Three Fairfield residents were arrested for trespassing in 2016 while protesting climate change, and recently learned that they were the subject of a Federal Bureau of Investigation report.
The three residents are Jonas Magram, Inga Frick and Thom Krystofiak. The three were arrested on May 15, 2016, after taking part in a protest outside an oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana. In December, the United Kingdom-based newspaper The Guardian published an article describing how the FBI had opened an investigation into the group that had organized the protest, 350.org.
According to Adam Federman, a reporting fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute who wrote The Guardian article, the Omaha FBI field office drafted the report referencing the three Fairfield residents. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, The Guardian was able to obtain seven of the 25 pages of the report, though some information on the seven pages was redacted.
The portion of the report available to the public shows that a file was opened on “Three Fairfield, IA, residents arrested in Indiana during 350.org protest.” The names of the people are redacted, but Magram, Frick and Krystofiak are certain that they are the three people referenced in the report, since they were the only three Fairfield people arrested at the event.
The report states that “An international environmental organization known as 350.org organized several protests of petroleum facilities throughout the United States, including the British Petroleum Refinery facility located at 2815 Indianapolis Blvd., Whiting, Indiana.”
The report describes how a large group of protesters conducted a “mostly peaceful protest” at the BP refinery. According to Indiana State Police, a small group of protesters broke away from the main group and closed a road near the protesters by blocking traffic. Despite numerous warnings to disperse, the protesters refused to do so and were arrested, the report said.
The three Fairfield residents acknowledge they did exactly what the report describes them doing, and that they were intending to be arrested when they began the protest that day.
What is the significance of being in an FBI report? The three locals aren’t sure what to make of it. On one hand, they doubt that the FBI is monitoring their movements or communication. On the other hand, they were surprised that something as seemingly trivial as a trespassing arrest could attract the attention of the nation’s leading law enforcement body.
“For my money, we engaged in non-violent protest that involved a misdemeanor trespass,” Magram said. “The FBI ought to be concerned with people who are threatening the peace and safety of Americans, which we never did. It was about as gentle a form of civil disobedience imaginable. It troubled me that we could be viewed as potential enemies of the state when all we’re doing is giving great concern for the future of humanity.”
Magram wants to clarify that neither he nor the other protesters have any criticism of law enforcement. They felt that the officers who arrested them that day acted professionally.
Krystofiak said he has filed another Freedom of Information Act request to learn what information the FBI has kept on him specifically. The organization said his request is being processed.
The three Fairfielders made the five-hour drive to Whiting in 2016 intending to be arrested. Why?
“Many social movements have, from time to time, used civil disobedience as part of their strategy to engage the public imagination,” Krystofiak said. “In my view, I thought this was something worth trying.”
All three residents feel that climate change is the most pressing social problem facing mankind.
“If the use of fossil fuels continues on its current trajectory, we are going to see massive impacts on every level of society,” Krystofiak said.
In November, the federal government published its annual National Climate Assessment, which it has done for four years. The report, compiled by 300 scientists in 14 agencies, details how and where climate change will be felt across the United States in the coming decades.
“Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities,” the report begins.
Krystofiak said climate change is a “priority that eclipses everything else.” Magram said that “everything we care about is threatened by climate change.”
Planning for arrest
The protest march in Whiting, Indiana, in 2016 was part of a large series of protests called “Break Free from Fossil Fuels.” The organization putting it on, 350.org, sought volunteers willing to be arrested. When Magram, Frick and Krystofiak learned this, they all jumped at the chance.
On the morning of the protest, May 15, members of 350.org put on a training session for those people planning to be arrested, telling them what would happen and how to react so as not to provoke a confrontation with law enforcement. Officers had been notified of the protest march in advance and had blocked off the appropriate roads.
About 1,000 people marched for a few miles within the town of Whiting before descending on the oil refinery. The three Fairfielders said the oil refinery was chosen as the landing spot because it served as a useful symbol of fossil fuels. They wanted to make it clear that their beef was not with the workers of the plant, who they sympathized with. Magram, Frick and Krystofiak said it is society’s responsibility to create opportunities for those workers so they don’t have to depend on the fossil fuel industry for employment.
Most of the marchers stopped at the road right outside the plant, but the 41 volunteers who had trained that morning moved to a spot closer to the oil refinery.
“We didn’t storm their gate,” Krystofiak said.
The 41 volunteers sat in a circle on the private property, knowing police would ask them to leave the spot or face arrest. Officers, wearing protective helmets, warned the protesters of their impending arrest three times over a megaphone.
The group held hands and sang songs for 30-45 minutes. Once officers had given their third warning, they surrounded the circle and began arresting the protesters, putting zip cuffs on them. The protesters offered no resistance.
The 41 were booked into the local jail and charged with trespassing. The three Fairfield residents had to return to Whiting later that year for their sentencing. The judge made the protesters pay court costs, but did not sentence them to prison provided they refrained from being arrested in the next six months.
It was the first time that any of the three Fairfield residents had been arrested. They said they will continue to look for ways to educate the public about the threat of climate change.