Lawyer for Environmental Group ‘Interrogated Repeatedly’ at US Border
Environmental activists for Deep Green Resistance in seven states say they have been questioned and harassed by US federal agents at work and at home
This story was produced in partnership with the Guardian.
Deanna Meyer lives on a sprawling 280-acre goat farm south of Boulder, Colorado. She’s been an activist most of her adult life and has recently been involved in a campaign to relocate a prairie dog colony threatened by the development of a shopping mall in Castle Rock.
In October of last year, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security showed up at her mother’s house and later called her, saying he was trying to “head off any injuries or killing of people that could happen by people you know.”
Meyer was one of more than a dozen environmental activists, many of them members of the environmental group Deep Green Resistance, contacted by the FBI, DHS, and state law enforcement investigators in late 2014. In one case they wanted to know if Deep Green Resistance was a front group for another organization involved in violent activity or sabotage.
Now, the activists’ lawyer, Larry Hildes, seems to have been swept up in the investigation himself. On several occasions, Hildes says, he has been detained at border crossings for lengthy interrogations and questioned about Meyer.
The story was first reported in January but, until now, members of Deep Green Resistance had not spoken publicly about the wave of visits, which began with a call to the parents of an activist in Clearwater, Florida, on October 1. Eight members of Deep Green Resistance and two other activists not affiliated with the group who were contacted around the same time have since come forward to the Guardian.
The activists recounted a mix of FBI visits from October to December as agents showed up at their workplaces, their homes, and in some cases contacted their families seeking information about Deep Green Resistance and, in one case, asking a member if she was interested in “forming a liaison.” They were also purportedly interested in activist work surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline.
The sweeping inquiry, which targeted activists in at least seven states, appears to have been an effort to cultivate informants or intimidate activists engaging in a variety of environmental causes.
The FBI declined to comment for this story in a written statement saying the agency is “not permitted to discuss what may or may not be an open investigation.” DHS didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The activists were contacted just four months after the FBI’s Houston division formally closed an 18-month investigation into anti-Keystone campaigners in Texas. That investigation, according to internal agency documents obtained by the Guardian and Earth Island Journal, was opened without proper approval from the agency’s chief legal counsel and a senior special agent, resulting in a report of “substantial non-compliance” with rules set out by the US Justice Department.
Hildes, who has worked with scores of activists throughout his 20-year career as a civil rights lawyer, including organizations that have been infiltrated by the FBI, says that he’s never been detained and questioned about one of his clients. It’s unclear why they would target him, he says, but he’s growing tired of the harassment — living close to Canada in Bellingham, Washington, he and his wife travel across the border frequently, sometimes just for dinner.
“Coming after me like this is not going to get them anything,” says Hildes. “I’m not sure what they think they’re accomplishing.”
Meyer first heard that an agent with the Department of Homeland Security was looking for her when one visited her mother’s house on October 10, 2014. The agent left a card and, according to Meyer, said he was “trying to check up on me.”
Four days later Meyer received a call from the same agent, who asked if she had time to talk about her involvement with an environmental group. She said no and gave him Hildes’s number, in accordance with Deep Green Resistance’s strict security guidelines.
According to Meyer, the agent then assured her she was not in trouble and that he wanted to work on “forming a liaison” with her. They chatted briefly and Meyer pressed the agent to clarify what he meant by forming a liaison. According to Meyer the agent finally said he wanted to “head off any injuries or killing of people that could happen by people you know.”
At that point Meyer cut off the conversation and told the agent that he could contact her lawyer. She never heard from him again.
In early May when Hildes returned from a trip to Cuba, he was detained at Miami international airport for three hours and eventually questioned about Meyer.
A few weeks later, on May 29, driving back to Bellingham from Canada late at night he was detained at the Peach Arch border crossing and aggressively questioned.
The border agents told him it was a routine agricultural check but showed little interest in the car and after several minutes started inquiring about Meyer, Hildes said.
Hildes indicated that she was one of his clients and they asked him what he did, seemingly unaware of his professional background. He told them he was a lawyer and they then asked him what kind of law he practices. “Civil rights,” Hildes told them. “We sue government agencies.”
Hildes was stopped a third time on June 20 coming back from Vancouver and asked to fill out a customs declaration, which has never happened to him before, and held up for nearly an hour. The car was inspected and eventually, with no explanation, he was told he was free to go.
On the morning of October 16, two days after Meyer was contacted by phone, two agents, including a special agent in the FBI’s Portland division, showed up at B. Hayworth’s office in downtown Portland. At the time, Hayworth, who asked that her first name be withheld, was working as an office manager and executive assistant at a freight brokerage firm.
Hayworth, who is the contact coordinator for Deep Green Resistance’s Lower Columbia branch, knew that members had been receiving phone calls from the FBI, so she wasn’t completely surprised. But she didn’t have Hildes’s number and felt compromised with two agents in her office, which she shared with the company’s only other employee, her boss. Hayworth, a 45-year-old mother of three, said she was one paycheck away from homelessness and terrified of losing her job.
“I knew that if I got fired I wouldn’t get unemployment,” Hayworth said. “That was homelessness for us within like a month.”
To get the agents to leave before her boss returned she told them she would meet them at a nearby Starbucks after work but never went, instead going home early.
Eleven days later the agents showed up at her office again. They had been waiting outside the door and went in as soon as her boss stepped out.
The agents sat down and, according to Hayworth, said they wanted to talk about Deep Green Resistance. Hayworth gave them a piece of paper with Hildes’s name and number on it and asked them to leave.
According to Hayworth they refused to leave, saying that Hildes couldn’t answer their questions, only she could. Increasingly concerned that her boss would return to find two agents at her desk, she went outside with them and had a brief conversation.
They said they were interested in learning more about an ongoing speaking tour on the “False Promises of Green Tech” hosted by Deep Green Resistance and discussions of violence that might have occurred at some of those meetings. Deep Green Resistance, formed in 2012, is open about its support of underground movements while its members simultaneously adhere to a code of conduct that includes a commitment to nonviolence and operating aboveground.
The organization, an outgrowth of the book of the same name, espouses a radical philosophy called “Decisive Ecological Warfare,” which it describes as “the last resort of a movement isolated, co-opted, and weary from never ending legal battles and blockades.”
Following the same line of inquiry pursued with Meyer, the agents ultimately asked if Deep Green Resistance “ever has any rogue individuals who just go off and start blowing stuff up.” They also visited Carson Wright, a fellow Deep Green Resistance member and friend of Hayworth’s, at his workplace to ask him about his involvement with the group. Another activist, Dayna Conner, whose ex-husband was visited in southern Illinois and questioned about her, says that they asked if Deep Green Resistance was a front group for another organization involved in violence or sabotage.
As the lawyer for many of the activists contacted by the FBI in October 2014, Hildes reached out to the agency seeking more information about the inquiry and whether any of his clients were part of a criminal investigation. He was told that they were not but received no further details about the FBI’s interest in Deep Green Resistance.
He advised his clients not to talk to the FBI and in Hayworth’s case called one of the agents involved and left him a message to leave her alone. But judging from Hildes’s recent troubles at the border and the intense questioning about his client, Deanna Meyer, the case seems far from closed.
“At this point we want to know what’s going on,” says Hildes, “we want the details and also personally I want it to stop.”