Above photo: “We never at all threatened human life,” said climate campaigner Jessica Reznicek in 2017, but were “acting in an effort to save human life, to save our planet, to save our resources.” Peg Hunter/flickr/cc.
A tale of two damages.
Why would a billion-dollar corporation which intentionally and illegally destroyed private property for profit not even get a slap on the wrist while a person who commits civil disobedience to protect the earth and its people is labeled a terrorist and imprisoned for eight years?
Jessica Reznicek was sentenced to eight years in federal prison, ordered to pay millions in fines and labeled a terrorist by the government for her actions of civil disobedience that damaged the equipment of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is owned by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) a $54 billion dollar corporation that also co-owns the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. When ETP intentionally and illegally damaged the private property of hundreds of people in Louisiana, the company received no criminal consequences at all.
Both actors damaged private property. Jessica Reznicek was labeled a domestic terrorist that is, “dangerous to human life.” Even after the courts deemed Bayou Bridge’s property destruction illegal, the company received no criminal charges and the company was ordered by the district court to pay a mere $150 to each objector. To understand why these two actors have received such different consequences in response to their private property destruction, we must examine their current places within existing power structures.
In July 2017, Jessica Reznicek and a friend from the Des Moines Catholic Worker community held a press conference and admitted several acts of civil disobedience which damaged the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline across Iowa. “We are speaking publicly to empower others to act boldly, with purity of heart, to dismantle the infrastructures which deny us our rights to water, land, and liberty,” they said. No one was harmed as a result of their actions.
On October 9, 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice brought nine felony charges against Reznicek and her co-defendant. Reznicek always admitted she had engaged in civil disobedience and damaged property and did so in court. On June 30, 2021, she was sentenced to eight years in federal prison and ordered to pay $3,198,512.70 restitution. At sentencing, the federal judge agreed to the prosecution request to impose a terrorism enhancement upon Reznicek’s sentence, even though she was never charged with any acts of terrorism nor did she plead guilty to terrorism. Intentionally, no one was harmed during their actions at remote valve sites. Jessica Reznicek is now in federal prison while her sentence is being appealed.
“I think you’re talking about somebody who needs to be removed from the gene pool” ETP CEO Kelcy Warren remarked in response to their actions. The Dakota Access Pipeline is operated by Energy Transfer Partners which has over 10,000 employees and operates more than 90,000 miles of pipeline.
In the summer of 2018, Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a continuation of the Dakota Access Pipeline, began illegally destroying trees and land in the Atchafalaya River Basin in Louisiana, America’s largest freshwater swamp. Bayou Bridge Pipeline is a pipeline operating as a joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 Partners and operated by ETP. Kelcy Warren’s net worth is estimated at $4 billion.
Bayou Bridge used barges and huge machines to dredge out large long trenches, while they began construction of a pipeline through private property in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana. The corporation savagely altered the environment as it plowed through – see pictures of its destruction here and here and here. They also damaged private property with no legal authority to do so. They did not have a court order nor did they have permission from hundreds of co-owners.
A few small property owners objected. Months after Bayou Bridge Pipeline destroyed their private property, a Louisiana state district court judge agreed that the action was absolutely illegal but only awarded the objectors one hundred and fifty dollars ($150.00) each in damages. Both a court of appeal and the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed that the destruction of the private property was totally illegal. On appeal, damages of $10,000 plus attorney fees to the property owners were ultimately confirmed by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Neither Bayou Bridge Pipeline nor ETP were ever prosecuted by any federal, state or local authorities. The corporations poured money into state and local law enforcement by hiring a security company which hired state and local law enforcement to arrest people who protested against their illegal actions. To date, there have been no criminal consequences for ETP nor Bayou Bridge for their illegal destruction of private property.
So, why would a billion-dollar corporation which intentionally and illegally destroyed private property for profit not even get a slap on the wrist while a person who commits civil disobedience to protect the earth and its people is labeled a terrorist and imprisoned for eight years?
Four reasons explain the double standard.
One is Donald Trump, who was President when the charges were brought against Jessica Reznicek and not brought against ETP. The Guardian reported that Donald Trump invested somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million dollars in ETP and leaders of ETP gave well over $100,000 to Donald Trump’s election campaign. Energy Transfer Partners was represented by a law firm assisting Donald Trump in the 2016 campaign.
Two is the general power that huge corporations like ETP exercise over all phases of society. Government officials must constantly appease the financial powerful, as they did in this instance.
Three is the ongoing campaign to label all protestors who damage property as terrorists. Human Rights Watch pointed out that environmental activists committing civil disobedience have been charged as terrorists across the globe for years. The Intercept likewise reported that U.S. Attorney General activated the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces to go after Black Lives Matter protestors.
Four is the nationwide campaign by oil and gas interests to hyper criminalize protests around pipelines. Under the leadership of the right wing American Legislative Council, dozens of bills and executive orders have been introduced in over 30 states to up the penalties for people who protest against oil and gas pipelines according to Inside Climate News. More than a dozen states have passed those laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Any readers who are interested in fighting back can find more information at- Protecting Water is Never Terrorism: Repeal Jessica Reznicek’s Terrorism Enhancement.
Charlotte Grubb is a freelance researcher, writer, and climate justice organizer. Her work focuses on stopping fossil fuel projects and creating a just transition that centers decolonization.