Oil industry borrows page from Trump/Russia dirty-tricks playbook

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wikimedia Commons/Joe Mabel

It seems like only yesterday when Comrade Trump was stealing the presidential election. We all now know he had plenty of help from Vladimir, but Russia’s use of social media and hacking are only the most talked about anti-democratic, dirty tactics Trump and his foreign handlers used in 2016.

On multiple occasions, Trump urged his supporters (read: white men) to go and stand or sit at inner city polling places (read: black polling places) to “make sure it’s on the up and up.” Having not been born yesterday, we all know that this was simply Trump code for inciting his supporters to try and suppress the black vote via intimidation. It’s an old political tactic free of technology so it wasn’t deemed sexy enough for the media to spend much time covering it back then.

Well, it’s happening again right here on the Front Range, only this time it’s the oil and gas industry that has borrowed this disgusting page out of the Trump/Russia dirty tricks playbook in its effort to prevent citizens of Colorado from exercising their right to vote on the 2,500-foot oil and gas setback known as Initiative 97.

You may have noticed when you went to exercise your legally protected democratic right to gather signatures on a petition and/or sign such a petition regarding the 2,500-foot oil and gas setback that there was a group of pro-oil-industry protesters located at the same location. This was not a coincidence. The question is, was it a violation of your civil rights for which you can and should seek a remedy?

Think of it this way. We live in America. So if a handful of KKK members want to pull on their hoods and walk down a public sidewalk peacefully, they have every right to do so. It’s called the right of free speech and expression, and it’s what makes our county great. But on election day, those same Klansmen do not have the right to pull on their hoods and go walk around on a public sidewalk in front of a polling station in a black neighborhood. The reason is simple. Such activity would be interfering with the civil rights of the black voters in that area who have the right to cast their vote in an atmosphere free of intimidation.

There are many such instances where rights conflict. You have the right to smoke but my right to not be subjected to second-hand smoke trumps that right.

In the same way, people being paid and/or organized by the oil and gas industry to act like they are protesting against the setback initiative because they love oil have every right to do so in public. But that does not necessarily give them the right to do so aggressively right on top of people trying to gather signatures. In other words, if the motive for anti-setback protestors being mobilized to follow around signature gatherers is for the purpose of suppressing the number of signatures gathered, then this is no different than the KKK sending out hooded white racists to polling stations in black neighborhoods. And it’s not legal.

Citizens of Colorado have the constitutional right in this state to gather signatures or sign petitions to place initiatives on the ballot in an atmosphere free of intimidation.

We’ll be writing more about this in the near future, but I wanted to get something out to the public as soon as possible because the deadline for signing the setback petition is rapidly approaching.

From what we have seen here at the paper, it appears that oil industry employees are being encouraged by their employers to contact oil industry-funded front groups with the locations of setback initiative gatherers when they see them. It is logical to assume that since protestors/intimidators for the industry soon thereafter show up at the reported location, the front group is strategically deploying its paid and/or volunteer protestors for only one reason: to suppress the number of signatures gathered at that location. Attempting to suppress such signatures is absolutely no different under the law than attempts to suppress votes.

So who exactly, in this scenario, may be breaking the law? If all parties understand what is going to happen when the location is texted to the industry front group, it seems that the oil industry employee, the company who told them to call in the location, the industry front group and the pro-oil protestors/intimidators could all likely be named as defendants in any civil rights violation lawsuit brought by signature gatherers, those who signed while being intimidated or those who wanted to sign but were prevented from exercising their constitutionally protected right via intimidation tactics. Obviously a suit such as this could deliver tens of millions of dollars, so finding an attorney to take it on seems realistic. And considering the electronic communications that we now know exists between the parties perpetrating this anti-democratic activity, the evidence is likely readily available even after the bad guys read this column and hit delete.

One would think that Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman would be all over this gross violation of people’s rights, but she’s not. In fact, she appears to have no interest whatsoever in taking on potential violations being funded and coordinated by the exact same people and corporations who filled her campaign coffers and put her into her current job, presumably for situations just like this. That being the case, it likely now falls to local DAs to do something about it… and, of course, to you.

As I’ve previously noted and which is being reaffirmed almost daily thanks to Comrade Trump, there is a blue wave coming in November. The oil industry knows it will be nearly impossible to stop Initiative 97 from passing if it makes the ballot in this political climate, so out of desperation it has turned to intimidation to keep you from signing a petition that will allow the vote to occur.

And their bag of dirty tricks will absolutely work, unless all of you get involved.

Please stop being intimidated. Sign a petition if you haven’t because there are only a few weeks left to do so. Next, grab your phone and start taking photos of the pro-oil intimidators and ask them for their names. Chances are the cowards will refuse to give you their names but they can be identified later from the photos or the license plates on their cars if you happen to jot those down. Then call the police and let them know your civil rights have been violated and you want to press charges. And finally, ask how you can become a volunteer signature gatherer and go get 20 people you know to sign your petition. Hang on to the photos you take after giving them to the police and I’m sure someone will let you know where to send them once a central repository is established.

If everyone reading this column will grab one friend and both of you sign a petition, you will be voting on the setback initiative come November.

I’d sure hate to be one of those guys whose part-time, summer job pretending to be an oil and gas industry enthusiast turned out to be an invitation into a massive civil rights lawsuit. They just might want to consider a different career path that doesn’t involve trying to stop people from getting to vote on an initiative that could save the lives of their children and grandchildren along with the planet on which we all live. Don’t let the oil and gas industry cheaters win.

We are already living one nightmare because the manipulation of our political system gave us Trump.

Don’t let it happen again. Sign a 2,500-foot setback petition and put these anti-democratic bastards in their place.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.