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FBI Surveilled Peaceful Climate Change Protesters, Violating Its Own Policies

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The FBI tracked three peaceful protesters who participated in the Indiana-based Break Free from Fossil Fuels protest in May 2016, according to documents obtained by the Guardian. Although FBI policy forbids the tracking of people on the basis of their political alignment, the files were categorized as “Sensitive Investigative Matter,” a term the FBI often uses for cases that involve political organizations.

One of the revealed FBI documents made mention of the climate change organization 350.org and its founder, Bill McKibben. The FBI filed the report in an attempt to assess 350.org as a potential threat after the Break Free from Fossil Fuels campaign, which took place on six continents and involved more than 30,000 participants in peaceful protests during a two-week period in May 2016. Regarded by its organizers as “the largest coordinated act of civil disobedience in the fight against climate change,” it also included the march on BP that took place in Whiting, Indiana.

Three of the thousand protestors who participated in the peaceful Indiana march were arrested and placed under federal surveillance by the FBI for their involvement. According to the FBI report, the trio broke away from the group, trespassed, and blocked traffic; however, one of the protestors claims that there was no traffic in the area where he and other protesters were located. These events echo similar findings made by the Guardian in 2015 when it was discovered that the FBI had tracked protestors campaigning against the Keystone XL pipeline, without first obtaining approval to do so.

“Trying to deal with the greatest crisis humans have stumbled into shouldn’t require being subjected to government surveillance,” McKibben told the Guardian. “But when much of our government acts as a subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry, it may be par for the course.”

Source: Adam Federman, “Revealed: FBI kept files on peaceful climate change protesters,” The Guardian, December 13, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/dec/13/fbi-climate-change-protesters-iowa-files-monitoring-surveillance-.

Student Researcher: Melissa Reed (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)

Daniel Christof

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