Still reeling from a D.C. district court loss in June, Energy Transfer Partners, the owner of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), has sued Greenpeace and other environmental groups in a $300 million racketeering case, accusing them of inciting terrorism, fraud and defamation and violating state and federal RICO laws.
On Tuesday, ETP released a statement alleging that Greenpeace, BankTrack and Earth First "manufactured and disseminated materially false and misleading information about Energy Transfer and the Dakota Access Pipeline for the purpose of fraudulently inducing donations, interfering with pipeline construction activities and damaging Energy Transfer's critical business and financial relationships."
In its 187-page complaint, ETP alleges that "putative not-for-profits and rogue eco-terrorist groups who employ patterns of criminal activity and campaigns of misinformation to target legitimate companies and industries with fabricated environmental claims and other purported misconduct" caused the Fortune 500 natural gas company to lose "billions of dollars."
The Dallas-based firm made other outrageous claims against the groups, including funding terrorism and "using donations to fund a lucrative drug trafficking scheme inside the camps."
ETP is represented by the law firm Kasowitz, Benson & Torres LLP. Partner Marc Kasowitz is a member of the legal team representing the president in the ongoing congressional and special counsel investigation into possible collusion between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russian state actors.
This is the second consecutive year Trump's attorneys have filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace. In 2016, Resolute Forest Products, a paper and pulp company based in Montreal that was stripping grounds in Northern Ontario and Quebec, filed a suit against the group for defamation and threatening its customers.
Responding to Tuesday's ETP filing, Greenpeace attorney Tom Wetterer said Trump's lawyers are "apparently trying to market themselves as corporate mercenaries willing to abuse the legal system to silence legitimate advocacy work." He added:
This complaint repackages spurious allegations and legal claims made against Greenpeace by the Kasowitz firm on behalf of Resolute Forest Products in a lawsuit filed in May 2016. It is yet another classic "Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation" (SLAPP), not designed to seek justice, but to silence free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation. This has now become a pattern of harassment by corporate bullies, with Trump's attorneys leading the way.
The Dakota Access Pipeline has been a source of contention since 2014, when ETP applied for a 1,200-mile land grant to build in North and South Dakota on the Standing Rock Reservation, the sixth largest Native American reservation in the U.S. in terms of land area. The reservation encompasses the Black Hills, sacred land for the Sioux, who argue that the pipeline would not only damage their sacred sites, but would threaten the Missouri River, their only water supply.
When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the pipeline permit, thousands flocked to the convergence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers to peacefully protest the construction, establishing the Standing Rock encampment in April 2016.
However, demonstrations turned violent as heavily armed police, SWAT teams and unlicensed security personnel launched military-style assaults, using tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and water cannons against the unarmed water protectors.
Just four days after taking office in January, President Trump overturned President Obama's early December decision to halt DAPL construction. By mid-February, aggressive force by officials pushed the water protectors off the land, effectively shutting down the Standing Rock encampment.
Beyond the fact that his own lawyers are building ETP's case against Greenpeace, Trump has a vested interest in the pipeline's completion, having invested up to $1 million in ETP, according to disclosure forms related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
ETF's CEO Kelcy Warren donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory Fund.
In September, Desmogblog reported that Harold Hamm, energy adviser to Trump's presidential campaign and CEO of Continental Resources, a fossil fuel exploration and production company, told investors he would ship oil through the Dakota Access line.
The Standing Rock/DAPL battle continued in the legal system until June 14, when D.C. district court judge James Boasberg declared the Army Corps of Engineers study of "the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice" deficient. He ordered a new study to be conducted and a case on both sides presented.
While considered a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux and environmentalists, the ruling did not halt construction. In fact, there have been three leaks since Trump's order that the pipeline be completed. Anti-pipeline activists are pushing Judge Boasberg to shut down the operation during the environmental review, which can take between one and three years to complete. His decision may come as soon as next month.
ETP's lawsuit is part of an effort to brand the activists as terrorists. To counter the Standing Rock protesters, the company hired TigerSwan, a group founded by retired members of a U.S. military counterterrorism unit, Delta Force. It was later revealed in private documents acquired by the Intercept that TigerSwan had likened the demonstrators to "jihadists" and the movement "an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component."
In an interview last week with CounterSpin, Kandi Mosset, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said "we have to really focus on placing the blame where it squarely belongs, which is on the industry and the corporations."
Mosset has faith that despite small setbacks, "Hope is alive. They'll never, ever, ever take our hope from us, and that's the most important and powerful thing that came out of Standing Rock," she said. "That fire that burned that whole time is still burning in all of our hearts, and it will continue to do so until we win."
Who's terrorizing whom? Watch this video and decide for yourself: