The Environmentalists' Train Wreck

Just days before Christmas, as parcels were being prepared and stockings stuffed, ten rail cars carrying crude oil from North Dakota, destined for a nearby Phillips 66 refinery, derailed along a section of BNSF track. The incident occurred just south of the Canadian border and was considered a low-speed derailment. While a plume of smoke billowed from some of the derailed tanker cars after they ignited, there were ultimately no injuries. The derailment caused some oil to spill and necessitated the evacuation of local residents closest to the incident.

Seattle media reported the incident with finger-wagging smugness directed toward the oil and gas industry although the event remains under investigation. Even U.S Representative, Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) chimed in with a statement, presumably because the incident occurred in his district.

I am concerned about the oil train derailment in Custer, WA. I worked closely with the Obama administration to create strong rules to make the transport of oil by rail safer. Clearly there may be more work to do.

However, insight from recent incidents in Washington State should have tipped off the media and congressman Larson that this event was no more about a failure of rail safety than a jet crash is about the failure of the tray table to stay in an upright position. 

Or a dangerous idiot.

Only a month earlier two women were arrested not far from the same section of track where these ten cars derailed. In that case two young terror suspects, both of whom appeared in Federal Court in Seattle in mid-December, were charged with Terrorist Attacks and Other Violence Against Railroad Carriers.

Two people arrested on the BNSF Railway tracks near Bellingham, Whatcom County, were charged with terrorist attack and other violence against a railroad carrier, and appeared in federal court today, announced U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran.  SAMANTHA FRANCES BROOKS, 27, and ELLEN BRENNAN REICHE, 23, both of Bellingham, Washington, were arrested Saturday night in Bellingham as they allegedly placed a ‘shunt’ on the tracks.  A shunt disrupts the low level electrical current on the tracks and can disable various safety features. 

“Since January there have been 41 incidents of shunts placed on the BNSF tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties—causing crossing guards to malfunction, interfering with automatic braking systems, and, in one case, causing the near-derailment of tanks of hazardous chemicals,” said U.S. Attorney Moran.  “These crimes endanger our community.  I commend the agents from Customs and Border Protection, FBI, BNSF Police, and state and local partners who prioritized stopping this criminal conduct.”

The defendants, two pale-faced, pacific northwest locals, are accused of laying a wire “shunt” on the track. A tool beloved of environmental terrorists, shunts consist of a wire and magnets strung across a railroad track, mimicking the electrical signal of a train. The devices are intended to force trains to automatically brake, causing the train to derail or to otherwise disable railroad crossing guards and various other safety features along a track.

This is done by disrupting the low-level electrical current on the tracks. A camera captured Reiche and Brooks bent down along the track where the shunt was found. They were also carrying a brown paper bag containing rubber gloves, a piece of black insulated copper wire, and a Makita drill.  

Of particular note regarding the case of these environmental terrorists is that their efforts represent only one of 41 similar incidents of shunts having been placed on rail tracks in that part of Washington during 2020, nearly one per week throughout 2020.

Imagine for a moment that instead of having used shunts to damage property and to threaten human life, they had attempted to detonate a suicide vest, or had attempted to fly planes into buildings, or had attempted to blow up a parked truck in a downtown city street. Shunts on rail tracks are intended to have an equally tragic outcome for passenger trains and commercial trains alike. Shunts are non-discriminating after all.

That no one has yet been killed or injured, or that homes have not yet been destroyed by these terrorist tactics is nothing short of luck. Failed attacks make the attempts no less serious. But for the attention and acumen of BNSF workers who monitor the tracks, and the speed with which of law enforcement responded to the call when requested, the outcome could have been tragically different.

No emissions or pipelines here.

According to U.S. Attorney Brian Moran, in another shunting incident in October this year shunts were placed in three locations on tracks in northwest Washington. This prompted emergency brakes to engage on a train hauling flammable gas and hazardous chemicals. The braking caused a bar to fail that connects the train cars. As a result, the cars became separated. The decoupling had the potential to cause the derailment in a residential neighborhood.

Of these 41 incidents, there were at least ten different occasions where shunts were placed on the track near enough to a roadway to potentially cause crossing-signal and crossing-arm malfunctions, including failure to block traffic when a train was oncoming. On at least two occasions, individual shunts have interfered with multiple roadway/railway signals.

