There’s a standoff right now in the Lone Star State, with local protestors facing off against what they consider a foreign threat, and reports indicate that the violence is escalating. Activists say they've been pepper sprayed, Tasered, and roughly manhandled by police while perched in the path of heavy machinery employed by TransCanada, the pipeline company that's attempting to bulldoze a path for the southern leg of its highly controversial Keystone XL project.
The blockaders -- who represent local Texas landowners and climate activists -- are holding ground on privately owned land that was seized by TransCanada through threats of eminent domain. Here’s a quick blow-by-blow of the standoff, which started Monday and quickly escalated to startling levels, as reported by the protestors through blogs and social media. (For more, see this report from anti-tar sands crusader Bill McKibben, who is also an OnEarth contributing editor.)
Nobody was injured, and the blockade was not involved in toppling the machinery. (Looks like a super-competent crew building this pipeline!)
Two young Texans -- Shannon Beebe, 26, from Lake Dallas, and Benjamin Franklin, 34, from Houston --handcufedf themselves to a TransCanada excavator with the stated intent of protecting the tree-sitting blockaders.
As TreeHugger's Brian Merchant put it: “Are these the faces of hardened, dangerous criminals? When you look at that image above, do you see the very portraiture of a menace to society? East Texas police officers evidently did.”
Police began using aggressive pain compliance tactics when a senior TransCanada supervisor named John arrived and actively encouraged it. Torture tactics included; sustained chokeholds, violent arm-twisting, pepper spray, and multiple uses of Tasers, all while blockaders where in handcuffs.
Immediately following TransCanada’s consultation, law enforcement handcuffed the protesters’ free hands to the heavy machinery in stress positions and then subjected to repeated torture tactics by four police officers while TransCanada employees stood by and watched.
A plain-clothes police officer was among the aggressive officers to implement torture tactics. He put Franklin in a chokehold cutting off his breathing, and bent him over backwards in an attempt to make him pass out. Franklin reports difficulty swallowing because of bruises sustained to his esophagus.
The most physically aggressive was the ranking officer, a Lieutenant with the Wood County Sheriff Department under the observation of TransCanada employees. He twisted and contorted the tube that Beebe and Franklin had locked their arms into, cutting off circulation to their hands and cutting abrasions into their hands and forearms.
Franklin and Beebe then describe pepper spray as the most painful part of their ordeal. Police sprayed into their lockdown tube, and the chemicals burned their already-open wounds. Fortunately they were able to make it through their mutual torture by intimating personal reassurances to each other. Franklin and Beebe say they were able to endure the pain knowing that they were in it together. Despite the immense pain our brave blockaders remained locked to the machinery for several hours – determined to stop this toxic tar sands pipeline.
After the pepper spray didn’t work the police again conferred with TransCanada employees before sending someone back to the police car to bring a taser. Franklin and Beebe were each tased for one second. Then Franklin was tased for 5 entire seconds. He described the pain as immense and almost physically unbearable.
They were eventually removed when it was clear that TransCanada was willing to do whatever it took to increase pain levels to physically unbearable levels.
After the torture session ended, John, the senior TransCanada supervisor openly congratulated the aggressive Sheriffs Department Lieutenant on a “job well done.” To which the Lieutenant replied: “if this happens again we’ll just skip to using pepper spray and tasing in the first 10 minutes.”
Meanwhile, a couple of activists say they were making their way through the woods on Tuesday to the blockade, trying to find a safe route past the tree-felling machines as they snapped live timber. Here’s how one blockader described what happened next:
When approached in plain sight by the members of Tar Sands Blockade the TransCanada operator refused to turn off his machine in accordance with Federal safety regulations. He continued to recklessly clear-cut trees in full view of TransCanada supervisors who simply watched with video cameras. The feller buncher operator made eye contact with blockaders, and proceeded to drop a tree near enough to them that blockader J.G Jenson had to jump out of the way to avoid being slammed by the branches.
Surely, this act must violate some work-safety regulations, not to mention common sense and care for a fellow human's life. There’s video. See for yourself:
TransCanada’s tree-felling machine and other heavy equipment rolled up to within 20 feet of the “tree village” where nine protestors were sitting, they say. After running the machines for roughly an hour next to the precarious scaffolding, the company retreated. But workers continued chainsawing trees within 100 yards of the perch, according to activists. Again we wonder, how many federal safey regulations does this activity violate?
We’re awaiting updates from the ground in Winnsboro, and you can follow along on the Tar Sands Blockade's Twitter account and blog. As far as we can tell, TransCanada and the local police have not commented on reports of their tactics by the protestors. [Editor's note: We've put in a request to TransCanada's media department ourselves. We'll update if they respond.]
We'll continue following this story with reports in our daily Today OnEarth news roundup, which you can receive in your inbox each morning.