forests and the energy company behind the Dakota Access pipeline followed soon after, bringing RICO claims against environmental campaigners and anti-pipeline protesters.

In each of these cases, the accused racketeers were environmental and human rights attorneys, Greenpeace and other environmental groups, or Indigenous land and water rights activists.

The RICO Act, originally passed in 1970 to help prosecutors go after the mafia, includes civil provisions that allow private parties to allege a racketeering conspiracy. Most civil RICO claims are filed in business disputes, while others have been brought against political groups from anti-abortion protesters to animal rights activists. These suits require a high bar of evidence: They must prove a pattern of at least two “predicate” crimes such as bribery, fraud, or money laundering; that the perpetrators worked together in a criminal “enterprise”; and that the perpetrators acted with criminal intent.

Nonetheless, RICO claims offer powerful incentives to plaintiffs. If a judge allows the case to go forward, the defendants are subject to extensive discovery in which a well-funded corporate law firm can bury them in paperwork. If the company wins and can establish damages, those damages are automatically tripled.

“When we really think about what these suits are about, it’s fear.”

The success of early cases has helped build a body of law that opens the door for even more aggressive uses of the statute. The most recent corporate RICO cases have sought to define common public advocacy techniques such as negative media campaigns that allegedly contained false claims as predicate offenses for racketeering. The financial and reputational costs of defending these claims can make them devastating to their targets even if they ultimately fail.

“These RICO cases are easier to file than they are to win,” Steinhardt said. “Their intimidating purpose is served by their filing or their pendency.”

Deepa Padmanabha, deputy general counsel for Greenpeace USA, said that even though her team was awarded more than $800,000 in legal fees after successfully defeating RICO claims, the cost of defending the case was even higher.

Padmanabha said that two RICO suits would have cost the organization a total of more than a billion dollars if it had lost. The goal of the charges, she believes, was to caution the environmental movement that even the largest organizations were not safe from ruin.

“When we really think about what these suits are about, it’s fear,” Padmanabha said.

Corporate lawyers seem to be betting that the strategy will have staying power. In October 2020, Gibson Dunn announced a new practice in Judgment and Arbitral Award Enforcement, offering its services to creditors or debtors seeking to litigate existing judgments. The practice’s website highlights “its representation of Chevron Corporation in its successful RICO suit” and boasts that the firm “excels at defending companies and individuals against fraudulent arbitration awards and foreign judgments.”

Evan Mascagni, policy director for the Public Participation Project, an organization that fights against abusive lawsuits, said the RICO strategy threatens to overwhelm the legal system by allowing deep-pocketed companies to deploy endless resources to silence critics and defy judgments against them.

“I think if we accept this as a society, as a country, we’re saying we’re going to give incredibly powerful multinational corporations the ability to hijack our legal system,” Mascagni said.

The lawyer of Ecuadorean people affected by Texaco-Chevron, Steven Donziger, speaks during a press conference on March 19, 2014 in Quito.

Steven Donziger speaks during a press conference on March 19, 2014, in Quito, Ecuador.

Photo: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images

A Victory for Chevron

The RICO strategy was most famously deployed in 2011 by Chevron in its bitter legal conflict with attorney Steven Donziger.

At the time, Donziger was the lead lawyer pursuing massive damages against the oil company for toxic pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Chevron inherited the lawsuit when it acquired Texaco, which had allegedly left hundreds of open pits of sludge in the rainforests where it operated, causing cancer deaths, miscarriages, and birth defects among the area’s mostly Indigenous residents. As the prospects of a multibillion-dollar judgment grew higher, Chevron enlisted the help of Gibson Dunn.

In February 2011, Gibson Dunn attorneys filed a civil RICO suit in New York accusing Donziger and his colleagues of running a racketeering conspiracy. They charged that Donziger and his team secretly controlled a key independent expert appointed by the Ecuadorian court to assess pollution damages. By the time of Donziger’s trial, they added the accusation that Donziger had bribed an Ecuadorian judge to allow his team to ghostwrite the judgment against Chevron.

Chevron provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits to Alberto Guerra, the witness who claimed he’d facilitated the bribery and served as a liaison between Donziger’s team and the Ecuadorian judge. The benefits included relocating Guerra and his family from Ecuador to the United States, where the company supplied him with a $12,000 monthly salary. Chevron has said that it relocated Guerra to ensure his safety and that the payments were to compensate him for the cost of providing his evidence.

The company’s case was bolstered by Donziger’s own words, obtained through discovery of materials that included outtakes from a documentary film. In one clip, Donziger discussed the size of a possible judgment against Chevron and speculated that his team could “jack this thing up to $30 billion.” In draft testimony in 2013, Donziger conceded that he “did make errors along the way” but challenged the legitimacy of the proceedings against him.

As the RICO case headed for trial, Chevron made a strategic move. Roughly two weeks before the trial date, it dropped its request for damages and sought only to block enforcement of Ecuador’s $9.5 billion judgment. That meant the case would no longer be heard by a jury but decided solely by Judge Lewis Kaplan, a federal district judge in Manhattan who had ruled in the company’s favor in earlier motions.

In March 2014, Kaplan ruled in favor of Chevron, barring U.S. enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment and holding that private parties are entitled to seek relief from foreign courts’ decisions under civil RICO — a crucial green light for the strategy that Gibson Dunn had developed.

Kaplan concluded that Donziger’s team had not only secretly written the Ecuadorian court’s ruling, but also submitted false evidence and made hidden payments to the court-appointed expert. “The wrongful actions of Donziger and his Ecuadorian legal team would be offensive to the laws of any nation that aspires to the rule of law,” Kaplan wrote in his opinion.

Critics have raised questions about irregularities in the case against Donziger. Guerra later changed key details in his testimony, including the nature of the alleged bribe agreement and the dates of trips in which he claimed to have worked on the case. Computer analysis also showed the judge in question had a running draft of the judgment saved on his hard drive for months, undermining the ghostwriting claim. Still, the case set in motion a stunning downfall for Donziger. The one-time star of the environmental bar ended up serving time in federal prison on contempt charges stemming from his refusal to comply with orders from Kaplan after the RICO decision. Meanwhile, Chevron avoided paying the multibillion-dollar judgment for the toxic sludge that remains in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

In an emailed statement, Gibson Dunn noted that an arbitration panel established through a trade agreement between the United States and Ecuador found that Texaco, Chevron’s predecessor, had complied with a pollution remediation plan approved by the Ecuadorian government, releasing the company from liability. Critics contend that the remediation plan failed to clean up the damage and did not cover claims by private plaintiffs.

In response to questions about Guerra, the firm said Donziger exaggerated the importance of his testimony and pointed to Kaplan’s statement that he would have “reached precisely the same result in this case even without the testimony of Alberto Guerra.” Gibson Dunn added that Kaplan’s RICO ruling, which was unanimously affirmed by a panel of judges on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, showed that the firm’s advocacy had uncovered serious wrongdoing.

“As for Gibson Dunn’s work successfully exposing fraud by unscrupulous lawyers like Mr. Donziger who seek to rip off vulnerable people in weak legal systems overseas based on lies, this is laudable work vindicating the rule of law,” William Thomson, a partner at Gibson Dunn who was part of its Chevron team, wrote in the statement.

Donziger maintained that his contacts with the Ecuadorian expert were legal and appropriate under Ecuadorian law, and that the ghostwriting charges were fabricated.

“Chevron used a civil racketeering case and false witness testimony from a person who is an admitted liar to try to criminalize me,” Donziger told The Intercept and Type in a written statement. “They wanted to use this bogus RICO case to try to get people to forget about the human devastation Chevron caused in Ecuador.”

Undated photo of a open air coal mine in La Guajira province, Colombia.

An open-air coal mine in Colombia’s La Guajira Department.

Photo: Jeffrey Tanenhaus

Witnesses in Dispute

About a year after Kaplan blocked the Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron, Drummond filed RICO charges against Collingsworth.

Although the company had already prevailed against several of his lawsuits, Collingsworth forged ahead with new legal actions, adding witnesses who offered firsthand testimony alleging that the coal company was complicit in the union leaders’ murders.

One of these witnesses was an imprisoned former paramilitary commander called El Tigre, or the Tiger, who testified that Drummond provided regular payments to his unit. Another key witness was Jaime Blanco, the food contractor who was ultimately convicted of the murders, who said Drummond used his company as a conduit to funnel money to the paramilitaries and directed them to commit the murders.

Collingsworth made payments to El Tigre’s family members and helped arrange financing for Blanco’s legal defense when he agreed to testify. He said the funds he provided to El Tigre’s family were security payments to help the family relocate in order to avoid violent retaliation by the paramilitaries, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, which the U.S. State Department designated as a terrorist group in 2001. In response to a court order, Collingsworth disclosed similar payments to relatives of three ex-paramilitary witnesses, but he failed to include the payments to El Tigre and two other ex-paramilitaries, as well as his arrangement with Blanco.

Drummond’s media office did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails requesting comment for this story, and attorneys for Drummond declined to comment.

Colombian authorities have backed up key elements of Collingsworth and El Tigre’s account. In December 2020, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office charged the current and former presidents of Drummond’s Colombian subsidiary with conspiracy in the union leaders’ murders. The 149-page charging document included a summary of a forensic analysis that found evidence of more than $3.7 million in overpayments from the subsidiary to Blanco’s company, bolstering allegations that Drummond had financed the paramilitaries.

Prosecutors also noted that numerous witnesses who did not receive security payments had testified to the same facts. The accounts of El Tigre and other disputed witnesses, they wrote, were “in harmony with and verified by other forms of proof.”

This fall, prosecutors named Drummond’s Colombian subsidiary as a “civilly responsible third party” in the case of the union leaders’ murders.

Though its Colombian subsidiary is now in the crosshairs of prosecutors, Drummond has had more success against Collingsworth in the United States.

In 2015, Drummond filed a civil RICO suit charging that Collingsworth had bribed El Tigre, Blanco, and other witnesses to falsely testify that Drummond was involved in the murders, as part of a racketeering conspiracy to strong-arm the coal producer into paying a hefty settlement. The company pointed to inconsistencies in their testimonies, noting previous statements in which they denied that Drummond had worked with the paramilitaries before they became witnesses for Collingsworth.

The case, which focused on the undisclosed payments to witnesses, was heard by a federal judge who had ruled in Drummond’s favor in earlier litigation with Collingsworth, Judge R. David Proctor of the Northern District of Alabama.

Collingsworth said in court filings that the omissions were an “inadvertent disclosure error” resulting from miscommunication with his co-counsel in Colombia. He said he had failed to include the payments in an initial disclosure and then recycled his answer repeatedly before realizing his error. He also apologized to the judge for making a “terrible mistake” in not revealing his arrangement with Blanco, which he had previously deemed to be outside the scope of required disclosures.

“Sitting here now, boy, I wish I had just disclosed it,” Collingsworth said in a phone interview. “Because it wasn’t hiding the truth or changing the testimony.”

The real question, Collingsworth said, is whether the payments to the witnesses in Colombia were ethical and necessary for their safety. The security arrangements were needed for them to testify truthfully without endangering their families, he said, noting that he reviewed all arrangements in advance with ethics lawyers and turned down witnesses who sought to exchange testimony for cash. He fiercely defends his decision to help relocate the families of former paramilitaries and submitted testimony supporting the need for security payments by expert witnesses including Javier Peña, the former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who led the mission that killed cartel leader Pablo Escobar and inspired the Netflix series “Narcos.”

“It was morally necessary to protect these families from one of the most brutal groups that roamed the earth,” Collingsworth said.

