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Friday, September 20, 2019•11:00 AM - 2PM  John Marshall Park and marching to the Capitol Building

It Takes a Village: A Celebration of the Life of Gary Hopkins, Jr.

Grassroots DC - Wed, 09/11/2019 - 20:12

On November 27, 1999, my son Gary Hopkins, Jr., was gunned down by an Prince George’s County police officer. This was years before smartphone videos made it possible for us to watch unarmed Black folks die at the hands of police on our social media feeds every week or so.

Along with mothers from across the nation who’ve lost their children to what is essentially state-sanctioned violence, I have been fighting to change the criminal justice system for the last twenty years. On October 26, 2019, we plan to celebrate the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr and those of other loved ones lost. It will be a day of healing, storytelling, performances and activism.

Grassroots DC is a partner in this event and will be presenting a short video about Gary Hopkins, Jr., one that we hope to eventually turn into a feature-length documentary. Below is the budget for the event. If you can support this effort, please go to our GoFundMe page and make a donation. You can also send a check to the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, 3304 Asher Street, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772. If you can’t support, please share this post with those who can. Thank you.

“IT TAKES A VILLAGE” – A CELEBRATION OF GARY HOPKINS, JR.’S LIFE

I. SUMMARY

Gary Hopkins Jr. was an artist, writer, and a full time college student, whose life was taken by the police in 1999. Marion Gray-Hopkins, Gary’s mother, is hosting the first commemoration event after 20 years since his death, with the hope to (i) celebrate Gary’s life and achievements, (ii) bring together families who were affected by state violence locally and nationally to grow the movement against police terrorism, and (iii) collectively heal through this weekend long event, centering around an artistic ceremony and installation.

II. ABOUT A. Context:

Gary Hopkins, Jr., at the time of his death, was 19 years old, the youngest child of Gary Hopkins, Sr. and Marion Gray-Hopkins. Gary was the brother of Tahlita, Antwon and Tashia; he was also an uncle, cousin, nephew, and friend to many. Gary was also an aspiring rapper, writer, and producer, who was a full time college student majoring in mass communications with a business minor. On the night of November 26, Gary attended a dance where one of his friends got into a verbal altercation with another young man. Following the event, on early morning November 27, 1999, after breaking up the altercation and getting everyone into their cars, Gary was sitting on the window ledge of the lead vehicle when a police officer used his patrol car to block them from exiting the venue. The police officer got out of his car with his gun drawn, went up to Gary and placed the gun to his temple. The officer then pulled him off the car by the collar of his shirt when Gary stumbled backwards another officer, who was moonlighting at the dance, shot Gary in the chest killing him.

The officer who shot Gary was charged with manslaughter, which, following a bench trial, was acquitted by the judge. No charges were filed against the officer who precipitated the incident, although he was under investigation for several excessive force violations.

B. After Gary’s Death

Gary’s murder at the hands of law enforcement and the failure of the State to restore justice to him and his family have led Marion Gray-Hopkins, his mother, to become an activist against police terrorism, advocating for policy and legislative changes. Marion began her activism work with Prince George’s County People’s Coalition against Police Brutality and later began to partner with ONUS Inc.; Families United 4 Justice; American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Code Pink; Progressive Maryland; Campaign for Justice, Safety, and Jobs (CJSJ); A Mother’s Cry; Black Lives Matter DC; and Amnesty International.

Marion’s activist work has led her to speak out against police terrorism locally, nationally, and internationally. Marion spoke at Rio De Janeiro, Brazil to support the “Beyond Borders” Conference; and Kingston, Jamaica for the “Broken but Not Destroyed Campaign.” She currently serves as a board member with ACLU Maryland, and co-founded and serves as the President of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers (COCM).

III. Case for Support

We appreciate you and your willingness to support the movement against police terrorism and specifically this event to commemorate the life of Gary Hopkins Jr.. With you support, we hope to achieve:

  • –  Bringing ​20 mothers​ from out of state and ​20 local mothers​ who were affected by police brutality to Washington, DC to attend the full day event.
  • –  Having ​150 participants​ (including mothers) at the commemoration ceremony for the evening program.
  • –  Reaching ​7000 people ​on social media, before and after the event.
  • –  Strengthening the foundation of this work: (i) healing: centering impacted mothers and families and creating a space for them to share their experiences, move through trauma and grief with community; we believe that impacted mothers need to be cared for and be well before they advance the work of the movement; (ii) building: when individuals are well, the community can be well; we believe the healing and collective sharing of mothers will set a strong foundation for trust building, relationship building, strategies building and thus, movement building; (iii) outreaching and modeling: police brutality and racial profiling of young black men have historically contributed to the enactment of white supremacy in America; by creating this space to share and grow together, this commemoration event will not only center Gary’s life, Marion’s experiences and those of local mothers, but also serve as a model for other spaces to be created nationally with the same purpose: taking steps to heal from white supremacy and fighting for collective liberation.

IV. ‘IT TAKES A VILLAGE’ EVENT DETAILS

1. General Programming

The event is expected to take place from the evening of ​October 25 to end of evening October 26, 2019​ (location TBD), with the bulk of activities taking place on Saturday, October 26. Below is a break-down of the key parts of the program:

2. Artistic components

Art has long been the tool that uplifts our collective voice, helps us reimagine our reality, and inspires us to create a liberatory future. For this event, the programming heavily relies on the arts to achieve Marion’s vision and objectives to heal and find collective power with local and national mothers who were affected by police terrorism.

Our program has been in touch with friends, families of Gary Hopkins, Jr., as well as local artists in the DMV to tap into the resources and power within our community.

a. Performances

During the official commemoration ceremony on October 26 evening, there will be various performances to celebrate the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr., including:

  • –  Spoken Word performance.
  • –  Gospel singing performance.
  • –  Dance performance.

b. Art Workshop

After the Emotional Healing session, an art workshop will be offered for mothers to reflect and create arts on their own experiences; drawing from their personal story and adding to the collective voice and vision of the movement.

c. Art Installation

Our programming will be centered around an artistic installation, hereby referred to as an artistic altar (references and inspirations below). The altar is inspired by various religious and spiritual practices, where the altar is believed to be a sacred place where we can connect to the spirits of our deceased beloveds. It’s also a place for family members, friends, and acquaintances to show love and respect for people who passed away through prayers and offerings.

This altar will: (i) serve as a visual celebration of Gary’s life, as the artists will create both 2D and 3D suspended and installed art pieces that represent Gary’s dynamic personality, yearning for social change, loving compassion as well as his own artistic passion; (ii) an interactive altar where folks can give offerings in multiple ways throughout the event.

*These images serve as the centerpiece’s inspiration only – the final installation will be created by our artists as it pertains to Gary Hopkins Jr. and the current movement against police terrorism.

d. Artistic Offerings

There are two formal sessions of artistic offerings:

(i) after the art workshop: all art created during the art workshop will be installed by mothers onto the altar to showcase and build collective narratives on the effects of police terrorism on families as well as share their healing process.

(ii) at the end of the commemoration (after dinner), mothers, general participants as well as donors, sponsors will have their own rounds of offering. See section V for details.

There are also opportunities for participants and mothers to give offerings at any convenient time, either through prayers or written notes that can be installed on the altar.

V. BUDGET

VI. Donation Options

Our work in this movement heavily relies on the support of donors and sponsors. We deeply appreciate any support we get, and want to include our donors and sponsors in our programming as much as we can. Donors and sponsors will get their own round of acknowledgement and offerings: each support, regardless of the amount, comes with a candle. Donors will take part in our offering ceremony and place their candles on the altar to celebrate and honor the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr. along with family members and friends (other participants are also asked to donate a minimum of $20 to attend the evening program and will also participate in the offering sessions with their candles). Additionally, we have three suggested levels of donations with additional benefits outlined below:

The Visionary:​ $10,000 and above

The Change Agent: ​$5,500 – $9,500 The Collaborator: ​$1,000 – $5,000

Thank you very much for your time and support for this event and the movement against police terrorism. We look forward to working with you!


The post It Takes a Village: A Celebration of the Life of Gary Hopkins, Jr. appeared first on Grassroots DC.

$10 Million Defamation Lawsuit Filed Against Rockwool, Allies

DC Media Group - Wed, 08/28/2019 - 12:48

A civil complaint was filed yesterday in Circuit Court in Jefferson County, W.Va., alleging that Rockwool Group, one of its employees and former members of the local development authority slandered a local resident. The lawsuit seeks $10 million in compensatory and $2.5 million in punitive damages.

The attorney of plaintiff David Levine, a tech entrepreneur living in Shepherdstown, argues that Levine suffered harm to his reputation and business as a result of personal attacks on him, which began a year ago when he expressed opposition to the Rockwool mineral wool factory. His two articles critical of Rockwool on the website of Forbes magazine made him the target of retaliation, he says, by a senior executive of the Rockwool organization and local officials who had paved the way to bring heavy, polluting industry to the bucolic area.

The complaint names as defendants the Rockwool Group and its senior VP Björn Andersen. It also names Dan Casto, Stephen Stolipher, Ray Bruning and Jefferson County Prosperity, Inc., the group which these three men helped form after they resigned from the Jefferson County Development Authority. The JCDA worked with the West Virginia Development Office to offer Rockwool tens of millions of dollars in incentives if it located its factory in Jefferson County.

The complaints lists numerous examples of alleged defamatory statements, which originate from social media posts, email and text messages. They assail Levine’s character and business practices. Defendants allegedly called Levine a liar, “fraud,” and “con artist”–one who “ripped off an entire town.” They claimed that Levine committed securities fraud and is a swindler on par with Bernie Madoff.

One Jefferson County Prosperity, Inc., post describes Levine as “celebrating the death of police officers, getting high on mushrooms, and throwing bombs at police,” according to the complaint.

The complaint further alleges that the defendants conspired in a “joint scheme” to defame Levine “in furtherance of a preconceived plan.” Their goal was to “destroy Levine’s personal and professional reputations and advance the goals of Rockwool,” the complaint says.

Local newspaper Spirit of Jefferson was accused of participating in this conspiracy, although it was not named as a defendant.

None of the defendants contacted for comment have responded by time of publication. Any statements will be published as we receive them. The Spirit of Jefferson also has not yet responded to request for comment.

David Levine, pictured with his daughter Zoe, is suing Rockwool and Jefferson County for Prosperity for defamation.

Levine’s attorney Steven Biss said that he has collected 762 Facebook posts, texts and other documents containing defamatory statements.

“We screenshotted everything,” he said. “There’s a lot of malice in the posts, a lot of venom.”

He described one of the effects of defamation as inflicting “a permanent scar on Levine’s reputation,” which has taken and will continue to take a toll on his business as an entrepreneur.

“These are highly incendiary, highly defamatory statements. The only thing they didn’t accuse him of is kicking the cat,” Biss said.

Rockwool’s motive in targeting a critic of their mineral wool manufacturing plant is simple greed, he said. In criticizing Rockwool’s proposed factory, Levine was “chopping down the money tree.”

Jefferson County Prosperity lists the Rockwool facility among the “Prosperity Projects” it supports. Its Facebook page has been the platform for many alleged defamatory statements. JCP wants to “stomp out the opposition [to Rockwool], that’s their goal,” Biss said.

 

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Columbia Gas Denied Right to Take Public Land for Potomac Pipeline

DC Media Group - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 17:06

A federal court judge today denied Columbia Gas the right to move forward with construction of a gas pipeline through public land in Washington County, Md. The ruling is a blow both to Columbia Gas and to the pipeline’s main intended customer, the Rockwool insulation factory in West Virginia, now under construction.

The TransCanada subsidiary had filed a lawsuit against the state of Maryland in June in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to force access to the Maryland Rail Trail, a necessary piece to construct a 3.7-mile pipeline from Fulton County, Pa., through a thin slice of Maryland. In January, the Maryland Board of Public Works, which included Governor Larry Hogan, denied Columbia Gas an easement.

Columbia Gas’s lawsuit was unusual in that a private company tried to use the power of eminent domain to take public land. It claimed that power by virtue of the permit granted to the project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The judge denied Columbia Gas injunctive relief because it found no substantive case, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls said in a statement delivered by live stream after the ruling. Private industry doesn’t have the right to file an eminent domain case against the state of Maryland, the judge found, because the state has sovereign immunity, he said.

Opponents of the pipeline project were jubilant outside the courthouse following the judge’s ruling.

The judge determined that the economic loss to Columbia Gas with a denial of access is insignificant in comparison the loss of sovereignty immunity by the state of Maryland, according to Walls.

A light display outside the Capitol building in Annapolis in Feb. 2017 hoping to pressure Gov. Larry Hogan to stop the Potomac Pipeline. He voted against granting the Md. Rail Trail easement.

The case may have gone forward if the Secretary of the Interior had filed the lawsuit on Columbia Gas’s behalf, the judge said, according to Walls.

The judge has expedited the case the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia, if Columbia Gas chooses to take up an appeal.

The Potomac Pipeline has drawn vociferous protest over the last three years. Environmental groups have objected to the potential risks of drilling under the Potomac River in unstable karst geology using a process requiring millions of gallons of drilling fluid. Community groups in West Virginia have supported landowners who have been adversely affected by the construction of the gas distribution line which would have hooked up to the Potomac Pipeline’s supply. And, over the last year, a new constituency of protest has grown around the intended use for most of the pipeline’s capacity—gas to heat the furnace at the controversial Rockwool factory.

The sands have shifted from the time they started fighting Columbia Gas’s pipeline, from the perspective of Tracy Cannon of Eastern Panhandle Protectors. “Opinion about pipelines is changing—and we will win,” she said.

The judge may agree with them. “This is a new era,” he said, according to the pipeline opponents.

Walls offered his interpretation, saying he believed the judge was referring to the increased build-out of pipelines and the number of battles being fought over them in court.

The post Columbia Gas Denied Right to Take Public Land for Potomac Pipeline appeared first on DCMediaGroup.

Factory Opponents Call AIA and Rockwool ‘Partners in Pollution’

DC Media Group - Wed, 08/14/2019 - 21:45

Opponents of the under-construction Rockwool factory in Jefferson County, W.Va., today took aim at the insulation manufacturer’s “green” image with a protest at a key professional association in the construction and building industry. Appealing to the core values articulated by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in Washington, DC, members of community organization Resist Rockwool expressed their outrage and heartache through song and speech about Rockwool’s construction of a polluting factory in the vicinity of 30% of the county’s schoolchildren.

Last month, Resist Rockwool sent a letter to the AIA, asking it to live up to its commitment to prioritize policies and design practices which promote energy conservation, community health and resiliency. If the AIA takes the manufacturing process into consideration and no longer recognizes Rockwool’s product as “sustainable,” their hope is that the AIA will “deny Rockwool access to an important segment of the construction and building industry,” the letter says.

The group points to the 156,000 tons of greenhouse gases and toxic emissions permitted for the factory, which is sited directly across from an elementary school and within only two miles of three other county schools. The facility also sits atop porous karst geology, which has led to fears that retaining ponds for coal ash and other waste materials will leak into the ground water.

Milo Levine plays Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” at the American Institute of Architects in Washington, DC/Photo by Monica Larson

But, the AIA responded unfavorably to their appeal, calling Rockwool its “corporate partner” and telling the Jefferson County residents to take their concerns to their local officials. Resist Rockwool in turn is calling the AIA and Rockwool “partners in pollution.”

About a dozen people approached the AIA building on Wednesday and attempted to enter, but were rebuffed by security personnel. The “Sing Out” then assembled on the steps of the plaza outside the entrance. For about twenty minutes, they serenaded AIA employees and staff with songs about West Virginia, its history of coal mining and how—like the Tom Petty lyric—they would not “back down.” In the makeshift ampitheater, the amplified music resonated all the way to the upper floors of the AIA building. (Video here.)

