FBI2Yesterday, the Republican-backed Senate tried and failed to overcome the Presidential veto on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

And although President Obama has won plaudits from the environmental community for standing up to the oil-backed Republican Congress’s attempts to push through KXL, his Administration still has questions to answer over the pipeline.

We may have the first African American President in the White House who promised widespread political change, but we still have a government that spies on innocent civilians, just like the repressive eras of the past.

The last few decades are littered with cases of the US Federal authorities spying on progressive activists, from civil rights to the anti-war movement to more recent causes such as women’ rights, gay rights and of course environmental activism.

“The FBI’s historical response to dissent on the left … is to try and stop it by intimidation and by force,” argues Larry Hildes, an attorney in Bellingham, Washington, who is well known for defending people involved in civil disobedience. Hildes believes not much has changed with the government’s spying activities since the 1960s and 1970s.

Some twenty years I wrote a book called Green Backlash which documented some of this spying. Judi Bari, who died of breast cancer years after being blown up by a pipe bomb in 1990, died still searching answers about what, if any, complicity the FBI had in her attack or in trying to frame her afterwards. The full truth of what happened will probably now never be known.

The book also documented the campaign to paint environmentalists, such as Bari and others, as extremists. In doing so it makes it easier to justify spying on them or to use violence against them.

One of those concerned about the government’s spying activities includes Adam Federman, a contributing editor at Earth Island Journal. He has just published what can only be described a must-read article in the Journal.

And what he reveals is highly disturbing, including the details of how the FBI is investigating anti-Keystone XL, anti-tar sands activists and other grass-roots groups in the US.

Federman details how the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit distributed an intelligence bulletin back in 2010 warning that supposed “environmental extremism will become a greater threat to the energy industry”.

This document seems to have been used to justify increased surveillance of grass-roots groups, anti-fracking campaigners, and anti-KXL groups, where there has been a deliberate blurring of the lines by the authorities of those involved in non violent direct action and those supposedly carrying out some kind of violence. “There seems to be little effort to distinguish between lawful political activism and illegal activities”, contends Federman.

What this means is that despite strong evidence to the contrary, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and many state law enforcement agencies are promoting the idea that environmental extremism is on the rise.

Federman outlines how: “In recent years the FBI has pursued environmental activists in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho for little more than taking photographs of oil and gas industry installations.”

In November 2013 and February 2014, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force visited anti-fracking activists at their homes in New York and Pennsylvania. Members of Rising Tide in the Pacific Northwest have been contacted or visited by FBI agents.

Late last year, the attorney Larry Hildes  started getting “calls from a dozen people … some of whom had multiple contacts by the FBI,” which “continued through December and into early January when the first media started to come out bringing this to public light, and that, as far as we know, is when the FBI harassment stopped.”

“They keep telling me there’s no criminal investigation,” Hildes says. “So if they’re not investigating crime, they’re not investigating potential crime, the only thing that’s left to conclude is that they’re trying to intimidate and silence these movements.”

But as anyone who has witnessed the amazing growth of grass-roots movements fighting KXL, or climate change or the tar sands across North America over the last few years, you know that this movement will not be silenced. Despite the threats and the suppression, it can – and will – only grow.