In December 2015, Proctor ruled that Drummond’s RICO case could go forward, finding that Collingsworth’s explanation for the undisclosed payments was “as weak as it is incredible.” He held that there was probable cause to believe that Collingsworth had bribed witnesses and suborned perjury, opening the door to the extensive discovery process that Chevron had effectively used against Donziger.

It was the beginning of years of legal wrangling that Collingsworth said drained the resources of his small human rights firm.

Collingsworth said he has spent some 2,000 hours — what a lawyer usually bills in a year — defending against Drummond’s charges. Even more damaging, he said, has been the impact on his professional reputation, which he says has deprived him of business opportunities and revenue.

“I have had colleagues who are in law firms tell me that they can’t collaborate with me until these charges are completely resolved in my favor, because they don’t want to be accused of associating with someone who bribes witnesses,” Collingsworth said.

Steinhardt, the human rights law professor, said the facts of the case aren’t black and white, but the charges against Collingsworth are disproportionate. “He isn’t a racketeer,” Steinhardt said.

A protester holds a poster during a demonstration outside the Constitutional Court, called by the Union of Persons Affected by Texaco, to mark the 23 years of legal battle against the oil company, in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

A protester holds a poster outside the constitutional court in Quito, Ecuador, on Nov. 9, 2016, at a demonstration marking 23 of the legal battle over Texaco’s pollution.

Photo: Dolores Ochoa/AP

A Chilling Effect

The success of these cases paved the way for increasingly aggressive uses of civil RICO.

Around 2012, Greenpeace and other environmental groups launched a protest campaign against Resolute Forest Products, accusing the forestry company of destroying boreal forests in Canada. Several years later, Greenpeace and others began another campaign targeting Energy Transfer Partners (now part of Energy Transfer LP), the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline. This campaign charged, among other things, that the company was threatening Indigenous communities’ water supply and sacred sites. Greenpeace and its allies rallied their members, drove media coverage, and urged the companies’ business partners to sever ties unless the companies changed course.

The two companies filed RICO charges against Greenpeace and the other groups in 2016 and 2017. Both were represented by the firm Kasowitz Benson Torres, whose founding partner Marc Kasowitz was a longtime personal attorney for Donald Trump and filed a defamation case against one of Trump’s critics. (First Look Institute, the nonprofit that publishes The Intercept, is involved in litigation with Energy Transfer, represented by the Kasowitz firm, over records related to the Dakota Access pipeline.)

Michael Bowe, the former Kasowitz partner who brought the RICO cases, told Bloomberg in August 2017 that he was in contact with other companies considering similar actions and “would be shocked if there are not many more.” He anticipates an increase in these actions, he wrote in response to questions from Type and The Intercept, because “the online nature of activism and speech generally makes it easier and more common to widely disseminate false claims and inflict great harm.”

“The claims against Greenpeace and others are … essentially saying, ‘Your activism is racketeering.’”

The cases against Greenpeace took the RICO strategy well beyond the arguments made by Chevron and Drummond. They argued that common advocacy techniques such as naming-and-shaming campaigns and fundraising amounted to RICO offenses if the campaigns included false allegations. Greenpeace’s campaign against Resolute included an inaccurate claim that Resolute had logged in protected forests, which Greenpeace later retracted, saying it had made a mistake. Resolute accused Greenpeace of intentionally fabricating the claim in order to extort the company, calling the organization a “global fraud” that existed to maximize donations rather than protect the environment.

“The claims against Donziger aren’t claims against environmentalism as it operates,” said Joshua Galperin, an environmental law professor at Pace Law School. “But the claims against Greenpeace and others are much more broad, essentially saying, ‘Your activism is racketeering.’”

Bowe disputed this characterization. “The case is not about activism, it is about lies,” he wrote. “Legitimate activism is truthful.”

Krystal Two Bulls, an organizer who participated in the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, was added as a defendant in the racketeering suit brought by Energy Transfer in 2018, after a judge found that the initial complaint was too vague to support RICO claims. The company charged that Two Bulls, a media liaison for a group of protesters called Red Warrior Camp, had sought to “provide cover for their illegal activities” by issuing public calls to action on the group’s behalf. They accused Red Warrior Camp of being a “front for eco-terrorists” who engaged in violent attacks on construction sites. News reports state that while members of the camp occupied private land to block pipeline construction, police and security guards carried out much of the violence — using water hoses, rubber bullets, and tear gas against protesters.

Two Bulls, a U.S. Army veteran and a member of the Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne, was shocked when she learned she had been charged with racketeering.

“I remember thinking, what am I supposed to do with this?” she said. “I have no lawyer. I have no money for a lawyer.”

“I started to censor myself.”

Two Bulls was represented pro bono by the nonprofit law firms Center for Constitutional Rights and EarthRights International. She considers herself lucky that colleagues in the environmental movement connected her with these lawyers but recalls a heavy weight on her shoulders while the charges were pending. She felt like her presence was a liability to her fellow activists.

“It made me second guess myself and the spaces I entered,” Two Bulls said. “I started to censor myself in the things I was saying.”

Laura Lee Prather, a partner at Haynes Boone who specializes in First Amendment law, said civil RICO claims often lead to extended litigation because they depend heavily on the facts of the case. Defamation charges can be thrown out if the defendant can affirmatively show their statements were true. By contrast, a civil RICO claim usually requires a more complex defense.

“Civil RICO is much more difficult to have a court feel comfortable dismissing at any early stage,” Prather said.

Federal judges in California and North Dakota dismissed the RICO claims in both cases almost a year and a half after they were filed. In the Resolute case, the judge ruled that the company failed to prove that Greenpeace’s fundraising claims had directly caused the alleged harm it suffered. He later ordered the company to pay more than $800,000 of Greenpeace’s legal costs.

Resolute noted that other charges it has brought against Greenpeace, alleging defamation and unfair competition, were allowed to proceed and are still before the courts. “The long-running dispute with activists has been about standing up for our communities to defend our sustainable practices against misrepresentation,” Resolute spokesperson Seth Kursman said in a statement.

In the case of Energy Transfer, the judge ruled that the company failed to prove that the various actors involved in the Standing Rock protests were a coordinated “RICO enterprise.”

“While there is a common purpose among defendants — they all oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline — there is no ongoing organization, no continuing unit, and no ascertainable structure apart from the alleged RICO violations,” U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson wrote in February 2019. “That is far short of what is needed to establish a RICO enterprise.”

Energy Transfer did not respond to email or telephone inquiries. A week after its RICO charges were dismissed, the company filed charges in North Dakota state court, accusing Greenpeace, Two Bulls, and others of trespass, defamation, and civil conspiracy for their role in the Standing Rock protests. The litigation is ongoing.

Defiant Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors faced-off with various law enforcement agencies on the day the camp was slated to be raided, on Feb. 22, 2017, North Dakota.

Dakota Access pipeline protesters face off with various law enforcement agencies on Feb. 22, 2017, in North Dakota.

Photo: Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Protecting the Protest

The RICO attacks on Greenpeace and its allies alarmed civil society organizations, which feared that the cases would deter advocacy groups from speaking out against big corporations. In 2018, a coalition of organizations founded Protect the Protest to combat lawsuits meant to silence free speech, which are known as strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. These lawsuits can include RICO claims but have also proliferated in other ways. Telltale signs of a SLAPP, according to the coalition, are claims that target activities protected by the First Amendment, seek to exploit a power imbalance, and threaten to bankrupt defendants.

“Civil society is not just going to lay down and take this,” said Marco Simons, the general counsel for EarthRights International and a member of the coalition.

Simons believes the coalition’s recent work calling attention to the Greenpeace lawsuits has, for the time being, discouraged companies from attempting more RICO suits that broadly target activism. But Protect the Protest is still seeking more permanent solutions.

The coalition aims to crack down on these suits by promoting anti-SLAPP laws, which provide fast-track procedures for dismissing SLAPPs and shifting their legal costs to the party that filed them. More than half of U.S. states have some version of an anti-SLAPP law.

Ken White, the former prosecutor, said that state anti-SLAPP laws have been highly effective, both in deterring abusive lawsuits and providing a defense mechanism for their targets. But RICO is a federal law.

In September, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., introduced the SLAPP Protection Act of 2022 , a federal bill that, like the state laws, would provide an expedited process for getting SLAPPs thrown out. Raskin singled out the fossil fuel industry for abusing the “legal system by deploying costly, protracted, and meritless lawsuits to target activists.”

A law providing a uniform standard for dismissing such lawsuits across federal courts would make it “much harder to abuse the system,” White said.

As advocates search for solutions, Drummond is pressing ahead with its RICO case against Collingsworth. The company subpoenaed VICE Media last year for raw audio recordings from a podcast about the union leaders’ murders. On March 7, Proctor, the judge, ruled in Drummond’s favor, ordering VICE to turn over recordings of its interviews with Collingsworth, Blanco, and another witness.

Collingsworth said that he doesn’t fear losing in court, but the looming racketeering charges have taken a toll psychologically.

“There is a question mark over my name.”

“It has caused me emotional turmoil because some people view me differently,” he said. “There is a question mark over my name.”

The coming months are expected to bring new developments in his legal battle with the coal company. Attorneys will take depositions from witnesses in Colombia for Drummond’s RICO suit and a more recent suit brought by Collingsworth. Meanwhile, Colombian prosecutors have resumed work in their case against the current and former presidents of Drummond’s Colombian subsidiary, seeking testimony from a former paramilitary leader in October. The defendants have appealed the decision to charge them with conspiring in Orcasita’s and Locarno’s murders, and the appeal must be decided before the case can go to trial, according to Ivan Otero, Collingsworth’s co-counsel in Colombia.

More than 21 years after her husband’s murder, Elisa Orcasita is still skeptical of Colombian justice but is hoping for a clean trial.

“We pray to God that there’s no more buying of anything, no more influence of anything,” she said. “That’s what we hope for as victims.”

This story was produced with support from the Fund for Constitutional Government and the H.D. Lloyd Fund for Investigative Journalism.

The post The Scorched-Earth Legal Strategy Corporations Are Using to Silence Their Critics appeared first on The Intercept .

  • Th chevron_right

    How Neighbors in the Borderlands Fought Back Against Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s Illegal Wall — and Won

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Wednesday, 14 December - 11:00 · 35 minutes

M ichael and Christie Brown resisted putting a barrier around their beloved desert home for years, but the nights were getting too dangerous. It was a question of safety. They needed a fence.

The Browns live 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, on the southeastern edge of Sierra Vista, in Cochise County, Arizona. Like many of their neighbors at the foot of the rugged Huachuca Mountains, the Browns’s worry was javelinas, tenacious borderland omnivores often mistaken for wild pigs. Their dogs had been attacked. Their garden was in peril. Javelina damage keeps the Browns up at night. A purported wave of migrants laying siege to their community does not.

In late October, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey began unloading thousands of shipping containers on the border in the Coronado National Forest to thwart a supposed “invasion” on the Browns’ doorstep. Topped with concertina wire and welded together, the nearly 9,000-pound boxes would be stacked two high on land where the retirees chop wood every winter, where they took their sons hiking and camping as kids, and where they still hike and camp to this day. In the early 2000s, they saw evidence of heavy migration through the area — discarded desert clothes, empty water jugs, trash — but it hadn’t been like that in more than a decade.

On October 26, two days after Ducey’s project began, the Browns got in their truck and set off to see the shipping containers for themselves. They descended a rocky road east of the picturesque San Rafael Valley, then turned south toward Mexico. As they neared the border, they were stopped at an ad hoc checkpoint. A bald man, dressed in black with body armor and reflective sunglasses, approached. He wore no insignia and refused to say who he worked for. Michael asked if he could drive up to the containers and take some photos. The guard said he could not. Michael asked him why.

