According to the Center
for Constitutional Rights, a public interest, human-rights law firm, �The
Obama administration has . . . continued and enhanced the use of �terrorism�
prosecutions against animal rights and environmental activists, indicating that
the �Green Scare� -- the repression of environmental activists by designating
them terrorists -- continues in full swing.�
In Indiana, the Green Scare has been in full swing with two
legal cases associated with construction of the I-69 interstate extension.
Criminal charges brought against two activists have been settled, but Strategic
Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuits intended to chill
political activism continue against 16 others.
On April 24, 2009, in a clear case of criminalizing dissent,
the state charged two activists, Hugh Farrell and Gina �Tiga� Wertz, with
criminal activity for peacefully protesting construction of I-69.
Wertz was charged with intimidation, a class A misdemeanor,
two counts; conversion (unauthorized use of someone else�s property), a class A
misdemeanor, two counts; and corrupt business influence (racketeering), a class
C felony. Her bond was set at $10,000.
Farrell was charged with two counts of intimidation, two
counts of conversion and corrupt business influence plus felony racketeering;
his bond was set at $20,000.
All four misdemeanors are related to an alleged nonviolent
action on July 9, 2007, in which activists removed the furniture from offices
of two private, for-profit companies that had contracts with the Indiana
Department of Transportation (INDOT) to work on I-69. They posted eviction
notices on the doors to protest the eviction of property owners and
confiscation of land and homes in the highway�s path.
In early March, the case was resolved favorably for the
defendants: the judge dismissed the felony racketeering charge. That left the
four misdemeanors, which carried a maximum prison sentence of four years. In
the end, the defendants� attorneys worked out a plea bargain consisting of
unsupervised probation for two years.
�The prosecutor and state police had an extremely weak case,�
Farrell said. The state used Farrell and Wertz as scapegoats to attempt to
intimidate other I-69 protestors, he added. The state wanted the two activists
to do some prison time to set an example for other I-69 protestors.
* * *
The bad news is that 16 other I-69 protestors still face the
SLAPP suits, the goal of which is to censor, intimidate and silence activists
by burdening them with the cost and inconvenience of a legal defense until they
abandon their opposition.
The lawsuit stems from two alleged nonviolent protests
On July 25, 2008, 16 people allegedly blocked the entrance
to the Gohmann Asphalt Co. in Haubstadt, Gibson County, Ind. The company
provided asphalt for the road project and had the construction contract for the
first 1.7 miles of the highway.
One person was arrested and charged with criminal trespass.
The other 15 are alleged to have been present.
On July 14 of the same year, several of 15 activists were
arrested for allegedly locking themselves to each other and to a truck owned by
the Riverton Trucking Co., also in Gibson County. Not all participated in the
lockdown. Gohmann contracts with Riverton. The plaintiffs are Gohmann and
The 16 activists were all charged with criminal trespassing
and many of them with criminal conversion and resisting arrest. Fourteen took a
guilty plea for criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor, and two pled to an
infraction of disregarding a police order.
All the criminal cases have been resolved.
Right before the statute of limitations ran out, on July 14,
2010, the prosecutor added five people to the lawsuit, for a total of 21. Those
five didn�t take part in the alleged actions, weren�t arrested or associated in
any way with I-69 protests and weren�t charged with any crimes. The addition of
those five names required the original 16 defendants to refile motions and
start the whole legal process again.
The SLAPP suit, a civil lawsuit, alleges that Gohmann and
Riverton lost $32,000 in profits from the protests. In a civil suit, the law
allows plaintiffs to sue for three times the alleged damages. Thus, the
plaintiffs are suing for $96,000 in damages plus attorneys� fees.
The trial date hasn�t been set yet.
* * *
Mary Sackley is one of the original 16 activists. At the
time of the alleged actions, the state was beginning to construct the first
phase of the highway extension, which is to connect Mexico, the United States
and Canada, join Evansville and Indianapolis, and traverse Monroe County.