The group sang “County Roads,” a John Denver song written specifically about the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley where Rockwool is constructing its planned factory. Zoe Levine performed an original composition celebrating the deep ties she feels to her birthplace: “West Virginia, the song of my heart, my home/Land of plenty, land of birdsong,” she sang.

Her brother, Milo Levine, also performed. He lamented that his infant might not be able to experience the natural environment in Jefferson County in the pristine state that he enjoyed as a child.

“The AIA talks about the importance of communities, the importance of health, and yet, they are supporting the greenwashing of Rockwool,“ said their father David Levine. ”Our way of life is at risk. We asked the AIA to stand up for the principles they espouse, and instead, they sent us a letter most likely written by Rockwool, their corporate partner. They took their blood money.“

Jefferson County resident Mary Reed said that Rockwool “picks out the weak to attack,” referring to the Title 1 school across the road from the Rockool construction site. The “Significant Impact Area,” she said, expands in a 35-mile radius and includes 710,000 people. “I call it the sacrifice zone,” she said.

Rockwool has exploited poor and vulnerable people in the 45 countries where it has built factories, asserted Stewart Acuff. “This institute of architects is the biggest hypocrite in Washington, DC today, because they say they stand for a green future, they say they stand for a healthy cllimate, and then they turn around and support Rockwool, a dangerous corporate polluter and marauder,” he said.

Resist Rockwool President Tracy Danzey asked the AIA to reconsider what she described as a “dismissal” of their concerns.

“The AIA needs to make a decision about who they are and what they support. We’re fighting for our lives here, we’re fighting for our community, and we’re not going anywhere,” she said.

Photos by Monica Larson

Click to view slideshow.

The post Factory Opponents Call AIA and Rockwool ‘Partners in Pollution’ appeared first on DCMediaGroup.

‘Drop Rockwool’: Retailers Urged to Boycott Insulation Maker

DC Media Group - Sat, 07/20/2019 - 19:55

Several Jefferson County, W.Va., residents demonstrated at home improvement retailers in Gaithersburg, Md., in an effort to pressure them to ban Rockwool insulation products from their shelves. They object to Rockwool North America, a division of the Danish Rockwool Group, siting a mineral wool factory in their county–one which will burn coal and gas in close proximity to public schools.

This was the first in a series of demonstrations at Lowe’s and Home Depot stores regionally, organizers of Resist Rockwool say. The opposition group has launched a boycott campaign and sent letters to CEO’s of both Lowe’s and Home Depot.



Pulling bright red bales of Rockwool insulation from the shelves at the back of the Lowe’s store, the eight protesters built a replica factory, complete with two towering smokestacks and a chimney billowing clouds of pollutants. A state agency has granted a permit allowing the factory to emit 153,000 tons per year of greenhouse gasses and nearly 3,000 tons per year of pollutants, including formaldehyde, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and sulfur dioxide.

Tireace Johnson explains the potential hazards of the Rockwool factory in Jefferson County in front of the replica factoy made of bales of insulation products./Photo by John Zangas

Store security asked them to leave, but they persisted.

“This is what Rockwool is doing in our community. They’re just throwing a factory in the middle of our county where things are beautiful and where we have children across the street,” Resist Rockwool President Tracy Danzey said.

“Welcome to our life. Welcome to our world. This is what they’re doing to us,” she said.

Tireace Johnson read from an informational flyer which they were handing out to employees and customers. Burning more than 90 tons of coal and 1.6 million cubic ft. of fracked gas daily, she said, will “cause chronic and fatal diseases of the lungs, liver, kidneys, brain and heart. Not only is it going to effect the children who are within less than one mile radius—going to a public school—but it’s going to destroy all of our beauty, recreation, clean air and clean water.”

Tracy Danzey, who suffered severe consequences from DuPont’s Teflon factory, wants people to protect children now so illness doesn’t happen later./Photo by Anne Meador

Rockwool maintains that the facility will not cause adverse health effects. The company also says it was invited to Jefferson County by local and state government and will provide about 150 jobs.

The demonstrators also visited the Home Depot store in Gaithersburg, where they stood outside the door in nearly 100-degree heat, spoke on a bullhorn and again handed out information to customers.

As part of its boycott campaign, Resist Rockwool urges Home Depot to cancel a contract agreement made with Rockwool. Michael Zarin, VP of Rockwool Group Communications, couldn’t confirm the existence of such a contract, saying the company does not disclose details of commercial agreements with retail customers. Home Depot did not respond to an inquiry.

The post ‘Drop Rockwool’: Retailers Urged to Boycott Insulation Maker appeared first on DCMediaGroup.

Organic Farm in W.Va. Imperiled by Gas Pipeline Construction

DC Media Group - Wed, 07/17/2019 - 22:24

In the four years since finding stakes mysteriously implanted in the ground of their newly acquired farm, Neal LaFerriere and his family have worked as best they could with Mountain Valley Pipeline representatives to preserve the integrity of their organic farm. Having no choice but to sign an easement to allow the gas pipeline to go through their land, LaFerriere and his wife Beth have tried to hold MVP to the management plan it filed with a federal agency.

“We have always been willing to sit down at the table and meet with them to try to work out the issues,” LaFerriere said.

But even before clearing for construction started on the right-of-way on Monday, the effects of MVP’s actions on the family’s business have been catastrophic, he said, threatening the farm’s organic certification and bringing such financial hardship that their ownership of the farm is in jeopardy. And, already this week, a clumsy accident involving heavy machinery has resulted in a spill of contaminating fluids on the organic farm.

A passion for organic farming and medicinal plants led the LaFerrieres to purchase land in Summers County, W.Va., in 2015 and move there with their three of their children to create Blackberry Springs Farm. A week after closing, they found a portion of the land staked out and had to do some research to find out what was going on. To their surprise, they discovered that a gas pipeline was routed through a portion of the property. The pipeline–the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline–originates in West Virginia and continues through southwestern Virginia to the border of North Carolina.

They resisted signing an easement, but MVP threatened to use the power of eminent domain. “They were starting to say, we’ll just take your property and do it anyway,” LaFerriere said.

He describes persistent problems with MVP and with their attitude toward landowners in general. When the company got permission to clear trees from the right-of-way last year, he asked them for 72 hours notice so they could move some materials. They failed to give notice and felled trees on the materials, which were ruined, he said. MVP had to pay to replace them.

“it looks like they just don’t care, that they’re in such a rush to get this done, they’ll just run over anybody and ignore any rule and not have any common courtesy to try to work with the landowner,” he said.

Far worse was to come for the LaFerriere farm. One day last September, he, his wife, four of their children and an intern were harvesting ginseng about a quarter mile away from the right-of-way, when suddenly, a helicopter flew overhead. Little blue pellets started raining down on them, and they were struck on the face and head, resulting in contusions and lacerations on his two daughters’ faces. He called MVP, but the helicopter continued to make several more passes over the farm.

The blue pellets dropped on Blackberry Springs Farm are an erosion control product./Photo courtesy of Neal LaFerriere

The blue pellets were an erosion control product called Earth Guard Edge. He also called state agencies in addition to MVP, but they were unwilling to hold the pipeline company accountable, he said. Someone at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) called him back 8 days later, and a few days after that, FERC and MVP representatives finally came to the farm bringing MVP’s environmental specialist. The specialist said there was nothing they could do to mitigate the damage. Once the pellet gets wet, it gets into the soil.

“We’re going to make sure this never happens again,” LaFerriere said MVP land agents told him. But the very next morning, a helicopter again flew over, showering more pellets on the remainder of the property. LaFerriere hired an attorney to file a cease-and-desist letter, and only then did the bombardment on his farm stop. It continued on neighboring property.

Earth Guard Edge contains acrylamide, a carcinogen. Because the soil is now contaminated with it, the LaFerrieres stopped selling organic products, fearing someone would get sick. They have “shifted focus a little bit,” but the loss of business has put the farm in jeopardy. The LaFerrieres entered into litigation with MVP over the erosion control pellets in March of this year.

“It’s devastated us. It has hurt us in ways that it’s hard to put into words,” he said.

After she was battered with pellets, the LaFerrieres’ 8-year-old daughter began to have recurring nightmares that the pipeline would explode and kill her family.

“It goes beyond the financial. This property was our hope, our dream, our future, our children’s future. With the way that MVP has just run over the top of us, we don’t even know if we can call this place home any more,” LaFerriere said.

On Monday, MVP workers brought heavy construction equipment to begin clearing, trenching and laying the pipeline through the property. After receiving notification from MVP that they were going to begin construction on July 12, LaFerriere sent an email to MVP to cease and desist work on his property–which it ignored. Workers came onto the farm without “my permission, my inclusion or consultation,” he said.

MVP is required to adhere to an Organic Management Plan it filed with FERC, but LaFerriere said they still hadn’t provided him with any information with regard to its implementation. He hasn’t been allowed to speak with the expert from the International Organic Inspectors Association hired by MVP–who has been out to the property twice–and he still hasn’t received a complete list of materials that MVP would be using on the farm, he says.

MVP also wouldn’t tell him much about the pale green coating on the 42“ diameter pipeline. His concern about the coating degrading and contaminating the soil and water is shared by FERC, which last week sent a letter to MVP asking about its safety after two years of sitting in the sun.

Natalie Cox, Communications Director for EQT Midstream Partners–the lead partner of the Mountain Valley Pipeline joint venture–claims that MVP did provide LaFerriere’s attorney with a site-specific implementation plan for his property as well as an initial list of materials reviewed by the project’s organic consultant. MVP set up a cleaning station outside of an “organic buffer,” she said, and MVP has retained an organic consultant to train workers and environmental inspectors and monitor construction activities and remediation.

LaFerriere said that no monitors or inspectors have been introduced to them, and he has not seen anyone on site that he can identify as a organically trained monitor.

Construction workers started out “grubbing”—removing trees and brush from the right-of-way. He was worried because the workers were using air compressors to decontaminate equipment instead of a wash station, and contaminates were being blown into the air and drifting onto the farm’s organic soil.

Laferriere believed MVP wasn’t honoring its Organic Management plan Requirements, so he sent a second cease-and-desist email on Tuesday. Later that morning, MVP representatives agreed to meet with him at 1 pm. At the last minute, they cancelled.

Only an hour later, an excavator operating on the right-of-way tipped over onto its side. The excavator was on relatively flat terrain, not on a steep hill or slope, LaFerriere said. Fluids spilled out, and he counted nearly 20 workers bagging soil that was contaminated. He didn’t observe any barrier or protective silt socks put in place to contain the spill.

An excavator used for pipeline construction tipped over onto its side at spilled contaminating fluids./Photo courtesy of Preserve Floyd

The driver was able to exit the excavator and walk away with the assistance of co-workers. (The driver is employed by a contractor of Mountain Valley Pipeline, and EQT Midstream Partners was unable to release any information about his medical condition.)

Problems with MVP construction have not been limited to Blackberry Springs Farm. MVP was cited with more than 300 violations by the end of 2018 alone. As a consequence, many of the pipeline’s permits have been revoked. FERC has approved 125 requests by MVP to deviate from its original work plan, and most appear to be related to efforts correct erosion events.

“We have witnessed sediment-laden water flowing off the right-of-way and into adjacent streams, roads buried in up to a foot of mud, and even one erosion event so extreme that two segments of steel pipe – each weighing just over 13,000 pounds – skidded hundreds of feet from a worksite and onto private property,” reads an op-ed in the Virginia Mercury this week.

After heavy rains in June, at least a dozen timber mats from MVP construction sites washed down the Blackwater River into Smith Mountain Lake. A member of the local Board of Supervisors told the Roanoke Times that there could have been “a catastrophe” if a wooden plank had hit a boat.

Virginia attorney general Mark Herring filed a civil lawsuit against MVP last October, alleging that it violated numerous environmental laws by failing to control storm water and sediment run-off. Herring, however, has refused to issue a stop-work order, and construction of the pipeline continues.

More delays have been caused by protesters, who have repeatedly delayed tree-clearing on the route and pipeline construction with blockades, obstruction of easements, equipment lock-downs and tree-sits lasting for months. Multiple arrests have not deterred them.

A pipeline fighter locked himself to an excavator on an MVP site on June 26, stopping work there for more than 6 hours/Photo courtesy of Appalachians Against Pipelines

MVP asserts that permit issues will soon be resolved, and the pipeline will go into operation later this year.

Virginians and West Virginians affected by pipeline construction deeply grieve the defilement of their land by MVP. “The heartbreak of the people that have lived here for generations, to see their land taken against their will, to see it chopped up, split up, divided, tore up,“ LaFerriere said.

“It makes you question the sanity of the entire American Dream, because ultimately, isn’t that all our dream, is to own this one place that we can call our own, that is our sanctuary, that is our base of strength, where we have a foundation not only for ourselves but for our family? And then they come in here and rip that out.”

Feature photo courtesy of Preserve Floyd

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School Board Drops Bid to Obtain Rockwool Property by Eminent Domain

DC Media Group - Tue, 07/09/2019 - 20:06

Ranson, W.Va.–The Jefferson County Board of Education will no longer pursue condemnation of Rockwool’s property to build a educational center to provide services for student with special needs. The school board abandoned its bid to obtain the Rockwool site via eminent domain in a settlement agreement announced today by the two parties. Rockwool in turn dropped its lawsuit against the Board of Education which sought to block the condemnation.

The Board of Education proposed to build a Regional Student Support Center on the Rockwool site across from North Jefferson Elementary to provide services for special needs students. Rockwool will contribute $250,000 toward the purchase of property for the RSSC as part of the settlement.

Rockwool is constructing a mineral wool manufacturing facility across the street from North Jefferson Elementary and within two miles of public schools which serve 30% of the county’s schoolchildren. The energy intensive process to heat rock and slag to 2,700 degrees in a furnace, then spin the lava into fibers for insulation products will require burning 90 tons of coal and 1.6 million cubic feet of gas a day. An air permit issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection allows for the factory to emit 156,000 tons of pollutants per year, including formadehyde (a neurotoxin), three known carcinogens, and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).

Rockwool said it “reaffirms its commitment” to fund an air monitoring program for three years with the installation of air monitors at two elementary schools, according to a press release.

Board of Education President Kathy Skinner declined to comment on the settlement.

The Board of Education—along with the County Commission, the City of Ranson, the economic development council and others—signed a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement with Rockwool in 2017.

Rockwool filed its lawsuit against the Board of Education in federal court. In a preliminary hearing, Judge Gina Groh sided with Rockwool against the school board, ruling that it could not proceed with condemnation in state court and that a reasonable jury would conclude that the Board of Education was “motivated by bad faith.” She was persuaded that the school board voluntarily entered into an agreement with Rockwool with the signing of the PILOT.

“Private property rights should be protected from bad faith and arbitrary government action,” she said.

Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson testified at the hearing that there has been a 25% increase in students diagnosed with autism in Jefferson County since 2017, and a 300% increase in high needs students. These figures include those in general population who are affected by addiction and domestic violence, and many of them have been hospitalized for self-harm. The RSSC would provide social and emotional support, she said.

The Board of Education was unsuccessful in using eminent domain, but Rockwool will not go into operation without the power of eminent domain used for its benefit. Mountaineer Gas was granted the power of eminent domain to condemn properties in the Eastern Panhandle to build a gas pipeline which will service Rockwool if it goes into operation.

Patricia Kesecker stands in front of the right-of-way of the Mountaineer Gas PIpeline, which cuts through her 100-acre farm in the Eastern Panhandle./Photo by Anne Meador

Prime land on Patricia Kesecker’s farm in Morgan County was condemned by Mountaineer Gas. She and her husband challenged the condemnation in court, but a judge ruled against them.

After the Maryland Board of Public Works denied Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of TC Energy, an easement across the Maryland Rail Trail to build a pipeline that would cross the Potomac River, the company is attempting to use eminent domain to force the state to yield the land. The certificate granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the basis for their claim. The pipeline would feed gas to the Mountaineer Gas pipeline, which would then transport it to the Rockwool factory.