“I’m not answering any more questions, sir,” the guard replied.

The scene was as horrifying as anything the Browns could have imagined. Heavy-duty pickups were ripping down the dirt road hauling in shipping containers on trailers. The containers were then transferred onto a large military truck that raced down the road running parallel to the border, blaring a loud horn as it passed. At the end of the line, the containers were wrapped in a thick chain and hoisted by backhoes. Swinging precariously through the air, they were plopped in the dirt, then shoved into place with a forklift. The clanking and screeching of metal on metal filled the otherwise quiet landscape. The grinding of the heavy vehicles on the desert soil enveloped the entire area in a thick cloud of fine dust.

Christie was incensed, telling the guard that she would walk to the containers. “This is a dangerous area, ma’am,” the man said.

“This is our national land,” Christie said.

The guard cocked his head to the side, like he was schooling a child. “This is also the state of Arizona,” he said. “Are you a federal employee?”

Michael interjected: “I was.”

Michael, now 67, had lived in the area for nearly half a century and knew as much about border walls as anyone. Serving in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for two decades, he oversaw the construction of Border Patrol stations in Naco and Douglas. In 2007, he oversaw installation of the first federally contracted “ pedestrian fencing ” in Arizona. He continued to oversee wall construction across the southwest into the Trump years, before retiring in the spring of 2021.

Looking out across the landscape, Michael Brown saw a reckless operation that he would have shut down in a heartbeat. He decided to take a walk through the brush, snapping photos of birds while taking in evidence of the environmental damage. Christie waited back in the truck with their dog, Izzy. A man parked nearby and trained a pair of binoculars on Christie. He watched her until Michael returned and continued watching as the couple drove away.

An hour later, the Browns were back home when the doorbell rang. Michael opened the door to find two armed men in body armor, a pair of unmarked vehicles behind them. Unlike the guard at Coronado, they wore identifiable insignia. This was Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels’s heavily subsidized and much-advertised border strike force.

The deputies told Michael they’d received a complaint that a truck like his, carrying four suspicious men, was spotted outside a hotel where the governor’s contractors were staying. The contractors had told police that they were frightened. Michael explained that he and Christie had simply gone to see the container wall. He showed the deputies cellphone video of their interaction with the guard. A third unmarked vehicle pulled into his driveway. Before long, the deputies’ demeanor softened, they turned friendly and appeared satisfied. As they left, one of the men remarked to Michael that the governor’s wall was a “sensitive political situation.”

“I know the contractors at the border took down my license plate and called them,” Michael told me a month later, over coffee in his kitchen. “I don’t understand why.” While some would be unnerved, he was mostly perplexed. Anyway, he and Christie now had bigger things to worry about.

Since their visit, Ducey had cut across miles of pristine desert. Federal authorities had told the governor that his project was illegal, but were doing nothing to stop it. The Browns were shocked. “The Forest Service is mandated to preserve and to protect our national lands,” Michael said. In the face of inaction, the Browns were left with one choice: gather as many friends, neighbors, and allies as they could and stop the governor themselves.

President Joe Biden greets Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey after arriving on Air Force One, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, at Luke Air Force Base in Maricopa County, Ariz.

President Joe Biden greets Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey after arriving on Air Force One, on Dec. 6, 2022, at Luke Air Force Base in Maricopa County, Ariz.

Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP


F or seven weeks, the Biden administration has watched Arizona’s governor engage in a pattern of brazen lawbreaking along the border, destroying public lands that the administration is sworn to protect, and done nothing to stop him. Ducey, who’s leaving office in January, has committed at least $95 million to this effort, but the Republican governor’s renegade campaign could end up costing Arizonans far more.

Ducey’s Democratic successor, Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs, has said she will stop adding containers to the wall. She has not, however, committed to taking the existing structures down. If Hobbs does take the containers down, it could cost as much or more than it did to put them in. If she doesn’t, it will mean the collapse of a remarkable binational ecosystem, one of the last places in the U.S. where jaguars still roam, and the death of a stunning Sonoran Desert landscape set aside for all to enjoy.

The story of Arizona’s wall of shipping containers is a story about immigration and conservation, of public lands and insurrection, but as the weeks went by, it turned into something more. In the shadow of the governor’s wall, a roughly four-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border became the setting for a remarkable and unlikely story of everyday people who, with no one to count on but each other, stood up against the most powerful lawmaker in their state and won.

Portrait of Michael and Christie Brown near the shipping container wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona on November 29th, 2022.

Michael and Christie Brown near the shipping container wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, on Nov. 29, 2022.

Photo: Kitra Cahana for The Intercept


W hile the Browns were taking in their first ground-level glimpses of Ducey’s wall on October 26, Russ McSpadden was monitoring the scene from above.

McSpadden works for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, where he documents threats to the unique ecosystems of the Sonoran Desert. On social media, he intersperses viral videos of destructive border wall construction with equally popular videos of borderland wildlife. His encyclopedic knowledge of Arizona’s backcountry is matched by his passion for the animals that live there. From iridescent bugs to lightning-fast pronghorn, McSpadden loves them all, but one borderland resident stands above the others: el tigre de la frontera , the jaguar.

McSpadden’s employer has been central in the fight to return the big cats to their historic range across the American Southwest. In 1994, the group filed a lawsuit that led to the inclusion of jaguars on the Endangered Species List. Today, McSpadden is part of a constellation of advocates and biologists who monitor the ultra-elusive predators as they pass back and forth across the border. He is one of the few people alive who has managed to capture a jaguar on a game camera in the Arizona borderlands — not once, but twice.

As part of the center’s legal efforts, the federal government was forced to designate 1,194 square miles in Arizona and New Mexico as critical jaguar habitat in 2014, limiting the kinds of activity permitted there. That habitat included land on the western slope of the Huachuca Mountains in the Coronado National Forest, where Ducey began dropping his containers on October 24.

When the container project began, McSpadden was in a single-engine airplane flying low over the border. His phone rang. Robin Silver, a co-founder of the center, was on the line. He told McSpadden to get to Coronado right away. Tell the pilot to land, he said, or better yet, fly to the installation site.

It wasn’t possible. I happened to be in the air with McSpadden that day. For more than a month, we had both been trying to confirm rumors that Ducey was preparing a mass deployment of containers somewhere outside Nogales, Arizona, likely in Coronado National Forest. Hundreds of the metal boxes had been stored at an unused armory in the border city then quietly disappeared. The governor’s office was being cagey, confirming that Ducey was eyeing locations but refusing to confirm where. McSpadden and I took a tour with EcoFlight, a company that provides aerial tours to environmental advocates and journalists, to scout for signs of activity in the Pajarito Mountains. By the time we touched back down in Tucson, it was clear we should have been flying further east.

Russ McSpadden, Southwest Conservation Advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, scans the border for signs of new wall installation. October 24, 2022.

Russ McSpadden, Southwest Conservation Advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, scans the border for signs of new wall installation. October 24, 2022.

Photo: Michael McKisson


Like others who documented southern Arizona’s environmental destruction under President Donald Trump — compiling evidence of the Department of Homeland Security blowing up national monuments and depleting a sacred Native American oasis — McSpadden was still recovering. He hadn’t been on the border in a professional capacity in a year. Ducey’s threat to jaguars drew him back out.

Two days after our flight, I climbed into McSpadden’s work truck. Setting off in the morning, we pulled into the Coronado National Memorial before noon, then hiked south along a ridge with a commanding view of the landscape below.

Though we were miles from the site, the noise of Ducey’s project echoed through the valley. One after another, pickups pulling containers came rumbling down the Forest Service road that leads to the border. Plumes of dust curled above them. McSpadden set his backpack in the grass and unloaded a drone. I leaned against a wire fence and squinted into the valley. In just two days, Ducey’s contractors had fashioned a shipping container fort to serve as their base of operations. Armed guards waited at the entrance. McSpadden nicknamed it the “OK Corral.”

The drone zipped into the air and was out of sight within seconds. We spent two hours on the ridge watching Ducey’s trucks transform wilderness into junkyard. Trump’s wall-building was jarring for anyone who saw it up close, but this ramshackle operation was something else entirely.

Protestors block construction of Gov. Ducey’s shipping container wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest in Ariz., on November 29th, 2022.

Protesters block construction of the shipping container wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, on Nov. 29, 2022.

Photo: Kitra Cahana for The Intercept


O n the Friday before Ducey’s container installation began, a team of private attorneys working on behalf of the governor filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and top officials at the agencies, along with the secretary of the Department of Agriculture. The lawsuit followed more than a month of warnings from federal officials that the project Ducey was cooking up was unauthorized and thus, illegal.

On September 16, Coronado National Forrest officials received a request from the Arizona Division of Emergency Management seeking “authorization to place barriers on National Forest land in all areas that currently have gaps in the federal wall.” The Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, or DEMA, manages a $335 million “ Border Security Fund ” that the Republican-controlled legislature approved in 2021. The disbursements have been controversial, with the governor’s emergency managers distributing more cash to Republican-led counties and sheriffs — including Cochise County and Dannels, its sheriff — than their Democratic counterparts.

With DEMA showing no sign of plans to abide by the process for the authorization of a massive construction project on federal land, the Forest Service denied Ducey’s request. On October 6, Kerwin Dewberry, Coronado’s forest supervisor, sent a letter to Maj. Gen. Kerry L. Muehlenbeck, the director of DEMA, reporting the sighting of dozens of shipping containers, construction equipment, and private security personal on federal land. “The Forest Service did not authorize this occupancy and use,” he wrote. Muehlenbeck fired back, pointing to a state of emergency Ducey declared in August: “Due to the lack of response and pursuant to the directive by Governor Ducey, work will commence to close the referenced gap to ensure the safety of Arizona citizens.” The response prompted an escalation from the Forest Service, with the chief of the agency’s southwest region reiterating that the governor’s project was unlawful.

In his complaint two weeks later, Ducey focused on the so-called Roosevelt Reservation. In photographs, it’s that flattened land that runs parallel to the border wall. Former President Theodore Roosevelt set aside this 60-foot-wide roadway as federal land in 1907, five years before Arizona became a state, so that the U.S. government could forever have an unimpeded view into Mexico.

For 115 years, the agreement that the easement is federal property has been a staple of borderlands jurisprudence. Ducey, however, presented the novel argument that Roosevelt’s declaration lacked authority and the state had jurisdiction over the land, particularly in times of emergency and cases of invasion; Ducey declared that both were present in Arizona in August. Under President Joe Biden, the federal government abdicated its obligation to provide security by opening the border to a criminal invasion of drugs and foreigners, the governor alleged. Arizona had the right to defend itself by filling gaps in the border wall that Trump left behind. (The Biden administration was already in the process of filling those gaps .)

Ducey’s reading of the law would grant border governors unprecedented power to sidestep federal statutes that have governed public lands for generations. In his view, he was both empowered and obligated to disregard those time-consuming processes. His lawsuit called on the court to agree.

Until a judge rules otherwise, Ducey has demonstrated every intent to keep doing what he’s doing. The Department of Justice has filed a motion to dismiss his suit.

Ducey’s selected AshBritt , a Florida-based disaster response company with significant ties to the Republican Party, for the Coronado project. In 2018, the company made a half-million-dollar donation to a Trump Super PAC, in violation of prohibitions against federal contractor political contributions. The firm’s CEO paid a hefty Federal Election Commission fine. Trump’s former White House counsel, Donald McGahn, negotiated the settlement.

