Steve Horn is a journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin. His work has been featured in The Guardian, The Nation, and Truthout. He is also a Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog.
DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor, joining you in Baltimore. Across North America, a growing number of people are disrupting oil and natural gas pipelines, which they say pose a threat to their communities. Many of these activists are already facing harsh prosecution and jail time. Last month, 84 congress people wrote a public letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggesting that these activists should face terrorism charges under the Patriot Act. The effort was lauded by the industry American Petroleum Institute, but it was never disclosed that the API helped to write the request in the first place.
Well, joining us to talk more about this in our Baltimore studio is Steve Horn. Steve is an Indianapolis-based research fellow for DeSmog.com and a freelance investigative journalist. His writing has appeared in numerous publications including Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, The Garden, Vice News on the Young Turks Project, TYT Investigates, and he recently authored the report “Congress Works With Big Oil On Letters Suggesting Anti-Pipeline Activists Faced Terrorism Charges” for a DeSmog blog. Thanks for joining us again.
STEVE HORN: Thank you.
DHARNA NOOR: So Steve, you’ve been reporting on this growing anti-pipeline activism for quite some time. What do you think sparked this new wave of activism?
STEVE HORN: The activism, I would say if you want to look at a starting point of where more on the ground and confrontational activism came from, we’re going to get right in front of the pipeline or go in the face of politicians, it really started with Keystone XL, the No Keystone XL movement back in 2011 where the activists stood in front of the White House for a series of two weeks, where each day activists would go out there and get arrested. I think that’s where it started, and I think from there, it moved to communities around the United States and really culminated in something different, which was the Dakota Access protest, which instead of just being protests that were where politicians are situated, so in State Houses or City Hall, it actually was an encampment in front of a pipeline or near the site of a pipeline, which was at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. I think the genesis starts with Keystone XL, and maybe even before that with Native Americans protesting the original Keystone pipeline.
DHARNA NOOR: Why should people be concerned about this letter? What does this say about the movement or the action against indigenous activists and climate activists?
STEVE HORN: It shows, I think, two things. One, that the protests are working in a way that they are really putting fear in the industry. They’re putting fear in the industry to start working, and they’re almost merging their efforts with the efforts of law enforcement, whether it’s federal law enforcement, be it the FBI or local law enforcement like we saw on state level, officers like we saw on Dakota Access, but the big picture here is that there is this merger that is taking place where it’s not just a PR effort. The PR effort is working in concert with law enforcement who’s actually become part of the PR effort, but it has risen-
DHARNA NOOR: And with the industry.
STEVE HORN: And the industry, exactly, which was a big thing with Dakota Access, where out-of-state law enforcement was brought in under the Emergency Assistant Management Compact, or EMAC, which is one of the first times ever where this particular compact was used to fend off protestors. It’s normally used for natural disasters of the like, which we saw in the past several months, the various hurricanes. This compact was used a lot to bring in out-of-state officers.
DHARNA NOOR: Could we step back a little bit and could you just explain what EMAC is for people who don’t know?
STEVE HORN: Yes. EMAC is a compact which was signed in the 1990s, signed into law, by President Clinton, and it had nothing to do with protests. It had to do with better response to natural disasters. It’s mostly been used for that, if you look at its history since then. Only on two occasions really, big occasions, has this been used for protests. One was in reaction to Black Lives Matter a couple years ago for the Freddie Gray murder and bringing in some compacts to, what they said was, stop the riots that were happening, but then it was really used for even more states. That was two states that came in to stop that, but for Standing Rock, it was something like half a dozen states in which cops from mostly the Midwest came into North Dakota to help with policing. With them, they brought the military-type gear. There was no limits on that sort of stuff. The only thing was it was deemed worthy of using this particular compact. So it was legal in that way.
