Editor’s Note: The original piece included an original photo set that you can find at .
This fracking monstrosity sits at the top of a flattened out mountain top a stone’s throw from Sonestown, Pennsylvania at the end of a graveled public road.
But you can’t go there anymore.
EXCO Resources has commandeered the road for the sake of “public safety” just like Seneca Resources at Loyalsock, PGE at Tiadaghton, Crestwood at Watkin’s Glen, Anadarko and Halliburton, Kinder Morgan and Williams, Dominion and Encana, just like so many other natural gas extraction or pipeline companies who have a stake in maintaining the free flow of natural gas from under your property, your state forest, your game lands, or your neighbors to their global export depot. It’s no wonder that the carbon companies would flock to what journalist Adam Federman profiles as the Marcellus Shale Operators Crime Committee (MSOCC). There are billions at stake and not that much time left to cash in on the gas bonanza.
As Federman spells it out:
[MSOCC is] a little-known intelligence-sharing network that brings together law enforcement, including the FBI, Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security, the oil and gas industry, and private security firms. Established in late 2011 or early 2012, the Marcellus Shale Operators’ Crime Committee (MSOCC) is a group of “professionals with a law-enforcement background who are interested in developing working relationships and networking on intelligence issues,” according to an email sent to group members by James Hansel, regional security manager for Anadarko Petroleum.
In some sense, of course MSOCC has existed for a long time–in the revolving door shenanigans of government appointments, in campaign donations, in the relationships between gas company lobbyists and elected representatives, in the direction given to police concerning whose interests are to be protected. Informally MSOCC dines at the table of political luncheons, industry conventions, lobbyist visits, and inaugurations in order to insure the smooth flow of influence and paychecks–and paybacks. At bottom, MSOCC is simply the incorporated reality of a long history of the corporate infiltration of government agencies made up to look like it’s got a legitimate reason for being. It does–just not one consistent with civil liberty, democratic principle, the rights of communities to self-determination, ecological integrity, or, god forbid, the future of a habitable planet.
The “development of working relationships” is polite code for maintaining the long-standing four-way marriage of the gas companies, law enforcement, private security firms, and government whose honeymoon night–consecrated under the full moon of increasing public displeasure–was destined to give birth to something like an MSOCC. Indeed, the MSOCCs of the world are evidence that the global movement to end industrialized extraction is gaining ground–not losing it.
MSOCC exists to provide legitimating and cosmetic cover to “relationships” that are not merely nefarious, but essentially fascist in the strict sense of that word–the privatization and corporatization of government agencies in the interest of appropriating public resources for private profit ventures.
MSOCC exists to legitimate decisions which facilitate the unimpeded extraction and transport of natural gas–decisions that, because they necessitate the surveillance, harassment, intimidation, unwarranted arrest, and other oppressive tactics to suffocate expression of that public displeasure, plainly violate the Constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, freedom of movement, and the right to privacy. In short, MSOCC exists to silence dissent and criminalize citizenship.
MSOCC is merely the most cynically veneered attempt to date to “justify” invading our communities, despoiling our ecologies and endangering our health for the sake of a profit margin–a marginal margin at best. And as these margins grow ever narrower, the gas industry stake in keeping people–especially people with cameras–away from what they benignly call their “activities” grows exponentially larger, their objectives more urgent–they’re willingness to spend millions on whatever gets the gas to port ever more likely.
MSOCC’s mission is to smooth out the inconvenient bumps in the road–“bumps” that are also called “people.”
What MSOCC needs are “incidents” that provide the glue to its “relationships,” that sanction a marriage that’s not really a marriage but rather the incorporation–quite literally–of the state and its capacity to use violence in the name of public safety as a vital arm of the industry. Perhaps we could call this a marriage of expediency: the industry makes billions, private security firms make millions, a few police officers get fancy titles (like membership in an ecoterrorism task force), and governors get re-elected–all for the mere price of transforming the state into a third world extraction colony.
What the gas companies know–what we all know–is that their “activities” are so dangerous to the health of people, nonhuman animals, and communities that the Marcellus rich state of New York has banned at least the one of this monster’s many hydra heads–High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF).
What they also know is that the gas is running out, that the clock is ticking down on the thin profit margin between the resource and the reserve–what’s in the ground and what you can get out without more gigantic drill bits, toxic chemical cocktails, and earthquake-hazardous technologies.
While I have long argued that the relationship between state and federal law enforcement, industry interests, and private security agencies poses a grave danger to the exercise of essential civil liberties, particularly first amendment rights, it was not until I read Federman’s piece about MSOCC that some of the pieces about a very strange Valentine’s Day 2014 visit from Officer Michael Hutson, the Pennsylvania State Police/FBI Joint Ecoterrorism Task Force, began to fall into place. From the original 2.14.14 piece:
I was brushing my teeth, and getting kidney meds into my cat, Switch, when I heard my three dogs going nuts downstairs.
I jostled down the stairs, wiping toothpaste off my face to attend to the rapping, and the doggies.
There was a man at the door.
I thought it was a Jehovah Witness, so I was wondering whether to make coffee.
I arrived at the door, signaled to the fellow–who I could now see was holding out a badge–that I needed to get my dogs outside. ‘Barky, not bitey,” I believe I said.
The man’s name is Mike Hutson, Pennsylvania State Police, Intelligence Unit, Williamsport Office.
He was investigating reports of “vandalism” at unspecified compressor station locations, and he had with him a copy of the excellent Jeremy Alderson’s No Frack Almanac.
He wanted to know about the pictures–the ones I have included here.
He wanted to know about the activists in the anti-fracking movement–and whether or not “they” commit acts of vandalism and/or violence.
He wanted me to give him names of “bad apples.”
I know of no such “apples.”
So, I scoffed.
Such a notion–as I made very clear to Mr. Hutson–is preposterous.
Federman recounts the incident this way:
That same Pennsylvania state trooper visited the home of anti-fracking activist Wendy Lee, a Bloomsburg University philosophy professor, to question her about photos she took of a natural-gas compressor station in Lycoming County. Remarkably, the trooper earlier had crossed state lines and traveled to New York to visit Jeremy Alderson, publisher of the No Frack Almanac, at his home outside Ithaca, N.Y., to accuse him of trespassing to obtain photos of the same compressor station.
“Remarkably” is understatement. Alderson was with me on the day that informed the pretext of Officer Hutson’s visit. Indeed, I had been thrilled at the opportunity to show a New Yorker what was happening to us in Pennsylvania, and had taken Alderson on a toxic tour of a number of sites that day in the Summer of 2013–sites where I take school buses full of young college students, sites I have photographed lots.
Hence I say “pretext” because during Officer Hutson’s “visit” to my home it also became clear that his main objective was to fish for opportunities to return with the warrant he did not have to search for what I have no idea–but I do know this:
• First, part of what’s preposterous is that tax dollars were spent to send Officer Hutson over state lines to harass a fellow activist on the pretext of trespass or vandalism. Oddly too, Hutson’s visit to Alderson occurred months before his made his way to my home.
• Second, “vandalism” and “trespass” are not merely insufficient warrant to dispatch a Pennsylvania state trooper to New York, they are no reason whatever to come to someone’s home without a warrant.
• Third, the sheer effort to fish for evidence where there is none beyond the protected exercise of first amendment rights suggests other motives–motives MSOCC needs to legitimate its existence.
It seemed as clear to me then as it does now that Officer Hutson was on a mission to manufacture some minimally credible account of activists-violating-the-law; I gather too that finding little usable material for vandalism and trespass is what led him to query me about “pipe bombs” and “bad apples.” He knows I have no connection whatever to pipe bombs (indeed, my stock joke is that I’d make a cake as well–but the pipe bomb might taste better). But Hutson’s mission is to make the stuff of criminal charges so that MSOCC has a reason for being; fishing is what he’s paid to do.
How to Silence Dissent
And it’s fishing that takes us to the next part of my story: how to silence dissent.
After receiving a “no FBI record” response from my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to that agency, I turned my attention to the Pennsylvania State Police, and requested not only all records pertaining to myself–but specific records of Officer Hutson’s visit. Here’s in toto what came back:
In short, my FOIA request was denied in virtue of an allegedly ongoing criminal investigation.
It is unclear whether I am an object or merely somehow connected to that investigation–and that, of course, is calculated to encourage paranoia, and paranoia has a tidy silencing effect. But what is clear is the following–and it makes a complete mockery of this FOIA denial:
I have committed no crime whatsoever.
• Unless a crime has been committed by someone else of which I know nothing there is no criminal investigation to be pursued.
• Officer Hutson has had a year to reappear with a warrant. He hasn’t. There is nothing with which to secure one. Evidence of this fact is that I have been wholly public not only with my photos of industry destruction (numbering more than 3000), but with what is rightly described as the harassment and intimidation by Officer Hutson. It’s not like I’ve stopped taking pictures. No crime; no warrant; no return “visit”; no “result of a criminal investigation.” Hutson hasn’t returned because he’s got nothin’.
• What should we construe “covert” to mean other–given Federman’s account–than that whatever investigation this is, it’s designed to provide MSOCC material with which to legitimate the exchange of information between agencies that protect the gas industry? What else can “covert” mean in this case other than “you don’t get to know that we’re watching you exercise your Constitutionally protected rights”? Of course such an investigation must remain covert–if the public really understood what the state was doing, they just might be out with pitchforks.
