Paid actors harass setbacks petitioners

June 21, 2018

Colorado, oil & gas industry

Initiative 97 petitioner (center) is surrounded by paid protestors at Taste of Fort Collins on June 10, 2018. [Source: Colorado Rising]

Oil and gas industry likely supporting agitators to harass and intimidate volunteers during Colorado Rising ballot initiative campaign for safer setbacks

Campaign calls on Secretary of State to stop the bullying

Petitions have been circulating since April for Initiative 97, which would require 2,500-foot-minimum setbacks between new oil and gas developments and any occupied structures and “vulnerable areas” such as waterways and outdoor public areas. Signatures are due in the Secretary of State’s office on August 6.

According to the environmental advocacy group Colorado Rising, paid actors are targeting petition circulators in an all-out harassment and intimidation campaign.

Colorado Rising volunteers are alleging that they have been harassed, intimidated and bullied by paid actors posing as counter-protesters. Photos and videos by the group show signature gatherers being stalked for several blocks as the agitators hold banners, block petitioners from contacting voters, and shout at voters.

Initiative 97 signature gatherer is shadowed by three agitators hidden behind signs outside Mamie Doud Eisenhower Library on June 5, 2018. [Source: Colorado Rising]

“The oil and gas industry should be ashamed of itself, for using paid actors — fake protesters — to harass citizens who simply want to ask voters to better protect schools, homes, playgrounds and drinking water from oil and gas operations,” said Micah Parkin, Colorado Rising board member. “Who do they think they are? We know the truth now. They’re bullies who’ll do anything to get their way. What kind of a lesson is this for the sons and daughters of energy executives? Here’s how we can thank them for their attempt to extort democracy: Sign the petitions and vote to protect our schools, homes, playgrounds and water sources this fall. Keep oil and gas operations 2500 feet away from our neighborhoods. That’s called payback.”

Colorado Rising volunteers have collected photos and videos showing several “counter-protesters” at multiple locations in the past few weeks who were stalking volunteers and were said to have taken photos of voters who signed the petition. In the videos, the  agitators don’t admit they are paid by the oil & gas industry, but they also refuse to identify themselves as part of any advocacy group, even though they are clearly well-organized and well-trained in intimidation and harassment.

The agitators are showing up at public events and locations. They seek out volunteer signature gathers for Colorado Rising. They call in other harassers who stand uncomfortably close to the volunteers and follow them around holding handmade signs with messages like: “Would you trust this person with your info?” The harassers are typically large males whose behavior is intended to intimidate both the signature gatherer and potential signer. They shout at people, “Don’t sign! Don’t sign!”

At the PrideFest in Denver on June 16, 2018, the volunteer in the middle explainedd Initiative 97 to the voter on the left while the agitator on the right shouted, “Don’t sign! Don’t sign!” In the background a Denver Police Officer explained to two other agitators that they must keep their distance from signature gatherers. [Source: Colorado Rising]

Anne Lee Foster, signature gatherer: “They shook signs and yelled that I was untrustworthy and generally smearing my character. The experience was scary, outrageous, dishonorable and unacceptable. Everyone has the right to participate in the democratic process. So, to have a big powerful corporation manipulate and try to extort that process, that so many have fought and died for, was alarming and incredibly saddening. The energy industry hired an actor, a fake protester, a harasser to try to scare me. Well, listen up: It didn’t work. Voters will have the final say.”

As agitators intimidate the signature gatherer they also block her access to the voters passing by at the PrideFest in Denver in June. [Source: Colorado Rising]

Cameron Baller, signature gatherer: “I was harassed by paid disruptors on three separate occasions. As tools of the oil and gas industry, these people were paid to hold signs, menace voters who wanted to sign my petition, and intimidate and follow me. They’re trying to steal the democratic process! Who do they think they are!? At one event, these people followed me for more than a half hour before I had to flee the event fearing for my own safety.”

In 2016, oil and gas companies funded similar “Decline to Sign” efforts through front groups like CRED (Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development), Protect Colorado, and Black Diamond to stop Coloradans from voting in favor of greater protections for neighborhoods from fracking. Inside sources have told Colorado Rising volunteers that these same groups are responsible for this year’s organized harassment campaign as well.

Colorado Rising intends to file criminal complaints with district attorneys this week in at least four jurisdictions where the alleged harassment took place, including Boulder, Denver, Larimer, and Weld counties.

Want to sign the petition? Click here to find out where to sign.

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