In 2017, Jessica Reznicek and a partner from the Catholic Worker Movement publicly claimed responsibility for acts of vandalism against the Dakota Access Pipeline before it was transporting oil. No one was injured by Reznicek’s acts of civil disobedience.
In February 2021, she pled guilty to a single count of conspiracy to damage an energy facility. In June, 2021, an Iowa judge imposed a five-year “terrorism enhancement” charge at the prosecution’s request and sentenced Reznicek to eight years in prison. The judge also ordered over $3 million in restitution be paid to Energy Transfer LLC, the company which built the pipeline.
On May 13, a three-judge panel from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota, heard Reznicek’s appeal of her “terrorism enhancement” sentence. All three judges are Trump appointees and are expected to rule in the next few weeks. Dozens of Reznicek’s supporters attended the hearing online.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Charlotte Grubb, a member of the Free Jessica Reznicek support team. Here, she talks about what motivated Reznicek to engage in direct action damage to the pipeline and why her case is so important to the environment and climate movements.
CHARLOTTE GRUBB: It all kind of pins on whether or not Jess influenced the government and if that door is opened in terms of the terrorist enhancement applied to activists, this could lead to a lot of other suppression of civil liberties that we have today.
MELINDA TUHUS: From what I’ve read and from what I’ve interviewed folks before, it sounded like the crux of the matter is whether her action was focused enough on the government, because she actually took action against a private company, and my understanding is that the terrorism enhancement applies when there’s a focus on the government. Is that right?
CHARLOTTE GRUBB: There are a few different ways to define it, but as it’s defined in the U.S. the language is that actions need to be “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of the government or retaliate against government conduct.”
So yeah, basically, Jess’s attorney argued that her actions did not and the government prosecutor argued that Jess’s actions did target private property, but they kind of used the fact that her press release and her public statement where she came out and admitted to things – it was in front of the Iowa Utility Board – and in doing that she was kind of criticizing the regulatory process for the Dakota Access Pipeline, which later was found to be illegal by a federal judge, and by her critique of the regulatory process that triggers the terrorism enhancement according to the government prosecutor.
MELINDA TUHUS: Jessica Reznicek and another member of the Catholic Worker did damage to various parts of the Dakota Access pipeline before it was operational, in other words, there was no oil flowing through it and they didn’t get caught. So a year later they outed themselves at a press conference. Do we know why they did that?
CHARLOTTE GRUBB: Yeah, you know I encourage everyone to read their statement when they turned themselves in in 2017. My understanding is that they had exhausted all avenues of sanctioned critique and I think, especially for Jess, she grew up in Iowa swimming in the waters, and I think she just wanted clean water at the end of the day in these rivers that she had a really deep connection to, and I think she wanted to put a face to the fact that these systems aren’t working.
She tried, as she said in her letter, submitting comments to the regulatory process; she tried a hunger fast; she tried nonviolent civil disobedience – kind of an escalation of tactics in that way. So, I think – you know, the Catholic Workers, the Plowshare tradition has a long history of similar actions. I think they just wanted to personalize this escalation of tactics in people who go without the sanctified means are not mysterious creatures lurking in the night. They are people with a strong connection to place who are spiritually intact, who have a really clear rationale for acting in the way that they do, so I think that’s kind of where Jess is coming from, but I definitely encourage people to read stuff in her own words.
MELINDA TUHUS: Charlotte Grubb, I thought that if the appeals court rules in her favor, that would mean that five years would be taken off her sentence. But you’re saying not necessarily?
CHARLOTTE GRUBB: The terrorism enhancement could be removed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that her sentence would be lessened, if that makes sense. Although when she was charged with it, that automatically increased her sentence, but the way the appeals work, the months wouldn’t automatically go off.
MELINDA TUHUS: You mentioned that this case could be extremely important for all kinds of other struggles. Can you elaborate?
CHARLOTTE GRUBB: I just think everyone should be paying close attention to this. This could have implications for a lot of different movements today, like from reproductive justice to Black Lives Matter, to environmental justice, so people should really be paying attention. And we feel really heartened by the support that Jess has received from within those walls as well as outside the walls, that we’ve been receiving as a team for people to amplify and educate themselves on this issue.