Environmentalist groups are scrambling for cover after a prominent anti-pipeline activist with a long violent criminal history was arrested in West Texas for using a fake ID and breaking parole in California.
Law enforcement officials in Presidio County, Texas arrested, fingerprinted, and confirmed that they had in custody Pedro Rabago Gutierrez, a man who had become a leading oil pipeline opponent in Texas in the past 10 years. He served nine years for forcible rape, seven years for forcible oral sex and got out of prison about six years later.
Gutierrez was arrested in 1984 and served his sentence and was released on parole, the California Department of Corrections said. He would later go on to flee California and wind up in Texas, where he changed his name to “Peter Hefflin” and became a leading figure in the anti-pipeline movement.
Environmentalist groups are doing their level-best to distance themselves from Gutierrez’s criminal past.
“He was part of our circle. He was part of our family,” Frankie Orona, executive director of the Society of Native Nations (SNS), a Texas-based environmental and American Indian advocacy group, told reporters shortly after Gutierrez’s arrest. “But then again, we’ve always been about holding people accountable, and in this situation, he was definitely wrong. I am upset with him.”
Guetierrez, who served on SNS’ board of directors, was a leading opponent of the Trans-Pecos pipeline, a 148-mile project transporting natural gas through the Big Bend region in Texas to Mexico. Activists are trying to turn the project into the next Dakota Access Pipeline, a multi-billion oil pipeline in North Dakota Indian American tribes widely oppose.
The Sierra Club said the anti-Trans-Pecos movement would continue without the project’s biggest and most charismatic opponent.
“We don’t see it as something that will deter the movement,” said Vanessa Ramos, a spokeswoman for the environmental nonprofit. “This is much bigger than one person.”
Pipeline supporters believe Gutierrez’s arrest, and his ability to dupe the media and fellow activists, places a prominent black mark on the environmental movement – he managed to fool every major Texas media outlet, and even testified in front of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission under his false identity.
Steve Everley, a spokesman for Texas for Natural Gas, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the Gutierrez incident “raises” questions about the anti-pipeline movement in Texas and North Dakota.
“On top of the environmental damage that protesters left behind at the Dakota Access camp, now we’re seeing criminals from California traveling to Texas to try to shut down oil and gas,” he said, referring to the Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts to clean up tons of trash left by anti-DAPL protesters in North Dakota.
“Anti-pipeline groups should demand accountability from their own members before they suggest that energy workers are the ones being reckless,” he added. Anti-pipeline activists and Indian American tribes argue energy companies act responsibly when building their pipelines.
Gutierrez so thoroughly hoodwinked his fellow activists that they harangued law enforcement officials attempting to apprehend him at a protest rally near the Trans-Pecos construction site.
Activists demanded Presidio County sheriff’s deputy Angel Velasque to show them a warrant before he carted Gutierrez to jail. Several deputies stood by, including Sheriff Danny Dominguez, whose body camera caught the whole incident.
“They bark like little Chihuahua dogs,” Dominguez told reporters. “But they don’t got no bite.”
Anti-pipeline demonstrations throughout the past year have seen their fair share of violent episodes, according to law enforcement officials.
Law enforcement agents in Morton County requested help from federal officials to quell what they call periodic violence at the campsites set up to oppose the DAPL. More than 600 people have been arrested at the campsites over the past several months.
One report from December suggested that North Dakota’s former governor, Jack Dalrymple, asked Wisconsin for help dealing with “civil unrest” and “criminal activities related to opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project.”
He also wanted a 40/37 mm chemical munitions launcher, which could have been used to discharge tear gas on anti-DAPL demonstrators. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department used tear gas and high-pressured water hoses during November protests to disperse 400 “very aggressive” activists.
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