DHARNA NOOR: Yeah. Military-type gear from small Midwestern towns, you can’t imagine they’d ever have to use this kind of gear for…
STEVE HORN: Exactly. They mostly get this gear from a program, from the National Defense Authorization Act. There’s a defense logistics program in which surplus gear that the Pentagon has can be sold to local and state level police departments, so that’s where a lot of this gear must’ve come from.
DHARNA NOOR: Turning back to the letter, 84 congress people signed this. Are there any sort of notables? For instance, I know you’ve done some reporting on Lamar Smith. I know he’s one of the people who signed the letter.
STEVE HORN: Yeah. I think that there’s a couple things that jumped out to me. One, there was four Democrats. 80 of them were Republicans. Four of them were Democrats. They are all from Texas. One of them was-
DHARNA NOOR: All the Democrats, all four Democrats were from Texas?
STEVE HORN: Yes. One in particular, you’ll always see in these types of situations, even if it’s just one Democrat or a token Democrat, Gene Green who was very pro. He’s done XL pipeline before this. Just probably the most pro oil and gas industry congressman either in the House or the Senate, in the whole Congress, so I wasn’t surprised to see his name on there. If you look at … Another name that jumped out to me, who’s listed at the top, the official presenter of this letter was Ken Buck, but the name next to it, if you look at the letter, is Kevin Kramer who is a Republican from North Dakota.
North Dakota has one member of the House, and North Dakota is where, first of all, Dakota Access pipeline, that’s where it started. It’s not worthy just for that, but even more not worthy is that he was an energy advisor to the Trump campaign, linking to Kevin Kramer if you look at it from the next level up. A guy described as the king of the [Buck 00:06:40] is Harold Ham, who’s the CEO of Continental Resources, which is the major driller in the [inaudible 00:06:48]. He was CEO of also another campaign advisor to Donald Trump, so it’s not totally shocking to see his name at the top of the letter. I don’t really know if it always means the guys at the top are more important, but it could mean that he was one of the ones that was thought of first to contact and the natural person to go to for this sort of thing.
DHARNA NOOR: Yeah. What about Steve Scalise, his name was on there too right?
STEVE HORN: Yeah. Steve Scalise, of course from Louisiana, Republican, the Whip of the House, so he whips together votes and gets the Republican party in line, but why is Louisiana important here? It is because of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which is an offshoot of the Dakota Access, basically an extension of Dakota Access, which in name ends in Texas but basically Bayou Bridge is another leg of it that will go into Louisiana that’s being protested widely in Louisiana. It has pretty much spawned its own movement through a group called Bold Louisiana. I think they’re … It’s not surprising to see Steve Scalise’s name on there. I’m pretty sure there’s probably other members of Congress from Louisiana in the letter as well.
DHARNA NOOR: What about Lamar Smith?
STEVE HORN: Again, yeah, a lot of these names are not surprising to me. It’s people that I do see a lot in my reporting. Lamar Smith, I consider him one of the chief climate-change deniers in Congress that really is a leading voice of denial and has been for the past several years through the House Science Committee. Basically not surprised at all. He’s from Texas as well, so someone who’s received a lot of money during his career from Accent Mobile, Koch Industries, and other oil and gas companies.
DHARNA NOOR: So this letter got a lot of press. It was also praised by API, the American Petroleum Institute, but you actually found that they did a lot more than help promote it. They actually helped write it, they bolstered it. Talk a little bit about what their role is and whether or not you were surprised to find this.
STEVE HORN: Yeah. I was a little surprised. It’s one of those things where you see these types of letters enter into the public domain, and you think, “Oh, the industry must’ve been behind this, or whatever interest group must be behind this.” It turns out, there is a website that documents these types of letters. It’s called dearcolleagues.us, and basically some … I don’t know if it’s all the letters, but a lot of these letters, it’s a clearinghouse where you can sometimes see who the backers of these letters were, who helped push them. First of all, it says all the original signatories, but at the second level some of it says the industry groups who were also pushing this.
