Editor's note: Please see expanded disclosure below about the author and his professional involvement in the pipeline industry.
If Islamist terrorists had sabotaged a U.S. oil pipeline, held a press conference to claim credit for their crime, then punctuated their declaration by defacing government property, it would be a national news story.
We all know it would have been a cable news sensation. Yet when two radical environmental activists did exactly that, confessing in a July press conference, it was barely noticed.
Iowa eco-warriors Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya admitted vandalizing the Dakota Access Pipeline for months in a systematic effort to sabotage the pipeline. They did thousands of dollars in damage and risked their own lives and lives of others.
The pair admitted to researching the best way to puncture an oil pipeline, then carrying out a series of arson and blowtorch attacks on the Dakota Access Pipeline and heavy construction equipment in Iowa and South Dakota. They used blowtorches to damage valves and attempted to pierce the pipeline.
In at least one attempt, they admitted trying to use a blowtorch to cut through the pipe when it was filled with oil.
None of this should be surprising to anyone who has closely followed the progress of this particular pipeline. But most Americans probably have no idea that this 1970s-style eco-terrorism still goes on.
Folks don't know because it simply goes unreported. Reznicek and Montoya said in their press conference that most of their acts drew no media coverage. If terrorist acts like these got the coverage they deserved, Americans would have a better sense of what is at stake.
Uncompromising radicals don't want any traditional energy development in the United States. They have tried to stop new pipelines by drawing out the regulatory process, pressuring state and local authorities to deny permits, and suing in court. I applaud all of these legal efforts; it is clearly their right to resist peacefully and lawfully. However, when legal efforts fail to stop the pipeline projects that are thoroughly vetted and properly approved by government regulatory agencies, not surprisingly, they turn to violence and property destruction to achieve their goals.
There are two key things to understand here. The first is that pipeline projects go through a lengthy review and approval process. Companies do not just buy property and lay pipe. They have to go through local, state and federal procedures that are spelled out in numerous laws and regulations.
Ecoterrorists who try to stop pipelines by damaging them are doing more than venting their frustration in illegal ways. They are trying to achieve through violence what they could not convince the public, the government, and regulators to achieve through policy, law, and regulation. They claim to represent the people, but they are sabotaging the system that the people have put in place to ensure that energy projects are built safely and fairly.
The Dakota Access Pipeline was subject to hundreds of public hearings and numerous review processes. It was legally and properly permitted at every step of the way. To attack it after failing to stop it through legal procedures is to attack the rule of law itself. We are a nation built on laws; the judgment of the public and the people's representatives is paramount.
The second key point is that these attacks are also attacks on the public at large. Beyond the obvious point that they put the public at risk and threaten to cause pollution, they are attempts to force the public to adopt the views of a tiny minority of radical activists.
Americans show through their behavior that they are happy using traditional sources of energy despite the disapproval of the eco-warriors. After all, these pipelines are being built to meet increased demand for domestic oil and natural gas. Radicals have succeeded in getting more Americans interested in alternative energy sources. But most Americans insist that those alternatives be reliable and cost-effective before they will consider switching.
That is a reasonable position, especially given how much oil and gas remains available domestically and how cheaply and safely it can be brought to market. Again, having lost the debate, these extremists are trying to compel people to adopt their position. If people won't agree with us, they reason, we'll eliminate their preferred option.
What am I missing? It doesn't get much more anti-democratic than that.
These extremists know they can't burn down every pipeline, but they don't have to. All they have to do is make it so costly to build new ones that investment dries up. If they get away with this, it would weaken the economy and national security, make us more dependent on foreign energy, and cost thousands of American jobs.
To sum up, these radicals are willing to pick up blowtorches and damage property, risk lives and weaken the U.S. economy all to win a political argument they have not won with words.
Far from being celebrated or romanticized, these anarchists will be held accountable.
Retired Maj. Gen. James 'Spider' Marks is a Strategic Advisor to Grow America's Infrastructure Now (GAIN), a coalition of oil and infrastructure businesses involved in pipeline development. He is also the chairman of the advisory board at TigerSwan, a security company involved in security for the Dakota Access Pipeline.
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions.