Massey’s War on the First Amendment

posted by scott parkin

I often post details on various Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice actions happening in the Coal River Valley and other parts of West Virginia and Appalachia. It’s often a game of tit for tat as Massey is regularly destroying mountains and harming communities while our ragtag band of pro-mountain activists are shutting down those operations by putting their bodies on the line.

But, some of the more interesting aspects of this work are not playing out in the coalfields and on the mine sites, but in the courts. Massey’s harshest responses can come in the form of violence by it’s employees aimed at community activists, but also from the company itself in the form of restraining orders and civil lawsuits.

Last year, Massey attempted to bar not only activists arrested on their property from returning with temporary restraining orders (TRO), but also they continue to extend them to “associates” of the activists. In Massey’s lawyers estimation, this would bar potentially thousands from trespassing and thus hold them accountable in court.

Furthermore, they are leveling high dollar lawsuits against activists for loss of profits. The 5 person tree-sit team from Jan. has been sued for $75,000. In the past these suits have been called “SLAPP” suits, or “Strategic Litigation Against Public Particpation.” As activists have gotten more effective at slowing down the rate of destruction or pushing an issue onto the national stage, the corporations and the state respond by trying to limit their ability to organize effectively by bogging them down with financial and legal burdens.

Massey’s goals with this litigation is to cause the defendants to succumb to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and then abandon the campaign. It runs counter to the First Amendment which protects our freedom of speech.

In the 1980’s, Pacific Legal Foundation and San Luis Obispo filed a suit attempting to obtain the mailing list of the Abalone Alliance to get the group to pay for the police costs of the largest anti-nuclear civil-disobedience act in U.S. history at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Pacific Legal Foundation lost at every court level and withdrew the suit the day before it was due to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. San Luis Obispo County v. Abalone Alliance.

Massey is now doing the same thing. All of us outside of the coalfields, need to find the best ways to join and support frontline communities and activists fighting mountaintop removal on the ground and in the courts. Solidarity is what is needed.