Big Oil's extremist hypocrisy

Oil companies employ actual right-wing militia members inside their facilities while working to silence "extremist" climate protesters outside.

Last week, a violent mob mounted an armed insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, seeking to disrupt the democratic process and potentially physically harm members of Congress. On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that the insurrectionists included members of the anti-government Three Percenters movement, otherwise known as Threepers.

Remember Threepers? We ran a story over the summer that they had “‘established a prominent presence’ at a major natural gas processing plant in North Dakota deemed ‘critical infrastructure’ by the Department of Homeland Security.” The reporting from Desmog’s Justin Nobel indicated that Three Percenters were working at ONEOK’s Lonesome Creek gas processing plant, as well as at other oil and gas facilities across the country.

“This is what we do: oil and gas,” a well-known Three Percenter told Nobel.

It’s an important quote to keep in mind this week, as the oil industry struggles with the question of whether to stop funding extremist Republican politicians who fueled last week’s violent attack on the Capitol. While many large corporations and tech giants have pledged to permanently pull donations from members of Congress who voted against certifying the presidential election results, no oil company has done the same. Several oil companies have temporarily suspended donations to all politicians. But none have gone as far as to explicitly distance themselves financially from those who provoked the riots.

And why would they? Right-wing extremists are part of the fossil fuel industry’s base. They are essential to the industry’s political power and rapidly declining workforce. They’re the most fervent supporters of fossil fuels, and the loudest deniers of climate change. Like the police officers who let the mob rush the Capitol, oil companies are hesitant to directly attack their own. Either that, or they’re afraid their own will attack back.

The threat of violent extremism on oil and gas infrastructure

The idea that Threepers are widely employed at oil and gas facilities is “deeply alarming” to former DHS senior domestic terrorism analyst Daryl Johnson. Back in July, he told Nobel he worried Threepers working at ONEOK’s plant and others could be plotting to “take over or attack when ‘shit hits the fan:’”

When they are working, they are also thinking about what else they would need to do to bring the plant to its knees. They may follow the order of their commander or act on a lone wolf instinct, and their allegiance lies not with their employer but with the militia, although they might think they are doing something righteous and good for the country.

Johnson is the same DHS analyst who caused a media uproar in 2008 for authoring an intelligence report warning of potential increase in right-wing extremist violence. Republicans not only did not take this warning seriously, but were wildly offended by it. Johnson had his unit disbanded.

Johnson’s prediction, of course, eventually wound up coming true. And now, as the shit undeniably hits the fan, it appears we’re taking his new warning just as seriously as the first.

Oil industry works to prevent “terror”— from the left

When Nobel’s reporting about Threepers in the oil and gas industry first came out in July, both he and I reached out to ONEOK. We wanted to see how the company was addressing the presence of right-wing militia members at their facilities, which domestic terror experts warned was a massive security threat. We both received the same canned response:

ONEOK is committed to the safety of our employees, our assets and the communities in which we operate. ONEOK’s Violence-Free Workplace Policy prohibits violence, violent acts, and threats of violence. ONEOK has implemented numerous safety and security practices to safeguard our facilities and to comply with applicable law. Clearly, the scope and nature of many of these practices and safeguards must remain confidential.  We support, cooperate and frequently coordinate with federal, state and local law enforcement to anticipate and plan for potential security events. Furthermore, ONEOK has worked with several state legislatures to enact legislation to protect energy infrastructure from hostile actions.

The statement, though long, does not specifically address potential threats from right-wing militia member employees. Indeed, the only thing it specifically addresses is potential left-wing violence.

The laws ONEOK referenced in the last sentence are so-called “critical infrastructure” laws, which implement harsh fines and criminal penalties on activists who protest fossil fuel projects by trespassing on grounds. Since 2018, at least 13 states have passed laws empowering police officers to crack down on climate protesters at energy facilities.

The laws are all drafted by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, and promoted heavily by fossil fuel companies and industry trade groups. At least three of those laws were passed in the early days of the pandemic.

ALEC, ONEOK, and other fossil fuel industry players say these laws are necessary because most of their facilities are deemed “critical infrastructure” by the Department of Homeland Security. Proponents have said protesters who attempt to interfere with operations should be treated as domestic terrorists.

But neither ALEC nor its industry supporters have proposed any law or policy to prevent people affiliated with right-wing anti-government groups from working inside their “critical infrastructure” facilities.

We reached out to ONEOK yesterday to ask again how it is ensuring government insurrectionists aren't working at the plant, or at any other critical infrastructure facilities in light of reports that Threepers took part in the Jan. 6 riots. We have yet to receive a response.

38 climate activists arrested at single climate protest

Police in Washington, D.C. made 61 “unrest-related” arrests on the day of the Capitol riots. Only about half of the arrests took place on Capitol grounds.*

By contrast, 38 climate protesters were taken into custody last year around the same time, after standing up in the Colorado State Capitol chamber and interrupting Governor Jared Polis’s State of the State address to demand various climate policies including a fracking ban.

