Minnesota Republicans introduced a bill that would create a new felony offense for organizations that train “eco-terrorists.”
The bill follows a January lawsuit filed by the Upper Midwest Law Center against “eco-terrorists” who caused more than $100,000 in damage to the equipment of a Minnesota-based family logging company.
The complaint names Shawn Ray Etsitty, currently facing criminal charges in St. Louis County, as the defendant, but leaves room for naming additional activists and organizations who may be culpable.
During the February 2019 incident, Etsitty and his co-conspirators mistakenly believed that the Scheff family work site in Cloquet was affiliated with Enbridge and its Line 3 restoration project. In fact, a protest group called “Stop Line 3” posted a video of the Scheff logging site on Facebook and accused Enbridge of “illegal logging” and bulldozing “its way through wetlands.”
The non-profit law firm labeled the vandals as “eco-terrorists,” since the criminal acts were “committed for apparent ideological reasons by people who oppose all pipelines and energy infrastructure.”
“Who’s behind this? This is the other thing we need to address in this lawsuit. Right now we know that several organizations have conducted what they call ‘action training camps’ for people like Etsitty,” said Douglas Seaton, founder and president of the center. “These groups fund and conduct these training camps and supposed protests, which provide cover for this criminal activity.”
He said the organizations involved in the training of “eco-terrorists” include Stop Line 3, Guinea, MN 350, the Anti-Colonial Land Defense, and Northfield Against Line 3. These groups apparently receive funding from several more prominent organizations, including the McKnight Foundation, The Minnesota Sun reported.
A new bill authored by Rep. Shane Mekeland (R-Clear Lake) would penalize any entity that “knowingly recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, conspires with, or otherwise procures” individuals for purposes of trespassing on or damaging critical infrastructure.
“This is simply an attempt to deter extremists from engaging in activities that could cause public safety hazards,” Mekeland said in a statement. “Free speech is a staple of our Constitution and my bill does not impact anyone’s ability to exercise their right to peaceful protests. What we need to create is a bright line with serious consequences for coordinated, extreme activity that crosses the threshold from free speech and enters the criminal realm, whether it’s trespassing or causing property damage.”
Mekeland said that two previous iterations of the bill have passed the House, but one was vetoed by former Gov. Mark Dayton and another was stripped from an omnibus bill during committee.
“Last November, a group of extremists constructed a 30-foot-tall tripod device and blocked work from happening at the Clearbrook Terminal,” he added. “These are the types of criminal acts we are looking to address in my bill, especially as the Line 3 pipeline replacement project commences across northern Minnesota. This is an effort to protect citizens, workers and public safety officials from undue harm.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun and The Ohio Star. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Lawsuit Press Conference” by the Center of the American Experiment.