Surveiling Dakota Land Defenders Has Biblical Resonance

Two recent articles (see below) document what land defenders fighting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines have been reporting anecdotally: they are being aggressively surveiled and treated like enemy combatants, not Americans. As Sojourners publisher Joe Roos said during the Reagan era, “The real goal of most domestic surveillance is political control. The suppression of domestic political dissent and the containment of social change movements lie more at the heart of our government’s intentions.” And Bill Wylie-Kellermann reminds us that “In truth, [surveillance] is an ancient tactic of the powers, one with which Jesus contended and coped.”

Wylie-Kellermann continues, “An eye for surveillance material in the New Testament is a little like paranoia; it begins to stare back at you from every page. In a recent re-reading of the four gospels, I counted easily more than 40 instances where Jesus or his followers are being watched, watched for, or sought. Add to that some 25 or more references to plottings against him and his friends, and you begin to get the creeps. At the point in John where Jesus himself is accused of being “paranoid” (7:20), we can take sympathy. He has good reason to be. In general, the gospel of John (so often revered as the least political) appears to have the most abundant material on surveillance. There we are granted a dramatic view most privy to the counsel of the authorities, and there the actions of Jesus in response are most versatile and conscious. Of the synoptics Luke is the most explicit about the plots: “So they watched him, and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might take hold of what he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor” (Luke 20:20). These agents do deliver. At the trial those political charges are brought, with a host of witnesses to back them up.”

There is nothing new under the sun and our authentic witness for the integrity of creation continues to provoke responses in the Powers That Be. So, beloved, be “wise as serpents, and gentle as doves.”–RMB

Paramilitary security tracked and targeted DAPL opponents as “jihadists,” docs show by Antonia Juhasz for Grist

“As people nationwide rallied last year to support the Standing Rock Sioux’s attempts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline, a private security firm with experience fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan launched an intrusive military-style surveillance and counterintelligence campaign against the activists and their allies, according to internal company documents.

Its surveillance targets included everyone from Native American demonstrators to the actress Shailene Woodley, along with organizations including Black Lives Matter, 350.org, Veterans for Peace, the Catholic Worker Movement, and Food and Water Watch. The records label the protestors “jihadists” and seek to justify escalating action against them.

The activities of the company spanned, but were not limited to, the four states through which the pipeline passes: South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. The documents also show that its surveillance efforts continued after the breakup of the Standing Rock camps this winter, including at ongoing pipeline protests in southeastern Pennsylvania, Iowa, and South Dakota.

The internal documents from the firm, called TigerSwan, take the form of situation reports, or “sitreps,” prepared between September and April for its employer, Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners. The records detail a range of tactics that experts from the American Civil Liberties Union, National Lawyers Guild, and Electronic Frontier Foundation say would likely be illegal if conducted by law enforcement. …” Read more here.

Leaked Documents Reveal Counterterrorism Tactics used at Standing Rock to ‘Defeat Pipeline Insurgencies’ by Alleen Brown, Will Parrish, Alice Speri at The Intercept

“… The situation reports also suggest that TigerSwan attempted a counterinformation campaign by creating and distributing content critical of the protests on social media.

The Intercept is publishing a first set of TigerSwan’s situation reports from September 2016, which describe the company’s initial operations. We are also publishing two additional situation reports dated October 16 and November 5, along with PowerPoint presentations shared with law enforcement that correspond to the same dates. The names of private individuals whose actions are not already in the public record, or whose authorization we did not obtain, have been redacted to protect their privacy. The Intercept will publish the remaining situation reports in the coming weeks.

In addition, The Intercept is publishing a selection of communications, obtained by public records requests, detailing coordination between a wide range of local, state, and federal agencies, which confirm that the FBI participated in core Dakota Access-related law enforcement operations starting soon after protests began last summer. Finally, we are publishing two additional documents, also in the public record, that detail TigerSwan’s role spearheading Energy Transfer Partner’s multipronged security operation. …” Read more here.

Pope Francis & Patriarch Bartholomew: ‘Respect Creation’

Detroit Water Protests ( WWJ Newsradio 950-Beth Fisher)
Detroit Water Protests (WWJ Newsradio 950-Beth Fisher)

“It is our profound conviction that the future of the human family depends also on how we safeguard – both prudently and compassionately, with justice and fairness – the gift of creation that our Creator has entrusted to us. Therefore, we acknowledge in repentance the wrongful mistreatment of our planet, which is tantamount to sin before the eyes of God. We reaffirm our responsibility and obligation to foster a sense of humility and moderation so that all may feel the need to respect creation and to safeguard it with care. Together, we pledge our commitment to raising awareness about the stewardship of creation; we appeal to all people of goodwill to consider ways of living less wastefully and more frugally, manifesting less greed and more generosity for the protection of God’s world and the benefit of His people.” —Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (from Joint Declaration, 25 May 2014)

Franciscans on Moral Discernment in an Election Season

In the middle of this crazy election season, I’ve appreciated the thoughtful leadership of the Franciscans in how to approach difficult decisions.

The Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate is presenting short pieces to help introduce particularly Franciscan and Catholic approaches to the decision-making process. Here’s an excerpt from their first installment. I urge you to read the whole article:

In the election sphere today, there is often an attempt to link our Catholic faith squarely with one political party. Although most religious leaders assert that our faith is not adequately represented or served by the platform of any particular political group, some, overtly or tacitly, strain to demonstrate how one party is the only morally acceptable choice. Such effort is wasted. The world is a morally complex and ambiguous place, especially when it comes to political decisions.

Taking a wider view as Catholics inspired by the Franciscan path of following Jesus, how can we approach the elections? Is there a political party or candidate for whom it would be morally unacceptable to vote? Does our faith compel us to pull a particular lever in the ballot box? If not, is it all just relativism?

The problem is not the clarity of our moral foundations; these are clear. The challenge comes from the complexity of our globalized world, the pluralistic society that is our nation, and the limitations of our fallen, yet still blessed, human condition. While our faith tradition offers us principles by which to live in a complex world, they don’t translate into a litmus test for choosing between candidates. Rather, our faith invites us to engage in moral reasoning—weighing the pressing issues of our day in the light of our tradition. While this is a process that often yields no categorical answers, it does provide us a method of discernment to guide us through troubling ambiguity as we make our decisions.

Our Franciscan tradition offers us a framework of five interconnected parameters that can guide our discernment: care for creation, consistent ethic of life, preferential option for the poor, peacemaking and the common good. …

Read the rest of “Franciscans are not ‘party animals'” (Part 1).

Speaking Gig: Church Women United in Atlantic City, NJ

Lisa Sharon Harper

On Friday, December 2, 2011, I’ll be in Atlantic City, NJ, with 400 women at Church Women United, one of the largest Christian women’s organizations in the U.S. representing 26 denominations and supporting organizations, to celebrate 70 years of fighting the good fight and running the race.

I’ll join with Lisa Sharon Harper in speaking at the morning breakfast on the role of Sojourners in faith-inspired social justice movements and then Lisa and I will lead afternoon workshops on Christians and the environment.

Our workshop is titled, “For God so loved the world…”: Christians, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice.” From the Genesis creation story to Isaiah’s critique of imperial clear-cutting of the cedars of Lebanon to contemporary issues like the Keystone XL pipeline and fracking, Christians are engaged in advancing environmental justice. What do we need to understand about climate change, environmental racism, and environmental sexism? How do our scriptures give us a firm foundation for entering into very contemporary environmental issues?

For more information, contact Church Women United at (212) 870-234.

Religious Voices Loud and Clear at Keystone XL Protests

Thanks to Catherine Woodiwiss over at Center for American Progress for a good article on religious involvement in the movement to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. She writes:

Beth Norcross, vice chair of Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light, believes that environmental concerns are squarely in line with religious social traditions. “It’s all interconnected,” she said at the rally on Sunday. “You can’t work on poverty and ignore the environment.”

Rose Berger, a Catholic poet and leading tar sands activist for the Christian social justice network Sojourners, agrees. “Most environmental groups were motivated by faith and spirituality at their root,” she says, so “it’s not surprising that faith is involved. Climate change affects the poor first.” In fact, Berger estimates, due to increasing awareness of climate change, “creation care” has become one of the top concerns of many congregations nationwide.

Numbers bear her out: Research from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicates that nearly half of those who attend worship services hear about environmental concerns from their clergy, and the environment consistently ranks above abortion and gay marriage as a priority for all Christians except white evangelicals. — Catherine Woodiwiss

Read Woodiwiss’ whole article.

Gulf Apocalypse: Don’t Watch This Video

Conservationist John L. Wathen aka “Hurricane Creek Creekkeeper” has been producing powerful videos of the BP oil catastrophe. He first went up with SouthWings pilots in early May. Now he’s released another video from June 21 that shows the Gulf Apocalpyse, including dolphins and whales dying in the open water. The day after this video appeared on Keith Olbermann’s show, the Coast Guard enacted new rules that prohibit media from getting close to the slick by boat or air.

“We saw this pod of dolphins obviously struggling just to breathe. Then we found this guy: a sperm whale swimming in the oil had just breached. Along his back we could see red patches of crude as if he’d been basted for broiling. Then we saw this pod of dolphins, some already dead, some in their death throes. It seemed they were raising their heads looking at the fires, wondering why is my world burning down around me, why would humans do this for me.”–John L. Wathen

“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl [that] may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.”–Genesis 1:20-23

It seems like I should draw some kind of helpful conclusion at this point; a summation. But, as Walter Brueggemann says of the prophet Ezekial, “Ministry has to do with grieving silence after the warning is unheeded.”