So dearcolleagues.us for this letter, the reason why I found it is you can search the parameters of the words that were used in the letters. Through Google, I found this particular website and American Petroleum Institute and other industry groups are listed as supporting groups of this particular letter. This is a website that was created by a former reporter for Roll Call, which is a major Beltway publication, but it’s a great resource. I would recommend, when others see these types of letters enter into the public domain, check that website. Sometimes maybe it will say where they came from.
DHARNA NOOR: Who exactly are Petroleum Institute, for people who don’t know what exactly they do?
STEVE HORN: API, or American Petroleum Institute, is the voice of the entire oil and gas industry at all levels, so all the way from drilling to exports to different infrastructure that’s involved in the oil and gas industry, refineries. They are the leading voice of the oil and gas industry, particularly in Washington D.C. but not only, I think it’s important to point out that API has state-level groups in all major oil and gas producing states where they lobby in State Houses as well. It’s not always called API. It might be called some state’s name, but Petroleum Institute or something like that. It has lots of state-level member organizations. The big takeaway is that they are the voice of the oil and gas industry, and they spend a lot of money on lobbying and advocacy in the Beltway and beyond.
DHARNA NOOR: This is just one instance of the government and the industry in PR, and also law enforcement colluding for a certain outcome when it comes to these anti-pipeline activists, but I know that you’ve reported on other instances of this too. Could you talk about some other instances?
STEVE HORN: Yeah. I think that the most compelling example of this was Dakota Access that I’ve ever documented because it involved not only politicians in the industry, which is the normal way that we think about these things when we talk about money and politics and how it effects policymakers, but at the level of Dakota Access, there weren’t that many policymakers directly involved. It really was more of a convergence of actually law enforcement and the industry, and the PR industry, which was funded, their PR is funded by the industry. So we saw in the … I think the most interesting thing that I found through open records request was that there was a firm hired by the National Sheriff’s Association by the name of Delve, and another one by the name of Off The Record Strategies.
They’re both very tied to the GOP establishment in Washington. Those firms were hired by the Sheriff’s Association, which was never the official voice of law enforcement for Dakota Access, but basically was because of the county sheriff in Cass County in North Dakota is the high-ranking type of guy within the National Sheriff’s Association. So the Sheriff’s Association and these PR firms, alongside the actual county-level police departments in North Dakota, were basically doing messaging that was saying a lot of the things that are in this particular letter like, “Oh, what should we say? Should we say these might be terrorists? Should we say they are sympathetic with the Palestinian?” Because they’re thinking of any potential talking point they could use. Literally, you can see in some of the records they got back whether they’re memos or emails, that they were just fishing up ideas to discredit, but not just discredit the activists. It eventually came to more punitive and using the actual penal system and criminal law system to-
DHARNA NOOR: Yeah. Talk more about that. Talk more about what the impact has been, because as we said before, a lot of these activists are actually facing these really harsh charges.
STEVE HORN: Right, right. Dozens upon dozens of people who protested or stood in solidarity with the members of the Standing Rock tribe and other … I think looking at the bigger picture, this was the largest convergence of Native American tribes in modern history of getting together for one single cause. So the people who showed up in solidarity and Native Americans were caught up in basically these mass arrests that were taking place during several different days of the Standing Rock stand-off. A lot of these cases are still moving through the court system in the state of North Dakota.
There hasn’t been any super long cases, but I think in the past couple of weeks, the first actual final charges were brought against some of the activists, so the legacy of this is that it wasn’t just a PR effort to discredit the activists. Of course, that did happen and those efforts are ongoing. I found through my records, they are thinking about doing the same sort of … A lot of these same players are thinking about using similar tactics with Keystone XL activists, so it’s not just a thing of the past, but the other reason why it’s such a thing of the past is, of course, these cases are still weaving their way through the court system and it’s a lot of people who were involved in this particular protest and occupation really.
DHARNA NOOR: All right, Steve. Well, keep us posted as you find more of these government/PR/ law-enforcement collusions. We look forward to having you again soon.
STEVE HORN: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
DHARNA NOOR: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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