Silencing Dissent

The oil industry is using new anti-protest bills and lawsuits to silence their opposition.

Energy Transfer Partners’ multi-million legal attack against Greenpeace and others for our support of water protectors at Standing Rock is just one instance. Corporate bullies all over world are going after our right to dissent, shrinking civic space with severe implications for citizens, activists, and journalists.

On top of a suing spree, oil and gas companies are urging local lawmakers in the United States to increase the criminalization of protest. Over 50 state bills have been proposed in the past two years to make it harder to voice dissent, deter political participation, and curtail freedom of association. These dates are notoriously coincidental with the inspiring, indigenous-led opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline.

It is not a surprise that Energy Transfer Partners is directly lobbying for some of those bills. In parallel, the fossil fuel industry front-group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council has developed a “model bill” to crack down on pipeline protesters and is pushing it on behalf of its members in several state legislatures. Similarly, 84 members of the U.S. Congress have sent a bipartisan letter to the Department of Justice, asking officials to prosecute pipeline activists as “terrorists” — a request that resembles the one being lobbied for at a federal level by the American Petroleum Institute.

Unfortunately, Standing Rock was also ground zero for deploying more nefarious tactics to silence opposition. Energy Transfer Partners sent in private security contractors who used pepper spray and attack dogs on people there. The company also hired military contractors turned into corporate mercenaries like TigerSwan to usurp police tasks and spy on water protectors, remaining completely unaccountable for human rights abuses. The company overstepped to act as law enforcement.

This repertoire of bullying lawsuits, unconstitutional bills, and egregious repression tactics is a direct reaction from desperate corporations and politicians to some of the most inspiring protests in recent history. The courage of Indigenous People trying to protect their sovereignty, land, and water at Standing Rock captured the sympathies of millions, sparking a massive wave of solidarity from around the world.

Such powerful voices would need to be put to silence for companies like Energy Transfer Partners to remain unaccountable. However, last-ditch efforts by corporate bullies only bring the movement to protect communities and the planet together. Their attacks strengthen our resolve in North America and across the globe.

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