Story at a glance:

  • The FBI in Washington state has been investigating at least 41 incidents of eco-sabotage.
  • The most serious eco-sabotage incident in recent memory resulted in 29,000 gallons of crude oil being spilled and the evacuation of 120 people.
  • As Indigenous rights and the climate crisis become intertwined, activists are mobilizing direct action, such as blockading railways and other critical infrastructure.

Since Jan. 19, 2020, the FBI in Washington state has been investigating at least 41 incidents of eco-sabotage, specifically direct action against railways and rail lines connected to oil production.

In one instance on Dec. 22, a train was derailed and caught on fire in Custer, Wash., near the Canadian borderThe Guardian reported. 


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This was regarded as the most serious eco-sabotage incident in recent memory, with the damage resulting in 29,000 gallons of crude oil being spilled and the evacuation of 120 people, the National Transportation and Safety Board reported.

During that time, about a dozen eco-sabotage incidents took place.

On Nov. 28, two women — Samantha Brooks and Ellen Brennan Reiche — were arrested for allegedly placing a "shunt” on railway tracks near Bellingham, Wash. A shunt is a wire that stretches between the tracks and mimics the electrical signal of a train, which causes oncoming trains to engage their emergency brakes, The Guardian reported.

Causing oncoming trains to engage their emergency brakes is dangerous for those carts with explosive materials onboard. 

On July 9, Brooks pleaded guilty to violating Title 18 of the US Code, which penalizes terrorists who attack and direct violence against railroads, whereas Reiche pleaded not guilty for the same charges and faces trial on Aug. 30.

Both of them face up to 20 years in prison.

The saboteurs were acting on the behalf of the Indigenous people of the Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia because they wanted to stop the construction of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline.

As Indigenous rights and the climate crisis become intertwined, activists are mobilizing direct action, such as blockading railways and other critical infrastructure, even if it means conducting strategies that prompt terror. 

In the early 2000s, the Justice Department regarded apparent "eco-terrorism" as the top domestic terrorism concern, according to The InterceptSo much so, one senator even said it ranked higher "over the likes of white supremacists, militias, and anti-abortion groups."

Steven Beda, assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon, said the recent sabotage reminded him of Earth First.

As Changing America previously reported, Earth First is a radical eco-saboteur group that, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, vandalized logging equipment, destroyed logging roads and spiked trees in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Montana.

"A lot of these things were meant as a form of psychological warfare … especially with tree spiking, to make loggers so afraid that they don’t want to go to work," Beda said.

For some groups, climate activists were once considered opponents to some Indigenous communities; The Guardian cites GreenPeace opposing the Inuit seal hunt as one example. But now the intersection of environmental protection and Indigenous rights are at the forefront of many activist groups. 

On Jan. 7, 2020, the Wet’suwet’en nation called for solidarity from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people after a judge granted an order against its community members. The Wet’suwet’en tribes were already raided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who were authorized to use lethal force against them

"Light your sacred fires and come to our aid as the RCMP prepares again to enact colonial violence against Wet’suwet’en people," they said in a statement. They asked that people act peacefully.

People protested in the streets and blockaded on the rail lines, halting trains for weeks and prompting layoffs of VIA Rail employees.

On Jan. 22, an anonymous anarchist posted on a blog that the mass protests had inspired them to sabotage trains in Washington state, saying, “This simple action can generate enough confusion in the system to cause big slowdowns and bureaucratic delays.”

It is their objective to disrupt economic activity, calling BNSF, the largest freight railroad in North America, "a primo target for blockages and slow downs," the Guardian reported.

"If the RCMP raids Wet’suwet’en territory, we will shut down the supply lines where we stand," the poster wrote.


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Published on Jul 30, 2021