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News :: Environment : Labor : Media : Organizing
Eco-Terrorists and Corporate Overlords
09 Nov 2005
On June 7, 2005, a gaggle of approximately 45 protesters, complete with a marching band and animal costumes, entered the Holiday Inn Select in west Knoxville, Tennessee with the intention of disrupting National Coal Corporation’s first ever shareholders meeting. They were met with sheriff deputy violence, government corruption, and nasty name-calling. This action was organized by Mountain Justice Summer, a 2005 summer campaign against mountaintop mining, consisting of many grassroots environmental organizations and individuals, including Katuah Earth First!, Coal River Mountain Watch, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and others.
Eco-Terrorists and Corporate Overlords
By Micah Lee
The Student Underground
http://www.thestudentunderground.org/article.php?Issue=52&ArticleID=475
(pick up a copy in print on the streets of Boston!)

On June 7, 2005, a gaggle of approximately 45 protesters, complete with a marching band and animal costumes, entered the Holiday Inn Select in west Knoxville, Tennessee with the intention of disrupting National Coal Corporation’s first ever shareholders meeting. They were met with sheriff deputy violence, government corruption, and nasty name-calling. This action was organized by Mountain Justice Summer, a 2005 summer campaign against mountaintop mining, consisting of many grassroots environmental organizations and individuals, including Katuah Earth First!, Coal River Mountain Watch, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and others.

National Coal is the most destructive coal company in Tennessee when it comes to blowing up mountains with explosives up to 100 times as strong as o­nes that tore open the Oklahoma City Federal building, burying streams and watersheds, and killing off all life in the area at the expensive of coal jobs, the health of people who live in the area, and the entire ecosystem. For more information about the kind of ecocide National Coal commits, check out mountainjusticesummer.org, unitedmountaindefense.org, and nationalcoal.com.

The plan for June 7: As quietly and nonchalantly as a marching band of protesters can be, we would enter the back door of the Holiday Inn and find our way to the shareholder meeting. As soon as we reached the doors to the meeting room, the band would burst into action, marching into the room to the shock and disbelief of National Coal’s CEO and Board of Directors. We would give short speeches and hand shareholders fliers that explain why investing in this company isn’t the best idea. We would chant and make noise and have a jolly good time until the police showed up and asked us to leave, at which point we would obediently leave the hotel, our point made. But things didn’t go exactly according to plan.

We rolled into the shopping center parking lot across the street from Holiday Inn, convened o­ne last time, and then snuck off to surprise the shareholders. But when we came to the door to the meeting room, we found it was locked. Shit. Improvising, someone knocked o­n the door and yelled “Surprise!” and the marching band burst into song.

Had the National Coal folks just left the door closed and locked and called the cops, like any responsible corporate executives would have done, the cops would have showed up and asked us to leave and it would have been over. Instead, someone opened the door and stepped out. We later learned that this plainclothed man was Knox County Sheriff’s Office Deputy John Walker, part of Knox County’s Homeland Security division, the neighbor of National Coal’s CEO Jon Nix, and was getting paid his sheriff department salary that day. To his credit, he was wearing a polo shirt that said “Sheriff” across the chest.

While some of the protesters attempted to push their way into the room (one successfully threw a stack of fliers inside, which shareholders did in fact read), Deputy Walker and CEO Nix, as well as members of the Board of Directors, began assaulting protesters, putting them in pain compliance choke holds, and at o­ne point punching someone in the face.

During this whole fiasco, I was up front with all the action, video camera in hand. You wouldn’t believe how sickening, and yet somehow gratifying, it is to catch o­n camera the CEO of the corporation you’re campaigning against putting someone in a choke hold.

Deputy Walker eventually closed the door to the meeting room and stood in front of it. The protesters continued to play music, bang o­n drums, and chant about National Coal killing our mountains for about 20 minutes, without being asked to leave, before some more deputies showed up and ordered us to shut up, stop playing instruments, and go outside.

Once outside they told us we could stand there silently with our signs and costumes as long as we agreed not to make any noise. We should have just left then. After five minutes of silently holding signs, deputies arrested john johnson (john doesn’t capitalize his name because he doesn’t believe in capitalism). I got it o­n video tape. They told me to back up, but apparently I was backing up too slowly because they ripped the camera from my hands and put it in o­ne of their vehicles. Then they arrested Chris Dotson. The protesters started heading across the street to get to their cars and leave. Right before Sequoia McDowell reached his car, they arrested him too.

Meanwhile, Deputy Walker told me to stand behind a car and not move. After ten minutes of waiting, I walked over to ask him a question, and he yelled at me to not move my feet and to face the opposite direction. A man took a picture of me. Another deputy began questioning me about my involvement in Earth First!, but left when he realized I wouldn’t tell him anything. He came back later and got my name, social security number, race, height, age, eye color, and everything else that they need to know to fill out an arrest form. After waiting in the hot sun for almost an hour now, a deputy walked by me talking o­n a cell phone. I overheard him say something like, “Ok, so if we don’t charge him with assault we’ll give him his camera back? Ok.” Finally, a deputy walked up and gave me my video camera and told me I was free to go. So much for staying off creepy government terrorist lists.

As soon as I was out of sight of the deputies, the first thing I checked was the video footage. It was still there and intact.

john johnson, Sequoia McDowell, and Chris Dotson were charged with felony counts of burglary, aggravated riot, aggravated assault, as well as other charges, with a combined bail of $46,000. The deputies called them ecoterrorists o­n their arrest papers. They stayed in jail for a couple of days before Mountain Justice Summer could raise enough money to pay bond.

Over a month later, in a Knox County courtroom, I sat and watched as the grand jury heard the charges against the three, with the prosecution and the defense presenting initial evidence before the actual trial. johnson’s attorney, Mike Whalen of the National Lawyer’s Guild, questioned Deputy Walker about what he, an o­n-duty homeland security officer, was doing providing private security for a coal company that day. Whalen constantly referred to National Coal as Walker’s “corporate overlords” to the objection of the prosecution. “Do you work for homeland security or corporate security?” Whalen asked.

Deputy Walker, under oath, told the court that Earth First! is a known eco-terrorist group, that the door to the meeting room was never locked, and that he never struck at anyone there. He said that Dotson hit him with a drum stick, that johnson hit him with a megaphone, and that McDowell hit him with a hotel employee (apparently hotel employees can be considered weapons if used as such). None of them actually did any of that, of course, or anything else they were charged with, as the video evidence clearly shows.

Walker said (still under oath) that National Coal was suing johnson and other Earth First!ers for blowing up Nix’s mailbox. In actuality, National Coal is suing them for lost income because of a phone, email, and letter writing campaign Katuah Earth First! put o­n earlier in the year. As far as any of us know, the mailbox bomb is a rumor and Nix still has his mailbox. No Earth First!ers have been questioned about it, but all the Knox County deputies seem to believe that they did it. Katuah Earth First! and Mountain Justice Summer have non-violence and nonsabotage policies.

I can’t go into much more detail about the case now because the trial hasn’t happened yet. When it does, likely in the spring of 2006, I will be going down to Knoxville as a witness and will report o­n it more then. The defense needs as much help as you can give them. If you would like to contribute, please contact john johnson at johnjef (at) bledsoe.net or send checks to Katuah Earth First! -River Faction, P.O. Box 27855, Knoxville, TN 37927.
See also:
http://www.thestudentunderground.org/article.php?Issue=52&ArticleID=475

This work is in the public domain
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