The FBI investigated a student because of his opposition to hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for natural gas, a Washington Post investigation found. The agency was acting on an anonymous tip.
The case isn't unusual. The FBI continues to investigate nonviolent environmental activists even as cases of genuine eco-terrorism have dropped, according to the Post.
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The FBI also questioned the student's philosophy professor about his own anti-fracking views for half an hour. They discussed his syllabus and the difference between civil disobedience and terrorism. “I don’t know how law enforcement works, but it seemed like a total fishing expedition to me," the professor told the Post.
FBI intelligence analyst Erin Weller admitted that cases of eco-terrorism have fallen. Yet there's been little decline in "eco-terrorism" investigations under the Obama administration. “We have to respond to every threat that’s been called into our office,” Weller told the Post.
The news comes as some states are also passing laws to criminalize nonviolent protest behavior. This month Iowa became the first state in the nation to pass a bill that makes it a crime to sneak into a farm and then secretly record animal abuse, the DesMoinesRegister reported. Seven other states have also considered bans on secretly recording animal abuse at farms. Utah passed a similar bill last week, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The Post noted that the FBI has a vague enough interpretation of terrorism in its 2002-2005 terrorism report that technically "any act aimed to intimidate an individual or corporation that has a political or social goal" could qualify.
Most oil corporations contacted by the Post would not comment, except for one company that said that eco-terrorism “is in our conversations."