• MSOCC’s public face relies on our willingness to (a) see causal connections where none have been established, (b) be easily fear-mongered, and (c) assume that because a claim hails from a Joint State Police/FBI Ecoterrorism Task Force officer, it must be true. If you Google “Marcellus Shale Operators Crime Committee” what you get is Officer Hutson’s 2013 Powerpoint–an MSOCC product intended for state police consumption–detailing the alleged threat of ecoterrorism in Pennsylvania.
• But what Hutson’s presentation is in fact is a series of slides starting with fear-mongering definitions of domestic and/or ecoterrorism, followed by pictures of protesters engaged in protected nonviolent speech and/or acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. This is then followed by pictures of alleged pipe bombs or other explosives. The reader is invited to see a causal progression–but this isn’t because there is one.
• The links “connecting” definitions to protests to pipe bombs are made out of nothing but the order of Officer Hutson’s slide show–and very likely his need to demonstrate the need for an MSOCC. No evidence connects the protesters to the pipe bombs (and it is staggeringly irresponsible to imply this), and unless it’s exercising first amendment rights that constitutes an ecoterrorist act, nothing connects the opening definitions to the protesters. I could just as well make a PowerPoint that “showed” the “causal” links between definitions of green beans, people holding up “We Love Green Bean” signs, and the growing of a giant stalk. The only difference is that my ludicrous presentation doesn’t fear-monger.
Put crudely but accurately: MSOCC exists to make shit up about citizens who have the guts to exercise their protected first amendment rights through nonviolent public protest, organizing direct action, taking pictures, and exposing an industry whose climate change causing “activities” endanger us all. They use the authority of the state to legitimate their existence and to carry out their dirty work, and they flatter officers like Michael Hutson into making up PowerPoints that put words and faces to a made-up threat in order to justify the suppression of free speech.
MSOCC’s objective is to intimidate us into silence by fear-mongering us into believing that while we have free speech rights–
we shouldn’t actually use them, that while we have a right to travel public roads, we ought to obey private security guards when they tell us we can’t, that while it’s perfectly legal to take photographs from those public roads, we better not–or else, and that when we engage in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience, we better be prepared to pay a very high price.
How to achieve this tall order?
• By creating an organization-MSOCC–whose operatives are supplied by the state police with information the industry can use to insure their operations continue uninterupted.
• By taking full advantage of the threat of violence sanctioned by the state–the state police (especially an officer whose title includes “FBI” and “Ecoterrorism Task Force”)–to surveil, harass, intimidate, and threaten citizen activists into silence.
• By reinforcing that silence by denying a FOIA request with the claim that there’s an ongoing criminal investigation of which you could (but they’re not going to tell you) be the prime suspect.
• By implying in that denial that someone like Officer Hutson could be coming back…with a warrant….to haul you off to jail.
None of this requires a conspiracy; what it needs is actually worse because it’s so insidious–the systemic penetration of the state by corporate interests, a penetration made facile by the fact that American law has always privileged the wealthy, has always valued property over justice. Given this history, it’s not surprising that organizations which undermine even the most fleeting exercise of democratic ideals–like free speech–are not only made possible–but are necessitated by the state.
Pennsylvania needs MSOCC just as much as MSOCC needs the policing and surveillance agencies of the state. Without such an organization, how can the state “justify” its actions to protect an industry from the people? Without something like an MSOCC, how will Governor Elect Wolf “justify” quashing dissent?
And just like his predecessor Governor Wolf must quash dissent without appearing to impose what amounts to martial law.
Because dissent slows the production Wolf needs in order to justify the extraction tax whose revenue he needs to fund the public education he also needs to make good on his major campaign promise–that Wolf in turn needs to run for re-election.
Who needs martial law when you can achieve just as much without the fuss by making people believe it’s a crime to expose corporate excess and government corruption? Why take to the streets if freedom turns out to be twenty catsup options at Wally-World? So long as it’s more important not to look like a “radical” than it is to challenge grotesque injustice, Governor Wolf won’t need anything other than what Corbett and Rendell before him have nicely worked out to keep us all in our places–safely away from the gas industry.
The ease with which the state police can deny a FOIA request is just one such example.
That people really do believe this abject nonsense is another. Despite many in the anti-fracking movement’s “progressive” insistence that they stand for the right to protest, they’re among the first to choose their organization’s donors over taking an uncompromising stance for a ban, and they’re the first to insist that they’re not “the radicals.”
The funny thing is that the communication Federman details between Don Peters, an operative for Global Security Corporation, and an analyst of the Pennsylvania state police, Douglas Jackson, makes it seem like the protesters they’re jointly surveilling might really be dangerous. But Peters and Jackson–just like Officer Hutson–certainly know otherwise. Fact is, what MSOCC needs is precisely this:
• protesters who are in no way likely to resort to violence. That way, when they don’t, it looks like MSOCC operatives must have had the intended quashing effect.
