Man Faces One Year In Jail For Protesting JPMorgan’s Fossil Fuel Investments

Bill Talen, also known as “Reverend Billy,” sings with the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir in Union Square in New York, Monday, July 2, 2007, to protest his arrest there. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/KATHY WILLENS
Bill Talen, also known as “Reverend Billy,” sings with the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir in Union Square in New York, Monday, July 2, 2007, to protest his arrest there. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/KATHY WILLENS

If what the Reverend Billy says is true, JPMorgan Chase Bank is the leading cause of climate change. The multi-billion dollar banking company — the largest in the United States — is currently the biggest underwriter of the global coal industry, which has accounted for more than 36 percent of cumulative carbon emissions since 1854.

“Who is putting money into coal fired power plants? Who is putting CO2 into the air? Who’s investing in tar sands, fracking, mountaintop removal, and these pipelines that leak and explode? JP Morgan Chase!” Reverend Billy, who is not a real reverend and whose real name is William Talen, shouted while invading a Chase Bank in Brooklyn this past June. Talen was clad in a white suit and armed with a band of activists in hats resembling the now-extinct golden toad. The Chase employees were not happy.

So unhappy, in fact, that the bank manager filed a complaint with the police, and now Talen has been arrested and charged with riot, trespass, unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. The New York prosecutor in charge of the case is demanding that Talen go to prison for one year.

Watch Talen’s protest inside the bank here:

The trial, according to a report in the Guardian, will begin in early December.

The Guardian reported that the brief protest was chaotic and confusing from the perspective of the bank employees:

According to the complaint made by the bank manager, Talen, Luckett and eight other people were “running about the bank while wearing frog masks … jumping on to the bank’s furniture, running about the bank, and screaming loudly at others for a number of minutes…” The manager added that he thought the bank was being robbed, felt in fear for his safety, and claimed that at least one customer or employee started crying.

According to the Rainforest Action Network’s Coal Finance Report Card, JPMorgan Chase financed $2.17 billion in loan and underwriting transactions with the coal industry in 2012. Together with Bank of America and Citigroup, the three institutions underwrote bonds and loans totaling $8 billion for the industry — 38 percent of the total $20.8 billion investment for those activities in 2012.


“JPMorgan finances more utility companies on our ‘risk’ list than any other bank, and is additionally the leading underwriter of the global coal industry,” RAN’s report said. “In the absence of market-based frameworks to help regulate carbon emissions, this policy approach does not adequately address the risks associated with the financing of coal-fired power plants.”

Since 2010, JPMorgan Chase has supported mountaintop removal giants Alpha Natural Resources LLC, Arch Coal Inc. and TECO Energy Inc, according to RAN. The bank has also supported coal-fired power plants owned by DTE Energy Company, Ameren Corporation, Edison International, MidAmerican Energy/Berkshire Hathaway, Entergy, American Electric Power Company, NRG, Tennessee Valley Authority, Southern Company, Luminant / Energy Future Holdings and Duke, the report said.

CREDIT: Rainforest Action Network
CREDIT: Rainforest Action Network

During his 15-minute performance inside the bank’s lobby, Talen called on those inside to “rise up” against corporations funding the “poisoning of the atmosphere.”

“It’s up to you and to me. Only we can do it,” he said. “Somebody give me change-allujah, somebody give me an earth-allujah!”

Talen has been performing protest theater for more than two decades, and only some of it involves the environment. Though he has been arrested many times, this is the first time he has been threatened with extended jail time.


“Our whole thing was 15 minutes long. And for 15 minutes [they] want to put us in jail for a year?” he told the Guardian. “I’ve served three days in the Los Angeles prison in 2006, other than that — my 75 arrests were usually just overnight. It’s surprising.”

It is not the first time Talen’s protest activities have attracted the attention of the courts. In June of 2008, he sued the city for $500,000 after being arrested in Union Square during a protest of restrictive photography permit rules being proposed by city officials. According to the suit, Talen was repeatedly reciting the text of the First Amendment through a bullhorn, and was eventually approached by two NYPD officers. The officers told him to stop; Talen refused. He was arrested and charged with two counts of harassment.

Seven months later, the city agreed to pay Talen $23,000 to drop the lawsuit. The city did not admit liability for Talen’s alleged breach of his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and alleged false arrest.

Talen also agreed to take $2,501 from the city in 2003 to settle a lawsuit over the NYPD’s allegedly illegal policy of denying desk appearance tickets to arrested protestors. A desk appearance ticket is an order to appear in Criminal Court for an arraignment — if an arrested person does not come to court on the date indicated on the ticket, the court issues an arrest warrant.