The Center for Biological Diversity quickly filed suit against Ducey, citing the threat to jaguar habitat under the Endangered Species Act, but there was a catch. The landmark environmental law gives defendants nearly two months to change allegedly bad behavior before any enforcement activity can commence. That meant nothing was happening right away. So in addition to that suit, the organization also intervened in Ducey’s lawsuit as a defendant. If the feds wouldn’t defend the land, Robin Silver, the group’s co-founder, told me, the Center for Biological Diversity would.

“What I saw was shocking and heartbreaking.”

McSpadden submitted a declaration in the case. Though Ducey had asserted authority over the Roosevelt Reservation, McSpadden detailed how the governor was, in fact, widening the longstanding federal easement. Describing our visit to the site the previous month, he testified: “What I saw was shocking and heartbreaking.”

McSpadden’s declaration was filed November 1, seven days before the midterm elections. Silver was sending his images from the field directly to Biden’s top land managers, including the defendants in Ducey’s lawsuit and Interior Secretary Deb Halaand. With four decades of experience suing the federal government, often successfully, Silver’s connections in Washington run deep. He demanded that the feds do their job and stop Ducey’s lawbreaking. The message he got back was clear: Wait until the elections are over.

Less than 24 hours after Arizona’s polls closed on November 8, McSpadden and I were on the ground in Coronado. This time, instead of watching from the ridge, we drove directly to the site.

After walking the length of the wall, we cut through the OK Corral on the way to our vehicles. A gaggle of contractors in the makeshift fort exploded, shouting that we couldn’t be there and that they would call the sheriff. One of the men yelled out that he had already sent two people to the hospital that day and would happily send two more. As we continued, a private security guard with a sidearm approached and told us that the area was “very dangerous.” McSpadden responded that we were on Forest Service land, and the governor’s contractors were free to leave.

Up close, the scene had a Mad Max feel. Swirling dust. A wall of containers crowned with razor wire. Trees snapped, trampled, and shoved into mangled heaps. The contractors had laid down more than a mile of boxes since our last visit. The desert washes that provide runoff for monsoon rains were now blocked. Most startling of all were the bus-sized military vehicles racing down the narrow Roosevelt Reservation road. It felt unsafe for all living things in the area, including the workers.

Andrew Kayner, 71, sits down and blocks construction of Governor Ducey’s shipping container wall on the US-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona on November 29th, 2022.

Andrew Kayner, 71, sits down and blocks construction of Gov. Doug Ducey’s shipping container wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, on Nov. 29, 2022.

Photo: Kitra Cahana for The Intercept


S prawled out beyond the northwestern edge of Sierra Vista, the Fort Huachuca Army base is the biggest employer in Cochise County’s most populous city. Established in 1877, the fort began as an outpost in the U.S. campaign to destroy the Chiricahua Apache. Today it’s a hub of drone, intelligence, and electronic warfare operations. Its motto: “From sabres to satellites.”

Michael Brown was a young carpenter when he landed a job on the base in the early 1980s. He had fallen in love with the jagged mountains and golden grasslands of the San Rafael Valley after a Christmas visit in 1975. Brown’s work on the base led to a job with the Army Corps of Engineers, which turned into a 20-year career of inspecting and managing border job sites. He insists the structures he built for the Bush and Obama administrations were “fences,” not “walls.” There’s a meaningful distinction, Brown argues: Fences can be seen through, walls cannot. “Border Patrol agents do not like walls,” he said. “They want to be able to see into Mexico.”

“I can proudly say that I had no part of the Trump-era stuff. To me, that was not done for security. It was for racism.”

Brown has complicated feelings about his old line of work. “I do have a history that I’m not proud of,” he told me the first time we spoke. From the beginning, he said, he questioned the border wall projects — “It just didn’t feel right,” he said — but still he worked on them. Brown’s last wall was an Obama-era contract that carried over into 2017. “I can proudly say that I had no part of the Trump-era stuff,” he said. “To me, that was not done for security. It was for racism.”

The Trump years were a profoundly affecting period for the Browns. Christie participated in a border wall lawsuit. Michael joined her at protests, though he had to keep a low profile because he was still working for the government. With Trump’s defeat, the couple believed the worst was behind them. Then Ducey’s project came along. Still, bad as it was, they expected that the conclusion of the midterms — with a Democrat winning the governor’s mansion — would spell the end of Ducey’s destruction of public lands. But then that didn’t happen either.

Michael used his experience managing government projects to catalogue the myriad ways in which Ducey ran roughshod over critical laws and regulations. He wrote to Arizona Sens. Mark Kelly and Kristen Sinema and Reps. Raul Grijalva and Ann Kirkpatrick, at the time all Democrats, to share his concerns. He did the same with the Arizona office of the International Boundary and Water Commission and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. He included photos. Nothing happened.

My efforts to obtain any sort of comment from the Forest Service on its lack of action were similarly fruitless. I called Silver to see if he was hearing any murmurs of activity from the feds. “It’s the same for us,” he told me. “It’s like, give me a fucking break. Your habitat is just getting trashed. If I did that, you’d have the cops arrest me, and yet you’re standing by.”

The veteran environmentalist continued to send Biden administration officials visual evidence from the field, including a post-midterms email with the subject line, “WHERE ARE YOU????????”

The impact of Ducey’s project was growing by the hour. By mid-November, all illusions that the feds would suddenly spring into action were gone. On the other side of the mountains, meanwhile, close encounters with the governor’s project were beginning to have a radicalizing effect.

Portrait of Kate Scott near Governor Ducey’s shipping container wall on the US-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona on November 29th, 2022. (Photo by Kitra Cahana for The Intercept)

Kate Scott near the shipping container wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, on Nov. 29, 2022.

Photo: Kitra Cahana for The Intercept


N orth of Ducey’s container wall, a zigzagging road leads the way to Tucson. The views in Lyle Canyon are frequently stunning, but the backcountry highway is barely two lanes. The curves are blind. The shoulder is marked by dropoffs and walls of trees or earth. There are no lights.

Martin Brown — no relation to Michael and Christie — lives in the canyon and teaches high school art in Tucson. He treasures his scenic commute, but it requires taking off before dawn. The most dangerous portion of his drive is in the canyon. Last month, he nearly died there.

Brown had been passing the convoys of pickups that came racing down the canyon for weeks. “It’s like clockwork, every morning, around 6 a.m., I pass 10 to 12 of those monster trucks,” he told me. “These are not the shorties. These are the 40-footers,” Brown said. “When they come barreling around those sharp corners, they almost can’t avoid being in your lane.”

On November 15, Brown rounded a bend to find one of Ducey’s container-carting contractors fully in his lane and coming fast. The truck and trailer passed within inches. “I would say that was the closest I’ve come to death ever,” Brown said. “If I hadn’t been coffee’d up and alert that day, I wouldn’t have made it. It would have hit me head-on.”

Brown told his closest neighbor, Kate Scott, about his near-death experience. Scott, who had had her own close call with the governor’s contractors, was outraged. She’d had enough.

A veterinary technician by training, Scott runs the Madrean Archipelago Wildlife Center, where she rehabilitates injured raptors. She and her husband bought the secluded ranch where the center is located, 20 miles north of Mexico, in 1997. The couple has far more trouble with trespassing hunters than migrants. “I’m never scared,” Scott told me. “All that stuff that they’re always harping on on the news, it’s all baloney.”

Scott’s greatest worry is the environmental damage that the baloney is causing. In July 2020, she and a friend visited the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, a world-famous birding destination where Trump was deploying explosives to make way for a 30-foot-tall bollard wall.

“I’ll never forget it,” Scott said. “When I saw it — it was like I was stabbed in the chest. It was a very visceral, very emotional feeling that I don’t think I’ve ever felt in my adult life.”

“It’s a crime against nature. Everyone in America should be mad because it’s going through their national forest.”

Scott organized protests and got to know other Arizonans fighting to protect their public lands. When she returned from a recent trip to find that those lands were once again under attack, she was horrified. “I felt the same way when I saw the Trump’s wall — that this cannot stand,” Scott said. “It’s a crime against nature. Everyone in America should be mad because it’s going through their national forest.”

“It’s another form of insurrection,” she argued. “You’re saying, ‘I’m not going to follow the rule of law, President Biden, I’m going to do what I want. This is my state.’”

Scott wasn’t the only one feeling that way. Jennifer Wrenn and her husband Andy Kayner live farther south down Lyle Canyon. They are among Arizona’s closest residents to Ducey’s wall. For more than a month, their mornings have begun with the clamoring of convoys passing their front door. They continue nonstop until sundown.

“Every day of the week. Sundays included,” Wrenn told me. “They’re very fast, very careless, and I’ve known several people who have been run off the road.”

Wrenn and Kayner reflect the wide blast radius of Ducey’s project: At the center are the containers, at the edges are Arizonans like them. Torn up by the governor’s convoys, the roads near the couple’s home have been nearly destroyed for a project ostensibly meant to keep them safe. They aren’t the only ones affected, Wrenn stressed: Access for boaters and anglers at popular Parker Canyon Lake, hunters in the national forest, and hikers of the famed Arizona Trail were all being impacted by Ducey’s project.

“It’s so unnecessary and wasteful. I mean, what could we do with $97 million?” Wrenn asked. “It’s a travesty and you’re reminded of it every five minutes — how stupid it is and how helpless we feel.”

Last month, Wrenn sent an email to her neighbors to see what could be done. She and Scott started talking. The Browns in Sierra Vista were looped in. Together, they began brainstorming the possibility of a protest at the construction site. Nobody knew what it would look like. Would the contractors run them off? Would they call the sheriff?

The group decided they needed to do a test run. On the morning of Sunday, November 20, Scott, Wrenn, and Kayner, along with Michael and Christie Brown, McSpadden, and a handful of others, drove out to the container wall. As usual, they were met by one of the site’s private security contractors. This time, however, they had numbers.

“We talk to the Border Patrol, the sheriff, the Forest Service,” the guard said. “They all have our back.” The locals pressed for names. The guard didn’t have any. “I’m out here trying to support my family,” he said. “That’s it.” When asked who he worked for, the man replied, “a private security company.” He added that he previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The residents stuck around as one hour bled into the next. They noticed the construction had stopped. At 3 p.m., the contractors packed up and left. They hadn’t put down a single container since the locals arrived.

Portrait of Jennifer Wrenn, 68, and Andrew Kayner, 71, outside their home near Elgin, Arizona on November 29th, 2022. (Photo by Kitra Cahana for The Intercept)

Jennifer Wrenn, 68, and Andrew Kayner, 71, outside their home near Elgin, Arizona, on Nov. 29, 2022.

Photo: Kitra Cahana for The Intercept


O n the morning of November 29, I climbed back into McSpadden’s truck. We followed Highway 83 south into Lyle Canyon. The test run at Coronado had been a revelation for the valley’s agitators: Not only was protest possible, but when people went to the site, the work stopped.

Scott circulated a call to action to trusted contacts. “The rule of law must be followed and We the People will not be intimidated or dissuaded from enjoying our beautiful borderlands within the Coronado National Forest,” she wrote. “Make your Voice heard. Participate in the dialogue. Join us in this peaceful protest. Bring your signs, banners, songs and statements.”

Scott and the Browns had already arrived when McSpadden and I pulled up to a dirt intersection a short drive from the container wall. Wrenn and Kayner showed up soon after. They were joined by a handful of others. Everybody had their signs.

