This Day in History

June 29, 2021: Environmental Activist Charged with “Domestic Terrorism”

Time Periods: 2001-
Themes: Criminal Justice & Incarceration, Environment, Climate Justice, Women's History

On June 29, 2021, environmental activist and member of the Catholic Worker movement Jessica Reznicek was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for “domestic terrorism” for acts of civil disobedience and property damage intended to stop the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. She initially faced over 100 years in prison for her civil disobedience — which harmed no one — and is now due to be released in 2029.

According to her website managed by her supporters:

Photo of environmental activist Jessica Reznicek

Jessica Reznicek

Jessica Reznicek is a 40 year old land and water defender who has worked with and lived in the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community for the last 10 years. [. . .]

In 2016, Jessica took a stand against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in Iowa.  Jessica attended public comment hearings, gathered signatures for valid requests for Environmental Impact Statements, and participated in civil disobedience, hunger strikes, marches and rallies, boycotts and encampments.

When the process failed, she concluded the system was broken, and it was up to individuals to take action and protect the water. She and a fellow Catholic Worker then spent the next couple months disabling construction machinery along the pipeline route. No one was injured by their actions, and the land was protected from the flow of oil for an additional six months.

Over the last 10 years, Jessica has worked with the Catholic Worker and the homeless populations of Duluth and Des Moines. She has worked on third-party accompaniment work in Palestine, as an organizer during Occupy Wall Street, both at Zuccoti and in Des Moines. She has campaigned against weapons contractor Northrup Grumman in Omaha and protested the drone base in Des Moines. She also protested the construction of a U.S. Naval base on Jeju island, South Korea so as to save the sacred Gureombi Rock in the village of Gangjeon.

On February 6, 2021, Jessica pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiracy to Damage an Energy Facility and on June 30, 2021 was designated a domestic terrorist by the court and sentenced to 8 years in prison, followed by 3 years supervised probation, and a restitution of $3,198,512.70 paid to Energy Transfer LLC. Read more.

As Alleen Brown wrote for The Intercept, It’s unclear why the investigation took more than two years, but a possible historical parallel can be found in a string of arrests in the mid-2000s, during a period known as the Green Scare. Law enforcement officers arrested environmental activists accused of involvement in arsons, years after they committed the alleged crimes. The FBI had used that time to build cases against an array of actors.” During this Green Scare, activists in and around the Pacific Northwest connected to Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) were arrested and faced similarly draconian charges for nonviolent acts of resistance in defense of wildlife and the environment.

The Green Scare itself is a reference to the Red Scare, a period of attack against Communist and leftists in the United States during the 1950s, led in part by right-wing Senator Joseph McCarthy. Learn more in our lesson Subversives: Stories from the Red Scare.

Watch an interview with Jessica and Local 5’s Eva Andersen below.

Additional Resources

Right-Wing Judges Say It’s “Harmless” to Label Climate Activist a Terrorist by Natasha Lennard (The Intercept)

Dakota Access Pipeline Resister Stands With Integrity in Face of Long Prison Sentence by Cristina Yurena Zerr (Waging Nonviolence)

Sign the petition to repeal Jessica’s terrorism enhancement” (which doubled the length of her prison sentence):

This event is included on the Zinn Education Project’s Climate Crisis Timeline.