Oklahoma outlaws “conspiring” to support protestors
Police arrest woman for protesting at the Dakota Access Pipeline. Tom Stromme/AP.

Last week, the Republican controlled legislature in Oklahoma passed two laws aimed at preventing protests against fracking and the building of pipelines. According to Common Dreams, there have been 19 such bills passed in states around the nation in recent months.

But the legislature in Oklahoma is the first one to invent the “crime” of “conspiring” with protesters.

According to The Intercept online newsletter, under one of the two bills passed – called an “anti-trespass” measure – individual protestors in Oklahoma can face a fine of up to $100,000 or ten years imprisonment. Under a companion bill, any organization found to be a “conspirator” can get slapped with a fine “ten times” that imposed on the protestor — as much as $1 million.

The new Oklahoma law vies with a law passed in North Dakota for the title of “most vicious.”

The North Dakota law would allow drivers to hit, injure or kill people protesting in a roadway.

State Representative Keith Kempenich, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told the Bismarck Tribune that the bills shifts ”the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian.”

In other words, victims would have to prove they were not protesting in order for drivers to be charged with reckless driving. Kempenich did not explain how victims killed by a driver could make their case in court.

GOP legislators in both North Dakota and Oklahoma have targeted their laws directly at people protesting environmental damage.

In North Dakota, water protectors protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at times blocked roads leading to DAPL construction sites as part of the resistance to the pipeline.

In Oklahoma, according to The Intercept, the sponsor of the “conspiracy” bill “reportedly called it a response to the Dakota Access pipeline protests, aimed directly at organizers fighting to stop the Diamond pipeline, a project of Valero and All American Pipeline that would transport oil from Oklahoma to Tennessee. Protests against the pipeline have already begun and construction is scheduled for completion before the end of the year.”

The Intercept says that “Oklahoma is a center of the oil and gas industry and home of the self-styled “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” in Cushing.

Along with resistance to pipelines, there has been protests against fracking in Oklahoma.

The Intercept explains that “The state has seen a dramatic increase in earthquakes since the nation’s fracking boom began, as companies began pumping wastewater produced from hydraulic fracturing underground.

“The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association is a supporter of the [conspiracy] legislation.”

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed the “trespassing” bill this past Wednesday and the “conspiracy” bill on Thursday. Both were “rushed into immediate effect under a provision that declared the situation ‘an emergency,’” according to The Intercept.

The trespassing law applies to individuals who “impede or inhibit operations” of a facility that is part of the “critical infrastructure,” which includes various kinds of fossil fuel facilities. Protestors will face a felony charge and a minimum $10,000 fine. Should a protestor actually succeed in “tampering” with the infrastructure, they face a $100,000 fine or 10 years of imprisonment.

The “conspiracy” law permits courts to charge organizations that support protests with “vicarious liability” up to “ten times” the fines imposed on a protestor and as much as $1 million in cases involving damage.

Public Radio Tulsa reported that Cory Williams, a Democratic state representative, demanded to know the definition of “support” under the liability bill. “Is it a check? Is it money? Is it [allowing protestors to stay] at somebody’s house?” he asked.

“That would be for the courts to decide,” replied Representative Mark McBride, the bill’s author.

Bills against protesting has been passed or are pending in Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina North and South Dakota, Indiana and Michigan.

The bills in Colorado, North Dakota, and South Dakota are directly aimed at activists attempting to block oil and gas infrastructure. Other laws, in places like Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan are aimed at protestors such as the people who in 2015 and 2016 blocked roads and highways after police killings of black men and women.

Jordan S. Kushner, a Minneapolis civil rights attorney who has represented Black Lives Matter, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the laws represent “reactionary voices who are out to quash dissent … right wing legislators who are catering to the prejudices of their base.

“It’s the Donald Trump trend at the state level.”


Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.