New Green Scare: Law Enforcement Crackdown on Environmental Activism

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

As scientists warn of imminent climate change, environmental welfare activists in the United States are facing growing legal penalties and a crackdown by law enforcement agencies designed to counteract environmental activism. Dubbed the “New Green Scare,” this resurgence of the state in siding with corporations that seek to benefit from environmental exploitation is leading to mounting legal concerns for activists.

As Elizabeth King explained in an October 6, 2019 Progressive magazine article, while the Trump administration’s corporate-friendly policies dramatically endanger the health of our environment, those who take direct action in its defense are increasingly being framed as domestic terrorists. The FBI and pro-fossil fuel politicians like Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe have identified environmental activism as a significant domestic terrorism threat.

In a number of U.S. states, such as Texas and North Dakota, laws are being enacted that target activists, seven of which specifically target pipeline protesters, and pipelines have been newly designated as “critical infrastructure” in order to elevate legal penalties for protests against them. Environmental protesters often have to face incarceration and drawn-out legal battles for charges such as trespassing, sabotage, burglary, and terrorism. For example, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, in which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe sought to protect their water from the building of the pipeline, resulted in a total of 836 criminal cases.

State-level laws restricting eco-activism are “often modeled on legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and in many cases are introduced by politicians with direct ties to the group.” Funded by conservative billionaire Charles Koch and dozens of other large corporations, ALEC is the driving force behind much of the “critical infrastructure” legislation being passed by state legislatures around the country.

In late March 2020, amid the coronavirus outbreak, three Republican-controlled state legislatures—in South Dakota, West Virginia and Kentucky—passed laws criminalizing fossil fuel protests.

While corporate media outlets are increasingly discussing topics such as climate change and the Green New Deal that is endorsed by some Democratic candidates in the 2020 election, they have generally disregarded the fact that the government is criminalizing protests against eco-activism and direct action. The passage of state legislation in South Dakota, West Virginia and Kentucky enacting criminal penalties against protests directed at pipelines and other fossil fuel facilities was covered by Huffington Post,  The Hill and the Weather Channel.

Editor’s Note: For prior Project Censored coverage of this topic, see FBI Surveilled Peaceful Climate Change Protesters, story #14 in Censored 2020: Through the Looking Glass and Terror Act against Animal Activists, story #20 from Censored 2008: The Top 25 Censored Stories of 2006-07.

Source: Elizabeth King, “The New Green Scare,” The Progressive, October 6, 2019,

Student Researcher: Rebecca Noelke (Indian River State College)

Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)