The sound of approaching trucks came echoing down the canyon. The protesters scrambled to their vehicles. At 10:30 a.m., they reached the ad hoc checkpoint that led to the wall. They didn’t stop. A private security contractor with a pistol on his belt held a walkie talkie to his ear as they passed. A voice crackled through the receiver: “They got all their vehicles coming in.”

The protesters arrived just as one of the massive military vehicles that ran containers to the end of the wall was preparing a delivery. McSpadden was standing on the Roosevelt Reservation with his camera as the vehicle approached. Protesters hurried to join him as the contractors climbed down from the truck and walked away. With the gargantuan container-mover half-parked on the border road, its one working headlight still on, Scott delivered an impassioned speech while the private security guards wandered over to the protesters’ cars and eyed their license plates.

Two hours after the protesters arrived, a black pickup with tinted windows pulled into the site. Two men stepped out. Badges swung from their necks as they approached. The larger of the pair was tall and burly, with khaki tactical pants, a fleece vest, and a flannel shirt. He introduced himself as Sgt. Tim Williams, head of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department’s Southeastern Arizona Border Regional Enforcement task force. Better known as SABRE, it was the same unit that visited the Browns’s home a month before.

The unit was created in 2014, when Dannels took over as sheriff. Over the past decade, the Cochise County sheriff has made a name for himself describing chaos in his jurisdiction for Fox News viewers and Republican lawmakers. That message pays. In February alone, Dannels’s department received a promise of $14.9 million from Ducey’s border security fund. The first $2.7 million went to SABRE. Last month, Ducey approved an additional $5 million for a new “Border Operations Center” that would place regional law enforcement operations under Dannels’s command.

Williams explained that his office got a call about the protesters. “We just request that you guys keep it kind of civil and try not to get hurt,” he said. “You guys got any questions for us?”

“Well, actually I do,” said Michael Brown. “Do you know how many people actually cross from that mountain west?”

It was a question Williams clearly answered often. “Right around 1,000 a month that we know of, probably,” he said. “Between 500 and 1,000.”

Over the next hour, Williams painted a portrait of Coronado as a war zone. “Most of them are what we call military-aged males,” he said, invoking the language justifying lethal force that I often encountered covering U.S. drone strikes . “They’re between the ages of like 15 and 25, and they’re all coming across in large groups.”

Michael told the sergeant that he had cut wood in the area for more than a decade. “I’ve only seen one,” he said.

Williams countered that he had an archive of game cam footage proving that Cochise County was suffering from a historic wave of unauthorized border crossers, many of whom were dangerous criminals. I asked what the sergeant attributed this explosion to.

“The illegals will tell you directly that it’s President Biden has changed policy,” Williams said.

“Which policy?” I asked.

“The immigration,” he replied. “President Biden has made it easier for them to be here.”

When the topic turned to the container wall rising up before us, Williams suddenly became guarded. “Opinions are something I don’t talk about,” he said. “I know when you do any project like this, environmental studies have to be done and all that stuff.” I asked if he was aware those studies hadn’t been done here and that the governor was told that the project was unlawful.

“That I have no idea,” the sergeant said. “I know this is the Roosevelt easement. This is the federal government easement.”

T he next morning, Coronado National Forest issued its first public statement on the ongoing destruction. The message: Stay away. “Last month, the State of Arizona initiated an unauthorized project to install numerous shipping containers in the Coronado National Forest which may be creating safety hazards,” the service said, citing the “unauthorized armed security personnel on-site.”

That afternoon, I spoke to Starr Farrell, the public affairs officer who circulated the alert. “We really don’t want a conflict,” she told me. Farrell acknowledged the damage Ducey’s “heavy machinery” had done to Forest Service roads and sounded genuinely alarmed when I told her that the governor’s private security contractors said her agency had their backs. “Oh,” she said. “Oh my.”

“This was an unauthorized placement of these shipping containers,” Farrell said. “That isn’t something we would ever encourage.” When I asked why the Forest Service wasn’t taking active steps to stop it, Farrell said it was out of her agency’s hands. The Department of Justice was calling the shots. “It’s been escalated up,” she said. “It’s outside of a normal conversation we could have on the ground here.”

For the protesters on the ground, the conflict that the Forest Service hoped to avoid had already begun. That same day, they were back at the governor’s renegade construction site. Once again, their presence stopped construction. It had become an ongoing effort to do what the federal government would not: protect public lands from illegal destruction.

“I thought they were going to kill some of these people out there.”

Over the next seven days, resistance to Ducey’s wall took a series of dramatic turns. Early on the morning of December 2, McSpadden returned to Coronado to find a new, younger group of demonstrators at the site. This time, instead of halting of construction, the governor’s contractors attempted to push forward with their work. McSpadden called from the scene. The connection was bad, but the words “really dangerous” came through.

Later that afternoon, he described a contractor navigating the arm of an excavator within a foot of protesters’ heads. “I thought they were going to kill some of these people out there,” he said. Then, out of nowhere, the work stopped, and the contractors again left. A place that had been so loud and chaotic for weeks was dead silent. “It was so stark,” McSpadden later told me. “It was like peace.”

Heavy rains that weekend brought construction to a halt. Ducey’s contractors had put down just 40 stacks of containers in five days, compared to the 20 to 30 they were averaging per day before. On December 5, a group of early risers shut construction by parking a car on the border road. Another day of work was lost. Ducey clearly needed to adjust.

The next morning, at 6:45 a.m., Scott returned to find the governor’s work crews had 17 dropped stacks of containers in the night. She alerted the growing group of volunteers. If Ducey’s contractors were going to work at night, then people needed to be on the ground at night. Within hours, a plan took shape. A shift schedule was created. Food and overnight supplies were purchased. Up in Lyle Canyon, Andy Kayner loaded his pop-up camper.

By nightfall, there were six people at the site. At 11 p.m., a line of headlights snaking down the canyon appeared in the distance. Two more protesters arrived. Together, the eight public land defenders needed to secure two locations: the staging area where Ducey’s containers were kept, and the end of the wall where the heavy equipment was parked. There was no tapping out. If they moved, construction would commence.

The contractors turned on their vehicles. Some slept while the activists stood. Four long, cold hours passed. At 3 a.m., the governor’s contractors gave up and left.

container-still-landscape

Still: Russ McSpadden/Center for Biological Diversity Southwest Conservation Advocate


T he sun rose the next morning on a movement that was gaining momentum. Word was spreading. Over in Santa Cruz County, to the west from Cochise, Sheriff David Hathaway had been monitoring Ducey’s efforts from the moment the shipping containers first appeared in Nogales. Hathaway was born in the border city, a fifth-generation Arizonan and a former Drug Enforcement Administration investigator and supervisor. His family has had ranch land in Cochise County, in precisely the area where Ducey was operating, for generations.

The sheriff hated everything about Ducey’s project. For one, it was plainly illegal, and the feds were doing nothing stop it. Hathaway, a Democrat, vowed to arrest Ducey’s contractors if their work crossed the county line — an unlikely scenario given that the governor’s project was slated to terminate just shy of his jurisdiction — and ordered his deputies to look out for contractors driving recklessly through Santa Cruz County communities. There was little more he could do. It was the feds’ responsibility to enforce federal laws, and despite the private messages Hathaway was receiving from Coronado law enforcement expressing their gratitude, they weren’t doing it.

After weeks of rising frustration, Hathaway wanted to thank the people who were finally doing what the feds would not. He climbed into his work truck and set off for Cochise County. Scott, Kayner, and Ethan Bonnin, a Center for Biological Diversity contractor, were at the site when the sheriff pulled in, alone and announced. Together, they told Hathaway about the standoff the night before. The sheriff was awestruck.

Public land defenders Andy Kayner, Kate Scott, and Ethan Bonnin visit with Santa Cruz County Sheriff David Hathaway at an encampment blocking Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s illegal wall of shipping containers. December 7, 2022.

Public land defenders Andy Kayner, Kate Scott, and Ethan Bonnin visit with Santa Cruz County Sheriff David Hathaway at an encampment blocking Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s illegal wall of shipping containers. December 7, 2022.

Photo: Courtesy Kate Scott

When I later asked about his visit, Hathaway described how the governor’s justifications for the wall were as wrong as they were predictable. Lawmakers like Ducey, who made his millions selling ice cream , are often taken by harrowing “Sicario”-style accounts of border mayhem that they hear from men in uniform and disinclined to tell them no when they ask for more money and resources, he argued.

“Of course, they’re going to say that. It would be like going to Raytheon and asking them, ‘Should we have another war in the Middle East?’”

“Of course, they’re going to say that,” Hathaway said. “It would be like going to Raytheon and asking them, ‘Should we have another war in the Middle East?’” Peddling border fear sells among some Arizona voters, the sheriff said, particularly retirees from out of state who rarely venture further south than Phoenix. It was no coincidence that the governor’s project began and ended in Cochise County, he argued. “Sheriff Dannels is in lockstep with Ducey. He’s not going to oppose anything that Ducey does,” Hathaway said. It had nothing to do with safety: “It’s just political rhetoric.” The two men were appealing to the same crowd.

“I’ve been going out there since I was a baby,” the sheriff said. “It’s very safe.”

Scott was still buzzing from Hathaway’s visit when I pulled into the new encampment at the foot of the container wall and unloaded my tent. “It was like he didn’t want to leave,” she told me. “He’s really, really appreciative.”

The sun was disappearing, and the temperature was dropping. Kayner’s camper was parked at the end of the wall with the contractors’ equipment. A security guard was posted nearby in a pickup. Sitting inside his vehicle, Kayner was steeling himself for whatever came next. “It’s going to be more painful now because we got to be here at night, but it’s certainly doable,” he told me. For the retired engineer, stopping Ducey’s project was about pulling Arizona back from a dangerous brink.

“This kind of thing happened with the Malheur Bird Refuge,” Kayner said. He wasn’t the first one to reference the 2016 anti-government takeover of public land in Oregon. “They just stayed there, and authorities didn’t go in and chase them out and put an end to it,” he said. That inaction, Kayner argued, “empowers this kind of thinking that we can overpower the federal government, the people of the United States, and do what we want to do.”

“That’s what this wall is out here,” he said. “It’s one man going against the law.”

No one knew if the contractors would try another night installation, but they were ready if they did. Instead, strangers and neighbors shared soup under the stars. At one point, Scott described how a wave of energy had rushed over her at dusk. Maybe it was just the hawk she had seen hovering over the now quiet work site, but it felt like it was something more. “I don’t know,” she said, “I just think that we won.” The next morning, we awoke to frost on our tents. The desert was still. The governor’s men did not return for work. They have not put down a container since.

The post How Neighbors in the Borderlands Fought Back Against Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s Illegal Wall — and Won appeared first on The Intercept .

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    The Shutdown of “Luxury Emissions” Should Be at the Center of Climate Revolt

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Tuesday, 13 December - 16:00 · 7 minutes

Milieudefensie, Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace and other organisations members sit in front of an aircraft during a protest at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, Nov. 5, 2022.

Members of Milieudefensie, Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, and other organizations sit in front of an aircraft at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on Nov. 5, 2022.

Photo: Remko de Waal/AFP via Getty Images

Seven hundred self-described “climate rebels” breached the chain-link fence surrounding Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, the world’s third-busiest hub for international passenger traffic, on November 5. With bolt cutters they opened holes in the fence and poured in, some of them on bicycles, and raced across the tarmac. Others laid ladders against the 9-foot-high fence and topped it on foot.

They had to move quickly before military police, tasked with securing the airport, saw what was happening. The rebels targeted 13 private jets parked or preparing for takeoff, at least two belonging to NetJets, the Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary that bills itself as the world’s largest jet company and sells fractional ownership shares in private business jets.