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‘Demand Free Speech’ Rally Downplays Participants’ White Supremacy

DC Media Group - Sun, 07/07/2019 - 22:17

Far-right celebrity personalities—individuals known for hate speech, Islamophobia, homo- and transphobia, racism and celebrating “white identity”—were featured speakers at a rally on July 6 at Freedom Plaza demanding “free speech” and equal access to social media platforms. A few hundred people attended in sweltering heat, many wearing red “Make America Great Again” caps and patriotic garb.

More than a thousand people gathered nearby at Pershing Park, where Black Lives Matter DC and antifascist groups held a counterprotest and rally on the theme “Mute White Supremacy,” along with a concert of GoGo music.

The “All Out DC” and “Mute White Supremacy” rally at Pershing Park countered the “free speech” rally/Photo by Anne Meador

Memories of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.—where Alt-Right and neo-Nazi groups clashed with antifascists and a young woman was killed by a man who drove his car into a crowd—were still vivid. Police closed off the streets surrounding the rallies with large trucks to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

While the Demand Free Speech rally was in progress, black-clad and masked antifascists formed a black bloc and marched toward Freedom Plaza, breaking into a run on F St. Some antifa nearly breached the police cordon behind the rally stage. The bloc and the crowd following it were repelled by a swarm of bicycle cops yelling, “Get out of the street!”

Masked antifa take the streets./Photo by Anne Meador

Verbal conflicts between sides broke out from time to time but little violence. In the evening after the rally, the mood changed, as antifa followed rally-goers to the Trump International Hotel where they were holding an after party. One Trump supporter attacked a man and knocked him down. Police arrested the man who was attacked.

A white supremacist group also carried out a flash-mob in Old Town, Alexandria, Va. late in the day. Members of the American Identity Movement—formerly Identity Evropa—demonstrated in front of the courthouse in Alexandria, Va., with banners and balls of flame. The group has targeted parts of Alexandria and south Arlington with flyers several time in the past.

With Proud Boys shut down by antifascists in Portland recently, Washington antifa was ready to “welcome” Proud Boys, who were playing a prominent role in the Demand Free Speech organizing. Metropolitan Police officers were once again caught displaying their sympathies for white supremacists, when they were shown on video fist-bumping Proud Boys on DC streets on an evening prior to the rally.

In response to claims that the Proud Boys are a violent gang, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes told the rally attendees that he wished he controlled “a secret gang of violent right-wing activists.”

“If I did, you’d be dead,” he said referring to his anti-fascist critics. “You wouldn’t be around. I wish I was El Chapo.”

McInnes compared the fighting prowess of the Proud Boys to German soldiers under Hitler who killed large numbers of Russian soldiers early in World War II. He also complained about Trump supporters who aren’t willing to fight or get arrested.

“Let’s get in trouble. Let’s fight,” he said.

In his speech, Milo Yiannopoulos–former editor of Breitbart, who has incited violence against transgender people and been an apologist for pedophilia–attacked Will Sommer, a journalist for The Daily Beast, who has written about how the Proud Boys is a violent organization. “Will, do you think if the Proud Boys were a gang that you’d still be alive?” Yiannopoulos said, suggesting the group wants to kill the reporter.

Displays of patriotism are a shield against being called out for fascism./Photo by Anne Meador

Another far-right celebrity, Laura Loomer, complained about the relatively small turnout for the rally. “There ought to be a lot more people here,” said Loomer, who described executives at Google as “communists.”

Several speakers at the far-right rally, including Loomer and Yiannopoulos, have been banned from social media platforms. “The times we are living in are the times of Nazi Germany,” Loomer said, comparing her treatment to how the Nazis treated Jews, communists, anarchists and other groups of people.

Yiannopoulos urged the crowd to report more moderate conservatives, whom he described as elite or “Vichy” conservatives, so they would care about their extremist comrades’ predicament. “The movement requires it. Get them banned. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it is what we need,” Yiannopoulos said.



Massaging public image to gain re-entry to media platforms where some had been banned for hate speech seemed to be a goal of the rally. Rally speakers portrayed themselves as victims of a society out to get them, influenced by elite liberal education and its suffocating “safe spaces” and political correctness. They played up their support of President Trump, patriotism and Christian heritage, while protesting that they were not actually racists, fascists or white supremacists. To do so, they presented speakers who were gay or Hispanic, and pointed out the black people in the crowd wearing “Make America Great” caps.

Efforts were made to mask the ugly image and conceal offensive beliefs. “The white supremacists in DC have definitely been coached to keep from broadcasting their overtly fascist beliefs,” tweeted @wyattreed13. “Higher-ranking proud boys usher them away when one starts showing off his white pride tattoo and I try to get him to explain how white pride is different from nazism.”

“It was obvious who they were. We saw people wearing white power t-shirts. I saw someone wearing a Generation Identity shirt. It was all phony,” said antifascist Daryle Lamont Jenkins. When he went to Harry’s Pub, a hangout for the far-right crowd, he also saw someone with an American First Committee for White Supremacy flag.

“If you are at a point where your crew has to be escorted by police for a bar crawl, then something’s wrong with your group,” Jenkins said. “And the police should have better things to do but they’re not. They need to check themselves on that, they’re supposed to be impartial, and they just showed everybody that they weren’t,” he added.

Jenkins disputed that groups participating in the rally were being denied free speech. “The fact of the matter is, they’re not being censored. They are being marginalized. They can start their own social media platforms and they have,” he said.

“They have a right to say what they want and we have a right to say what we want and that’s what we want and that’s all that happened here. We said our piece and they said theirs and we were gone,” he said.

Jenkins called out the fascists for using people of color as shields. “They tried to play the whole thing that we can’t go after them because they’re not racist.” If you do, “you’re going to be the one that’s racist,” he said.

“It’s insulting when they try to use someone with skin color to excuse the reprehensible ideas, but it’s expected. They use them regularly to protect them from these kind of charges,” he said.

He had harsh words for the people of color who attended the “free speech” rally. “It doesn’t matter if they were black, it doesn’t matter if they were Hispanic, it doesn’t matter if they were Asian, they are a part of something that has been detrimental to this world, society, and country, and it doesn’t magically change when you’re black. We won’t forget that. They are just as much of a problem as any white person that says that stuff,” Jenkins said.

Many people are critical of how antifascists respond to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but Jenkins disagrees. “I believe in confrontation. I support confrontation one hundred percent. You do have to be aggressive with the Proud Boys. They were formed to engage in physical confrontation and physical violence,” he said, defending antifa tactics.

“You are going to have to be defending yourselves, and that’s the point where folks are frustrated—that we have to do something about this element growing. You have to have that freedom of speech, but you can’t keep telling us what not to do. We have to have solutions and no one is providing them and we have to say, okay, we’ve got to come up with our own,” Jenkins said.

“If you do not like the way that they approach things, and if you think what antifa is doing is wrong, you go out there and do what’s right. It’s that simple.”

Click to view slideshow.

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DC Transgender Community Fighting for Equality 50 Years After Stonewall

DC Media Group - Sun, 06/30/2019 - 18:41

Washington, DC – Members of the transgender community led a rally on Friday afternoon at Freedom Plaza, marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising on Christopher Street in New York City. About a dozen transgender organizers and activists delivered a petition to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office and the City Council, demanding passage of the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019. The rally was led by advocacy group No Justice No Pride, HIPS (Sex Workers Advocates Coalition), and CAS trans activists who gave testimonials of how their lives would be improved with passage of the bill.

No Justice No Pride (NJNP) was organized as a social justice collective to provide resources and support for the trans community and recently created a refuge for them. NJNP also advocates on behalf of trans and queer persons and lobbies the city government.

A contingent of trans activists lobbied for the DC Judiciary Committee to convene a hearing on the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 and for the City Council to pass the bill. Then they joined about 200 allies at the rally in Freedom Plaza, across from the John A. Wilson Building which houses the Mayor’s and City Council’s offices of the District of Columbia.

If passed, the bill would decriminalize sex work and allow transgender sex workers to live safely in the community. It would also benefit the community at large by allowing the creation of safe spaces for the transgender community, improve community health and safety, and remove the need for policing them, something advocates say needlessly oppresses them with abusive police tactics. It would also enable basic resources for the transgender community to leave the sex work industry altogether and elevate their economic standing.

Dee says the City Council should decriminalize sex work/Photo by John Zangas

The decriminalization of sex work–the removal of criminal penalties for consensual sex between adults for exchange–is not a new or radical approach to addressing issues related to sex work and community concerns. There are fifteen countries that have already legalized sex work. Among them is New Zealand, a country that has reported improvements in the health and safety of its communities. A report in BJT, a healthcare professional publication, reported that legalized sex work in counties that adopted such measures realized improvements in community health and safety.

Job options for trans individuals are limited due to discrimination, making sex work one of the only options open for their economic viability, according to many of the advocates who spoke at the rally.

But it is not just about employment and economics, it is about survival and human rights. Two Black trans women have been slain in the DMV region recently, including Zoe Spears who was shot on June 13, 2019, and Ashanti Carmon who was slain on March 30, 2019. Trans women also often face violence and threats in their daily routines.

Emmelia Talarico, a lead organizer at NJNP, related an incident she recently experienced when attacked by several men during a hate crime. She was chased by assailants, who began throwing rocks at her home. DC police were called but took over 45 minutes to arrive and “had an attitude,” she said.

“A lot of folks get stuck thinking we can trust police or thinking the police will respect us, that they won’t have biases, but we’re here to tell you ‘no,’ they’re out there on K Street in plainclothes trying to get sex from sex workers, trying to lock them up—and that’s not okay,” she said.

Emmelia Talarico, right/Photo by John Zangas

Talarico said that was one of the main reasons NJNP was advocating for the bill, so Black trans sex workers would not have to live in fear of police oppression.

A study report by Urban Institute found that 7 U.S. cities generated between $40 and $390 million annually in sex work trade, equivalent to a multi-billion-dollar underground economy. The report rationalized a need for legalization for community safety and health, as well as well as the safety and health of those in sex work and their customers.

Dee, a trans sex worker in her 60s, spoke about the challenges facing black trans youth trying to find work. “Being trans is not an issue, but suppressing our right to live is an issue,” she said. Dee decried the Mayor and Council for not acting on the decriminalization of sex work bill. “I say to the City, the Mayor and City Council, if you’re not going to promote decriminalization of sex work then give us a damn job.”

Nona, a Program Manager at CAS, said that trans women of color want employment and to work alongside their cisgender counterparts. “Trans women of color may not have job function skills, but it’s only due to not being hired yet. We are eager to learn,” she said.

To support, volunteer or donate to efforts to provide accommodations for the transgender community visit NJNP website.



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How Kai Newkirk’s ‘Extractive Activism’ Left Destruction in Its Wake

DC Media Group - Wed, 06/26/2019 - 15:31

A nationally known activist returned to his West Virginia hometown earlier this year to join the fight against the construction of a major industrial facility that posed significant health risks to the community. The activist, Kai Newkirk, gained the trust and admiration of residents opposed to the insulation factory proposed by Danish company Rockwool. By the time he left five months later, though, the community was riven in two, mistrust was rampant and the group’s ability to work effectively was significantly compromised.

But there was something that no one in this rural West Virginia county knew about Newkirk: He has a long history of toxic behavior, creating chaos and sowing discord.

After conducting two dozen interviews that include progressive organizers associated with Black Lives Matter, Democracy Spring, and the Mobilization for Health Campaign we think our findings will shed light on whether Kai Newkirk, a prominent progressive activist, should be allowed to continue in leadership positions. Furthermore, we hope our investigation will provide better context for understanding an upsetting—if not disturbing—series of events in a community facing an existential threat. Revealing the internal politics and workings of a community that has invested its trust in us is typically something we work very hard to avoid, but it is our belief that Resist Rockwool’s crisis was exceptional and requires exceptional reporting from us.

Rockwool, the proposed industrial polluter, came to Jefferson County, W.Va. in stealth. It wasn’t until after the official groundbreaking for the mineral wool insulation factory that the vast majority of residents heard the name Rockwool for the first time. Disguised initially as “Project Shuttle,” the local economic development authority kept the Rockwool project on the down-low. It was upon discovery in the summer of 2018 that Jefferson County residents scrambled to find out what this new industrial neighbor foisted on them was all about and whether they had a say in it now.

Sustained by agriculture, tourism, education and the equine industry, and on the outskirts of the metropolitan Washington, DC area, Jefferson County is the most prosperous county in a very poor state. But now, Rockwool’s factory, currently under construction at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley (the very part of West Virginia celebrated by John Denver’s song “Country Roads”) threatens to transform the county’s economy and rural character.

To produce its “green” and “sustainable” insulation products, Rockwool will burn 1.6 million cubic feet of gas and 90 tons of coal per day in its furnace to heat basalt rock and slag to 2,700 degrees until it melts into lava, blows the substance into fibers and spins it with binders to produce insulation products. Two 21-story smokestacks and a third 11-story stack will rise high above the fields, marring the skyline and the viewshed of the Appalachian trail. The factory could produce up to 156,000 tons of polluting emissions a year–including fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde—in an area where typical weather conditions would cause pollution to remain trapped in the valley, rather than to disperse.

Rockwool is sited right across the street from an elementary school and within two miles of three other schools, putting 30% of the county’s schoolchildren at risk. State regulations prohibit the building of schools in the area of industrial activity, but perversely, there was nothing stopping a heavy industrial facility from building next to North Jefferson Elementary.

Deception and underhanded dealing were part and parcel of the plan to bring the Danish company to Jefferson County and create all of 150 jobs with so-so pay plus benefits. The West Virginia Development Office supplied an obscene amount of cash and subsidies—about $37 million—for the county development authority, or JCDA, to offer Rockwool, while zoning laws were changed and a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement was sold to the County Commission, no questions asked. The JCDA’s president continued to conceal Rockwool’s existence even beyond the groundbreaking and official press release. When a group of concerned citizens demanded to know where the gas for a proposed pipeline was going, he swore there was no customer lined up for it.

Worst of all, Rockwool was simply a Trojan horse, the first of several industrial neighbors to be invited to occupy a planned 1,000-acre industrial park, supplied by all the infrastructure—sewer, water, gas—initially put in place to service Rockwool’s needs.

Anger was palpable as Jefferson County mobilized to oppose Rockwool and rid itself of this threat to its air, water and health. Feelings of betrayal and disillusionment were the natural outcome of discovering that your home was part of a scheme to provide the dying coal industry a last hurrah and that the very people who are supposed to be looking out for you—your elected officials and their appointees on both the state and local levels—were either negligent or actively working to destroy your quality of life.

A community member described the raw emotions that the situation evoked. (She preferred to remain anonymous so she could speak frankly and not jeopardize valued relationships. We’ll call her Sarah.):

“That’s what you have around here, people who have trust that the neighbors around them will take care of them. The people who helped negotiate Rockwool coming in, it’s a blow to the heart and the gut when I see the names that I see attached to this stuff. I didn’t like you anyway, but it sucks to have it confirmed that you are as awful or worse than I thought you were. It’s like, we all grew up here, how can you look at everything that we have here and fight to protect and throw it all away?”

Along with betrayal, there has been gaslighting. Because Rockwool got a permit from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, it must be safe, never mind that data submitted in the application was inaccurate and the WVDEP is headed up by a coal executive. In an opinion piece published in a local paper, County Commissioner Patsy Noland claimed that because she grew up next to a source of pollution and has remained healthy, then nobody is going to get sick from Rockwool’s emissions, never mind that peer-reviewed science indicates that there are increased health risks for populations living in proximity to facilities like Rockwool. Because Rockwool’s brand is all about “sustainability” and saving the planet from the ravages of climate change, never mind that your home is going to become a sacrifice zone.

