The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Push to Target Climate Protesters in the U.S.
57 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2021
Date Written: January 19, 2021
At the very moment when the United Nations has called for profound shifts in social and economic systems to avert climate catastrophe, state and non-state actors in the United States (U.S.) are using a series of tactics to target and stifle climate protesters. Although the move to stifle climate protesters is often framed as a government effort, this Article argues it is critical to draw out the role of the fossil fuel industry in initiating, amplifying, and supporting such tactics.
This Article highlights the role the fossil fuel industry has played in supporting the targeting and restricting of climate protesters in the U.S. The strategies for targeting protesters are grouped into three broad categories, with each category relying on distinctive legal tools. The first category is federal and state legislation that heightens penalties for climate protester in myriad ways. The second is the use of violence and surveillance against climate protesters by both state and non-state actors, which is connected to a rhetorical and legal push to label protesters as extremists and terrorists. The third is retaliatory lawsuits filed against climate protesters and organizations that support climate protests. Although such actions often ostensibly target civil disobedience, by imposing immense criminal and financial consequences, they threaten to unconstitutionally chill lawful, protected protest as well.
By examining the tactics in concert, it is much easier to see how both individual protesters and organizations that support protesters might be chilled from participating in lawful climate protest. It is also clear that there are important synergistic effects when these tactics are used together, heightening their respective abilities to undermine and chill climate protest. A third insight is how difficult it is for climate protesters to legally challenge these tactics. Finally, the analysis shows the pivotal role fossil fuel industry trade and lobbying groups play in targeting climate protesters, highlighting the breadth and depth of industry support for such tactics.
Keywords: climate protest, climate protesters, water protectors, First Amendment, freedom of speech, civil disobedience, critical infrastructure, DAPL, fossil fuel industry, API, ALEC, Exxon, ExxonMobil, manufactured doubt
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