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Living in Society

Is Jessica Reznicek a Terrorist?

Jessica Reznicek Photo Credit: Twitter @FreeJessRez

Jessica Reznicek, a 39-year-old environmental activist and Catholic Worker from Des Moines, Iowa, was sentenced in federal court June 30 to eight years in prison for her efforts to sabotage construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

In November 2016, Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, a former preschool teacher, set fire to heavy construction equipment at a pipeline worksite in Buena Vista County, Iowa.

Over the next several months, the women used oxyacetylene torches, tires and gasoline-soaked rags to burn equipment and damage pipeline valves along the line from Iowa to South Dakota. Their actions reportedly caused several million dollars’ worth of damage and delayed construction for weeks.

Catholic activist sentenced for Dakota Access Pipeline vandalism by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy at NCROnline.com. To read the rest of the article, click here.

Reznicek’s criminal penalties were substantial. In addition to jail time, U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger included $3,198,512.70 in restitution and three years’ post-prison supervised release after she plead guilty to a single count of damaging an energy facility, according to Common Dreams. It’s hard to argue her protest was intended to be non-violent. She used an oxyacetylene torch to damage the pipeline without knowing if fuel was in transit.

Reznicek is being prosecuted as a terrorist. Is that what she is? It seems unlikely the board of directors or billionaire Kelcey Warren of Energy Transfer Partners felt terrorized. They had reason to know there would be protests during construction, and likely built defense from them into their operating, overhead, and risk management budgets. For ETP, pipeline protests represented business as usual. In 2018 there was a “protect the protests” direct action in Dallas, Texas where demonstrators accused ETP at its corporate headquarters of attempting to silence them with lawsuits.

Like many in the Des Moines Catholic Worker community Reznicek has been willing to break the law in peaceful protest and has been arrested. In 2014, she was detained for nearly 48 hours and then deported after flying into Israel to support Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to the Des Moines Register. It seems obvious the Iowa Legislature had people like Reznicek in mind when they recently increased penalties for protesters.

I received the first of a series of emails from Reznicek during the Occupy Movement in 2011. She was an organizer for Occupy Iowa, Occupy Des Moines, Occupy the Caucus, Occupy Monsanto, Occupy the World Food Prize, and other direct action protests. She was arrested at some of these protests. It seemed like boilerplate organizing. Whatever cache the Occupy movement may have had, the work she did was straight forward with transparency. It was not a terrorist plot the way in 1995 Timothy McVeigh plotted to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It would be better for the peace and justice movement if Reznicek did not have to spend her time serving time and defending herself in this prominent case. It goes with the territory, though.

The answer is no. Jessica Reznicek is not a terrorist. Society needs more people like her to call attention to injustice. If there is a cost to her protests, she has been willing to accept responsibility. If asked, my neighbors would say justice was served with Reznicek’s prosecution and sentencing. As it plays out in the judicial system, some of us wonder who will step in to fill her shoes in the peace and justice movement. It may be someone, but it won’t be her for a while.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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