Despite the fact they were late to the game, Jefferson County residents threw themselves into defending their home. “No Toxic Rockwool” signs sprung up everywhere. Lawsuits were filed. Every county commission and city council meeting was packed to the gills, week after week. State agency hearings lasted for hours while members of the public demanded to have their say. Local elections swept out many of the Rockwool supporters, and immediately afterwards, most of the JCDA members responsible for bringing Rockwool to the county resigned.

Still, several months into the fight, conventional means of recourse–while not exhausted–were having limited returns. It was time to escalate. Into this milieu of exhaustion, heightened emotions and anxiety about the future entered a man, a native son of the county but long absent and a stranger to most. But soon, many would call him “brother” and make him the most visible leader of the Rockwool opposition.

In fall 2018, Kai Newkirk called up Shepherdstown resident David Levine, an acquaintance he had worked with during the 2004 John Kerry presidential campaign, and asked if he could stay with him and join the Rockwool fight. Newkirk is best known for his role in organizing Democracy Spring in 2016, a protest at the U.S. Capitol to get big money out of politics.

He arrived in January and together with Levine, he co-founded the group Resist Rockwool, which went on to use more assertive protest tactics to up the game against the Danish company. Many community members seemed to appreciate his experience, framing of situations as moral questions and devotion to nonviolent civil disobedience. They took on his habit of calling each other “brother” and “sister.”

But by the time Brother Kai left five months later, Resist Rockwool had been rocked by a power struggle and internal crisis, David Levine had been attacked, publicly shamed and ostracized, and a schism had divided the group, leaving almost everyone emotionally shattered. Precious weeks waging the campaign against Rockwool were lost due to infighting when construction was proceeding apace.

Many pointed the finger at Levine as the cause of all this turmoil and credited Newkirk, on the other hand, with good leadership and wise guidance. But who was Brother Kai anyway? When several individuals in our network raised red flags about Newkirk, DC Media Group decided to find out, not knowing exactly where an inquiry would lead.

Newkirk declined to be interviewed by phone, saying he was busy and preferred to speak in person when he was in West Virginia at a later date. DCMG has offered to add a statement if he provides one.

“Progressive Savior”

Newkirk pumped his fist and squinted into the May sun as he addressed the 300 people assembled before him on the grassy hill near the entrance to the Rockwool construction site, building the audience’s energy with a rhythmic call-and-response. “Are we here with love for our neighbors today? We’re here in love with our home, is that right?” With each rhetorical question, the crowd clapped and yelled “Yes!” with upraised fists.

A skilled speaker, Newkirk copied the style of Black religious and civil rights leaders, borrowing some of the language of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—with a little word salad thrown in. Like a stump speech, it was scripted, memorized and meticulously rehearsed. Newkirk then led marchers belting out civil rights anthems like “Marching into Freedom Land” over a bridge toward the site entrance. Twenty-four people sat down in the middle of the road, where one by one they were arrested by police for obstruction.

Kai Newkirk heads up a march during Democracy Spring in 2016./Photo by John Zangas

Civil disobedience actions leading to arrests like these are Newkirk’s calling card. He is best known for being a lead organizer of Democracy Spring, in which 1,300 people were arrested on the U.S. Capitol steps in 2016 to pressure Congress to curtail the influence of big money in politics.

He was employing mass arrests as a tactic as far back as 2009, when he was hired by the Mobilization for Health campaign to slow momentum for the Affordable Care Act to advance single payer as the best option for Obama’s healthcare initiative. Kai helped developed the campaign for protests at insurance companies across the country, said Kevin Zeese, who headed the campaign along with Dr. Margaret Flowers. “Scores of people were arrested,” Zeese said.

As the focus shifted to Congress, Kai suddenly had a change of heart and supported the ACA. It was at a “key moment,” Zeese said. They had achieved some success, but they could have done more if Newkirk had not “divided and confused things,” he said.

“He sees himself as the rebirth of Gandhi,” Zeese said.

Democracy Spring arose out of 99Rise, which Newkirk co-founded with Paul Engler. The mass arrests spanning one week at the Capitol during April 2016 didn’t achieve their goal of prompting Congress to clamp down on corruption, but it did gain publicity and laid claim to bragging rights for being the greatest number of people arrested at the Capitol in a single day. Newkirk remains Founding Mission Director of Democracy Spring.

Many young activists were attracted to Democracy Spring, which had intentions of building on the momentum of the April week of action to become a decentralized nationwide movement demanding fundamental democracy reform. One of those activists was Taralei Griffin. Newkirk invited her to come back in May and help organize the next stage of Democracy Spring.

Democracy Spring was all about restoring the full power of the vote by ending the corrupting power of money in politics./Photo by Anne Meador

But Democracy Spring, under the leadership and administration of Newkirk, created hardship for many of its young staff members because it failed to compensate them or cover expenses related to their work. With few exceptions, staff working full-time did not receive wages or a stipend and were only provided group housing in “movement houses” in suburban Washington and Philadelphia. For Griffin, this resulted in lasting consequences.

Living in Nashville at the time, Griffin flew back to Washington, DC at her own expense to rejoin Democracy Spring. She did not sign an employment contract or agreement and was essentially regarded as a volunteer, even though she fulfilled the role of the “DOC,” or director of communications. She estimates that she worked about 60 hours per week. Democracy Spring promised to reimburse her for food, travel and other expenses, she said, but not in writing.

When Democracy Spring kept putting reimbursement off, Griffin opened two new credit cards to cover even more expenses. She estimates that she racked up $4,200 in debt from May to August 2016, attributable to expenses of the type she says the organization promised to pay for. She was eventually reimbursed about $1,000. She is still paying off the debt three years later.

In July, Democracy Spring organizers headed to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia to agitate for democratic reforms and urge nominee Hillary Clinton to sign its declaration.

Newkirk seemed insensitive, if not oblivious, to the dynamics of a group of twenty-something, mostly white activists setting up shop in an AirBNB in the middle of a poor majority black neighborhood in Philadelphia, more than one source said.

“There goes the neighborhood,” said one resident as he walked by the house, as related by Angela Vogel, a local organizer who was called in to conduct anti-oppression training.

Local organizers were also ignored. This, apparently, wasn’t terribly unusual for many of the protest groups flocking to Philly for the DNC, except that Newkirk wasn’t receptive to amending his plans in consideration of others. He once “triple-booked over the black community and immigrant community” and diluted the effect of all of their protests, according to Desiree Kane, who was hired to do press and public relations during the DNC. “There was no work to find out when their actions were,” she said.

Newkirk also showed lack of concern for Democracy Spring activists’ safety. On one occasion, Newkirk ignored Griffin’s advice, she said, and this resulted in Democracy Spring members—who professed nonviolence–showing up for an “escalated” march, where they ended up getting pepper-sprayed by police. Newkirk then blamed her for not reaching them in time to notify them to leave before it started, she said.



Newkirk devised a scheme to infiltrate the convention center by taking ladders and climbing over a high gate with electric fencing. Young activists were on board with this, but Kane knew that police would immediately go after them. “Was he trying to get people shot?” she asked. She put a stop to the plan, then quit over the matter, she said.

“There were a number of things that they attempted to do that could have been really stupid,” Vogel said. “The actions were incredibly poorly planned, last-minute decisions. What they were doing had no strategic value whatsoever.”

Griffin believes Newkirk discounted her and other women organizers’ opinions and suggestions and preferred the counsel of white male organizers. She began to stand up to him on certain matters, and then found some of her housemates becoming hostile to her and gaslighting her.

She experienced a “creepy and uncomfortable” episode in which Newkirk put his arm around her at a bar. She had gone there in the first place because he had avoided her efforts to talk to him about a work matter, and found it difficult to get away when she might not have another opportunity to talk, she said.

Later, others reported to Griffin that Newkirk “groomed” young activists in a similar manner. Newkirk had a consensual sexual relationship with an organizer in the Philly movement house, a young woman of color about 21 years old at the time, according to several sources. Newkirk was 35.

Griffin experienced significant health problems during that summer, ultimately leading to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Kai would be sympathetic, she said, then almost immediately expect her to shoulder full duties.

Newkirk didn’t deal with disagreement with his views very well and tended to act unilaterally. During the DNC, while the organization was publicly pressuring Clinton to sign its declaration, behind the scenes–unbeknownst to his own staff–Newkirk was negotiating a compromise with a Clinton aide, according to Griffin.

She found Democracy Spring’s attendance at the DNC problematic in the first place when the organization claimed to be nonpartisan but did not protest or participate in the Republican National Convention as well. Her objections were ignored.

But non-partisanship became a flashpoint after the convention when Democracy Spring changed its stance and advocated for “strategic voting,” essentially endorsing Hillary Clinton. This did not sit well with Bernie Sanders supporters, who were still bruised by the DNC’s collusion with Clinton and their ill treatment at the convention. Clinton, moreover, was “the face of everything we are fighting against,” as Griffin described it in an article she penned in early September, not long after she had left Democracy Spring in exhaustion. 

Her post gained some traction and Democracy Spring felt compelled to implement damage control. In communications with her, Newkirk laid the guilt trips on thick. One of his texts reads:

“After all we’ve done for you… brought you into our FAMILY… I’m the one who reached out and asked you to come to the movement house, and we’ve supported you… why would you do this? I just don’t understand. You’ve hurt me, and you’ve hurt the movement.”

Soon after Griffin started a Facebook group for people to share their disappointments in Democracy Spring’s new direction, Newkirk sent another message that he was “aware” of the group. “To see you counter-organizing is painful, Taralei,” he texted.

Saying that he wished she had brought up more of her concerns earlier (when she was ignored), he continues:

“I have to get back to work building this movement. I hope you will not hinder our efforts … while acting with appreciation for our intentions of service and all that we have sacrificed to build to this time.”

Griffin said that she sought Newkirk’s approval for her work, and she “never knew whether he would even look at me.”

“It sucked when he acted like I was just a problem among all his other burdens of being a progressive savior,” she said.

Griffin said Newkirk could be exclusive, not inclusive, when it came to his movement. He “alienated” women, people of color and older activists, she said, and she linked that practice to his occasional remark that “not all people” are needed to make a movement work.

“In various ways, he reveals a certain elitism” and preoccupation with appearances, DC organizer and activist Andrew Batcher told DC Media Group. He decided that he would no longer work with Newkirk after he signaled that he didn’t want well-known activist Barry Knight to participate in an action at the Supreme Court “because Barry was a long-haired hippie and didn’t look right.” Knight says he participated in the protest and was never discouraged from attending.

Kane said Newkirk cares very much about the “social capital” wealthy white social networks can bring him. On the other hand, in spite of using lofty rhetoric, “he doesn’t really care about actual poor people because they can’t bring him social capital.”

Kane, a Native American, was disturbed to hear that Newkirk intended to go to Standing Rock in October 2016 and bring Democracy Spring activists with him, who intended to wear items with Democracy Spring logos. She blocked him from coming, she said. She says that he practices “extractive activism,” showing up and getting what he wants with charisma and “sex magic,” then leaves.

Both Kane and Kira Young, an indigenous water protector and Appalachian environmental organizer, expressed serious reservations about Newkirk’s use of mass arrests as a tactic. Newkirk “was feeding that system” of oppression by sending activists to jail and funneling scarce resources to police, Young said.

Zeese estimated that Democracy Spring arrests at the Capitol required $65,000 for bail, all of which all went to the U.S. Capitol police. Griffin agreed with that estimate.

“In plenty of other realms [civil disobedience arrests have] made an impact with the media, but now we need our best and brightest to be out here,” Young said. “We need it to serve a strategic end goal.”

Banned from DC Organizing Circles

Many people who participated in Democracy Spring felt misled and cheated, according to several accounts. Under Newkirk’s leadership, local groups were not supported, and the promised nationwide movement infused with Democracy Spring’s “DNA” was not materializing. Many of those most intensely involved say they are still feeling the psychological after-effects today.

After Democracy Spring, Newkirk showed up in other movements in Washington, DC, where his bad reputation and toxic behavior eventually compelled local organizers to run him out of town in 2017. They have scathing words to describe him, and in addition, many have alleged that Newkirk had sexual relationships with young women when he held positions of authority over them.

“Kai Newkirk is an egotistical piece of trash who uses positions of power to seduce new activists. Do not work with Kai Newkirk,” said Jason Charter, a longtime DC organizer and activist. “I can only say from personal experience that he is an egotistical, narcissistic, self-centered bastard who doesn’t deserve anyone’s time.”

“When he was running Democracy Spring, he was running it as his own personal cult of personality. He would be luring in young women and then toss them aside when he was done with them,” said DC activist and community organizer Legba Carrefour. Democracy Spring did nothing about it, he said, and “it was people from outside the group that forced him to leave the city.”

Screenshot of a Facebook post by Legba Carrefour referring to the “takedown” by April Goggans.

Prominent Black Lives Matter organizer April Goggans said she and others refuse to work with Newkirk, and she advises everyone else do the same.

“Folks all but put out an entire website on him. He will fuck the effort up directly or indirectly. I personally would not let him anywhere near any community fighting for any kind of justice,” she said.

Goggans was instrumental in effectively banning Newkirk from operating in DC. She called out Newkirk on Facebook and a slew of people piled on. (The post is no longer accessible.) Word spread among the activist community in DC, and he was no longer welcome.

“He doesn’t give a fuck about the people. He’s a narcissist and opportunist of the worst kind. Cult leader-ish to be honest. He’s dangerous,” she said.

Newkirk has admitted to having a sex addiction and reportedly has sought help for it. A sex addict can substitute sexual gratification with emotional exploitation, according to to psychotherapist Lynn Turner, Ph.D., LCSW.

The Undermining of Resist Rockwool

In Jefferson County, Newkirk’s charisma made him the natural front man for Resist Rockwool. “If he hadn’t come to town, I don’t think we would have gotten organized,” David Levine said.

Newkirk made people feel good and purposeful by using the language of love and morality. “He was more interested in making impressions, inspiring and motivating others under a banner crafted from dreams” than attending to practical matters, community member Ana Prillaman said. When conversation turned toward goals or intentions, he would “nod his head and behave as if he was burdened by feelings,” then redirect energy toward “vague and spiritual ambitions,” she said.

Newkirk continued to pursue his favorite protest tactic–nonviolent civil disobedience resulting in mass arrests. The first action Resist Rockwool attempted was a sit-in at Senator Joe Manchin’s office in Washington. They demanded to speak to him and get him off the fence regarding Rockwool. It was an inconvenient day for Manchin to accommodate them, even if he had wanted to. Congress was voting on a spending bill to end the government shutdown. The group could have given Manchin more time to respond, but Newkirk decided preemptively to escalate the action by moving the small group willing to risk arrest into a position in the hallway where they blocked the office doors. 

About 50 people conducted a sit-in of Sen. Joe Manchin’s office to compel him to take a stand on Rockwool. Newkirk along with 10 others were arrested blocking the office doors./Photo by Anne Meador

Resist Rockwool then decided to “take the fight to Denmark” and make a “moral appeal”–in Newkirk’s language—to the Danish ambassador. Rockwool, after all, could not build a coal- and gas-fired factory next to an elementary school in Denmark because of the country’s stricter regulations. After a rally at the Washington embassy, 21 members of the group blocked the entrance gate and were arrested.

Newkirk was beginning to apply pressure to community members to get arrested in these civil disobedience actions. This didn’t sit well with Stewart Acuff, a union organizer who retired to Martinsburg. His experience goes back decades to ACORN in the 1970s, and he did union organizing in Georgia with Reverend James Orange and other civil rights figures. Later, he became the National Organizing Director for the AFL-CIO.

“We should not make people feel like they’re not doing their duty if they don’t get arrested,” he said. He began to think that Newkirk was manipulating people by framing everything as a moral question, then making himself the moral arbiter.

