This Thursday, a Canadian logging company named Resolute Forest Products will be in federal court, arguing that Greenpeace, STAND.earth, and “Jane Does 1-20” are part of a criminal racketeering enterprise. The crime: calling Resolute a “forest destroyer” in public campaign material, when Resolute’s logging of the Canadian boreal forest has not yet actually “destroyed” that vast forest. For this, and other advocacy obviouslyprotected by the First Amendment, Resolute is seeking $300 million in damages from environmental non-profits and individual staff-members.
Ridiculous and un-founded lawsuits like Resolute’s are known as “SLAPP” suits, or “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.” SLAPPs are bullying lawsuits filed against those who dare to stand up against powerful interests, in an effort to burden activists with defending against the suits, diverting time and resources away from the work itself. CCR supporters will be familiar with these tactics, as we have been defending former board members of the Olympia Food Co-op for nearly a decade now, after they were sued by co-op members seeking to block the co-op Board’s decision to boycott Israeli goods. And CCR represents the Earth First! Journal in a SLAPP suit by Energy Transfer Partners, the company responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Both the Resolute and ETP SLAPPs were brought by Kasowitz Benson Torres, Trump’s go-to law firm, which seems hell-bent on suing the entire environmental movement out of existence. Much like the Resolute SLAPP, the ETP v. Greenpeace case attempts to recast activism as a criminal conspiracy, outlandishly alleging that the inspirational resistance led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the environmentally disastrous Dakota Access Pipeline was actually a Greepeace-led conspiracy to defraud donors about the environmental impacts of the fossil fuel industry and the risks posed by pipelines.
For these corporations, winning the lawsuit is not the point. SLAPP suits are meant to make speech costly and, thus, stifle dissent. Happily, the tactic is backfiring. The Resolute case was already thrown out of court once—Thursday’s hearing will address the company’s attempt to re-package the same allegations in a new complaint—and the ETP case has been floundering as well. Our client, the Earth First! Journal, is not named in the ETP lawsuit but the Kasowitz firm dragged the Journal into the case anyway by mailing a copy of the sprawling 187-page complaint to their address, presumably because “Earth First!” is named as a defendant and an “enterprise member.” That’s odd in a number of ways, primarily that “Earth First! is not an entity that can be sued, any more than “The Environmental Movement” is. Instead, it “is a banner, or a set of beliefs, that people anywhere can organize around. … throughout its existence it has been a leaderless movement…”
Last month, CCR defeated Kasowitz’s request for a declaration that it properly served “Earth First!” with the lawsuit by sending it the Earth First! Journal’s address. The Judge also denied our request that Kasowitz and its co-counsel be sanctioned for their attempt to sue a philosophy (we asked that they be ordered to share the relevant Federal Rule of Civil Procedure with every lawyer in the firm). This is a disappointment, and it means we may one day face another Kasowitz SLAPP, this time perhaps against global Communism or “The Vegan Enterprise.” Maybe the message is getting across nonetheless—as Kasowitz’s co-counsel quietly withdrew from representing ETP after we served him with the sanctions motion, the day before just before it would be filed in court.
Our friends at the Earth First! Journal say it best when they talk about “how disgusting it is that ETP's lawyers wrote hundreds of pages of lies that attempt to take all of the agency and power away from the Indigenous people that shook this Earth-destroying company to the bone. This movement was powerful, important, based on facts, and Indigenous-led, and nothing ETP says can erase that fact.”
That’s why we are looking forward to Thursday’s hearing, when Greenpeace’s lawyers will undoubtedly school Kasowitz some more on the fact that the First Amendment exists. It is also why we should respond to all SLAPP suits not only by ensuring the activists who are targeted get the legal support they need and can keep focusing on the essential work of fighting earth-destroying corporations, but also by making sure that we all listen to those targeted. Kasowitz Benson and Energy Transfer Partners want to silence Earth First!ers across the globe? So join me in subscribing to the Earth First! Journal, where you learn what so many different activists and groups are doing to fight back right now. Resolute wants to sue Greenpeace out of existence? Tune in to Greenpeace’s Facebook live on Thursday, after the hearing, to ensure their words drown out Resolute’s absurd allegations. The best defense against attempts to silence activists is to help them be heard.