When the U.S.-based 350.org launched its ‘Break Free From Fossil Fuels’ campaign in May of 2016, the global climate justice group called the multi-week set of coordinated actions “largest civil disobedience in the history of the environmental movement.”
With hundreds of actions taking place on six continents, the whole world was watching—and, according to newly-released documents, was the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Guardian published previously unseen FBI files on Thursday showing the agency tracking peaceful protesters in the U.S. who participated in some of the ‘Break Free’ demonstrations.
The newspaper reports that while there is no evidence the FBI opened an investigation into 350.org itself, one of the documents obtained by the FOIA request showed the surveillance of non-violent activists in Iowa was “catalogued as part of a related domestic terrorism case” and 350’s well-known co-founder Bill McKibben was also mentioned in the documents. From the reporting:
McKibben, who has been the subject of both rightwing surveillance and disturbing online death threats, said the FBI’s apparent failure to distinguish between non-violent civil disobedience and domestic terrorism was contemptible.
“Trying to deal with the greatest crisis humans have stumbled into shouldn’t require being subjected to government surveillance,” McKibben said. “But when much of our government acts as a subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry, it may be par for the course.”
The FBI is prohibited from investigating groups or individuals solely for their political beliefs but has been criticized in the past for treating non-violent civil disobedience as a form of terrorism. In 2010 the Office of the Inspector General released a report detailing how the FBI, particularly in the post-9/11 era, had inappropriately tracked activist groups such as Greenpeace and the Catholic Worker for engaging in non-violent protest.
Mike German, a former FBI agent and a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Guardian that the trcking of three non-violent protesters from Iowa, who were arrested during a protest against oil-carrying “bomb trains” in Indiana, was a striking abuse of law enforcement authority.
“The fact that the FBI is tracking civil disobedience arrests and logging that information into FBI files is quite troubling,” German said.