He was speaking to Newkirk about leadership one day, and he remarked how a young woman in the movement was growing and distinguishing herself. “Not until she takes an arrest,” Newkirk said, according to Acuff.

“Arrests [for him] are a vehicle to his stature,” Acuff said. “Dr. King didn’t teach that.”

Newkirk arranged for an interview with Cenk Uygur on The Young Turks, a news and commentary program, and he wisely included this young woman, Morgan Sell. Feisty, sensitive and pretty, and the mother of two young children—one of whom has asthma—Sell was an ideal choice to represent the anti-Rockwool struggle. (DC Media Group requested an interview with Sell, but she declined.)

The problem was, she had little or no experience with this kind of interview, and Newkirk didn’t prepare her, or even remind her to turn off her cellphone. He started off by talking to Uygur for two minutes straight. When Sell did get the opportunity to speak, Newkirk looked pained. She didn’t appear to be prepped by Newkirk to be ready to tell her story.

Acuff was distressed by the interview. “A real organizer never puts developing leaders into situations that are over their head,” he said.

Conflict between them began to escalate during planning for Rockwool’s next event, the rally and civil disobedience at Rockwool’s gate.

“That night when I realized he was a con artist, he spent 15 or 20 minutes begging people to get arrested. In fact, it got down to this really sick and sad and pathetic thing where everybody in the room was begging poor old [name redacted] who’s broken in about a thousand places in his old body to get arrested. It was just bizarre,” Acuff said.

Kira Young was also disturbed. “I noticed more and more vulnerable people were agreeing to get arrested, and I didn’t see the strategic value of having such a vulnerable part of our community getting arrested,” she said. “I noticed older people on medication going, ‘I don’t know if can get spend a night in jail, because I need my medication.’”

Acuff confronted Newkirk and got angry, which in turn made people angry at Acuff. Levine tried to intervene and got caught in the crossfire.

By April, tensions had developed between Newkirk and Levine, and he was no longer a guest at Levine’s house. Some of his self-centered behavior had been unsettling. For example, he went to the Sundance Film Festival and came back furious for an odd reason. He had gone to the premiere of a documentary about his romantic partner—a well-known immigrant rights activist—and her mother, and found that all the footage that included him in it ended up on the cutting room floor. By his own account, he skipped the after-party because he was upset, and he sulked and complained about it for quite a while, Levine said.

Complaints about Levine began to arise in Resist Rockwool’s steering committee, and these complaints soon became accusations of serious offenses. (DCMG requested interviews from some steering committee members, but the interviews were put off several times.) Levine acted unilaterally, they said. He refused to listen to other people and treated them disrespectfully. He repeatedly disrespected and sometimes verbally abused two female steering committee members, who later resigned. (Levine denies this.) He refused to remove the treasurer, who mistrusted him, as a signatory of the bank account. (Levine states that he offered to replace himself as signatory with the organization’s vice president.)

Newkirk wanted to make sure he wasn’t replaced by Acuff as the leader of the rally. “He wanted to be the unchallenged leader and the star of the demonstration and civil disobedience,” Acuff said.

As the mid-May rally approached, Levine was uncomfortable with the level of conflict between Newkirk and Acuff, who stated that he would not follow Newkirk’s lead anymore.  Acuff and Levine felt compelled to resign, which Levine characterized as “stepping aside” until after the event to avoid any confusion over the leadership for the event.

Levine provoked more complaints by allegedly trying to fire the attorney who had been hired to provide legal representation to those arrested at the civil disobedience action, including himself. (He denies this, stating he was simply requesting information about the attorney’s engagement agreement.) The steering committee, in the meantime, had “managed” the resignations of Levine and Acuff by saying they had moved to another project and wished them well.

Nevertheless, things were building toward a crisis. Levine was still technically president of Resist Rockwool, and he was concerned about the legal responsibility for the event, and therefore rescinded his resignation, provoking an outcry. But even if all the accusations against him were justified, the animus toward Levine was growing out of proportion in intensity.

At first, the narrative about the conflict was “David, Stewart and Kai got into it, and they need to work it out,” Young said. “But I saw their narrative change. I saw people move from reasonable to ‘Lord of the Flies’ in two weeks.”

“All these bad things were happening. [Two steering committee members] were attacking me constantly. And everybody in the group, it was this constant thing that I was the problem, but I didn’t know that that was all coming from Kai,” Levine said.

Newkirk seized the moment to consolidate power and remove Levine and Acuff rather than risk a confrontation  after things settled down and the May protest was behind them.

“Kai wanted to make sure he was the unchallenged leader and the star of the demonstration and civil disobedience,” Acuff said.

Newkirk had picked up the threads of earlier slurs made against Levine by a pro-Rockwool group led by former economic development authority members who had worked to bring the factory to Jefferson County. These slurs and hit pieces by the local pro-Rockwool newspaper planted the seeds that Levine, a tech entrepreneur, was a dishonest businessman who had bilked his investors and couldn’t be trusted.

This was just one piece of the narrative. “Kai would cite this as part of my pattern of behavior of just going and doing things,” Levine said. “For him, everything that was done was group consensus, though it was ‘modified consensus,’ meaning that if I disagreed I could be overruled. So it wasn’t just making the individuals feel empowered, it was making this steering committee feel incredibly important and powerful. And Kai always controlled the agenda in terms of what was considered and how decisions were made.”

Newkirk also undermined Acuff by discounting his decades of organizing experience and calling his methods old school and obsolete. Newkirk focused on his few outbursts of anger to discredit him, rather than support Acuff as an important asset to the movement.

At a training to prepare for civil disobedience, Levine says he “talked up” Acuff in an introduction, and as he did so, one woman cried out, “Let’s not forget Brother Kai!” Later, in informal conversations, Levine’s supposed disregard for Newkirk, who was not speaking or doing training that evening, was cited as one of his greatest crimes.

Called on the carpet several times for the same offenses, Levine could not convince the steering committee that he was responsive to their concerns. He asked Newkirk more than once for a mediation between them as individuals, but Newkirk demurred.

“I would say, we really need to work this out, and he would say, that seems really heavy, this is too heavy. All about how he felt about it, not about getting through the heaviness,” Levine said. Newkirk also insisted on working things out “in the group,” where he would have unconditional support and not have to face Levine one-on-one.

Finally, a mediation was scheduled, where they presented one option to Levine: resign as President right away. He listened to them again, he said, but he refused. His reason was put an orderly transition in place first, he said.

“By the time we got to this idiotic mediation, Kai just painted this whole story about how I’d hit bottom. When I resigned and nobody wanted me back, I started acting out, I started trying to destroy the rally, I started undermining things. This is basically the narrative he presented,” he said.

Levine also said that he was told several times that they were being “really easy” on him because they hadn’t called him out publicly, and they “held him hostage” by the threat of it. He was told that if he didn’t resign immediately, he would be publicly exposed and ridiculed.

“They had gotten to this point that Kai had made them feel everything in the world that was wrong was because of me,” Levine said. “I can see him, his body language, in the meetings, like he was in pain, caused by anything I said. He was building a moral argument against me, in exactly the same way you build a moral argument against Rockwool for presentation to the Danish ambassador. Somehow he got it to the point that I was Rockwool. He was conducting rallies, sit-ins and protests against me.”

At the end of the so-called mediation, Levine said someone told him as he left, “I’m sorry you are the victim.” Eventually, he took this to mean that through his own fault, he made himself the victim and compelled them to do something cruel.

Prior to the crisis event–what Young describes as the meeting “when they went full-on Lord of the Flies”–a delirium took hold of some people. They were in such distress, it was like they had to cut a cancer out which was causing them unbearable pain. And the cancer was Levine.

“Kai created fear of David to deflect from his own inadequacies, that’s what smear campaigns are,” Young said. “They’re to create chaos so that you don’t have time to look at how shitty of an organizer he is. He creates all this drama and everything looking at David, meanwhile he’s just throwing all of the resources of the organization at the police.”

Two things were announced for the Resist Rockwool public meeting agenda on May 29: a review of the rally and civil disobedience and a discussion of strategy. The unannounced agenda item was a public shaming.

Sarah (not her real name) was attending a Resist Rockwool meeting for the first time. When she walked in a little late, she noticed that there was a good cross-section of the community there, and also, that David Levine was standing in the middle of the circle and people were yelling at him.

“This is not how these people [normally] behave,” she thought.

For a while, he wasn’t allowed to respond, Sarah said. “He seemed to be respectfully receiving the grievances. He was genuinely sorry that this has gotten to this point, and is willing to take responsibility for whatever it is that has gone wrong.”

She was confused and thought that others would be as well. “This was supposed to be strategy meeting, and I was very upset because I thought, some adult in this room should be standing up and saying, ‘We see there are a number of people here who are not here for this part of the meeting. We should have this conversation elsewhere at another time,’” she said.

Emotions were running high. “Morgan had been crying, Stewart’s voice broke as he described his feelings about trying to heal a broken community. … David got upset when he tried to explain that he did these things for the good of the organization,” she said.

Levine didn’t point fingers, she said. He explained what his rationale had been for some of the decisions he made.

“David Levine is extraordinarily intelligent, aware of how things work. His brain moves faster than most other people,” Sarah said. “David is able to see a bigger picture and is able to bring people together, and I think he works a lot from the heart, so he is genuine and passionate about whatever is going on.”

Newkirk stayed quiet. “At no time did I hear Kai say anything. The fact that Kai’s name came up multiple times but that he didn’t speak, didn’t take the time to say, I want to say my piece,” Sarah said.

“It seemed like it had gotten to the point [that it might end]. It seemed to calm down, David seemed to take responsibility for certain things. Then this woman stood up and said, ‘This is all your fault.’” Sarah then left.

It went downhill from there.

“There were two facts that they kept coming back to, that he called a lawyer and he already resigned. But then it was just gratuitous cruelty. They slung everything at him,” Acuff said.

He also said he had experienced hostility during union campaigns in Georgia, “but they did nothing like what they did to David, nothing like the vitriol, the illogical cruel gratuitous vitriol, it was … really, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

“When I saw the Lord of the Flies incident, I was like, this is a full-on cult scene,” Young said. “Afterward, people kept saying the same things: ‘We got to a better place.’”

“Public shaming is only justified in pretty extreme situations when there isn’t any other possible alternative to reconcile the situation,” said Kelly Canavan, an experienced facilitator for activist groups. “For example, a violent offense, racism, spreading hateful ideology, those might be reasons you would publicly shame a person.”

“But using it as a tool of attack is a terrible idea. You don’t want to publicly shame as a tool of attack. It’s more a tool of last resort and a tool of protection,” she said.

“One of the things that was just so stupid about the public cruelty they showed towards David is, you just don’t do that,” Acuff said. “You just don’t take somebody out who’s responsible for bringing everyone together and creating this collective vision. He was the host. He was the one who brought all of us in.”

After everyone had gotten their punches in, they took a vote on whether to remove Levine as president immediately or in three weeks. They voted to remove him immediately.

The next day, Newkirk made an announcement:

“It’s an unfortunate fact that we’ve also had an incredibly difficult leadership conflict going on for weeks. That happens in movements and organizations sometimes. All of us share some responsibility for it. Huge amounts of time and energy were spent trying to resolve it internally. Regretfully, we failed to do so, so it was brought to the members last night. Without a resolution, multiple people who have put countless hours of work into our fight over months would have resigned to form something else or find another way to be involved.

“At last night’s meeting, a collective decision was made by the assembled membership. By the secret ballot vote of all assembled members, 25-9 with 8 abstentions, it was decided after a full and open airing of views and experiences, that David shall resign immediately as President of RR…. David, you have not been banished, brother. You remain a dearly valued member of RR, a dearly-loved friend to me, and you will always be a co-founder of Resist Rockwool.”

If the steering committee believed that it would vanquish Levine by shaming him, it backfired. At first he intended to resign, he says, but he changed his mind when he found that there were other Rockwool resistors who would join him and Acuff to “get things done.” Levine also considered the public process of confronting a member and calling for a vote to remove them to be outside the norms of acceptable organizational behavior, he said.

He had offered a plan for appointing a Board and governing council during a transition period that the steering committee had rejected. Levine, who had served on corporate boards and in companies where investors and management fought for control, implemented the plan anyway. He convened the Resist Rockwool board, which dissolved the steering committee, dismissed all the officers, and appointed a new president and secretary, the only administrative roles required by the State of West Virginia.

The steering committee viewed Levine’s actions as illegitimate, and resigned en masse. They called it a “hostile takeover” by Levine and issued a letter to membership denouncing him. They announced they were starting a new organization.

The day after Levine’s public shaming, Newkirk announced his intention to transition to a support role and leave West Virginia to reunite with his partner.

A Toxic Agenda

Newkirk helped the opposition to Rockwool in Jefferson County escalate and adopt protest tactics, arguably a necessary step, and maybe it would not have done so otherwise.

And, not even all of his critics doubt his organizing abilities. “I think deep down Kai is elitist and allied with the state. But I also think he’s a committed activist. I mean, with 99Rise he didn’t come in to disrupt but built it from the ground up. I saw it,” Andrew Batcher said, with the caveat that “problematic people don’t have to directly work for our enemies to support our enemies.”

But there are some things which suggest that Newkirk may have returned to West Virginia with an agenda other than helping to protect the county’s schoolchildren from an industrial polluter.

Newkirk promotes himself on his website where he solicits donations. (He never used his prominence or social media reach to fundraise for Resist Rockwool.) The feature photo of him on the website could easily be transposed with an actor or TV host from central casting. He’s rolling up his sleeves, but for what?

Newkirk had floated a potential run against Joe Manchin for Senate in the 2018 Democratic primary on Facebook, and contacted Levine to ask him to weigh in on the idea. Levine counseled against it at the time, citing Paula Jean Swearengin as a strong progressive challenger.

David Levine allowed Newkirk to lease a room in an office building he owns in Martinsburg, and he was able to get a West Virginia driver’s license using the address. He also listed the Martinsburg address as the location of a nonprofit called For All that he registered with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office on the day after the Manchin action. It was even the address denoted on the arrest report following the civil disobedience action in May, when Newkirk and Levine were on bad terms. The rent was $350 a month, which Newkirk never paid. Levine evicted him this month.

Newkirk wanted to establish residency in West Virginia, which would make it possible for him to run for political office, according to Levine. The office building address, nonprofit 501(c)(4) political organization and driver’s license would have been a first step.

He’s now also got a devoted following in the Eastern Panhandle willing to support and campaign for him. The region was pivotal in re-electing Senator Joe Manchin in 2018.

“Kai has always seen Resist Rockwool as a way to reassert himself on the national scene,” Acuff said. Before the May protest, Newkirk circulated a sign-on letter to national progressive leaders and celebrities that was never published.

“He would like for his brand to be the embodiment of nonviolent civil disobedience. He is today’s Dr. King, and with the brand he is trying to create, he is the embodiment of the King tradition,” said Acuff.

“If you watch, he’s usually posing, often imitating the iconic image of Che Guevara with chin lifted, eyes gazing,” he added.

“There’s nothing there. It’s like a cheese puff. It looks like it’s going to satisfy your hunger for something, but then you crunch into it, and it’s gone. What does he stand for?” Young mused.

Mostly, Newkirk seems to have perfected the art of being vague, while pretending to be profound. In pursuing his ambition wrapped in pious wisdom, he spreads chaos and discord. Newkirk’s sudden departure after he vanquished his enemies fits Kane’s definition of “extractive activism.”

“You don’t come in, extract off their suffering, build your platform and leave,” Kane says.

To give Newkirk the benefit of the doubt, he may have made sincere efforts to address the abusive and toxic behaviors of his past. But Kane thinks self-improvement is irrelevant, especially when patterns of toxicity continue into the present.

