Tar sands activists in several states have been getting visits from the FBI, and no one knows yet exactly why.
Federal agents have been contacting activists who have participated in anti-Keystone XL and anti-tar sands protests, according to the Canadian Press. The visits have been happening to activists in Oregon, Washington state, and Idaho, and a lawyer working with the activists told the Canadian Press that he has advised them not to talk to the agents.
“It’s always the same line: ‘We’re not doing criminal investigations, you’re not accused of any crime. But we’re trying to learn more about the movement,'” he said.
The agents have reportedly been targeting activists who have protested “megaloads,” a truckload of tar sands extraction equipment that can be longer than a football field and can take up two lanes of a highway. These protests have blocked highways and delayed the equipment’s shipment.
One woman who was contacted by the FBI, Helen Yost, is the co-founder of Wild Idaho Rising Tide and has been arrested twice while protesting tar sands. Yost told the AP in January that she refused to talk to the agent.
“We don’t see ourselves as posing any threat,” she said. “We see the FBI contact as being unwarranted.”
The FBI told the Canadian Press that it doesn’t investigate political movements — instead, it focuses on crimes.
“The FBI has the authority to conduct an investigation when it has reasonable grounds to believe that an individual has engaged in criminal activity or is planning to do so,” FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich said. “This authority is based on the illegal activity, not on the individual’s political views.”
The agency is also trying to get information about Deep Green Resistance, an environmental group that advocates for “decisive ecological warfare,” and whose co-founder has said that “direct attacks against infrastructure” are essential for stopping tar sands expansion.
The FBI investigations may be unsettling for activists, but compared to environmentalists in other countries, activists in the U.S. have little to fear. A report last year found that Brazil is the most deadly country for environmental activists, with 448 deaths in the country between 2002 and 2013. In Honduras, 109 environmental activists were killed during that time period, and in the Philippines, 67 were killed.
“Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation,” the report states.