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She’s the author of Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood available at store.sojo.net.

BP: Is It Time to Ban Companies Again?

It appears that BP has decided it needs tips from the Spin Master to protect its thoroughly corroded reputation in the U.S. No, they haven’t hired Republican strategist Frank Luntz. Instead they head-hunted Anne Womack-Kolton to take up the lead role for BP’s U.S. media relations.

In one of her previous jobs Anne was  press secretary to the Master of the Dark Arts, none other than Dick Cheney himself. She was also the handler on the National Energy Policy Development Group aka Vice President Cheney’s “Energy Task Force” that was supposed to be made up of “government officials” and ended up being packed with CEOs from BP, Chevron, Enron, ConocoPhillips, American Petroleum Institute, and … wait for it … Grover Norquist and Gail Norton’s Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.

With BP’s stock in a much-applauded death spiral, we can now look forward to the high-sheen of Anne’s corporate disinformation campaign.

Carcass of a decomposing dolphin on rocks at Queen Bess Island in Gulf of Mexico.

Additionally, in the last few days more than 300,000 people have joined the Boycott BP Facebook campaign and are demonstrating in the streets, at BP gas stations, and boycotting BP products (such as Castrol, Arco, Aral, AM /PM, Amoco, and Wild Bean Cafe).

The best news is that Attorney General Eric Holder is opening a criminal investigation against BP. This is exactly how a government should behave and I applaud Holder’s forward movement on this.

In my estimation, BP should be banned for 50 years from doing business in the United States. Whether or not criminal charges are brought against the company, they are guilty of criminal malfeasance and endangering thousands of lives.

Here’s a section from a great article in The Guardian:

Robert Reich, the former labour secretary under Bill Clinton, today called for BP’s US operations to be seized by the government until the leak had been plugged. A group called Seize BP is planning demonstrations in 50 US cities, calling for the company to be stripped of its assets. The stock plunged 15% , or $6.43, to close at $36.52 at the end regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The criminal investigation announced by the American attorney general was launched just hours after Obama promised to prosecute any parties found to have broken the law in the lead up to the disaster. The president dropped several threatening comments into a 10-minute address from the White House to mark the start of an independent commission to look into the causes of explosion.

But the reality is that even if there was enough public and political pressure to close down British Petroleum, we wouldn’t have solved the problem. These massive environmental catastrophe’s are going to continue.

Here’s the radical wisdom of Catholic teaching that addresses this situation from Pope Benedict’s encyclical Charity and Truth:

The Church’s social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence. The social sciences and the direction taken by the contemporary economy point to the same conclusion. Perhaps at one time it was conceivable that first the creation of wealth could be entrusted to the economy, and then the task of distributing it could be assigned to politics. Today that would be more difficult, given that economic activity is no longer circumscribed within territorial limits, while the authority of governments continues to be principally local. Hence the canons of justice must be respected from the outset, as the economic process unfolds, and not just afterwards or incidentally….

In the global era, the economy is influenced by competitive models tied to cultures that differ greatly among themselves. The different forms of economic enterprise to which they give rise find their main point of encounter in commutative justice. Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.

Maybe BP can convert itself into a transnational nonprofit dedicated to establishing bioreserves where they pay local communities to keep the oil in the ground and to keep the natural habitats healthy and whole.

Video: ‘The Gulf Appears to be Bleeding’

Thanks to Sue Sturgis over at the Institute for Southern Studies for posting  the story of John Wathen and his heart-breaking video of  the oil spill destroying our southern coast as a result of BP criminal negligence.

The Institute for Southern Studies was founded in 1970 by veterans of the civil rights movement and has established a national reputation as an essential resource for grassroots activists, community leaders, scholars, policy makers and others working to bring lasting social and economic change to the region. Sue Sturgis writes:

Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen of Alabama and volunteer pilot Tom Hutchings of SouthWings flew over the Gulf of Mexico on Friday to get a look at the massive oil slick spreading from the site of the BP disaster.

At nine miles out, they began to smell the oil. At 11 miles, they saw a visible sheen on the water. And at mile 87 off the Alabama coast, they reached ground zero of the disaster — what Wathen described as a “red mass of floating goo” as far as the eye can see.

“The Gulf appears to be bleeding,” he said.

“For the first time in my environmental career, I find myself using the word ‘hopeless,'” Wathen continued. “We can’t stop this. There’s no way to prevent this from hitting our shorelines.”

Wathen and Hutchings had no trouble finding their way back to land: “All we had to do was follow the red,” Wathens said. “There was a perfect line of it leading from the rig to the shoreline.”

Here’s the video from that trip, which is also posted to Wathen’s blog dedicated to documenting the disaster:

ISS – ‘The Gulf appears to be bleeding’ (video).