“We don’t have time for that anymore. We don’t have time to wait for goddamn Kai Newkirk to better himself and stop being predatory. We don’t have that luxury,” she said. “He is stifling out positions where true leadership of and for the people can emerge. He’s blocking the road.”

Sarah understands the psychological blocks her fellow West Virginians are facing when it comes to corporate polluters. “West Virginia is a funny place. This is a state with so much trauma—it’s a generational trauma,” Sarah said. “People in West Virginia don’t believe they deserve anything more than what they have, so they won’t fight for it. They’re almost crippled by trying to justify it. Do we deserve clean drinking water, do we deserve not to have a slurry up above a school?” she asks.

A community facing an existential threat like Rockwool, especially a threat to their children, inhabits in a precarious state of mind. Even perceptive, intelligent, kindhearted people in such a community might be susceptible to someone like Kai Newkirk playing on their anxieties, fears and hopes.

“The emotional and intellectual health of this movement has become, in my opinion, irrevocably damaged by [Newkirk’s] influence,” said Ana Prillaman.

Resist Rockwool has a new president, Tracy Danzey. She grew up in Parkersburg, W.Va., and became a victim of toxic pollution from DuPont’s Teflon plant. For 50 years, DuPont covered up the fact that its plant released the chemical C8 into the water in Parkersburg–the very water where Danzey swam frequently.

“I literally spent my childhood swimming in Teflon,” she says.

Due to the toxic exposure, she developed a rare form of osteosarcoma which required the amputation of her leg at the hip socket.

While she previously lived in Shepherdstown, recently she has been living in Florida with her husband and two children. But she decided to move back to Jefferson County and join the fight against Rockwool.

Of the two out-of-town arrivals, Newkirk and Danzey, there could be no greater contrast: the attention-seeking extractive activist versus the victim of the very kind of corporate polluter she’s come to battle.

“We simply cannot continue to sacrifice vibrant communities for the benefit of corporations and their shareholders. We cannot afford to continue poisoning our air and water, and decimating our health, in the name of economic development and corporate profits,” she writes in a call to boycott Rockwool products.

Rockwool–which may someday spew carcinogens and neurotoxins dangerously close to schoolchildren–is a legitimate source of anxiety for Jefferson County residents. Scott Sarich is documenting the voices of residents who are potentially affected by Rockwool. His appeal for unity poetically illustrates the threat Jefferson County faces:

We’re at a crossroad here in Jefferson County, the likes of which we have never seen before. Our way of life is being threatened in such a way that in due time, we may not remember what it once was, all we will have is broken memories of a time past when clean air and water were taken for granted in the most innocent way. We are faced with a great invader who knows his [Rockwool’s] path, as he has conquered before. He knows our weaknesses … His greed proceeds him like day does to night, and with no conscience, no love for others, no care for anyone other than himself to slow him down, as he is driven only by profits and promises to those who support his lies and deceit. … He has done this before and he will do it again, unless we stand directly in his way.

The post How Kai Newkirk’s ‘Extractive Activism’ Left Destruction in Its Wake appeared first on DCMediaGroup.

Reparations: A Very Basic Primer

Grassroots DC - Thu, 06/20/2019 - 12:53
Reparations: a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations, institutions and families

On June 18, 2019, Stop Police Terror Project-DC hosted “If Not Now, When? A Discussion on Reparations” at the Peace Fellowship Church in Deanwood. One of the speakers was Mélisande Short-Colomb, a descendant of the slaves sold by Jesuits to save Georgetown University from bankruptcy in 1838. Anyone who thinks that reparations for African-Americans is impossible should listen to her story. The video below was shot by Grassroots DC Media Collective member Miheema Goodine.

Event participants agreed that most Americans do not have a clear understanding of reparations or indeed just how lasting and impactful the legacy of slavery has been. For example, Blacks owned 15 million acres of land at the turn of the last century, without reparations. Racist government policies, lack of access to capital and training, has dwindled that number to less than 1 million acres today. The few facts below, all researched by Stop Police Terror Project organizers, scratch the surface of the history that should be known when considering the issue of reparations.

1862: April 16, slavery is abolished in Washington, D.C., eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. The District of Columbia is also the only place in the United States where slave owners were compensated for having lost their human property. In other words, D.C. paid reparations to slave owners, but not to the slaves themselves.

1865: After The Confederate States of America were defeated in the American Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15, to both “assure the harmony of action in the area of operations” and “to solve problems caused by the masses of freed slaves, a temporary plan granting each freed family forty acres of tillable land in the sea islands and around Charleston, South Carolina for the exclusive use of Black People who had been enslaved.” The army also had a number of unneeded mules which were given to settlers. This is where the term “40 acres & a mule” originates.

Around 40,000 freed slaves were settled on 400,000 acres in Georgia and South Carolina. However, President Andrew Johnson reversed the order after Lincoln was assassinated, and the land was returned to its previous owners.

1867: Thaddeus Stevens sponsored a bill for the redistribution of land to African Americans, but it was not passed.

1877: Reconstruction came to an end in 1877 without the issue of reparations having been addressed. Thereafter, a deliberate movement of segregation and oppression arose in southern states.

1948: The Japanese-American Claims Act was passed, a law which authorized the settlement of property loss claims by people of Japanese descent who were removed from the Pacific Coast area during World War II.

1968: Founding of the Republic of New Afrika, a Black nationalist group that called for several states in the Deep South to be set aside for the establishment of a Black nation. The RNA demanded that the U.S. government pay $400 billion in reparations to Black people for centuries of systemic oppression during and after slavery.

1974: The U.S. government reached a $10 million out of court settlement with the victims of the Tuskeegee experiment —in which 399 Black men with syphilis were left untreated to study the progression of the disease between 1932 and 1972—and their families, which included both monetary reparations and a promise of lifelong medical treatment for both participants and their immediate families.

1987: Founding of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), a coalition of groups that advocate for reparations for the African diaspora in the United States. They define reparations as “a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations, institutions and families. Those groups that have been injured have the right to obtain from the government, corporation, institution or family responsible for the injuries that which they need to repair and heal themselves,” and see the reparations issue as one of international human rights.

1988: The Civli Liberties Act of 1988 was passed, a federal law that granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned by the United States government during World War II.

1989: Michigan Representative John Conyers introduces for the first time H.R. 40, a bill that, if passed, would establish a commission to analyze slavery in the U.S., its impact, and ways to address its lasting affects. This bill was re-introduced multiple times in the intervening years, most recently in January 2019. A hearing on the bill was held on Wednesday June 19, 2019–Juneteenth. A link to the video is at the bottom of this page.

1994: The state of Florida agreed to a reparations package for the Rosewood Massacre of 1923 – where the primarily Black town of Rosewood on the Gulf Coast of Florida was destroyed in an uprising that had been triggered when white men from several nearby towns lynched a Black Rosewood resident because of unsupported accusations that a white woman in the nearby town of Sumner had been beaten and possibly raped by a Black drifter. The package was supposed to compensate the 11 or so remaining survivors of the incident, those who were forced to flee the town, and for college scholarships primarily aimed at descendants.


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Parks & Rec Accepts Rockwool’s Money for Fireworks

DC Media Group - Thu, 05/23/2019 - 01:17

Harpers Ferry, W.Va.—The Board of the Jefferson County Parks and Recreation on May 22 voted down a motion to reject a donation of $8,000 from Danish company Rockwool for fireworks for the local Fourth of July celebration. The vote came after hearing public comments for more than an hour and discussing legality, precedent, public perception and Rockwool’s potential for harm to the community.

Seven board members voted against the motion, two for, one abstained and one recused herself because she is a Rockwool employee. The board has never rejected a donation.

More than a hundred people gathered outside the board meeting to voice their disapproval of Rockwool’s sponsorship and 22 of them made public comments during the meeting. Three people urged the board to accept Rockwool’s underwriting of the fireworks.

Rockwool’s construction of a coal- and gas-burning factory in Jefferson County 2,000 feet from an elementary school was not viewed favorably by most board members. After a presentation by Dr. Michael Glen on the facility’s air pollution controls and permit, several board members remarked how they were troubled by the insulation factory’s potential emissions and how they might affect the health of the county’s schoolchildren.

But in the end, the Board took a pragmatic approach and put faith in the state’s permitting decisions and the county’s contractual agreements. Board president Toni Milbourne said the executive committee recommended voting against the motion. “Rockwool was solicited by the county. It’s not our place to insert ourselves in a political disagreement of this magnitude,” she said.

Rockwool is a legal business and “checked all the boxes,” said one board member. “Accepting their donation doesn’t mean I agree.”

“Whether we agree with it or not, these decisions have to be with others. We have to run a park system on limited funds,” said another board member.

Paul Marshall put forward the motion. He called sponsorships a form of advertising and a quid pro quo. “Rockwool is not a good neighbor,” he said, adding that he “did not want to be a party to it.”

After the vote, Marshall said he was disappointed in the outcome but happy the process was done publicly with comments.

Opponents of Rockwool said they believed that putting Rockwool’s name on the Fourth of July celebration was an endorsement of the company and the harmful impacts it might have on the community. Rockwool, furthermore, was using a cherished holiday for public relations purposes.

“You’re in the business of kids,” said Scott Sarich of Shepherdstown. If the board accepts Rockwool’s money, then “all you are is a pawn in the game,” he said.

Some board members had reservations about discriminating between businesses, but Barbara Stiefel of Harpers Ferry compared Rockwool to the Sackler family, who made billions of dollars from opiate pharmaceuticals. The Tate Gallery, for instance, has rejected donations from them because of the Sacklers’ role in creating the opioid crisis.

Tim Ross, a shareholder in Rockwool, said he had called investor relations, but they wouldn’t tell him what donations Rockwool had made in the community, calling it “operational information.” The company’s charity, Ross said, is really “just another part of their operation.”

Supporters of the board’s allowing Rockwool to fund the fireworks display painted it as a commonsense decision and bad precedent to reject it.

“It boggles my mind that anyone wouldn’t accept the donation. [Opponents] are engaged in single-minded zealotry. Every donation helps and principles cost money,” said Mark Everhart.

Ray Bruning called the debate “ludicrous” and not controversial when nearly all county residents “don’t care either way,” in his estimation. “You might as well take their money. They’re going to be here for a while,” he said.

Before the hearing closed, Susan Pipes raised an objection to Board Vice President Ann Mountz’s divulging her intention to vote not to reject Rockwool’s donation in advance of the meeting in an online conversation on the Facebook page of Jefferson County Prosperity, a pro-Rockwool group. In her opinion, this could be a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

Board member Katie Osantowsky recused herself because she is an employee of Rockwool, but she remained seated during discussions on the motion and participated in them by speaking and reacting to other board members.

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Venezuelan Embassy Protectors Experienced ‘Scary Nights’ But Persevered

DC Media Group - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 15:46

Washington, DC –The last four holdouts in a siege at the Venezuelan Embassy experienced one of the most difficult times of their lives, they said, but survived by talking to each other about how they were feeling and shared their love and respect for one another.

The Embassy Protection Collective was formed when Venezuela’s Consulate in New York was taken over by those opposing President Nicolás Maduro. They did so with the blessing of the Trump administration, which is trying to facilitate a coup in Venezuela to topple the Maduro government and install Juan Guaidó. Embassy Protectors began sleeping in the Embassy of Venezuela in Georgetown, Washington, DC.

Guaidó supporters, often called “the opposition,” arrived at the embassy on April 30 when Guaidó initiated a coup attempt on April 30. They appeared to be trained in military psy-ops techniques, which they employed to harass those inside the embassy and their supporters on the ground. The Secret Service appeared to be aiding them by ignoring assaults on embassy protector supporters, blockades of food deliveries, multiple break-in attempts and 24-hour-a-day noise in the heart of Georgetown.

On May 15, federal agents broke into the embassy, in contravention of international law. The four remaining embassy protectors (of about 50) were arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.

This week, the four embassy protectors sat down for an extended interview with DC Media Group (video below) to explain their motives for remaining in the embassy, how they lasted so long, and how their efforts can help other social justice movements.

Kevin Zeese, Dr. Margaret Flowers, Dr. Adrienne Pine, and David Paul drew on a variety of experiences they gained over their years working in other social justice movements. Their actions may have changed the course of events in Venezuela. They lasted longer than anyone expected and believe they may have put enough pressure on the U.S. government to stop its support of the coup in Venezuela and keep it from reaching fruition.

They were quick to mention that many others took part in the Embassy standoff, and the assistance they received from supporters outside helped them successfully maintain their stay inside despite the State Department shutting off electricity and water and the opposition blockading food and supplies.

They had harsh words for the pro-Guaidó agitators outside the embassy, comparing them to neoliberal fascist dictatorships where human rights abuses are institutionalized. They suffered through daily threats of violence and rough treatment from them but said it made them even more determined to remain in the embassy.

Standing Up to a World Superpower

A quote by Howard Zinn is their motto and advice for other activists: “Go where you are not supposed to go, say what you are not supposed to say and refuse to leave when they tell you to go.”

They wanted to stay another week to get the U.S. administration to enter into a Protection Power Agreement because momentum was beginning to move to their side, Zeese said. It was possible such an agreement would be arranged within a week—there were efforts going on behind the scenes–but they ran out of time. “It was unlikely but possible if we could have developed enough pressure. I think we had a real chance of winning that,” he said.

The federal raid on May 15 ended hope for a Protective Power Agreement. “But the way it turned out, I think that rather than protecting the embassy we’re going to actually end the coup [attempt], and I think this case is the reason why,” said Zeese.

Stay Extended by Rationed Meals and Water Conservation

Dr. Margaret Flowers said they were there in solidarity with the Venezuelan people. They had traveled to Venezuela earlier in the year so they felt a connection to them. “As U.S. citizens our responsibility to impact our government, to stop our government from violating the Vienna Convention which would set a terrible and dangerous precedent that would put all embassies at risk around the world,” she said.

Flowers said the electricity and water shutoff and food blockade at the embassy created conditions similar to those in Venezuela. In effect their experiences inside the embassy were similar to conditions in Venezuela where the coup supporters attacked the power distribution grid and U.S. sanctions caused food and medicine shortages.

They rationed food to two small meals per day and limited water to one liter a day per person. They gave larger portions to the younger activists since they had higher metabolisms. “When [the opposition] stopped the food deliveries, we cut down to two small meals and had a lot of discussions about fasting,” she said.

Flowers said that they adapted to the changing conditions thrown at them. “When they cut off the power we just dealt with it. We went to bed when it was dark and woke up when it got light.”

They activists anticipated they may lose their water after the power was shut off. “When we lost our water, we kinda saw that coming-we filled every container that we could find in the embassy. We were very careful about bathing. We used rainwater for that,” she said. Activists used plastic bag liners for large containers and collected rainwater for bathing.

Another issue they had to overcome was dealing with human waste. “About going to the bathroom, we set up a makeshift bathroom in the garage we could use where it would go directly into the drain,” she said.

Flowers spoke about the economic coercive measures in Venezuela and how they felt a deep solidarity with the Venezuelan people. “Everything they threw at us we knew our people in Venezuela had been experiencing the same thing,” she said. She said they were committed and prepared to stay “for months” if it came down to such a scenario.

Venezuela Could Be Another Honduras

Adrienne Pine, another of the final four remaining activists, worked in Honduras as an anthropologist for 20 years and joined the Embassy Protection Collective because of what she witnessed in Honduras. “In 2009 there was a U.S. supported coup that was carried out against the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras,” Dr. Pine said. She believes the same blueprint is being used by neoliberal supporters of privatization in Venezuela.

The 2009 coup in Honduras was orchestrated by powerful economic elites who were “tied in with the United States’ economic interests, State Department and military,” she said. She described how they overturned the democratically elected government and instituted a neoliberal fascist regime under that sought to privatize and deregulate public infrastructure and strip indigenous people of their land rights.

