If you troll the internet these days, you might think that SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) and RICO (racketeering) cases may seem to be growing in regularity against environmental activists. In reality, if you compare the tiny number of SLAPP suits actually filed to the number of climate activists engaged in this movement around the US or world, this type of lawsuit is infinitesimal and rare.
Cases like the one recently filed by Energy Transfer Partners—the unethical corporation responsible for DAPL construction and the confrontation of protesters at Standing Rock in North Dakota—was akin to a frustrated bully lashing out at one or two folks who dared to call them out for their misconduct (usually known as “activists exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech regarding an issue of public concern” or “redressing the peoples’ grievances”).
There is no way that ETP and its henchmen at the Kasowitz law firm (Trump’s personal lawyer) could sue everyone who organized against their climate misdeeds, so they filed against Greenpeace, one of the largest environmental organizations in the world, BankTrack, a small Dutch group that organizes on issues related to the corporate financing of projects that gravely exacerbate global climate catastrophe, “Earth First,” which is not an organization and did not have a presence at Standing Rock, and a mysterious clump of 20 John/Jane Does.
So why would a giant tar sands corporation and its well-funded law firm file this case? It’s really quite simple—to scare the green out of you, and the organizations you work with, to save the planet from greedy corporations that put profits before people and the planet. This tactic- file a single lawsuit against a random group of organizations and individuals and then hope for media coverage, is not intended to actually seek legal redress from the Courts, or even to obtain financial damages—if so, they would have attempted to actually frame a meritorious legal claim against one of the alleged defendants.
The point is to use the media to try and deter people from organizing against pipelines and the corporations responsible for them. Their hope is by making a big splash and filing a high profile case against climate activists, that you will be scared into submission—that you will stop organizing protests and campaigns; that you will stop growing the movement that intends to stop corporations like ETP from sending us down the climate drain faster and faster.
Another reason is this: the indigenous-led movement at Standing Rock against DAPL and ETP was incredibly successful. Media from all over the world covered it on a daily basis and the overwhelming sentiment transmitted was ‘Water is Life’ and that ETP was an enemy to the environment and people. Millions agreed, and the movement to protect the climate grew prodigiously.
If you had to pick a side, would you pick the team that is bent on permanently destroying drinking water that people rely on to live in order to make millions and millions of dollars in profit for a very small number of individuals that happen to be rich and powerful, or would you pick the team that is trying to defend the ability of everyone to live humanely in the place that they call home?
Even after ETP and others hired Tiger Swan goons to infiltrate the Water Protector movement in an attempt to detract support from them, they were unsuccessful.
So, ETP filed this whacked lawsuit—oh—and the only reason I can see for why they named “Earth First” as a defendant— they want to attempt to bolster their ridiculously weak argument that nonviolent climate protectors should be labeled as “ecoterrorists,” and by throwing in the words “Earth First,” which had a hey day in the 90s using nonviolent direct action to stop destructive environmental practices but was not a group organizing at Standing Rock under that name, they hope some reader might actually equate Earth First to the term “ecoterrorist.” This is almost laughable considering that the only true “ecoterrorist” in this story is Energy Transfer Partners.
Finally, as a greedy corporation that only thinks in terms of financial consequences, ETP and their mercenaries at Kasowitz might hope to suck financial resources away from these nonprofit organizations either by attempting to scare away donors, or by forcing them to hire lawyers to defend them in court.
So, when confronted with this single, lonely, pathetic SLAPP suit, what should the progressive social change movement do? Redouble your efforts, organize even more strategic resistance to climate catastrophe, and help grow the movement that may be the only line of defense left for the planet and all its inhabitants. To do anything less than that hands Energy Transfer Partners and their firm of soul-less lawyers a victory without even obtaining a court ruling.
As for the lawyers here at the Civil Liberties Defense Center, we’ll continue to support the named defendants in this case and any other future SLAPP suit against climate defenders by providing free legal resources and support. As our friends in the labor movement say, “An injury to one, is an injury to all.”
 The International Workers of the World (IWW) union based itself on the idea of industrial unionism–of organizing all workers together in a single union, regardless of skills, craft, sex, nationality or race, under the guiding principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all.”