An attorney with radical environmentalist organization Earth First! claims her group is essentially impervious to lawsuits alleging its members sabotage energy projects.
Earth First! cannot be sued, because it’s not technically a group, according to Rachel Meeropol, the chief counsel for Earth First! Journal, which publishes news about the so-called eco-wars. She claims lawsuits leveled against her organization are lodged, not out of a concern for business interest or public safety, but merely to infringe upon the free speech rights of activists.
“Earth First is not actually a group … It is a philosophy, a movement, so you can’t sue an idea,” Meeropol said during a Greenpeace meeting Jan. 30 at a high-end restaurant located in Washington, D.C. Her group rose to prominence in the Southwestern U.S. during the late 1970s specifically to instigate direct action against companies like ExxonMobil and Shell.
The group has not responded to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about the validity of Meeropol’s claim. But an analysis of her group’s tax filings appears to refute her argument. Earth First! has filed seven years’ worth of tax documents, and has a registered Employer Identification Number, according to Florida’s Department of State website, which would appear to make it susceptible to lawsuits.
TheDCNF attended the get-together, which was formulated to hash out ways activists could counter lawsuits from energy companies and loggers – attacks against oil projects and saws mills have reached a feverish pitch as the oil industry continues booming. Two companies have used the courts to counterattack Meeropol, her colleagues, and other environmentalist groups.
Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), along with logging company, Resolute Forest Products, have accused Greenpeace and Earth First! of lying to activists about various projects to generate money for operating expenses. They also encourage activists to use direct actions against projects that can hurt communities and cost American jobs, according to ETP and others.
Greenpeace admitted in legal filings its campaign to vilify a Canada-based logging company was based on “hyperbole” and “non-verifiable statements of subjective opinion” that weren’t meant to be taken literally. The group, which began targeting Resolute in 2012, admitted to using heated rhetoric that was not factual to avoid being held liable for damages in their legal battles.
Greenpeace called Resolute officials “forest destroyers” who were causing a “caribou death spiral and extinction” in their campaign to get the company to bend to environmentalist demands. Greenpeace even had a webpage listing their case against Resolute, and what it wants the company to do, which includes suspending logging operations.
ETP has also leveled legal campaigns against Greenpeace and Earth First! They manufactured false information about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), so they could generate donations and torpedo the pipeline, the company said last year. Their actions also violated federal and state racketeering statutes, the company argued.
“[T]he attacks were calculated and thoroughly irresponsible, causing enormous harm to people and property along the pipeline’s route,” ETP’s statement noted before listing a series of Greenpeace’s worst offenses, which include suggesting the pipeline encroached on tribal treaty lands and desecrated sacred American Indian sites.
Greenpeace and Earth First, meanwhile, admitted at the time that their campaign had inflicted hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to ETP and the financial institutions that support the company, the company alleges.
The company argues the groups’ claims provoked anti-DAPL activists into believing the $3.8 billion project, which crosses underneath the Missouri River in North Dakota, tramples on tribal grounds and could potentially poison the Standing Rock Sioux’s primary water supply if the line springs a leak.
Earth First! and Greenpeace argue that ETP and Resolute are using an underhanded legal technique called Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) to stifle their activist network’s rights.
Corporations use SLAPP to chill critical speech and advocacy on matters of public interest, panelists at Tuesday’s meetings argued. They also suggest companies are using Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) as a type of updated version of SLAPP.
The RICO statute allows litigants to include all people involved in a conspiracy in a lawsuit. If civil society loses its ability to build power through coalitions that could be targets for “criminal conspiracy,” then the companies win and our democracy, our communities and our planet lose, according to Greenpeace.
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