Unlike the U.S. Capitol rioters, the climate protesters’ entry into the Colorado capitol building was lawful, and their demonstration non-violent. From The Denver Post:

Minutes before Gov. Jared Polis arrived in the House of Representatives, several people seated in the chamber’s upstairs gallery shouted “mic check!” before shouting various calls for new climate policy, including a fracking ban.

Multiple protesters could be seen being physically dragged out of the gallery, some in handcuffs. According to the Denver Police Department, 38 protesters were taken into custody on charges including trespassing, disrupting a lawful assembly and obstruction of a peace officer.

The climate protesters in Colorado weren’t be subject to heightened criminal penalties under a critical infrastructure law. But another group of climate protesters arrested in Minnesota over the weekend might be, if ALEC and the fossil fuel industry succeeds in passing pending critical infrastructure legislation there.

Water protectors protesting Line 3 pipeline arrested for “trespassing on critical infrastructure”

Over the weekend, seven people protesting Enbridge Energy’s controversial Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline were arrested and booked into jail “for trespassing on critical infrastructure,” the Associated Press reported.

Like the indigenous-led protests of the Dakota Access pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota, the Line 3 protests are fueled by concerns over local environmental quality, indigenous sovereignty and the global climate crisis; and have been marked by clashes with police. From Desmog:

This Indigenous-led resistance to the Line 3 pipeline is reminiscent of Standing Rock in North Dakota, where, since 2015, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has led fellow Native and non-Native water protectors in taking a stand against the Dakota Access pipeline, which ultimately went into operation in 2017. Both of these battles over new tar sands pipelines also have featured direct action demonstrations and legal challenges, all with significant stakes for Native rights and sovereignty, the integrity of impacted water bodies and land, and the global climate.

The protesters arrested for trespassing this weekend had “blocked a road in one area, then traveled on buses and cars to another area south of Hill City, where authorities say they interfered with construction workers,” the AP reported.

More police crackdowns on Line 3 protesters are expected in the coming weeks as construction gets underway.

*Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the Colorado protests happened this year. They happened last year. HEATED regrets the error.

Further reading:

  • How Police, Private Security, And Energy Companies Are Preparing For a New Pipeline Standoff

    • From The Intercept: “Minnesota police have spent 18 months preparing for a major standoff over Enbridge Line 3, a tar sands oil pipeline that has yet to receive the green light to build in the state. Records obtained by The Intercept show that law enforcement has engaged in a coordinated effort to identify potential anti-pipeline camps and monitor individual protesters, repeatedly turning for guidance to the North Dakota officials responsible for the militarized response at Standing Rock in 2016.”

  • Oil Giants Fund Powerful Police Groups in Top U.S. Cities

    • From The Guardian: “Some of America’s largest oil and gas companies, private utilities, and financial institutions that bankroll fossil fuels also back police foundations – opaque private entities that raise money to pay for training, weapons, equipment, and surveillance technology for departments across the US.

      “The investigation by the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit corporate and government accountability research institute, and its research database project LittleSis, details how police foundations in cities such as Seattle, Chicago, Washington, New Orleans and Salt Lake City are partially funded by household names such as Chevron, Shell and Wells Fargo.”

  • Three Percenters Militia Working in Bakken Oil Patch Raises Concerns of Domestic Terrorism Risk

    • From Desmog: “The Three Percenters, a loosely organized group of far-right militants, appear to have established a significant presence in North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield, one of the most productive oilfields in the nation. ‘There is a lot of membership in the oil and gas industry up there,’ says Matt Marshall, a Three Percenter running for state legislature in Washington. ‘The fact that you have a lot of Three Percenters working in the oilfields of North Dakota is not surprising.’ …

      “He says he is aware of Three Percenters who are working in oilfields in Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Alaska. And also according to Marshall, top officials with two North Dakota chapters, the North Dakota United Patriots Three Percenters and North Dakota Three Percenter Originals, work in the oil and gas industry.”

    • According to a whistleblower who contacted DeSmog, Three Percenters have established a prominent presence at a Bakken oil and gas facility regarded as critical infrastructure by the Department of Homeland Security. Militia-related patches, flags, and artwork have popped up across the Bakken oil patch, and a thriving gun culture among its workers has led to a Mad Max-mentality of chaos plaguing residents of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.”


Appreciate this story? HEATED is only of the only news outlets regularly connecting the climate crisis to broader news events. It’s also 100 percent reader-funded, and can’t exist without your support.

To help spread it far and wide, and get access to HEATED community discussions, become a paid subscriber today.

Support HEATED's journalism


Catch of the Day:

Fish loves the sun. He hopes you get some this weekend (while wearing sunscreen, of course).

OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED! If you’d like to share this piece as a web page, click the button below.

Share

To support independent climate journalism that holds the powerful accountable—and to receive HEATED’s reporting and analysis in your inbox four days a week—become a subscriber today.

Give a gift subscription

If you’re a paid subscriber and would like to post a comment, click the “Leave a comment” button:

Leave a comment

Stay hydrated, eat plants, break a sweat, and have a great day!