Sharon Lavigne, pictured at left holding the bouquet of roses, founded the environmental justice group RISE St. James in 2018 in response to Formosa Plastics plan to build a $9.4B manufacturing plant in St. James Parish. In this photo from June 19, 2020, members of RISE St. James pray over the graves of formerly enslaved Black people. Formosa is planning to build its manufacturing complex there. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Bucket Brigade)
Two women from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade were arrested on charges related to terrorism Thursday, six months after they left a box of plastic on the front porch of a lobbyist for the petrochemical industry as a form of protest. Their arrests come one week after they won a civil dispute against Formosa Plastics.
Anne Rolfes faces a charge of terrorism, while her coworker, Kate McIntosh, faces a charge of principal to terrorism. The pair turned themselves in to the Baton Rouge Police Department after learning warrants had been filed.
In December, the women left a box of plastic pellets, called nurdles, on the doorstep of petrochemical lobbyist Greg Bowser. The pellets were collected from the ground in Lavaca Bay, Texas, near a manufacturing facility owned by Formosa Plastics.
They attached a note that read: “These are just some of the billions of nurdles that Formosa Plastics dumped into the coastal waters of the state of Texas. These were used as evidence in a landmark lawsuit filed against Formosa under the Clean Water Act.”
Louisiana defines terrorism as intentionally causing fear to the general public, causing evacuation of a building or other serious disruption to the general public.
The warrant was signed by 19th Judicial District Judge Anthony Marabella. He did not respond to a request for comment.
It is unclear why the warrants were issued six months after the incident occurred and just a week after the environmental justice group Rise St. James and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade won a civil dispute against Formosa that allowed them to visit and pray at the site in St. James Parish where Formosa plans to build a $9.4B chemical manufacturing complex. The groups say Formosa will be putting its plant on top of the graves of people who were enslaved.
“It’s a retaliation, we think, for a really successful week in court,” Rolfes said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the community gets that victory and the next day there are calls for our arrest.”
The proposed construction site is in St. James’ 5th District, which is about 90 percent black. St. James is part of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” a corridor of industrial facilities along the Mississippi River where pollution has contributed to the highest rates of cancer in the country.
“There’s a lot of unmarked and unappreciated history here,” Rolfes said. “Formosa had known for a year that there were gravesites on that property.”
According to the Louisiana Alliance to Defend Democracy, Rolfes and McIntosh were “simply returning a sealed container of the very plastic pellets that the company illegally dumped into the Lavaca Bay in Texas.”
Rolfes said the charges are overblown and amount to another intimidation tactic by the petrochemical industry.
A conviction of terrorism carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
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