They swarmed each of the jets in groups of 20 or 30 or more and sat down before the looming machines, there to stay for the next six-and-a-half hours, unmoving, until at last police waded in and started hauling the rebels to jail. Some of the 413 arrests were violent. “There was fear and rage, for the state of the world and for my own future,” said one of those arrested.

Another 800 people gathered for a march and sit-in at the airport’s main plaza, and at least 30 activists blocked the road that serves as the supply route to Schiphol. Every single private jet at Schiphol ended up grounded that day, not merely the 13 that were surrounded.

“Our action brought them back to earth.”

“The superrich have got used to polluting as they please with a total disregard for people and planet, and private jets are the pinnacle of these luxury emissions that we simply cannot afford,” Jonathan Leggett, one of the activists, told us. “Our action brought them back to earth. We wanted to show the extremeness and injustice related to this manner of transport.”

In other words: a perfectly tailored climate action. Not a highway sit-down ensnaring hapless motorists and keeping cars running, and emitting, longer. Not sit-ins at banks that broker investments in fossil fuels but don’t directly cause their combustion. And certainly not spattering soup on museum art, with its unsettling aura of sullying humanity’s heritage in order to save it.

No, the Schiphol action went for climate change’s jugular: self-indulgent carbon-spewing. It did so balletically, in the democratic and fuel-efficient motion of humans racing on foot or whirling about on bicycles. And ecologically: In the words of one participant, “We made sure that any planes could still land, because the last thing we wanted was for them to be unnecessarily flying for any longer than they already were.”

It was an action that bared the gluttony and entitlement of fossil fuel usage. “Keep it in the ground” protesters confine their blockades to energy supply infrastructure and studiously ignore the demand half of the equation. This has been a shortcoming of the climate movement for too long, as it passes up one opportunity after another to rouse millions against the class that, even more than the corporations of Big Carbon, perpetuates the climate crisis: the world’s wealthy.

Limits of Green Energy

Climate disorder won’t be remedied through an orderly march of green energy. Replacing fossil fuels with a planetary buildout of wind turbines and solar panels, while simultaneously making and plugging in a billion new electric furnaces and vehicles, looks straightforward in a spreadsheet. In truth, though, ramping up green energy alone won’t cut fossil fuel use quickly enough to meet the Paris warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Supplanting the world’s combustion-based energy infrastructure with an all-electric model will be too lumbering, too roundabout, and too full of its own drawbacks to fully bend the emissions curve in the brief time left.

The world must also rein in consumption. For reasons both symbolic and practical, the climate movement must strike not just at pipelines and mines, but also at obscene wealth.

The justification is unarguable. Large personal fortunes feed carbon consumption and make a mockery of programs to curb it. As well, the surplus wealth of the superrich is probably the lone source of capital that can finance the worldwide uptake of greener energy and also pay for adaptation where it’s most critical.

At the nexus of consumption and wealth sits luxury carbon. Which is why the Schiphol action was so strategic.

Consider that the world’s richest 10 percent account for 50 percent of fossil fuel burning and carbon emissions. Consider that climate reparations, for which the Global South won acknowledgment but little more at last month’s COP27 climate talks, can’t be funded at scale by tweaking wealthy countries’ hidebound taxation-as-usual. Consider that carbon emissions pricing, an indispensable policy tool for shrinking fossil fuel demand, can’t be made politically palatable in the U.S. — even with worthy “dividend” schemes — so long as middle- and working-class families must witness the superrich lording and polluting at will.

Climate activists are seen sitting on the ground of the main hall of the airport during the demonstration, Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, Nov 5, 2022.

Climate activists sit in the main hall of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport during a demonstration on Nov. 5, 2022.

Photo: Ana Fernandez/AP

Prodigal Aviation

As the Schiphol rebels surely know, luxury carbon, like all manufactured desire, is a contagion, oozing inexorably from the sanctums of the few to become desires of the many. Few Americans, and even fewer Europeans, flew in airplanes in 1950. These days, half of U.S. residents fly each year, averaging half a dozen flights each, according to the industry’s annual “ Air Travelers in America ” reports. As commercial aviation grew safer and more affordable, feeding the increase, business and pleasure travel became normalized.

Today, “general” aviation — private jets, business jets, air tourism — is undergoing a similar liftoff as well-heeled flyers seek refuge, and a status boost, from the indignities of commercial service. And nowhere is private jetting’s carbon waste as blatant as it is in Europe, with its extensive rail network. Per passenger, private air travel is five to 14 times more carbon-polluting than commercial flights, and 50 times more than high-speed rail, according to the European NGO Transport & Environment .

In the Netherlands, 8 percent of the population takes 40 percent of flights. Worldwide, the difference is even more stark: One percent of the population is responsible for 50 percent of pollution due to aviation, making air travel a textbook example of how pollution by the rich leads to consequences and injustices for those who have not caused the climate crisis.

Naysayers will note that the tactic of occupying and disrupting airports has been tried before, as in the case of the Plane Stupid campaign of the 2000s and 2010s. Radicals in the climate movement such as Andreas Malm, who advocates property destruction of fossil infrastructure, point out that Plane Stupid was ineffective in bending the arc of emissions.

“What the Schiphol people needed to do is destroy the airplanes on the tarmac and then destroy the airplane manufacturers,” said an ecosaboteur named Stephen McRae, an acquaintance of one of the authors, who recently completed a six-year prison sentence for industrial sabotage. Although he no longer participates in such criminal acts of destruction, he has a point. The planes grounded on November 5 are already back in the air. That doesn’t diminish the value of what the Schiphol rebels did, however. Actions that disrupt carbon comfort without violence or hardship are morale-building, the material from which more actions and eventually mass movements are made.

A United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane is seen overflying in the blue sky over Amsterdam. The wide-body aircraft is a B787-10 with registration N14011 flying transatlantic from Frankfurt FRA Germany to New York Newark EWR USA. The plane is flying at 36.000 feet forming contrails known as chemtrails also, condensation or vapor white lines, trails made in high altitude. . The world aviation passenger traffic numbers declined due to the travel restrictions, safety measures such as lockdowns, quarantine etc during the era of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic that hit hard the aviation and travel industry. Amsterdam, Netherlands on April 1, 2021 (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane is seen flying over Amsterdam on April 1, 2021.

Photo: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Ripple Effect

A few days after the Schiphol revolt, climate activists under the banner of Scientists Rebellion disrupted operations at private airports in four U.S. states and a dozen other countries, according to a New York Times roundup .

While the Times attributed the rising militancy of scientists to “the increasing clarity of the science,” it was more likely propelled by the impulses that motivated protesters in the Netherlands: rage at a future “thrown away for the profits of a few,” in the words of one Schiphol rebel, and the palpable need “to stand there and know we actually were grounding private jets and … actively stopping this manner of pollution,” per another.

Along with their clarity in targeting the true fountainhead of climate disorder — sybaritic carbon profligacy — what stands out most about the Schiphol action is its organizational breadth and cohesion. On top of the 700 occupying the tarmac and the 800 marching and sitting-in at the main plaza were those “working throughout the day, and in the days and weeks beforehand, in a range of supporting roles,” as one organizer reported, describing legal and media teams, an arrestee support team, and a team of caterers. “The diversity of roles worked to our advantage: There are as many ways to engage with activism as there are people, everyone has their own way of contributing.”

Social solidarity on this scale helped buffer the cruelty of airport police who in some cases “ripped people from their groups and held [them] in painful positions even though they were cooperating,” reported one first-time protester who joined the action as a medic. “What started as a nervous morning ended with a fulfilling and accomplishing situation,” he said. “We did this.”

The post The Shutdown of “Luxury Emissions” Should Be at the Center of Climate Revolt appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Sheriff Calls on Feds to Seize Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's Illegal Border Wall Equipment

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Saturday, 10 December - 20:50 · 6 minutes

David Hathaway, the sheriff in southern Arizona’s Santa Cruz County, is offering a simple solution to stop Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s illegal wall of shipping containers along the border: Federal agents should begin seizing vehicles associated with the project.

Hathaway’s county sits directly west of Cochise County, where Ducey’s has been dropping containers for the past month and a half despite federal officials repeatedly telling him that his actions are unauthorized and unlawful. With federal authorities doing nothing to act on those warnings, Hathaway has vowed to arrest the governor’s contractors if they cross the county line into his turf.

That scenario would be unlikely, as the contract for the project has the governor’s wall stopping just shy of Hathaway’s jurisdiction. Convoys of Ducey’s contractors have, however, been racing through communities in Santa Cruz County for weeks now, hauling 40-foot shipping containers behind multi-ton pickup trucks at dangerous speeds. Hathaway said his department has received complaints from residents in the town of Elgin of Ducey’s drivers “barreling through town,” ignoring stop signs, and “flying past children.”

“The way you would end this right away is you go get a seizure sticker, and you slap it on the side of one of those $200,000 trackhoes.”

“I’ve advised my deputies to especially scrutinize that area looking for speed violations, reckless endangerment, reckless driving,” Hathaway told The Intercept in an interview Friday — though, the sheriff argued, the real solution lies with the federal authorities paid to protect the public lands where the governor’s lawbreaking is taking place. The process wouldn’t be complicated. As a former Drug Enforcement Administration investigator, Hathaway sketched out a response the feds often take when targeting ongoing organized criminal activity.

“The way you would end this right away is you go get a seizure sticker, and you slap it on the side of one of those $200,000 trackhoes and say, ‘I’m seizing this because it’s being used to facilitate illegal activity,’” he said. “Or seize one of those F350 pickup trucks that’s pulling the flatbed trailers and say, ‘This vehicle is being used for illegal dumping on federal lands.’” Hathaway predicted Ducey’s work crews would “scatter like flies”: “That’s the way to really hit ’em where it hurts.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they all just packed up and left right then,” Hathaway said. “That’s what the Forest Service should be doing. They have the ability to seize vehicles that are being involved in illegal activity, illegal hunting, illegal whatever, and yet, nobody’s doing that.”

Since declaring in an interview with the Nogales International that he would arrest Ducey’s contractors — becoming the first, and to date only, law enforcement official in the country to raise the specter of consequences for the governor’s actions — Hathaway said he’s had Forest Service officials quietly sending him updates on the container wall and expressing their gratitude for taking a stand.

“Surprisingly, Coronado National Forest, their police are very excited about what I’m doing. They’re very much on my side, and they’re feeding me information,” he said. For the sheriff, it’s a bizarre situation. “I feel like being kind of sarcastic back to them and saying, ‘You know, this is really your job. I mean this is on federal land. Why are you just waiting for a county sheriff whose county starts six miles down the road?’”

On October 21, three days before he began a $95 million, publicly funded project to drop 3,000 shipping containers across more than 10 miles of almost entirely federal land, Ducey filed a lawsuit against Biden administration land managers.

The governor dismissed 115 years of legal agreement that a 60-foot strip of border road known as the “Roosevelt Reservation” belongs to the federal government — and said the state actually had jurisdiction over the land. Ducey contended that this mistake, combined with a state of emergency he declared because Arizona is purportedly beset by a foreign invasion, meant that he could disregard all of the time-consuming processes involved with following federal law when initiating construction on public lands.

Since filing the suit, Ducey has laid nearly four miles of shipping containers through the Coronado National Forest in Cochise County. The work by the Florida-based contractor AshBritt, which has deep ties to the Republican Party, is causing extensive environmental damage, blocking a critical migration corridor for jaguars and ocelots — both species protected under the Endangered Species Act — and marring a once-serene desert landscape with a wall of giant metal boxes topped with concertina wire.

