Coloradans Denounce Rhetoric Advocating Violence Against Oil And Gas Workers
In the week since Western Wire first covered a Boulder Daily Camera letter to the editor that called for violence toward oil and natural gas workers, the list of those denouncing the letter and the newspaper for publishing it has grown to include local residents, a bipartisan spectrum of elected officials, media outlets, and industry representatives.
“Men and women, employed by the fossil fuel industry placed at risk of wanton violence and destruction of property, by a person who is obviously opposed to fracking? To place in jeopardy the safety of these workers? And you call this a philosophical discussion?” Colo. State Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) wrote in an April 25 letter to the editor, responding to the Daily Camera’s editors’ note that characterizes the letter as presenting a “philosophical question the Camera believes is worthy of community conversation.”
Printing a letter “advocating violence does not seem to fit any decent platform that I am aware of,” Crowder wrote. “The discussion should be centered on disagreement and not potential violence or destruction.”
“As a state senator, I understand disagreement, but placing in print that violence is a moral obligation seems to be completely irresponsible and I would ask for clarification of your moral obligation to your readers from your editorial board,” Crowder added.
“This type of rhetoric clearly goes too far,” Colo. State Rep. Chris Hansen (D) said on the House floor on April 25, addressing his colleagues.
“I have friends who work in energy companies, as I think many of us in this room do, and to call for eliminating workers simply goes too far,” Hansen continued. “We cannot accept this type of rhetoric that is calling for violence, that is calling for vigilantism. That is simply out of bounds in Colorado.”
Andrew J. O’Connor of Boulder asked in his April 19 letter to the editor: “If the oil and gas industry puts fracking wells in our neighborhoods, threatening our lives and our children’s lives, then don’t we have a moral responsibility to blow up wells and eliminate fracking and workers?”
An edited version of the letter retained claims that “fracking equals murder” and argued using violence against the oil and gas industry would be the “intelligent” move for Colorado residents. O’Connor later told a media outlet, “I wouldn’t have a problem with a sniper shooting one of the workers” at a well site.
Daily Camera Executive Editor Kevin Kaufman defended the letter on April 22 by arguing that environmental activists could justify committing violent actions the same way President Trump justified his decision to strike a Syrian airbase in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed civilians.
O’Connor’s neighbors in Boulder County have written to the paper, protesting the language he used and urging intellectual discussion over violence.
“I am a Boulder native,” wrote Longmont resident Alyssa Neu in an April 26 letter to the Daily Camera. “I have never been so outraged to call Boulder County my home as I was when I read O’Connor’s recent disgusting excuse for free speech when he incited violence by calling for the elimination of ‘fracking and workers,’ even by exploding local oil wells.”
“Boulder, we owe more to our current events, newspaper editing and civility toward one another,” Neu wrote. “Sometimes celebrating diversity means engaging in intellectual discourse, not inciting violence against fellow human beings.”
Other media outlets across the state, including editorial boards and TV news stations, have also weighed in. “In the United States, only a marginal set of barbarians promotes violence as a means of resolving policy matters,” the Colorado Springs Gazette editorial board wrote in an April 27 column. “We find no lethal danger associated with fracking, aside from unhinged left-wing activists hoping for snipers and bombs.”
In Denver TV station 9News’ coverage of the letter, anchor Kyle Clark characterized the letter as a “scary turn in a serious debate” and remarked, “So this is what Colorado’s fracking debate has come to: extra security at a state meeting this week to discuss an anti-fracking ballot question that’s being pushed by a guy who says that it’s morally responsible to blow up oil wells and ‘eliminate’ energy workers.”
“Call this observation biased if you want,” Clark added, “but I’m just going to say, if you’re hinting at blowing up your opponents, you’ve probably lost the public argument.” In a follow-up segment, Clark reported that O’Connor now fears for his own safety and is asking for protection.
Representatives of the oil and natural gas industry in Colorado appealed for conversations about energy development to remain fact-based.
“Retroactively editing the letter and disingenuously describing its focus as mere ‘civil disobedience’ does not change the fact that the editors printed a call for violence against the men and women of Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry,” Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Tracee Bentley wrote in an April 26 letter to the editor published in the Daily Camera. “[O]ur media has a responsibility to focus on the facts and leave the irresponsible, radical rhetoric to the fringes.”
Colorado Oil and Gas Association President and CEO Dan Haley expanded on his April 25 statement to Western Wire in an op-ed in the Denver Post the next day. “We understand that some Coloradans have issues with oil and gas development and have concerns about safety and health and proximity,” he wrote. “So let’s continue to have that discussion.”
“Our industry is a leader in state-of-the-art technology and innovations to make our work cleaner and safer for our employees and our communities,” Haley wrote. “And every day our companies are striving to do it better than before.”
“Colorado is already a leader — let’s be a leader in how we talk about oil and gas development as well,” he wrote.