• protesters that can be made to look like they’d resort to violence (see discussion of Hutson’s PowerPoint below) so that MSOCC can justify its existence.
And that’s called “making shit up.”
That, however, MSOCC exists at all in a country purportedly founded on the exercise of civil liberty says loads about what the state and its policing agents think they’re entitled to do when it comes to the gas industry–and it’s not “protect and serve” unless what you mean is “protect and serve” the corporations who effectively buy, own and operate the state.
How to Criminalize Citizenship
The Marcellus Shale Operators Crime Committee is just one among many in a growing network of government, quasi-governmental (such as FERC–the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), and private (or privatized) concerns who act on behalf of maintaining carbon despotism. Any exercise of free speech that threatens to disrupt or expose this status quo as anything other than good old American free enterprise is a potential “terrorist” according to the lazy logic of MSOCC.
The irony is that we are welcome–even encouraged to be “activists” “exercising” our first amendment rights by holding up protest signs on capitol steps, or signing petitions, or writing letters. Indeed, that kind of activism works to the advantage of the corporatized state because it
• exhausts all of our energy in actions that have no effect on the drilling and transport “activities” of the gas companies.
• keeps us away from the public roads commandeered by the likes of EXCO.
• keeps us in plain site of the state police and the private security firms who feed them information.
• gives the state police and their counterparts in the private security firms an opportunity to intimidate us–just by being at our ineffectual “activist” events.
• Provides the state police a way to distinguish the “activists” from the “radicals,” and thereby use the harassment of the “radicals” to control the “activists.”
• And–most importantly–allows the corporatized state to use “the movement” as advertising for free speech thereby assuring everyone else that things are awesome in America.
But should we actually demand that gas industry “activities” be banned, the fury of a state already set to bulldoze us will crank into motion while the Officer Hutsons of the world smugly evince an “I told you so.” It’s irrelevant whether we do or don’t commit any crimes–much less violent ones.
The state has fairly little to worry about until we achieve a critical mass not only of people–but of conviction and the courage to take a stand–and then we must have the guts to refuse to move when they tell us to. Things will begin to change the moment we recognize that a state who acts on behalf of the monied interests of corporations who pollute our air and water all the way to altering the climate is not going to protect its most valuable assets–citizens–much less the conditions of life.
The most compelling sign that we are at least inching our way towards that critical mass is–crazy but true–the existence of MSOCC and its analogues in other states (and nations). Put simply, the gas companies are greedy bastards, and they’re not going to spend money on things like surveillance and “developing relationships” with policing agencies just to keep a few “radicals” off their precious drill rigs.
• When more than 100 protesters blockade entrance to the Washington DC FERC offices during the week-long Beyond Extreme Energy action;
• When Rising Tide North America in conjunction with a number of indigenous tribal councils can organize a blockade a month in the Northwest to stop mega-load equipment transports used in tar sands extraction;
• When Gas Free Seneca and Save Our Seneca prevent Crestwood from moving forward to build a gas storage facility on a lake that serves 100,000 people with drinking water in Watkin’s Glen, NY;
• When 400,000 people converge on New York City for the largest environmentally oriented march in history to protest governmental inaction on climate change;
• When three dozen Stop the Pipeline protesters–eight of whom risked arrest–stop Williams Partners’ pipeline testing for two hours in Conestoga Township, Lancaster County, PA;
• When brave folks like Alma Hasse are willing to spend a week in an Idaho jail on hunger strike without being charged for nonviolently exercising their right to free speech at a public meeting;
• When more than 100 townships in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have drafted community rights ordinances to defend their collective right to self-determination against the industrialization of their neighborhoods;
• And even–though far smaller in consequence–when folks like me are denied a Freedom of Information Act request via spurious excuses like an ongoing investigation where no crime has been committed–in order to stop me from taking pictures of the devastation.
That’s how we know we’re gaining ground. The carbon despots are worried that we’re figuring out how to be citizens–and not merely consumers.
They wouldn’t go to the trouble of all this oppression, its attendant bad press, its messy necessity that they retain armies of nasty corporate lawyers were they not worried that their profit ventures were endangered by, well, citizenship taken seriously.
Citizenship must therefore be effectively criminalized in order to maintain the delusion that consumption is all we really wanted.
When the government becomes willing to use the police to protect corporate interests over the rights of the people, the people must become more than activists; we must become insurgents.
Either that, or 20 catsup options really was all we were worth.
But is it what our kids are worth?
Sometimes you have to sit down, lock arms, and refuse to move in order to stand up for what you know to be good and just.
A world that looks like that one we have to fight for.