The narrative of these environmental zealots is that pipelines are an infringement on land rights; land that they assert belongs to North American Indian ,tribes. According to their narrative, by destroying pipelines, or in this case, transportation infrastructure, all will be right in the world of first nations' politics. These non-first nation terrorists are apparently even willing to kill innocents to make that point. 

According to investigators, shortly after the first shunts were discovered in January, 2020, a claim of responsibility was published on an anarchist website called It's GoingDown.org. The claim read, “the shunting activity was carried out in solidarity with Native American tribes in Canada seeking to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline across British Columbia, and with the express goal of disrupting BNSF operations and supplies for the pipeline.”

While many Americans look west and roll their eyes about the extremism of the environmental zealots in states like Washington, caution is advised. The cancer has already metastasized. Just a day after Christmas, while Canadians were celebrating Boxing Day, three Black Hills Energy gas line sites were vandalized in Colorado; two in Pitkins County and one in Aspen. The FBI has joined local police in the criminal investigation of what they are referring to as an apparent "coordinated attack."

It is clear that these gas line attacks in Colorado, like the shunt attacks on the rail lines in Washington, are part of a larger, anti-energy campaign designed to dismantle and destroy energy infrastructure and to harm life and property in the process. The last time there were terrorists intent on harming our way of life, they flew two planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11. In the face of that reality, the country must be ready to confront the threat directly, root out the financiers of the activity and punish those who choose to participate.

Canada: Minorities Should Be Seen But Not Heard

Considering their obsession with race, liberals everywhere have a tendency to stumble into racist territory at least as often as the "normies" they so despise. This is principally because, for all of their mockery of Republicans for having "token" black friends (Dick Durban memorably used the word to describe Senator Tim Scott), many of them only know of minorities what they learned from outdated activist playbooks.

We're seeing this phenomenon play out in the U.S. election, as when Joe Biden proclaimed that African Americans "ain't black" if they haven't yet decided whether to vote for him. Similarly, many Hispanic voters were alarmed by Biden's declaration that he would "go down as one of the most progressive presidents in American history," remembering, as they do, that "progresivo" is the preferred self-description of the regimes many of them fled. (Quinnipiac recently even had Trump leading outright with likely Hispanic voters in the crucial state of Florida).

Though they don't like to say it out loud, liberals tend to think that they're owed the votes of racial minorities, and that they should be seen -- especially at campaign rallies -- but not heard. Specifically, that their actual opinions about contentious issues, from defunding the police, to  immigration, to job killing regulations, just complicate the narrative.

Native groups, of course, are frequently used this way, especially on environmental issues. In a feature I wrote back in July, after retelling the story of Canada's Wet’suwet’en nation, who were supportive of a pipeline project on their territory that protesters were boycotting on their behalf (something I'd written about before), I commented:

Activists and their friends in the media don't want us to hear that side of the story [i.e. that Natives supported a pipeline], as it undercuts the Rousseauvian depiction of indigenous people that they want haunting our imaginations. They would prefer we think of Natives exclusively as victims... still in a state of mystical harmony with nature, disinterested in all worldly concerns. But this is an embarrassing caricature of natives, both historically as well as in the present day.

Writing at the Calgary Herald, Stephen Buffalo and Ken Coates have an op-ed that looks at the struggles Canada's Liberal Party has along these same lines. As they explain:

Since its election in 2015, the Trudeau government cancelled the Northern Gateway Pipeline, banned oil and gas exploration in the Arctic and oil tankers off the British Columbia coast, brought in complex environmental assessment processes, and appeared to actively discourage investment in the industry.

However, that same government is committed, at least rhetorically, to supporting indigenous communities. The problem is that the economic well-being of First Nations in Canada

[I]s closely associated with the natural resource economy, particularly mining, oil and gas. Government policy is putting at risk the impressive gains supported by government policy in recent decades.

As in the Wet’suwet’en situation, oil and gas projects often occur on or near the lands of First Nations communities. Having title to that land is an asset to them. It also provides jobs for members of their communities. The authors make clear that these groups care about responsible environmental stewardship, and don't want to see their lands polluted or spoiled -- who does? But if that can be managed while also bringing wealth and employment to the communities, where's the problem?

Indigenous communities engaged with the oil and gas industry for solid reasons: to build prosperity, employment and business, to gain autonomy from the government of Canada, to secure a measure of influence over project decision-making, and to assert a prominent place in the national and international economy.