Sackley said a main goal of the actions was to draw media
attention to the highway project, which Hoosiers have been fighting for over 20
years. However, in the mainstream, corporate-owned media, the actions were
barely mentioned, and when they were, the media described the protestors as �tree
huggers� and out-of-state �hippies� and didn�t cover the substance of the
The activists had gone door-to-door informing people living
along the route that if the highway was built, they would lose their homes and
at least some of their land. Moreover, the highway would bisect some farms, and
farmers would have to drive miles in their tractors to reach the other side of
Sackley said that many of those citizens told her they�d
sent letters opposing the highway to their area newspapers, but none was
published. Though opposition to I-69 has been fierce for over two decades,
there�s been a nearly total media blackout of the opposition for at least 10
years, Sackley said.
In contrast, I-69 proponents have received a lot of press
coverage. Voices for I-69, a pro-highway lobbying organization composed of
presidents of chambers of commerce and other business people, who argue I-69
will bring economic benefits to southwestern Indiana, have received publicity
apparently whenever they requested it, according to Sackley.
The media have ignored not only individuals protesting the
highway but also organizations, including Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads
(CARR) and the Hoosier Environmental Council.
As Sackley put it, �In terms of the spirit of public debate
being shut down, it�s really clear what the media�s role in that is.�
The SLAPP suit, Sackley said, is intended to �chill free
speech� and intimidate people so they won�t speak out about or fight the
highway. The suit, she said, is �about making sure that people who are actively
agitating against the road and really trying to fight it are shut up and scared
out of doing it.�
A restraining order prevents the activists from going within
500 feet of any Gohmann employee. If they accidentally walk by a site of
Gohmann�s operations, they can be arrested and charged with a felony for
violating a restraining order. It�s pure intimidation, Sackley said.
The lawsuit and restraining order are evidence of companies
working in tandem with the State of Indiana and state police to squelch
opposition to the road, Sackley asserted.
Harassment has become familiar to Sackley, who was followed
by a man in an unmarked truck one day in Evansville, making intimidating
comments. Three days in a row, the police stopped her for alleged minor traffic
violations, and they stopped other activists four or five times each.
* * *
Sackley contrasted her position on I-69 with that of CARR,
which has opposed the highway for over 20 years. Though Sackley said she
greatly appreciates CARR�s resilence in maintaining opposition to the road for
so many years and the organization�s consistently connecting the road with free
trade and NAFTA, the unstated reason for building the road, she doesn�t
advocate the alternate route, State Road 41 and I-70, that CARR does.
According to Sackley, I-69 won�t bring much-needed jobs to
southwestern Indiana, as the highway�s advocates claim. At most, she said, we
can expect a few new motels, gas stations and truck stops -- bringing low-wage,
dead-end jobs in the service sector of the economy.
Sackley thinks in entirely different terms. Discussing
routes, she believes, avoids discussing the people losing their homes and land
to I-69, not to mention the environmental destruction: the highway will
eliminate forests and farmland and bisect the Patoka National Wildlife Refuge.
According to Sackley, we should be activating the cultural
and lifestyle changes needed for new modes of transportation without fossil
fuels in this age of global warming. We need, she said, to restrict truck-based
trade and to create local economies that can become interdependent with other
ones so goods don�t have to be transported from distant places.
Sackley believes discussions of I-69 need to start with the
highway�s relationship to capitalism and free trade and the cultural and
lifestyle changes mandated to transition to new modes of transportation. �The
sooner we change our culture and lifestyles, the better off we�ll be,� she
The current situation, she said, isn�t sustainable. The
infrastructure is set up for dependence on private forms of transportation, and
that must change.
Sackley said though the lawsuit has definitely had a �chilling�
effect on her resistance to the road, she�s received lots of support. She says
it�s obvious what a �ridiculous project� the road is, requiring �all this
repression and intimidation to push it through.
Copyright � 2010
by The Bloomington Alternative. All rights reserved.
Greene can be reached at email@example.com.