Rushed to the governor’s desk under the pretense of being “an emergency,” a new statute signed into law in Oklahoma days ago increases penalties against protesters — specifically, it targets opposition to construction of the Diamond Pipeline — with those found guilty facing far stiffer penalties, including fines topping a mind-numbing $1 million.
Anyone caught trespassing on property considered containing a “critical infrastructure facility” will “face a felony and a minimum $10,000 fine if a court determines they entered property intending to damage, vandalize, deface, ‘impede or inhibit operations of the facility.’ Should the trespasser actually succeed in ‘tampering’ with the infrastructure, they face a $100,000 fine or 10 years of imprisonment,” The Intercept reports.
Summoning the ugly specter of Energy Transfer Partners’ horrendous PR imbroglio over massive camps of Native American water protectors endeavored to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin hastily signed the dissent-wrecking statute in a preemptive attempt to quash protest against the factious $900 million Diamond Pipeline — before grassroots opposition has the opportunity to mushroom.
As NewsOK describes the new rights-stomping legislation,
“Someone charged under the new law could face a $10,000 fine and up to a year in jail if they intend to halt progress of a pipeline or otherwise interfere with operations. The penalty increases to 10 years and $100,000 if the person is successful at damaging, vandalizing, defacing or tampering with equipment.
“The fine for just trespassing at a critical infrastructure site would be at least $1,000, but the Legislature did not include an upper limit.”
Inadvertently reiterating the pernicious law’s definitive use against the constitutional right to protest, Republican Representative Scott Biggs — primary author of House Bill 1123 — noted its intent to put the rights of Big Oil infrastructure first, stating,
“This law isn’t about lost hunters or misplaced campers. This law is about protecting our state’s most important and critical infrastructure by holding those who seek to do our state harm accountable.”
While destruction of property should arguably carry harsh penalties, this draconian law — and a mirror bill currently winding its way through state legislature — make definitive the privilege the oil and gas industry enjoys by degrees of magnitude above public concern for the environment.
To wit, in addition to heightened punishments for trespassing individuals, both pieces of legislation exponentially ratchet up fines and prison time when actions are believed coordinated by an organization — increasing by tenfold the penalties when the perpetrator is a ‘group’ — as pro-fossil fuel advocates pegged outside entities as responsible for the immense show of opposition to Dakota Access.
“On the same day Fallin signed that bill,” NewsOK continues, “lawmakers approved another one that would make trespassers liable for damages to real or personal property. House Bill 2128 also extends civil liability to a ‘person or entity that compensates, provides consideration or remunerates a person for trespassing.’
“The bill’s author, state Rep. Mark McBride, said the so-called vicarious liability provision would apply to people who give lodging to those who are later arrested for trespassing. He said the idea for the bill came from actions along the Dakota Access Pipeline.”
Worse still, these laws would allow the pursuit of damages against protesters — even when no conviction results — and even if a subject is only arrested on the mere suspicion of trespassing.
“Significantly,” The Intercept elaborates, “the statute also implicates any organization ‘found to be a conspirator’ with the trespasser, threatening collaborator groups with a fine ‘ten times’ that imposed on the intruder — as much as $1 million in cases involving damage.”
House Bill 2128 would hold liable anyone — or any group — who “compensates, remunerates or provides consideration to someone who causes damage while trespassing.”
Opposition from Oklahoma Democrats centered primarily around that frightfully heavy-handed, subjective possibility. Representative Cory Williams demanded clarification from McBride on his intended definition of ‘compensation,’ Public Radio Tulsa reports, to which the author retorted sans irony,
“It means just what we want it to on this bill. How about that?”
“I’m sorry, what?” a stunned Williams replied. “Is it a check? Is it money? Is it staying at somebody’s house? Is it some other benefit conferred?”
Representative Collin Walke also queried of McBride,
“So at the end of the day, you can be arrested, acquitted, and somebody can be held liable for your completely lawful activity?”
“That would be for the courts to decide,” said McBride.
“All due respect, we’re supposed to be writing laws,” Williams chided. “They interpret them. Our laws should have definitions in them.”
While water protectors’ peaceful but powerful opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline occupied headlines for months — thanks, in part, to the abhorrent violence inflicted by a multi-state police coalition headed by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department — resistance to new oil infrastructure construction spilled over into dozens of additional projects, including Diamond.