Read the whole thing.

Native Americans and the Activist 'Victim' Narrative

Well it's official -- after 87 years the Washington Redskins will be retiring their name and logo. Officially the organization is undergoing what will no doubt be a costly rebranding, one that's sure to alienate much of their fan base, in atonement for the offense they've given Native Americans over many decades.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have told the Natives. As Tim Carney explains,

The most thorough poll of Native American sentiment in the past decade found that 90% of Native Americans didn’t find the team name racist. Only 9% found it offensive. This poll was commissioned by the Washington Post, which has — before and since — been lobbying the Redskins and campaigning nonstop for the team to change its name. "The survey of 504 people across every state and the District reveals that the minds of Native Americans have remained unchanged since a 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found the same result. Responses to The Post’s questions about the issue were broadly consistent regardless of age, income, education, political party or proximity to reservations." A more recent, less scientific poll... found that still a clear majority were not offended. The most common emotion elicited among Native Americans by the team’s name? “Pride.”

Now, despite enjoying the proposed replacement names floating around Twitter (The D.C. Swamp Creatures has been my favorite), I really don't care one fig what Washington's football team is called. However, this situation has bearing upon many others we've seen in recent years. Small (but loud) groups of activists claim to speak for the vulnerable, and shame governments and corporations into throwing their financial weight around. (As Carney points out, the movers here were not Native groups but corporations, including Nike, FedEx, and Bank of America). Executives and politicians, desperate to display their woke bona fides, do whatever the activists tell them to do.

Native Americans aren't the only victims of this play, but they are among the most common. The drama up in Canada surrounding the Coastal GasLink pipeline earlier this year is a good example -- protests erupted purportedly in support of the Wet’suwet’en Nation who, we were told, were having their rights trampled on by the company building the pipeline. The Wet’suwet’en, however, were broadly in favor of the pipeline's construction, which was supplying them with jobs and brought the promise of development to their territory.

Activists and their friends in the media don't want us to hear that side of the story, as it undercuts the Rousseauvian depiction of indigenous people that they want haunting our imaginations. They would prefer we think of Natives exclusively as victims, continually oppressed by the descendants of George Washington and John A. Macdonald, but still in a state of mystical harmony with nature, disinterested in all worldly concerns. But this is an embarrassing caricature of natives, both historically and in the present day.

Which is not to say that they don't care about nature or the land that they've lived on for generations. This story, for instance, about the Fort McKay First Nation's decision to develop an oil sands project on their land even in this apparently unfavorable market, makes it a point to emphasize that group's concern about all such development being responsible. It mentions that they are, concurrent with this project,

in negotiations with the province to finalize a land-preservation plan for the area around Moose Lake, the last relatively undisturbed wilderness in the territory where community members can practice their treaty rights including hunting and harvesting traditional food and medicines.

But as Mark Milke and Lennie Kaplan recently explained in Canada's Financial Post, natives, in both Canada and the US, often live "far from the economic opportunities that cities provide," leading to an elevated unemployment rate in indigenous communities. Resource development and extraction are among the best opportunities to combat this problem. This is something Fort McKay understands very well.

The First Nation is surrounded by eight mines and three in-situ operations, and the vast majority of its income is derived from its own business activities, including a dozen companies that service the oil industry. Those companies employed more than 1,400 people and generated $500-million in revenue in 2018.

Job numbers like that are nothing to sniff at, especially in the present economy. Back in February, Troy Young of the Wet’suwet’en Nation gave an interview about the Coastal GasLink pipeline in which he was clearly frustrated by the way the dispute was being portrayed in the media. The pipeline would provide hundreds of jobs for his people, not to mention revenue from the 10 percent ownership stake in the pipeline held by the First Nations groups living along its path. As Young put it, "typically if people are employed, drug use goes down, because people are happy when they're making money, they feel better about themselves. They feel more confident." He was also apprehensive about what it would mean if the protesters were really successful in killing the pipeline project, saying that if that happened "Nobody's ever going to invest here again."

As in the case of the Washington Redskins, activists and the media tend to use native groups as shadow puppets in their simplistic stories. These are meant to bolster a preexisting narrative, one which is more representative of the activists' interests than anyone else's. In the real world, indigenous people aren't so reflective of their caricature. So whenever you encounter loud, angry people speaking on behalf of natives, take a moment to consider whom they're really speaking for.