The regime that came to power in Honduras created a breakdown of its economy, instability, a rise of gangs, and waves of refugees, according to Pine. “Given what I’ve seen in Honduras, and given how horrible the situation is today as a direct result of the U.S. supported coup where we see people leaving by the tens of thousands migrating north, they’re not leaving because of some American Dream–they’re leaving to save their lives,” she said.

Pine compared the history of the U.S.-backed coup in Honduras to the U.S. support for a coup in Venezuela. “Given what I’ve seen in Honduras, the implications for Venezuela are even more dire,” she said.

David Paul, also an activist of many years, saw the Embassy Protection Collective as a way to stand up against the government usurping the power of another democratically elected government.

Paul was known as the “food czar” among the collective for his skill at devising techniques to conserve water and organize food rationing. He worked on a human waste system which was critical for keeping the embassy clean and preventing illness. His knowledge about conservation could have extended their stay by months if federal agents from the Federal Protection Service had not raided the embassy.

Video Interview – Part I

The four activists speak about their personal reasons for staying in the embassy and their backgrounds in social and economic justice movements. Dr. Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese explain the political forces prompting Venezuelan diplomats to invite them to the embassy and why international law was on their side. Dr. Adrienne Pine draws a parallel between the 2009 U.S. supported coup in Honduras and the attempted 2018-9 U.S. supported coup attempts in Venezuela.

Video Interview – Part II

Dr. Margaret Flowers describes how they took on roles and shared responsibilities and how knowing they were justified in being there kept up their courage. They worked as a team and trusted supporters to make the right decisions. David Paul worked on food and water logistics. They beat opposition hatred and abuse by showing love and respect for each other. This is just one chapter in a long term campaign, says Kevin Zeese.

Video Interview – Part III

They explain why U.S. mainstream media blacked out the Venezuelan embassy story or created false reporting about it. Dr. Adrienne Pine explains why mainstream media reports a corporate narrative while suppressing messages beneficial to people. They relate the events of the night federal agents raided the embassy and how they persuaded the agents to leave. They also preview the next chapters in the anti-war movement.

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JCDA Struggles to Move Forward in First Meeting Since Reconfiguration

DC Media Group - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 21:19

Kearneysville, W.Va.–The Jefferson County Development Authority (JCDA) today convened for the first time since a mass resignation of members following the election in November 2018. The body only regained its quorum recently after several months of candidate interviews conducted by the Jefferson County Commission. Thirteen members were in attendance today with one member listening in and voting by phone.

The JCDA was rocked by the Rockwool controversy after it was revealed that some board members, working with the West Virginia Development Office, enticed the mineral wool manufacturer to come to Jefferson County with an incentives package which included tens of millions of dollars of infrastructure funding, direct funding, and a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement specifying the JCDA as the holder of the land lease. The JCDA did so in contradiction to the county’s comprehensive plan, which had specified mixed-used transit-oriented development for Jefferson Orchards—the Rockwool site—and not heavy industry.

JCDA Vice President Neil McLaughlin presided over the meeting. He called the last several months “a tumultuous time” for the JCDA, but said it was now “moving in a new direction.”

“We are re-crafting ourselves” and improving economic development, he said, while noting that “the phones aren’t ringing like they used to.”

On his last day as Executive Director, Nic Diehl bid farewell to the JCDA as he moves on to a position at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport. He thanked staff for “putting up with quite a bit” and predicted that “when the noise in the county dies down, the Development Authority will be able to do interesting things.”

“Jefferson County is a diamond in the rough,” he said. “Once you figure out your direction, you’ll be able to do some pretty neat stuff.”

Patsy Noland, the representative from the Jefferson County Commission, thanked Diehl for his service. “It probably seems like a hundred years to you. Sorry to see you go,” she said.

Bob Gillette expressed the hope that “old business” would not “get in the way.” Referring to difficulties he had had communicating with residents, he suggested setting aside a portion of each meeting to “talk about what you’re going to say to the public.”

Bolivar representative Bob McEachern proposed that each individual board member present their own vision for the county’s economic development at next month’s meeting and invite the public.

Public comments were limited to ten and allowed two minutes each. Six members of the public delivered comments to the board.

Diane Blust reminded the board that citizens felt they had been “misled,” and urged them act in residents’ interests. “It would be nice if we didn’t have to engage in lawsuits” to compel the board to act appropriately, she said.

Tim Ross urged the board to limit nondisclosure agreements that curtailed its ability to be transparent. Likewise, he advised ditching financial incentives, recalling that a Rockwool executive had told him that “they would have come here anyway.”

Giuliana Brogna advised the board to find an independent law firm which did not have conflicts of interest.

Sharon Wilt pleaded for “no more heavy industry” and suggested boosting the MARC train and internet and providing activities for people to do.

Barbara Stiefel of Harpers Ferry, a retired economist in international affairs, found the Deloitte report which the JCDA relied on in regards to Rockwool to be failing, without references or credible studies. Heavy industry emphasizes capital investments, and it is resource intensive, not job intensive, she said.

Catherine Jozwik brought a plexiglass sign with “Transparency” written on it and emphasized the need for the board to record or video meetings for the public.

Ranson representative Andy Blake delivered a report of the fiscal year 2018 audit. The JCDA had spent $94,500 in legal fees. Some legal expenses are being reimbursed by “the company” for negotiating a PILOT agreement.

Attorney William Rohrbaugh gave an update on three lawsuit pending against the JCDA filed by Jefferson County Vision. There will be hearings on all three cases on June 11 in Twenty-Third Judicial Circuit Court in front of Judge David M. Hammer.

After returning from executive session, the board ratified the Burr Park property agreement and approved the site plan for Burr Phase 1 Lots. The Board considered environmental legal representation, with Andy Blake making a motion to approve as presented in the packet and Patsy Noland seconding. Bob McEachern made a motion to consider other law firms, which was approved.

The environmental legal representation might be necessary in a lawsuit brought against TEMA and JCDA may need a litigator because it owns the building, McEachern explained after the meeting. The lawsuit might be “frivolous” or “trivial,” he said, but with all environmental lawyers in West Virginia having some connection to Rockwool, it was best to “avoid bad optics” and explore options, in his opinion.

“If we don’t come clean, it will be the undoing of us,” he said.

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Rockwool Resisters Hold Rally, Vow to Keep Fighting Factory

DC Media Group - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 13:52

Ranson, W.Va.—Local residents rallied at the doorstep of the planned Rockwool insulation factory on May 16 to express their resolve to keep fighting the insulation manufacturer, even as walls of factory buildings rise on the construction site. Resist Rockwool, organizer of the rally, estimated that as many as 400 people attended and lined the edges of the Route 9 bike path, holding aloft protest signs and chanting, “No Toxic Rockwool!”

Twenty-four people were arrested following the rally when they obstructed the road leading to the entrance to the Rockwool site. They were charged with obstructing an officer and blocking a roadway.



Opposition to the Danish company’s mineral wool manufacturing plant has been sustained for ten months now, as residents of Jefferson County continue to object to the siting of the factory across from an elementary school and within two miles of three other schools. They point to numerous hazards and negative impacts of the facility, such as the emission of thousands of tons of air pollutants per year, the risk of ground water contamination and the loss of the area’s rural character. Proponents, on the other hand, talk up economic benefits, such as future tax revenue and at least 140 jobs created.

Blocking the roadway, an act of civil disobedience, was described by rally speakers as an escalation in tactics after pursuing many avenues of redress. Citizens have attended and commented at a multitude of hearings and city council meetings, and expressed their will through the November elections, said Mary Ann Hitt, Sierra Club campaign director and Shepherdstown resident. And Tracy Cannon of Eastern Panhandle Protectors said those willing to commit civil disobedience were there “having exhausted all other means of protesting Rockwool.”

David Levine of Shepherdstown said there was no ambiguity when it comes to Rockwool. “You’re either on the side of the people and the trees and farms, or you’re on the side of greed, coal and fracked gas,” he said.

Many speakers emphasized that resisters would not back down and would even expand their campaign. Kai Newkirk of Resist Rockwool related how a delegation of Jefferson County residents went to Denmark and met with Rockwool executives.

“We told them: We will organize, boycott and divest and use nonviolent direct action until there is a greater cost to Rockwool than leaving. I don’t think they took it seriously. I think they thought when we saw the walls go up, we’d give up. But we’re going to fight every day until Rockwool leaves,” Newkirk said.

Click to view slideshow.

Sharon Wilt, who lives only a half mile away from the site–formerly Jefferson Orchards–mourned the change that Rockwool has already brought to the area. “We used to pick apples and look for morrell mushrooms in the orchard, it was a family tradition to go for hay rides there,” she recalled. “Now there is nothing left but dirt and concrete. They can put it in their backyard [in Denmark]. I will not back down!”

Brian Ross, who lives about a mile away from Rockwool, says it is a bad deal for everyone here. He is a descendant of several people buried at the African-American Methodist cemetery adjacent to the Rockwool site. “It hurts me to my heart to sit here and think that Rockwool come across cemeteries and dig up property that does not belong to them,” he said, referring to the gas pipeline to service Rockwool recently laid along two sides of the cemetery.

On the Danish Day of Prayer, those attending an interfaith service appealed to Danes to stand with them against Danish company Rockwool./Photo by Anne Meador

Other speakers referred to the lack of transparency in the Jefferson County Development Authority’s (JCDA’s) recruitment of Rockwool to come to the area. “We were not given a choice,” Morgan Sell, mother of two, said. “The health and safety of our children is more important than any economic endeavor. We do not consent to this factory.”

In an interview, newly appointed JCDA member Bob McEachern vowed to change things if he could. “I never want to see another Rockwool. My job is going to be to prevent something like this from ever happening [again],” he said. Pointing out that Jefferson County doesn’t even have a bowling alley or movie theater, he says wants to prioritize “quality of life” economic development with businesses that “every vibrant community has.”

On the morning following the rally and civil disobedience action, about 70 people gathered at St.Paul’s Baptist Church, located not far from the construction site, for an interfaith service. The service intentionally coincided with Store Bededag, or General Prayer Day, in Denmark, the home country of Rockwool.

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Venezuelan Embassy Protectors Arrested After Feds Raid Building

DC Media Group - Sat, 05/18/2019 - 21:44

Washington, DC—Four peace activists who remained in the Venezuelan embassy for 36 days were released from police custody on Friday afternoon, just over 24 hours after federal agents raided the embassy in Georgetown. They were charged with “interfering with a federal law enforcement agent engaged in a protective function,” a class A misdemeanor. They are staying at a safe house in the District, recovering from their ordeal.

At about 9 am on Wednesday morning, Federal Protection Service officers of the Department of Homeland Security entered the Venezuelan embassy and arrested the four activists who were the last of a group of 30 individuals calling themselves the Embassy Protection Collective. The operation took about two hours as dozens of agents from at least four agencies, some dressed in full tactical gear, went from room to room with battering rams. They cleared each room making sure no one was inside.



With the raid and arrests, the dramatic 36-day stand-off at the embassy was over. However, it begins the the next chapter in an international struggle to keep the democratically elected government of Venezuela from being ousted.

The siege produced dramatic scenes between supporters and opposition that spread across social media. U.S. mainstream media effectively blacked out coverage of this story from its beginning.

Activists had repeatedly stated during the siege they were in the embassy at the invitation and pleasure of the democratically elected government of Venezuela. Any attempt to remove them, they argued, was illegal under the Vienna Convention which the U.S. co-signed with 32 other nations in 1961.

Those arrested were Kevin Zeese and Dr. Margaret Flowers, co-founders of Popular Resistance; Dr. Adrienne Pine, a medical anthropologist and Professor at American University; and David Paul, a member of Code Pink.

“The fact that the State Department has broken into a protected diplomatic mission to arrest peace activists will have repercussions the world over,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney representing the interests of the activists. “This is an extraordinary violation of the Vienna Convention.”

The embassy of Venezuela under siege by “the opposition,” or Juan Guaido supporters near front door./Photo by John Zangas Tuesday Afternoon Drama May Have Sparked Wednesday Morning Raid

On Tuesday, Reverend Jessie Jackson joined a rally in support of the activists from outside the embassy. He participated in a food delivery across opposition lines, in which supporters wrestled with opposition after activists in the embassy dropped a rope from a window to pull up a backpack of food. While supporters grabbed the rope thrown down to them, opposition tried to stop the delivery. Reverend Jackson could be seen in the video carrying food to the embassy.

Ajamu Baraka, former 2016 Green Party candidate for Vice President, intervened as several opposition members placed hands on and tried to wrestle food packages from Reverend Jackson. Baraka and several other supporters pulled opposition away from Jackson as he attempted a humanitarian food delivery, allowing supporters to allow activists above to pull up a backpack of food. The delivery would have extended the ability of the activists to remain in the embassy. DC Metropolitan police stood by watching and there were no arrests, despite clear video evidence that the opposition assaulted supporters.

Activists Already Stood Down a Raid by Federal Agents Monday Night

On Monday night, federal agents massed outside the embassy for a raid, and cut the chains on the doors. Carlos Vecchio, the man the Trump administration would like to install as ambassador of Venezuela, and his staff waited to gain access to the embassy. But attorney Verheyden-Hilliard intervened and warned the officers of the consequences of violating a treaty without having produced an authentic document or having substantive authority. They went inside anyway, but about 20 minutes later, they left without arresting the activists. She had effectively stopped the raid in its tracks.

Embassy Raid Has International Implications

The forced removal of the activists could potentially set in motion a precedent in future disputes between governments. PPAs will not hold as much weight if other government take the lead of the U.S. to allow a takeover an embassy by force. By going against the Vienna Convention, the U.S. has signaled it no longer regards foreign embassies as inviolable territory. This could endanger personnel in embassies of other nations where governments have disputes, according to Kevin Zeese.

An ironic development in the raid and subsequent charge against the activists is that they were not charged with trespassing, although it was the basis for federal agents ordering them to leave and eventually returning to arrest them in the embassy. “They were not charged with trespassing because the US government does not want to explain who is lawfully in charge of these premises,” said Attorney Mara Verheyden Hilliard.

For now, the activists are recovering and resting and preparing for the next phase in the Venezuelan Embassy takeover. They have been issued an 100 foot stay-away order from all Venezuelan missions.

Demonstrations at the Venezuelan embassy are planned in the coming days to pressure on the Trump administration from allowing self-declared Ambassador Carlos Vecchio and his staff from entering the embassy.

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Activists to ‘Escalate’ Opposition to Trump’s Pro-War Policies Toward Venezuela, Iran

DC Media Group - Sat, 05/18/2019 - 20:45

Washington, DC–Activists opposed to the Trump administration’s plans to overthrow the Venezuelan government returned to the Venezuelan embassy Saturday afternoon to express their support for the group of people known as the Embassy Protection Collective, four of whom were arrested Thursday by U.S. police agents who entered the embassy without the permission of the government of Venezuela.

One day after their release from jail, the four collective members were among the nearly 200 people who rallied and marched to the White House. Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese of activist group Popular Resistance, academic Adrienne Pine and Code Pink member David Paul were released from jail Friday afternoon after appearing in federal court on a misdemeanor charge of interfering with State Department diplomatic protective functions.

Rally and protest at the Venezuelan embassy against U.S. attempts to install an illegitimate ambassador/Photo by Ted Majdosz

A federal judge ordered the activists to keep at least 100 feet away from the Venezuelan embassy and other buildings owned by what the judge referred to as the Trump administration-recognized government of Venezuela. The defendants’ next court date before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is scheduled for June 12.

On Saturday, the four activists followed the judge’s order not to go within 100 feet of the embassy. Instead, the four joined the march as it made its way toward M Street in the heart of the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington on its way to the White House.

Embassy Protector Kevin Zeese hopes to make U.S. hostility toward Venezuela and Iran an election issue./Photo by Ted Majdosz

After marching for about a mile, Zeese said in a speech on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House that the actions of the Trump administration against the Embassy Protection Collective would not deter future protests against U.S. policy toward Venezuela, Iran and other countries.

