Pipeline protestors who trespass or cause property damage will face strict penalties under a new Oklahoma law enacted this month.
The legislation was inspired in part by the protests surrounding the Dakota Access pipeline protests, the Oklahoman reported; by the end, hundreds were arrested, and law enforcement and local ranchers and farmers reported widespread trespassing and vandalism.
But as pipelines have become a target for environmental activists, other sites have also become a target of illegal activities. In February, one activist reportedly used a high-power rifle to damage a pipeline, later pulling his weapon on police. He was shot and killed
The new Oklahoma law imposes fines and penalties on anyone who trespasses at “critical infrastructure facilities,” a broad term that encompasses not just pipelines but oil refineries, railroads, chemical plants and other sites.
The law targets not just individual activists engaging in unlawful behavior but also the organizations sponsoring them. The Gazette reports:
Those who trespass, regardless of intent, face at least a $1,000 fine. (The law doesn’t set an upper limit.) If intent to disrupt is found, the trespasser faces a $10,000 fine and up to a year in jail. Those found guilty of “damaging, vandalizing, defacing or tampering” while trespassing face $100,000 in fines and up to 10 years in jail.
In addition, if those convicted of trespassing are affiliated with a particular organization, the organization could be labeled as a conspirator and fined at 10 times the amount of the individual. Bill advocates said this link was vital to deter out-of-state organizations, which they believe bankrolled and sustained Dakota Access protests.
That same sentiment regarding out-of-state influencers is behind a separate but related tort measure approved by Oklahoma lawmakers this week dubbed the “Vicarious Liability Provision.” The bill “extends civil liability to a person or entity that compensates, provides consideration or remunerates a person for trespassing.” In plain English, those who give shelter or other assistance to people who are charged with trespassing can be held liable for their guests’ actions.
Critics have said that this new law poses a potential threat to free speech and assembly. That’s hogwash. Protestors have never had the right to trespass, to damage private property, or to otherwise cause harm.