“The Diamond Pipeline is a $900 million, 20-inch crude oil pipeline that will run approximately 440 miles from Cushing to Memphis,” Tulsa World explains. “The pipeline will provide Valero’s Memphis Refinery with crude oil from Cushing and will be capable of transporting up to 200,000 barrels per day. Diamond Pipeline will cross seven counties in eastern Oklahoma — Lincoln, Creek, Okmulgee, Muskogee, McIntosh, Haskell and LeFlore. It will also pass through Arkansas to Memphis.”
Plains All American Pipeline and Valero Energy Corporation received approval to construct Diamond in 2014 — and crews began working on the project last year.
Similarly to Dakota Access, Diamond’s route is slated to span Native American lands — considered sovereign nations in the U.S. Constitution — and has thus riled tensions once again between the corporate-protectionist government and Indigenous populations.
Bold Oklahoma joined #NoPlainsPipeline and the American Indian Movement in January to stand against Diamond Pipeline’s potentially ruinous route through Indigenous cultural, sacred, and historical locales, as well as hallowed burial grounds.
Despite understandable rancor among politicians opposed to the new laws, historically small-government Republicans remained adamant, ditching tradition to stand in solidarity with Big Oil against the perceived threat of paid protesters — and the potentiality of a hefty law enforcement payout should burgeoning protests attract the level of outrage and physical attention as Dakota Access.
Bold Oklahoma Director Mekasi Camp Horinek, asked whether direct action would be condoned by the group, carefully stated,
“We stand behind the people, and if people choose to do that, we’re going to stand behind them in that choice, but that’s always an individual choice. There’s nobody that’s going to tell somebody else to do something illegal or put their bodies or their families in harm’s way.”
Now that Big Oil has yet again been emboldened to run roughshod over anyone opposing construction of new infrastructure via untenably severe fines and prison sentences, the choice to partake in nonviolent civil disobedience must be carefully weighed by individuals.
But, with disruptive civil disobedience being the last bastion of the oppressed, it’s likely law enforcement and oil-loyal Oklahoma courts could see the theoretical $1 million liability levied in the near future.
Behind the flimsy façade feigning protesters with paychecks responsible for Americans’ embittered response to new pipeline construction — and, thus, worthy of protection — pro-Diamond Oklahomans will soon conclude a law targeting one faction can as readily target another.
Having been arrested under suspicion of being a paid protester at Standing Rock during DAPL opposition, Horniek opined the necessity of preservation and conservation of water, land, and natural resources, recounting of the movement and his experiences,
“I don’t think that when we’re talking about life, not only the life of our children and the life of our brothers and sisters, but when we’re talking about life itself, all living things on the planet, that state borders are going to deter or stop anybody from going to try to protect a body of water.
“I’m an enrolled member of the Ponca Nation, and we were forcefully removed to the state of Oklahoma in 1876. I was there first as a father, as a son, as a brother. Secondly I was there as a Ponca tribal member, protecting the Missouri River. Last but not least, I was representing the Bold organization that I work for.”
He added, “I think it’s a fear tactic to try to oppress the First Amendment.”
Centuries of governmental atrocities committed against Native Americans and the Indigenous Peoples of this continent have catapulted into the present in a simultaneous normalcy in maltreatment and categorical dismissal of Indigenous rights which so characterizes the immense anti-pipeline movement now spreading around the planet.
Many Native Americans — familiar to the shame of ignored treaties and the morass of legislation unmistakably benefiting industry over the health of the environment — view opposition to the Diamond and Dakota Access Pipelines, among others, as inherently inextricable from the very act of existence.
Without the ability to protest legally and peacefully, the oil and gas industry — embraced by the U.S. government’s mothering arms — isn’t likely to tamp down efforts to construct even the most redundant and undesired pipelines across the nation.
“As a father and son of the state of Oklahoma, I’m going to stand up and do what I feel is right for my family, for my people, and the people of this state,” Horniek asserted, duly noting parallels in the anti-Big Oil movement with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s — specifically, in acts of civil disobedience common to both.
“Without those people who were willing to sacrifice themselves and put themselves in a position to nonviolently break the law,” Horinek lamented, “some of the rights that we all benefit from today might not have happened if these types of laws were in place at the time.”