The protests are “going to escalate and grow,” Zeese said.

“This is just the beginning of a movement that is going to be growing over the next half-dozen months,” Zeese said. “It’s a major issue in the 2020 elections so that no one running for office can be in support of a U.S. coup in Venezuela. We are going to change the narrative.”

Embassy Protector Dr. Margaret Flowers say she was sustained by supporters outside the embassy/Photo by Ted Majdosz

According to legal experts, the Trump administration violated international law by sending police agents into the building without permission of the government of Venezuela.

Zeese chided the corporate news media for their lack of coverage of the standoff at the Venezuelan embassy.

“In their silence is their complicity. They are showing what side they are on by not covering an historic event. The first time ever that U.S. citizens have gone into a foreign embassy to stop a U.S.coup. Never happened before. But it’s not good enough for CNN or MSNBC to be out there,” he said, citing the virtual news blackout of the standoff.

In the few instances in which the corporate news media covered the event, they neglected to explain that the U.S. government’s raid on the Venezuelan embassy–protected diplomatic territory under the Vienna Convention–represented the first time the United States has violated this particular treaty.

“We denounce these arrests, as the people inside were there with our permission, and we consider it a violation of the Vienna Conventions,” Venezuela Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Ron said Friday in a statement. “We do not authorize any of the coup leaders to enter our embassy in Washington, DC. We call on the U.S. government to respect the Vienna Conventions and sign a Protecting Power Agreement with us that would ensure the integrity of both our Embassy in Washington, DC and the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.”

Outside the Venezuelan embassy Saturday, there were no signs of pro-coup Venezuelans who had spent the past few weeks continuously blowing their sirens and horns, disturbing residents of the Georgetown neighborhood.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration recognized Juan Guaidó as the president of Venezuela after he proclaimed himself leader of the country. Allies of the Trump administration and countries that receive large amounts of U.S. aid quickly followed Trump’s lead.

Protesters act out roles of John Bolton and puppet ambassador Juan Vecchio/Photo by Ted Majdosz

In her address to the crowd, Flowers thanked the people who showed up to demonstrate their opposition to the takeover of the embassy by the Trump administration and its pro-coup allies in Venezuela.

“Your presence here every day literally gave us the strength to continue to be inside of this building. We have so much love and gratitude for every one of you who was outside facing these violent, racist, homophobic pro-coup people,” Flowers said. “We are saddened that we were unable to hold the embassy until a peaceful path was achieved. But we’re glad that we held it off for 37 days.”

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Ranson Gives Rockwool Go-Ahead for Vertical Construction

DC Media Group - Wed, 05/15/2019 - 17:40

Update:

Building plans including foundations for three “stacks” are permitted for the Rockwool plant. Two foundations are intended for 210-feet tall smokestacks, and the third is for a 115-feet tall, 4-foot diameter “chimney,” according to Michael Zarin, Vice President of Group Communications at Rockwool, in an email to DC Media Group. When the mineral wool is cut during the manufacturing process, the chimney will vent “a small amount of particulate matter” after exhaust passes through a “de-dust” filter, Zarin says. He also says that the chimney is part of the original plans.

On August 1, 2017, the Ranson City Council passed an ordinance approved by the Building Commission which amended the building code regarding height limits. The regular height limit is 90 feet for all structures, but the regulation does not apply to certain structures such as water tanks and chimney flues. In the amended ordinance, the City Council added “stacks” to this list of exceptions.

Rockwool does not have plans for a second insulation production line, Zarin says, nor is it currently planning to manufacture acoustic ceiling tiles under the brand name Rockfon, even though the air permit from the West Virginia Department of Environment allows for the ceiling tiles.

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Above-ground construction of the Rockwool manufacturing facility in Ranson, W.Va., is moving forward. Concrete walls have become plainly visible at the site of the insulation manufacturing plant in recent days, and permitting shows that the company is making substantial progress toward its goal of erecting the factory amid significant local protest against it.

Concrete walls and a crane are visible on the Rockwool construction site. In the foreground is the area where the Mountaineer Gas pipeline is buried.

On May 5, the City of Ranson issued a permit allowing Rockwool to build steel and concrete structures on the foundations for the furnace, the “cold end” building and a materials storage building. The “hot end” of the factory consists of the furnace where rock and slag are melted, the spinning chamber, oven and cooling zone, while the large, 130,500 sq. ft. “cold end” building is where slicing, dicing and packaging of the mineral wool insulation takes place.

Ranson has also issued permits for construction of underground utilities–including HVAC, electric, and plumbing–for the cold end building and the furnace.

The large “cold end” building is highlighted. The furnace is on the lefthand side of the diagram.

Surprisingly, building plans showing foundations for a third smokestack have been permitted. Rockwool’s intention to erect two 21-story smokestacks has been one of the most highly contentious aspects of the factory. They will be highly visible in the valley and spoil the viewshed of the Appalachian Trail and many other tourist attractions. The possibility of a third smokestack has never been mentioned.

One explanation for the construction of a foundation for a third smokestack–and the lack of a public announcement about it from Rockwool–may be because it is preparation for expansion.  Susan April, a resident of Myersville, Md. who has been researching the inner workings of the Rockwool factories, speculates that a second mineral wool production line will be added in the future.

The Rockwool factory, sited across from North Jefferson Elementary School. The three circles indicate the locations of the three smokestack foundations.

The stack is consistent with dual production lines with the Byhalia plant and other, newer Rockwool plants abroad, she says.

“A second mineral wool line would require installing a second Aquila furnace and a second gutter zone parallel to the present one,” she told DC Media Group in an email. “Both could use the single larger flue-gas cooling tower stack that sits separately in the diagram [pictured above].” April stresses that she is not an architect or a civil engineer.

The possibility of a third smokestack has not been confirmed by Rockwool.

A view of construction from the air on May 11/Photo by Brent Walls, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper

 

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Activists Set Conditions for Voluntarily Leaving Venezuelan Embassy

DC Media Group - Tue, 05/14/2019 - 20:32

Washington, DC–The opposition cheered as federal agents Monday night cut the chains on the front doors of the Venezuelan Embassy and prepared to raid the diplomatic mission. As they entered the dark building with flashlights to arrest activists for refusing to leave, it was unclear what would happen next. Such a raid would mark an unprecedented breach of the U.S. obligation involving the Vienna Convention of diplomatic relations and the inviolability of the Embassy. It would put the U.S. on an uncharted course of turning back international norms regarding diplomatic missions.



But the unthinkable happened. At about 2 hours into the raid federal agents were forced to stand down from the operation, although it appeared all but certain to activists that they would be arrested and charged with trespassing into an Embassy. Several journalists voluntarily left the Embassy Monday in anticipation of being arrested during an expected raid.

But Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney representing the activists interests at the Embassy, challenged the federal agents to explain what authority they had to enter the Embassy or to produce a warrant showing just cause to enter the building and arrest those inside. They had none.

Even the order agents had posted on the Embassy and later read over a loudspeaker, had no signature, no official stamp identifying the authority of the order, and no letterhead of authenticity. It was simply a laminated one-page statement Agents put up which could have been written by anyone. It looked official but it was not.

As Verheyden-Hilliard challenged the agents, they were forced to contend with the one legal choice they had left: request the activists leave of their own free will. The activists refused to leave.

Mara Verheyden-Heller, an attorney representing the activists, peaks to police at Venezuelan Embassy. Photo: John Zangas

Outside opposition grew impatient as Carlos Vecchio and his staff, dressed in immaculate dark suits, stood waiting to take control of the Embassy. Agents were forced to leave the Embassy without arresting anyone or ending the standoff. Opposition repeatedly chanted “Fuera!” (Get out) but the night would pass with the activists still inside.

The four remaining activists Adrienne Pine, an anthropologist, Margaret Flowers, a pediatrician, Kevin Zeese, co-founder of Popular Resistance, and another activist. They released a joint recorded message in essence asserting their right as lawfully invited guests of the elected Bolivarian Government of Venezuela and stated any attempt to remove them would be a violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The activists seemed to realize that with food almost gone and electricity and water now turned off since Thursday, another violation of the Vienna Convention, they had less wiggle room to remain inside. But with their numbers now diminished to four, their rations would go further. It would also be less complicated for federal agents to physically enter the Embassy to arrest and remove them.

Four activists of the Embassy Protection Collective remain inside the Venezuelan Embassy.

In a carefully worded letter to the State Department, the activists offered several conditions for voluntarily leaving the Embassy. It was as much a message of Peace as much as one based on diplomacy. They set forth the following conditions for their voluntary departure:

“This is the 34th day of our living in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC. We are prepared to stay another 34 days, or however long is needed to resolve the embassy dispute in a peaceful way consistent with international law.

“This memo is being sent to the US and Venezuela as well as members of our Collective and allies. We are encouraging people to publish this memo as a transparent process is needed to prevent the US from making a unilateral decision that could impact the security of embassies around the world and lead to military conflict.

“There are two ways to resolve the issues around the Venezuelan embassy in DC, which we will explain.

“Before doing so, we reiterate that our collective is one of independent people and organizations not affiliated with any government. While we are all US citizens, we are not agents of the United States. While we are here with permission of the Venezuelan government, we are not their agents or representatives.

“We are here in the embassy lawfully. We are breaking no laws. We did not unlawfully enter and we are not trespassing.

“1. Exiting with a Protecting Power Agreement
The exit from the embassy that best resolves issues to the benefit of the United States and Venezuela is a mutual Protecting Power Agreement. The United States wants a Protecting Power for its embassy in Caracas. Venezuela wants a Protecting Power for its embassy in DC. Such agreements are not uncommon when diplomatic relations are severed.

“A Protecting Power Agreement would avoid a military conflict that could lead to war. A war in Venezuela would be catastrophic for Venezuela, the United States, and for the region. It would lead to lives lost and mass migration from the chaos and conflict of war. It would cost the United States trillions of dollars and become a quagmire involving allied countries around the world.

“We are serving as interim protectors in the hope that the two nations can negotiate this resolution. If this occurs we will take the banners off the building, pack our materials, and leave voluntarily. The electricity could be turned on and we will drive out.

“We suggest a video walk-through with embassy officials to show that the Embassy Protection Collective did not damage the building. The only damage to the building has been inflicted by coup supporters in the course of their unprosecuted break-ins.

“2. The United States violates the Vienna Convention, makes an illegal eviction and unlawful arrests
This approach will violate international law and is fraught with risks. The United States would have to cut the chains in the front door put up by embassy staff and violate the embassy. We have put up barriers there and at other entrances to protect us from constant break-ins and threats from the trespassers whom the police are permitting outside the embassy. The police’s failure to protect the embassy and the US citizens inside has forced us to take these actions.

“The Embassy Protectors will not barricade ourselves, or hide in the embassy in the event of an unlawful entry by police. We will gather together and peacefully assert our rights to remain in the building and uphold international law.

“Any order to vacate based on a request by coup conspirators that lack governing authority will not be a lawful order. The coup has failed multiple times in Venezuela. The elected government is recognized by the Venezuelan courts under Venezuelan law and by the United Nations under international law. An order by the US-appointed coup plotters would not be legal.

“Such an entry would put embassies around the world and in the United States at risk. We are concerned about US embassies and personnel around the world if the Vienna Convention is violated at this embassy. It would set a dangerous precedent that would likely be used against US embassies.

“If an illegal eviction and unlawful arrests are made, we will hold all decision-makers in the chain of command and all officers who enforce unlawful orders accountable.

“We have taken care of this embassy and request a video tour of the building before any arrests.
We hope a wise and calm solution to this issue can be achieved so escalation of this conflict can avoided.

“There is no need for the United States and Venezuela to be enemies. Resolving this embassy dispute diplomatically should lead to negotiations over other issues between the nations.

“The Embassy Protection Collective”

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Attorney Stops Federal Raid Attempt on Venezuelan Embassy

DC Media Group - Tue, 05/14/2019 - 06:52

Washington, DC–On Monday night Secret Service, DC Police, and State Department agents attempted a coordinated raid on the Embassy of Venezuela to arrest activists that have been inside for a month. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney representing the activists’ interests at the Embassy, intervened on their behalf as federal agents entered the building. She notified them that they had no legal authority to enter the Embassy when they did not present a signed warrant authorizing them to arrest the activists.

Beginning about 7pm, Metropolitan Police several times read an order to the activists over a loudspeaker outside the Embassy that the U.S. Government had recognized Juan Guaidó as the President of Venezuela and Carlos Vecchio as the Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States, and they were no longer welcome in the Embassy. Agents then ordered them to cease trespassing on Embassy grounds and that failure to immediately leave would result in their arrest. The activists did not appear at windows or acknowledge the order.



The activists, who call themselves the Embassy Protection Collective, are there at the invitation of the Venezuelan government. On Saturday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro tweeted his support for them. U.S.-supported coup attempts led by Juan Guaido have failed, but the U.S. government persists in recognizing Guaido as the self-proclaimed president of Venezuela and expelled Venezuelan diplomats. The U.N. recognizes the Maduro government. Maduro won reelection in May 2018 with 68% of the vote.

The activists held up signs last night reading: “Criminals break in. We have the keys.”

Secret Service Agents cut chains on the doors which had been placed there by diplomats before they left the country on April 24, then entered the Embassy with flashlights. They asked the activists to voluntarily leave, but they declined unless certain conditions were met under international law.

It turned out the order posted and read by police was produced on nondescript paper purporting to be by the order of Juan Vecchio and not authenticated with either a signature or stamp by any federal agency or authority, nor any stamp of the Venezuelan government. The agents left the Embassy after some consultation with Verheyden-Hilliard and did not arrest any of the activists remaining inside.

Earlier in the day, however, in anticipation of the coming raid, The Grayzone Project reporter Anya Parammpil and Mintpress News journalist Alex Rubinstein voluntarily left the Embassy. This left only four activists inside the Embassy. Others had left on Sunday or before.

The four members of the Embassy Protection Collective still remaining inside the embassy

Police also forced the opposition to remove all signs, tents and equipment from outside the Embassy and move back to the opposite side of the street. They put up barricades and closed sidewalks around the embassy.

After agents exited the Embassy, they put zip ties around the front door handles and placed a barricade on the front porch. The remaining activists appeared at the windows as supporters cheered: “No Coup!” while the opposition gathered below railed against them, shouting: “Fuera!, Fuera!” (get out) from across the street.

Officers labelled only as “Federal Agents” enter the embassy with attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard/Photo by John Zangas

The opposition has barricaded and besieged the activists for the past two weeks, not allowing any food or supplies to be delivered to the activists. Opposition grew enraged when they realized federal agents and other authorities outside the Embassy were not going to arrest or remove the activists.

Carlos Vecchio, the Venezuelan that the U.S. has installed as “ambassador” at the Organization for American States, had shown up at the Embassy with his staff for a short period in anticipation of being allowed to enter the building but was forced to leave without doing so. It was the second time he had been rebuffed in efforts to enter the Embassy as a result of activists refusing to leave.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the activists’ attorney, tells reporters that federal agents could not produce an arrest warrant./Photo by John Zangas

Three black sedans with tinted glass and federal license plates remained parked in front of the Embassy, while nearly 100 police from various agencies remained in the street and around the Embassy, sealing it off from public access.

It appeared agents we’re still planning to arrest the activists but could not carry out enforcement without a warrant. It was not clear if a warrant could be produced or what jurisdiction would have authority to issue a warrant. According to Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, it would be in violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations for any agency or police force to either enter or remove any of the activists without permission of the elected Government of Venezuela. She stated that regardless of whether representatives the U.S. government had chosen to recognize alternative representatives as the government of Venezuela, they could not enter under the Vienna Convention, a treaty of which the U.S. was a signer in 1961.

We will update this story later on Tuesday as it further develops.

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