Dakota Access Pipeline Enemy Jessica Reznicek Appeals Terrorism Charge

On election night in 2016, Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya set fire to a bulldozer and construction equipment at a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site in Iowa. Over the next few months, activists used oxyacetylene torches to melt holes in pipeline valves at three other locations in the state. It was at the height of Native-led protests against the 1,172-mile-long pipeline, which opponents like the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe say would pollute local water sources and contaminate soil. When Reznicek and Montoya’s actions failed to stop construction of the pipeline, they held a press conference and publicly took responsibility for their actions.

The two women were later charged with nine counts of willfully damaging energy infrastructure, and Reznicek eventually pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to damage an energy facility. She was sentenced to eight years in prison by an Iowa district court last year.

Reznicek is now appealing his conviction. In an Iowa appeals court last week, his lawyers argued the district court improperly ruled his actions constituted a federal crime of terrorism and applied ‘terrorism enhancement’ to his sentence. . Had the enhancement not been implemented, sentencing guidelines would have capped his prison term at just under four years.

In recent years, penalties for protest pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure have increased dramatically. At the federal level, a provision of the Patriot Act of 2001, the national security law passed in the wake of 9/11, makes damaging energy infrastructure a federal crime.

And at the state level, in part in response to protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, lawmakers in at least 17 states have passed laws to increase prison terms and monetary penalties for offenses such as vandalism and tampering. so-called critical infrastructures. In recent years, nonviolent climate protesters have been accused of trespassing, theft and terrorism.

The issue in Reznicek’s case is whether his conduct was “calculated to influence or affect government conduct through intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” Prosecutors in the case argued that Reznicek’s conduct fit that description because she held a press conference outside the Iowa Utilities Board office and used a crowbar to dismantle an Iowa Utilities sign. .

“They were trying to tell the government, ‘If you do this stuff, we’re going to come out and take the law into our own hands and end the pipeline somehow,'” the government prosecutor said. . told the audience. “It’s incredibly dangerous and that’s exactly what this enhancement is designed to stop.”

Robert Richman, Reznicek’s attorney, argued that her actions did not target the Iowa Utilities Board and that her statements and actions did not indicate that she attempted to “influence” or “retaliate” against the Iowa Utilities Board. ‘agency. “There is no doubt that Ms. Reznicek was unhappy with the Public Utilities Board’s decision to license the pipeline, but the damages to private property were calculated to stop the pipeline, not to punish the board,” it said. -he declares.

In a 2021 court statement, Reznicek, who has long been associated with the Catholic Worker Movement, which promotes a social justice-oriented interpretation of Catholicism, said she was “not a political person” and “definitely not a terrorist”.

“I am simply a person who cares deeply about an extremely basic human right that is under threat: water,” she wrote.

The court of appeal is expected to render a decision in the coming weeks.

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