Activists in Idaho have been receiving ominous text messages by FBI agents.
Helen Yost, one of the activists opposing the transport of giant oil-field equipment through parts of Idaho and Washington, received a message on her cell phone saying, “I need to speak with you … please give me a call. I am an FBI agent”.
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The Spokesman-Review reported Friday that Yost, 57, is a co-founder of Wild Idaho Rising Tide, a climate-change action group that opposes the megaload shipments. Yost has been arrested twice while protesting the shipment of equipment to Canada’s tar sands oil fields.
The group also opposes rail shipments of crude oil and coal through the Northwest.
“We don’t see ourselves as posing any threat,” said Yost, who refused to talk to the agent. “We see the FBI contact as being unwarranted.”
Yost is one of a dozen activists in Idaho, Washington and Oregon who say they’ve been contacted by the FBI in recent months, said Larry Hildes, a Bellingham, Washington, civil rights attorney. Agents have shown up on their doorsteps, at their workplace or contacted them by phone, he said.
Hildes said he’s told his clients not to talk to FBI agents.
“We honestly don’t know what they’re up to, or why, and that concerns us,” Hildes said. “Nobody associated with any of the groups has ever done anything dangerous or violent. Some of the folks have been involved in civil disobedience, but that’s not a federal issue.”
The complaints follow demonstrations last summer against oil trains in Oregon and Western Washington, where some protesters were arrested for blocking the rails. The actions targeted the Everett rail yard, an Anacortes refinery and two Oregon oil terminals.
With the Keystone Pipeline headed for a vote in Congress, Hildes said he suspects the FBI is monitoring protest activities related to tar sands.
Ayn Dietrich-Williams, an FBI spokeswoman in Seattle, said she couldn’t answer questions about any contacts with protesters. In most instances, the agency neither confirms nor denies that investigations are taking place or that specific individuals have been contacted for questioning.
“We don’t investigate anyone for First Amendment activities,” Dietrich-Williams said.
Investigations occur when the agency has reasonable grounds to believe someone is engaged in illegal activity or planning it, she said.
Herb Goodwin, 65, of Bellingham, said a city police officer and a woman who identified herself as an FBI agent contacted him in October.
They asked if he would answer questions, but he declined.
“It’s actually pretty spooky to have the FBI show up at your door, ask one question and leave,” Goodwin said. “I think they were there to put me on notice that I was being watched.”
Goodwin was involved in the Occupy Bellingham movement, and was one of 12 Bellingham residents arrested in 2011 for blocking tracks to delay a coal train’s passage. He’s also taken part in megaload protests with Wild Idaho Rising Tide.
But all of his activism has been peaceful, he said: “I’m not a saboteur.”