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Why FBI Raids Against Antiwar Activists Should Matter to Activists Fighting King Coal

Keeper of the Mountains Larry Gibson defends the mountains from King Coal.

The FBI raided six locations in Minneapolis and two locations in Chicago on Friday. The raids appeared to target antiwar activists, particularly ones who had been outspoken on the U.S. policies toward Colombia and/or the Palestinians. FBI Special Agent contended the FBI was "seeking evidence related to an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation into activities concerning the material support of terrorism.

The FBI found there was "no imminent threat to the community" after conducting the raids, which might lead one to wonder if the raids are as questionable as previous FBI activity that has been the subject of discussion in the past weeks (see Coleen Rowley’s "Inspector General Criticism Doesn’t Phase FBI Raids on Midwestern Anti-war Activists.").

How interesting is it that just prior to a massive convergence of anti-mountaintop removal activists other progressive activists were targeted for their activism. Those fighting for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining may not take positions on Palestinian or Colombian issues (although a letter from Colombians expressing solidarity with those gathered for Appalachia Rising was read Saturday evening), but they do favor the protection of civil liberties because those liberties protect their right to assemble and organize.

Unfortunately, Appalachian citizens are taking huge risks every time they speak out against coal and fight to keep the land they live on from being destroyed by the coal industry’s weapons of mass destruction. The explosion of mountains and the criminal degradation and exploitation of land where people live may seem like an injustice one should have the right to stand up and oppose, however, those who are friends of coal beg to differ. Though it may seem like they fit the mold, it is not those who aid and abet the coal industry that are targeted for conspiring to commit terrorism. It is, instead, the working class families in Appalachian states, whose histories are deeply entwined with the history of coal, that face targeting.

The coal industry, especially corporations like Massey Energy, have an interest in using the agencies of counterterrorism to target activists for conspiring to commit acts of "domestic terrorism." Corporations like Massey Energy have lobbied for support from federal law enforcement so that they can be protected from the threat posed to them by a movement to end mountaintop removal. And, government has yielded to the power of King Coal and infringed upon the rights of outspoken citizens.

On, Will Potter has a post detailing how Eric McDavid (and two other activists) were arrested in California and charged with knowingly conspiring to use fire or explosives to damage property. McDavid went to trial and was found guilty of eco-terrorism. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and he was believed to be part of an operation "to target banks, commercial trucks, mountaintop removal projects in West Virginia, Communist party office, and the U.S. Forest Service Institute of Forest Genetics in California, according to the affidavit."

Potter’s post detailed how an FBI informant or provocateur "provided the group with bomb-making recipes; at times financed their transportation, food and housing; strung along McDavid, who had hopes of a romantic relationship; and poked and prodded the group into action."

McDavid’s attorney said, "There has never been a case in America that has involved this much entrapment, this much pushing by an informant, by the U.S. government and by the FBI behind it." The judge, however, had no problem with applying a "terrorism enhancement" and said, "It’s a new world since September 11th, 2001."

On this "new world," Potter wrote, "One where fears of "terrorism" are used to justify sweeping police powers, government spying and entrapment. Perhaps most damaging of all is that the press has largely swallowed the "War on Terrorism’ rhetoric, labeling activists as "eco-terrorists" at every turn, often long before they even have a foot in the courtroom."

In one session at the Appalachia Rising Conference, two Lynch, Virginia citizens explained those in their community regard them as "domestic terrorists". Jesse Johnson, a West Virginia Mountain Party candidate for the Senate (who has received the endorsement of Democrat Ken Hechler who lost in the West Virginia primaries) has in the past received death threats and been harassed on the road by other vehicles for taking on Gov. Joe Manchin and the corporate powers that be which own West Virginia politics–coal.

Keeper of the Mountains Larry Gibson delivered a speech last night. During the speech, he told of how he has been the victim of drive-by shootings at his home. Gibson has drawn interest among those who work for Homeland Security. Gibson has been followed, harassed, had his phone tapped and had staff in the capitol tell him they were going to have to call Homeland Security. That’s all because he has been protesting the coal industry in West Virginia and standing up for the people of Appalachia.

Today, on Monday, September 27th, about a thousand will rally at Freedom Plaza, march to banks that fund mountaintop removal projects and to the EPA, which hasn’t properly enforced environmental regulations in Appalachia. They will continue on to the White House. At the White House, a protest will take place and then hundreds will cross the line to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience to end mountaintop removal mining in America.

Remembering the past history of union activism in Appalachia, recalling at least thirty years of activism against the coal companies’ practice of mountaintop removal surface mining, hundreds will make a sacrifice and move forward in solidarity displaying courage. But, that courage is nothing compared to the courage they have to display when they return to their homes in Appalachia.

Especially in states like West Virginia that are entirely owned by coal–that is essentially a coal-o-cracy, individuals will return home and, depending on how much people who work for companies like Massey Energy think they are succeeding in their mission to abolish mountaintop removal, they will be targeted. They will face intimidation, harassment, and will be tracked by the FBI or possibly Homeland Security. (In fact, there will be protesters nearby protesting the FBI raids that took place on Friday.)

This day is as much about ending mountaintop removal as it is about standing up for the rights or liberties that all Americans celebrate. And, it’s also about reclaiming a tradition of rebellion in this country that the Tea Party, with the help of the GOP and Big Business investors, have co-opted and trivialized with their teabagging tomfoolery.

You may not see this event on your local news tonight or even on your cable news. And, if that is in fact the case, just remember that coal is likely the fuel that keeps the lights on for these news companies and likely part of the advertising they need to survive. Also, understand that just because you don’t see it break into the news cycle, just because you don’t get to hear an Appalachian’s soundbite featured, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

The coal industry is destroying the land and the very lives of people who live upon that land. They are being treated as sub-humans and they have been treated as sub-humans for decades. So, today they fight to not only restore honor and reclaim sanity but to also claim dignity for themselves, their families, their friends, and for all who work for the coal industry and people this is the only option they have to make a living. All they can do to get by is participate in environmental destruction.

Find stories from today by searching for "Appalachia Rising" on the Internet. Circumvent the corporate news media. That’s what I am doing. And, when one considers the scale of injustice going on in Appalachia, when one notes how much one industry has taken control of business and politics and holds democracy and freedom hostage unless one is willing to march lockstep for coal, making sure the story of these people gets out to Americans is the least anyone can do.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."