The sheriff in Cochise County is Mark Dannels, a close ally of the governor who frequently appears on Fox News to describe his county as engulfed in chaos and disorder. In February, the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, the state agency managing Ducey’s border wall, committed to providing Dannels’s department with $14.9 million to thwart the purported invasion. As a county sheriff, Dannels has no authority to enforce federal immigration law.

Filing a lawsuit to preemptively declare an illegal activity is in fact legal does not make it so, Hathaway said. “What if they were out there without hunting licenses, just shooting a whole bunch of people, and then saying, ‘Well, we’re filing a lawsuit and so you can’t stop us from doing this, even though it’s clearly a violation of federal law?’” he asked. What’s more, the sheriff argued, such a lawsuit certainly shouldn’t handcuff an agency like the Forest Service from executing one of its core missions. “If they witness a clear crime,” he said, “that’s a clear crime.”

While the Department of Justice has filed a motion to dismiss Ducey’s lawsuit, the Biden administration has taken no steps on the ground to stop the governor’s project.

If a normal person ventured onto national forest land and dumped a bag of trash on the ground in front of a ranger, they would be issued a citation, Hathaway said. In the case of Coronado, the situation is much more severe, with no repercussions. “You’re talking about hundreds of tons of material being dumped out there and a lot of earth-moving — heavy-tracked vehicles moving large amounts of earth. And this is all on federal land,” Hathaway said. “This is not state land. This is not private land. It’s been declared illegal.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, Hathaway made an unannounced, solo visit to offer his support to a small group of local residents and protesters who are camped out at the site of Ducey’s container wall construction. So far, the citizen public land defenders have been the only force to impede the governor’s destructive march through the national forest — and they have been remarkably successful, bringing the project largely to a halt over the past week.

“This is disgusting and ugly.”

Hathaway was taken with their efforts and wanted to say so. During his visit, the sheriff heard about the handful of people who had stood in front of the governor’s vehicles for hours in the cold, stopping their advance the previous night. “Man, fantastic what the protesters are doing,” he said to himself. The sheriff described the protesters as “very valiant” and likened their willingness to block heavy equipment to “a Tiananmen Square-type situation.”

For Hathaway, the area surrounding the protesters’ camp is imbued with deep personal meaning. “I’ve been going out there since I was a baby,” Hathaway said. The sheriff and his family have ranchland in the area. He’s ridden horseback along the border road where Ducey’s trucks are running for as long as he can remember. “That’s been most of my life out there, right where the protesters are,” he said. “I know that whole area in and out like the back of my hand, and it’s always been peaceful and serene and quiet.”

While he had been to the site of Ducey’s container wall more times than he could count, Hathaway’s Wednesday visit was the first time he’d seen the landscape bisected with a jagged ribbon of metal boxes. His reaction was visceral: “This is disgusting and ugly.”

The post Sheriff Calls on Feds to Seize Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s Illegal Border Wall Equipment appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Hakeem Jeffries Was a Literal No-Show on the Green New Deal

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Wednesday, 7 December - 14:47 · 7 minutes

In the fall of 2019, several months after progressive lawmakers introduced the first ever piece of legislation for the Green New Deal, climate organizers in New York City held a forum on climate change in the congressional district represented by Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

One hundred people attended, mostly Jeffries’s constituents, said two of the organizers.

“This kind of thing should be a no-brainer for him. But that’s not consistent with how he’s played the politics.”

New York Communities for Change and the Sunrise Movement had put the event together with Jeffries in mind. Since arriving in the House seven years earlier, Jeffries had risen quickly to be the Democratic caucus chair . The organizers hoped he would engage with constituents who supported the Green New Deal.

“He refused to come,” said NYCC policy director Alicé Nascimento. “We ended up having literally an empty chair at the center of the room to signal the fact that he was not there.”

Jeffries sent his district director in his place. “It’s very clearly stiff-arming,” said Pete Sikora, who directs the climate and inequality campaigns at NYCC.

Jeffries has become known in New York and nationally for his hostility to the Democrats’ left flank. While he has supported progressive policies on issues like criminal justice reform, he has vocally opposed progressives in other arenas — most notably backing their opponents in primary elections . “This was an attempt to try to break through that,” Sikora said of the 2019 Green New Deal event. (Jeffries’s spokesperson did not respond to a question about the event.)

Last week, House Democrats elected Jeffries as minority leader for the upcoming session, putting him in line to eventually become speaker of the House should Democrats retake the majority. Jeffries’s ascent to party leader presents a new opportunity to lead on climate issues and invest in fighting climate change, Sikora said, not only helping his district — which received more relief funding after Hurricane Sandy than any other district in the city — but also creating jobs across the country.

“This kind of thing should be a no-brainer for him,” Sikora said. “But that’s not consistent with how he’s played the politics.”

In response to a request for comment, Jeffries’s spokesperson Christie Stephenson said that the representative has consistently invited challenges from the left and that anyone who objected to his record “is welcome to primary him in Brooklyn in June 2024.” She added, “That these invitations have been consistently declined, despite being offered repeatedly by Chairman Jeffries directly, speaks for itself.”

Ahead of his election as caucus leader, Jeffries made efforts to strengthen his relationships with progressive lawmakers and met with members including Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and several members of the Squad. But to climate organizers on the left who have lobbied Jeffries on environmental issues in his district for years, his absence from the 2019 forum was indicative of his broader attitude toward the left, not just on policy but on overall political strategy.

Now that he’s in line to become speaker, Jeffries’s approach to politics matters more than ever, Sikora said. “Our hope is that he begins to adjust how he deals with this type of vision and this type of politics, because it’s not just symbolic. It matters a lot in the way that he approaches bills and policies,” he said. “There’s a bunch of real concern here.”

Jeffries is one of only a handful of Democrats in New York’s congressional delegation who has not co-sponsored legislation on the Green New Deal, though he told CNN earlier this month he’s backed other climate change legislation. (Stephenson pointed to his role in passing the July 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which included $368 billion slated for climate and energy spending .) Jeffries has not signed onto the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, which currently has five signatories from New York’s 19-member Democratic congressional delegation.

Jeffries has also been active in state and local primary elections, where climate issues have split progressives and the Democratic machine. “There’s a whole electoral history here of confrontations between the climate left and his candidates,” Sikora said.

State Sen. Jabari Brisport told The Intercept that Jeffries asked a local community organizer to challenge him in this year’s primary, although the campaign never materialized and Jeffries did not publicly campaign against him.

“He’s just not where Democrats are on a lot of progressive issues,” Brisport said.

Even on issues where Jeffries has sided with progressives, like backing Medicare for All, Brisport said serious work had to be put in to get him to co-sponsor the legislation. “It was like pulling teeth getting him to even sign on,” Brisport said, pointing to a pressure campaign by the Democratic Socialists of America. (The organizer declined to comment on the record. “ The situation as it relates to DSA primary challenges is what it is ,” Stephenson told The Intercept, including the link in her email.)

Former Jeffries spokesperson Michael Hardaway previously disputed claims that NYC-DSA pushed Jeffries to sign onto the legislation and noted that he had previously supported similar legislation from former Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., “long before any so-called lobbying effort by some in gentrifying parts of Brooklyn.”

Stephenson said, “Those individuals on the far left who are having a meltdown about the rise of Hakeem Jeffries not being disrupted from below are intentionally misrepresenting the longtime support that Leader-elect Jeffries has shown for universal health care coverage legislation.”

State Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest said she personally delivered petitions to Jeffries while campaigning for Medicare for All before she was eventually elected to represent his old assembly district in 2020, ousting his protégé , incumbent Walter Mosley. “You have to kind of work hard to get him onto more progressive legislation,” she said. “I’ve delivered petitions to him, and the look that this man had on his face when I handed him a stack of petitions way back when, when I was working on the Medicare for All campaign — yeah, no.”

While Souffrant Forrest beat her primary challenger this year, she said, “Jeffries did not offer me any kind of support.” The Medicare for All campaign is an example of what progressives should be doing on other issues like climate change, Souffrant Forrest said. Jeffries has consistently campaigned against progressives, but “for him to be successful as a Democratic leader, it’s time for him to see that the progressives are there, the left is there, and to meet us. And to listen, both here and in Congress.”

Though Jeffries himself was first elected after ousting an incumbent, he has not smiled on primary challengers from the left against his centrist Democratic colleagues.

After progressive candidate Morgan Harper lost her race against Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, in 2020, Jeffries posted a tweet in which he appeared to blame progressives for starting a “fight” with incumbent Democrats. “Meltdown? Not us,” Jeffries tweeted, seeming to reference a headline from an Intercept story on the primary. “They started this fight. We will finish it.”

Last summer, Jeffries teamed up with conservative Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., to start a political action committee to protect incumbent Democrats facing primary challenges from their left. A new dark-money cutout spent more than half a million dollars backing incumbents in each of the same five races, and each candidate it backed won the primary.

Brisport also pointed to Jeffries’s endorsement earlier this year against an incumbent progressive in the state Senate; Sen. Robert Jackson beat the challenger and kept his seat. Jeffries also made a late endorsement against another candidate backed by the NYC-DSA in a City Council race last year; the DSA candidate lost.

“Sometimes it seems like, do they even really want to win?”

While Jeffries campaigned in support of several embattled congressional Democratic candidates in New York this cycle, the party’s losses across the state are weighing on the minds of progressives as party leadership transitions to a new guard that operates, in some ways, much like the old one. There may be space for Jeffries to work with progressives on policy, but differences in political strategy could pose a more intractable issue.

Jeffries now has an opportunity to forge stronger relationships with the left in New York and around the country, although he’ll have to address those major strategic differences, said Liat Olenick, co-president of Indivisible Nation BK.

“He has done a lot to protect incumbents from progressive challengers in local and federal races and that is a concern for him being in leadership,” Olenick said. “It’s incredibly frustrating to see Jeffries and some of his allies in leadership put more effort into defeating young, energetic, progressive candidates than actually defeating Republicans.”

Particularly after Democratic losses last month in New York, Olenick said, the question remains: “Sometimes it seems like, do they even really want to win?”

The post Hakeem Jeffries Was a Literal No-Show on the Green New Deal appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Montana Judge Won’t Halt Gov. Greg Gianforte’s Aggressive Wolf Hunt

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Wednesday, 30 November - 23:56 · 6 minutes

A Montana judge declined a petition to halt the state’s controversial wolf hunt Tuesday, rejecting a claim from two environmental groups that continued killing would cause irreparable harm.

In a highly anticipated hearing Monday, Lewis and Clark County Judge Matthew Abbott considered a potential first-of-its kind closure of Montana’s wolf hunting and trapping season, following an October lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and Project Coyote against the state, its wildlife commissioners, and its Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.

The battle over wolves in the Northern Rockies has reignited a culture war going back generations in the West. Last year’s wolf hunt, the most aggressive in modern Montana history, culminated in the deaths of one-fifth of Yellowstone National Park’s entire wolf population, with some three-quarters of those killed in Montana.

“There’s a lot of frustration that Montanans are not being heard and their best interests are not at play here for a few vehement, vocal wolf haters.”

Conservationists argue that Montana’s most extreme anti-wolf lawmakers have hijacked and politicized a formerly revered system of wildlife governance. Despite tens of thousands of public comments demanding a more measured approach to wolf management, the state has continued to pursue a campaign of large-scale population reduction.

“There are important justified values and ideals at play here,” Michelle Lute, the carnivore conservation director at Project Coyote, told the court Monday. “There’s a lot of frustration that Montanans are not being heard and their best interests are not at play here for a few vehement, vocal wolf haters.”

In court, the environmental groups argued that a flawed population model led Montana to overestimate its wolf population by hundreds of animals. The inflated numbers, they alleged, became the basis for legislation signed by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte in 2021 calling for the killing of at least 450 wolves — approximately 40 percent of Montana’s estimated population of more than 1,100 animals.

According to a plan developed in the early 2000s during wrangling over removing wolves from the endangered species list, Montana is required to review its wolf management regime at least every five years. The conservation organizations alleged that the reviews never happened, and the state adopted a controversial population estimation model — the central focus of Monday’s hearing — without adequate public comment and set statewide quotas based on the “stale” management plan.

“The issue is that the data doesn’t match the predictions of the model,” Francisco Javier Santiago Ávila, a conservation manager with Project Coyote, testified Monday, adding that his review of state records indicated that Montana overestimated its wolf population by as many as 300 animals in recent years.

The groups requested the injunction on hunting and trapping to prevent irreparable harm to the state’s wolf population, Montana’s system for democratic wolf management decision-making, and the organizations and individuals committed to wolf recovery.

Officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks responded in court by defending the state’s Integrated Patch Occupancy Model, or iPOM, as a sound tool created in conjunction with experts as part of a decade-and-a-half process. The department said the model had been presented to the public.

In a 26-page opinion rejecting the injunction request, Abbott wrote that he was not convinced that Montana’s population estimation is “so unreliable or so substantially tending to overestimate wolf populations” that its continued use would cause the kind of damage that warranted the injunction.

“There is no evidence that this season is the pivotal season for Montana’s wolves,” he wrote. “Even if 450 wolves are killed, no witness presented evidence that this year will plunge Montana wolf populations below a sustainable level.”

The plaintiffs could have a winning argument on Montana’s failure to review the wolf plan, Abbott went on to say, however, the proposed remedy for that issue was to order the state to review the plan, not to end its hunting and trapping season.

Abbott said his task was “not to decide what Montana’s policy should be or to predict the outcome of this case.”

“The attention this case has garnered so far might lead one to believe the Court is deciding the fate of the Gray Wolf in the Northern Rockies today. It is not,” Abbott wrote. “Gray wolf management is principally a matter for the political branches; at most, this Court’s role is simply to ensure those branches of government are coloring within the lines set by the Constitution and the statute. And even that is not truly before the Court today: here, the Court considers only a request for preliminary injunction.”

To achieve the wolf reduction mandated by the Republican-controlled state Legislature, a panel of Montana wildlife commissioners appointed by Gianforte approved an array of highly controversial hunting and trapping methods in 2021, including the use of bait to lure wolves off protected lands, night hunting with night vision goggles, the use of snares, and an increase on bag limits that allowed a single individual to kill 20 wolves.

Most controversially, Montana abolished hunting quotas that had limited the number of wolves that could be killed in two hunting districts north of Yellowstone to one per year. The result was the deadliest winter the national park has seen since the animals were reintroduced in 1995. (Montana reinstated wolf hunting quotas outside Yellowstone in August — albeit with a threshold five times higher than it was at the time of Gianforte’s 2020 election.)

With the 2021 legislation still in effect, WildEarth Guardians and Project Coyote filed suit on October 27. Abbott then issued a temporary restraining order reinstating the 2020-era quotas outside Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, reducing the number of wolves an individual hunter could kill to five, and prohibiting the use of snares.

Gianforte, who unlawfully killed a collared Yellowstone wolf himself a month after taking office, responded by attacking the judge’s credibility.

“The legislature makes laws, the Fish and Wildlife Commission sets rules based on both those laws and science, and FWP implements those rules,” the governor tweeted . “Unfortunately, another activist judge overstepped his bounds today to align with extreme activists.”

With his decision Tuesday, Abbott’s restraining order was lifted, and the regulations that were in place before went back into effect.

The eight-hour hearing in Abbott’s courtroom followed more than a year of escalating conflict over Montana’s management of wolves. At the center of that story is the relationship between Gianforte and the state’s once-vaunted fish and wildlife department.

By law, Montana’s governor is to make selections for the state’s “quasi-judicial citizen board” of wildlife commissioners, who set policy for FWP, “without regard to political affiliation” and “solely for the wise management of the fish and wildlife of the state.”

As The Intercept detailed in an investigation in July, all but one of Gianforte’s nominees, were high-dollar contributors to his political campaigns. One was his former running mate. The commissioners hailed from the trophy hunting, outfitting, oil and gas, and livestock industry. Gianforte did not select a single representative from Montana’s expansive community of conservationists for the critical panel.

Veteran Montana wildlife managers have accused the governor, through his commission, of tarnishing a respected and professional department and seeking to return the state to the 1880s , when wolves were systematically extirpated from the landscape.

In a statement Tuesday, Lizzy Pennock, a Montana-based carnivore coexistence advocate at WildEarth Guardians who testified at Monday’s hearing, said her organization would continue its challenge to Gianforte’s campaign to slash Montana’s wolf population.

“We are devastated that the court has allowed countless more wolves — including Yellowstone wolves — to be killed under the unscientific laws and regulations we are challenging,” Pennock said. “We will keep fighting for Montana’s wolves in the courtroom while our case carries on and outside the courtroom in every way possible.”

The post Montana Judge Won’t Halt Gov. Greg Gianforte’s Aggressive Wolf Hunt appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Lobbyist for Saudi Alfalfa Company Desiccating Arizona Was Elected to Maricopa County Board of Supervisors

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Monday, 28 November - 17:24 · 5 minutes

An official recently elected to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, where he holds sway over an ongoing water dispute, was also a lobbyist for a Saudi company looking to protect its extraction of precious groundwater. Thomas Galvin, elected in the midterms to the post he was first appointed to in 2021, lobbied on behalf of the Saudi-owned farming company, which is using Arizona’s most depleted natural resource for foreign exports.

State lobbying disclosures show that Galvin is a partner at Rose Law Group, which lobbied on behalf of a subsidiary of the Saudi corporation Almarai currently tapping U.S. groundwater in drought-stricken Arizona and California to grow alfalfa. The animal feed, which is grown in harsh desert environments, is shipped overseas to support livestock on Saudi dairy farms. In 2014, Almarai bought almost 10,000 acres of farmland in Vicksburg, Arizona, through its wholly owned subsidiary Fondomonte , spending nearly $50 million on the purchase. The near-nonexistent water regulations in La Paz County, where Vicksburg is located, mean that Fondomonte can pump vast amounts of water out of Arizona’s water table, which has declined by over 50 feet in the past two decades.

Before joining the board of supervisors, Galvin appeared at the Arizona state legislature to lobby against H.B. 2520, a bill instructing the Arizona Department of Water Resources to monitor the wells and water levels in the Upper Colorado River water planning area. At the hearing, Galvin told Land, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee members, “I am not sure that this bill is right for this time right now. … I’m afraid that, if this bill passes, what we’ll be doing is singling out farms and large agricultural users. You might actually be forcing farms to release proprietary data.” The bill ultimately failed, but not before Galvin called residents concerned about foreign capital draining their aquifers racist .

“My law practice consists nearly entirely of practicing land use law, and I am also a registered lobbyist with the state along with several other attorneys at Rose Law Group.” Galvin wrote in an email to The Intercept. “Lobbying is not a major aspect of my legal career and takes up little of my time in comparison to my core practice area. Rose Law Group is a registered lobbyist for Fondomonte Arizona with the state of Arizona. I am one of several attorneys at Rose Law Group that are covered under that registration.”

In response to his role on behalf of Fondomonte and its intersection with the board of supervisors, Galvin wrote, “their farming operation is located outside of the County I represent – in fact it is more than 100 miles from my district. In addition, counties in Arizona have limited powers related to water policy and are not even a water provider. Maricopa County does not lease state land and does not have control over water charges or policies enacted by state agencies. I will continue to recuse myself in any case where a client of my law firm has business before Maricopa County.”

Water has become so scarce in Arizona and neighboring states that plans have been floated to pump water from the Mississippi River across the country to supply drought-stricken residents. Fondomonte in particular has become a flashpoint in statewide water politics, with the Democratic candidate for attorney general, Kris Mayes, calling for an investigation and possible sanction on the Saudi company’s water use.

Large scale farming of hay and alfalfa located on the borders of Arizona and Nevada, on March 10, 2021 in Needles. This desert valley is being farmed for hay and alfalfa using groundwater pulled from the Colorado River, with much of the hay exported to feed animals in countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Large-scale farming of hay and alfalfa located on the border of Arizona and Nevada, on March 10, 2021 in Needles. The desert valley has been farmed for hay and alfalfa using groundwater pulled from the Colorado River, with much of the hay exported to feed animals in countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Photo:George Rose/Getty Images

Four years after Galvin’s testimony, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors finds itself adjudicating an increasingly tense situation that pits residents, politicians, and transporters against each other over who has a right to water and how each interest group should pay for access. In December 2021, Galvin was appointed to the board of supervisors by the sitting board in a unanimous vote. In January of this year, Galvin found himself in the middle of the standoff, with politicians and residents on all sides of the water divide demanding action on a water redistricting plan that would affect the price paid by hundreds of Maricopa residents, some of whom rely on water hauled for miles and distributed into tanks below their drought-stricken homes.

After the federal Bureau of Reclamation declared a water shortage from the Colorado River last year, Scottsdale — where many Rio Verde Foothills residents draw their water from — declared that their own water supply would be off limits to the tenders who deliver water to individual resident tanks in Rio Verde. In light of the looming shut-off, citizens of Rio Verde attempted to garner Galvin’s support to designate a new water district that would allow pumping from Harquahala Valley.

While Galvin was fast to support unlimited pumping by Fondomonte before he was appointed to the board, Rio Verde residents found a less sympathetic ear once he was on it. Neither the residents who support the new water district nor the water haulers who oppose it were able to get Galvin to make a determination in the process for weeks.

As the January 1 water shut-off for Rio Verde residents rapidly approaches, Galvin and the rest of the Maricopa supervisors have failed to secure a resolution to the water crisis, in part due to the complex and overlapping matrix of regulatory authorities that govern Arizona’s water use. In August, Maricopa supervisors unanimously voted down a proposal to create a new water district. Galvin endorsed the idea of a privately held water utility, like the Canadian-owned Epcor, supplying the water, but some residents are opposed to the construction burden and the multiyear timeline that the plan would necessitate. In 2021, Rose Law helped facilitate Epcor’s purchase of Johnson Utilities on behalf of land owners and home builders in and around the San Tan Valley south of Phoenix.

Of the dozens of companies represented by Rose Law Group, many fall under the category of water-reliant industries including horse breeding, real estate development, mining, and fossil fuels. The firm also lists conservative political clients including Romney for President, Senator Marco Rubio for President of the United States, and Build America’s Fence.

Galvin’s election to the board follows increased scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s influence on American politics and a shifting consensus on a gulf state that was once one of America’s closest guarded energy allies. A month before the midterm elections, Saudi Arabia announced a massive cut in oil production that both politicians and policy experts described as a political attack on President Joe Biden’s agenda and Democrats’ electoral odds. After the Biden administration signaled its support for Saudi leader Mohammad bin Salman receiving sovereign immunity in a lawsuit targeting the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, reports emerged that Saudi Arabia is considering increasing its oil production in the coming winter months.

The post Lobbyist for Saudi Alfalfa Company Desiccating Arizona Was Elected to Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appeared first on The Intercept .