(EnviroNews Utah) — Salt Lake City, Utah — 25 activists from the group Utah Tar Sands Resistance (UTSR) were finally sentenced today in a Vernal courtroom in Uintah County, Utah. Most of the individuals sentenced were arrested on July 23, 2014 after chaining themselves to mining equipment inside of America’s first approved commercial tar sands mine operated by Canadian company U.S. Oil Sands.
Five more UTSR members were arrested in September of 2014 adding to the total of individuals being prosecuted, and these protestors had been waiting in the limbo of the criminal justice system for the last several months. Six of the 25 were slapped with felony rioting charges and were potentially facing long terms of incarceration.
Jesse Fruhwirth was one of those handed a felony charge and he took the time to speak with EnviroNews Utah about what went down inside that Vernal courtroom. The transcript is as follows:
Emerson Urry: We’re here on EnviroNews Utah today with a few members of the Utah Tar Sands Resistance, and what brings you down here today?
Jesse Fruhwirth: Well, we’re here to announce the results of some criminal prosecutions of a number of people who were arrested engaging in protest actions against the construction of the tar sands mine in the Book Cliffs of Utah.
Urry: And go ahead and tell me your name for the record.
Fruhwirth: It’s Jesse Fruhwirth. F as in Frank, r-u-h-w-i-r-t-h.
Urry: And you were one of the individuals that were involved in the proceedings correct?
Fruhwirth: That’s right. There’s 25 individuals who’s cases were resolved today. I was one of them.
Urry: What can you tell us about what went down in court today up in Vernal?
Fruhwirth: Plea agreements that were negotiated over the last six months between prosecutors and our defense attorneys were announced and reviewed by the judge in 8th district court. The judge agreed to the terms that prosecutors and defense attorneys had reached, and so the cases are now closed. All the defendants are on probation of course, but the cases are adjudicated.
Urry: What’s your opinion about the felony charges that had been handed out?
Fruhwirth: They were heavy-handed and a bit ridiculous. I suppose that was an effort to scare and repress any sort of further activity, or to tone down the aggressiveness of any future resistance. The reality is however, that this has backfired. The felonies — the felony accusations gathered a lot of attention and a lot of support and made people begin to realize just how grave and serious this battle is, and we’ve felt a lot of support and a lot of building enthusiasm, more or less as a result of being perceived to survive such a tough repression.
Urry: And so, although the felony charges were reduced, there still was some punishment handed out correct?
Fruhwirth: That’s right. Between the 25 defendants, the most severe penalty that some people faced was 18 months of probation with 120 hours of community service and a threat that if there were any further violations of law during the probation period that this plea bargain would dissolve and their initial charges would be resurrected. People who received the most beneficial deal have six months of probation and 60 hours of community service. And then there’s some individuals in between those two extremes.
Urry: With all the hoopla that’s gone on with this case, and now the punishment that’s been handed out, is that going to slow you guys down at all?
Fruhwith: No. In fact, it’s really emboldened us. We have… The upside of facing a challenge like this is you see people who come and vocally and explicitly tell you how much they support you — how much they appreciate the work — how much they want to join and contribute and do what they can. So, when it’s highlighted how some individuals have really put their bodies on the line, and then their freedoms on the line, it has a tendency to inspire other people to maybe be willing to take some of the same risks for justice and [the] future of the planet.
Urry: So, people have been living up there continually, whether permitting — do you anticipate that’s just going to be growing next year as this starts to ramp up, up on the Plateau there?
Fruhwirth: Yeah. Our biggest concern is: Can we feed all of the people that actually want to be there with us? We have no lack for people who want to be joining in this work. We just need to keep our machine going so that everybody can participate.
Urry: Anything else you’d like to add this afternoon?
Fruhwirth: Well, we think it’s morally imperative on all people who have the power and privilege to resist to join up in whatever ways are most appropriate in their communities to fight for a revolution against this social order, and fight for a world that emphasizes and prioritizes human need over corporate profits.
Urry: Alright, thank you for coming on the show with us this afternoon.
Fruhwirth: You’re welcome.