Bureau of Land Management (BLM) cops came looking for me yesterday. I was gone on a long walk to the south side of Thacker Pass, but Max Wilbert recorded the interaction. The cops claimed they are concerned about violence at Thacker Pass and they took particular issue with the following words I recently wrote:

“A war is being waged against life on Earth. Rivers, forests, oceans, whole species, and millions – if not billions – of people have already been counted as casualties. We are losing this war. Badly. If we lose this war, we lose everything. We must not lose this war.

Winning a war requires exceptional bravery. Warriors must risk everything. Many will be imprisoned. Many will be physically and psychologically maimed. Many will be killed. Where will we find the bravery required of us?”

First, expressing this reality is an exercise of my First Amendment rights. I am not encouraging anyone to engage in specific acts of violence. The Protect Thacker Pass camp is, and always has been, committed to principles of nonviolence. This commitment has been explicitly stated in our camp rules from the beginning.

Despite my words being protected by the Constitution, BLM came to our unarmed camp with guns to confront me about these words. This scares me. As a lawyer, I understand that on the ground, in the real world, cops have nearly unlimited power to arrest anyone they have probable cause to believe has committed a crime. (Yes, I may have legal recourse later if they abuse this power, but that’s a poor comfort in the moment.) What does freedom of speech mean when armed government agents come to bait me into making statements that might be viewed as incitement? What does the First Amendment mean when armed government agents come to question me about protected speech? How can I practice free speech when I fear these BLM cops will bring their weapons to confront me?

As a writer, I must be committed to the truth whether or not I am threatened with violence for speaking the truth. There truly is a war being waged against life on Earth. In the past, the most horrific wars have been waged to eradicate ethnicities, nationalities, or races of humans. These wars, as truly terrible as they were, were waged to destroy populations of one species. The war being waged against all life today is destroying dozens of whole species. Every. Single. Day.

I know that most humans simply do not care about other species. So, consider this: A Cornell University study found that water, air, and soil pollution causes 40% of human deaths worldwide. A World Health Organization study estimated that seven million people are killed by air pollution every year. Another World Health Organization study estimated that environmental risks kill 12.6 million people annually. 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. This means environmental destruction is currently killing more than double the number of all Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Every. Single. Year.

The whole planet has been turned into a gas chamber. We must ask: How has this happened?

The BLM cops know how this has happened better than most. They know because they often provide the armed muscle necessary to force destructive projects like Lithium Americas’ open pit lithium mine on communities trying to stop these projects. Ask yourself what will happen if community members, after their concerns are repeatedly ignored by BLM and Lithium Americas, block Highway 293 to construction equipment in order to stop the destruction of Thacker Pass. These same BLM cops, who claim they are concerned about violence at Thacker Pass, will bring their guns, batons, pepper spray, and handcuffs to forcibly remove those community members. They will bring their weapons to enforce Lithium Americas’ power to poison, pollute, and destroy.

To be clear, the Protect Thacker Pass camp is occupied by unarmed folks. These folks are working to stop violence, not cause it.

Lithium Americas open pit lithium mine would poison local water supplies, for example. This poisoning isn’t a secret. BLM openly admits, and these cops should know, that the project would poison water. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) states that the mine will violate water quality requirements for antimony – a federally designated harmful pollutant. The FEIS also predicts that seepage from the mine’s tailing waste facility will be very toxic and include extremely high levels of uranium, radium, aluminum, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium copper, fluoride, iron, lead, magnesium, mercury, nickel, sulfate, thallium, and zinc.

In addition to poisoning local water, the mine would consume massive amounts of water from the already overdrawn aquifer in the Quinn River Valley in one of the driest regions in the nation. Nevada water authorities have stated that the aquifer is already over-allocated by more 30,000 acre-feet per year and Lithium Americas’ mine would extract another 5,200 acre feet (1.7 billion gallons) of water annually from the aquifer.

The Protect Thacker Pass camp is working to stop an open pit lithium mine that could result in poisonous sulfur spills near the Orovada Elementary School, Orovada Health Clinic, and Orovada Community Church. The mine would truck in nearly 100 semi-loads of sulfuric waste from oil refineries daily to burn at the mine site. It is almost certain, from simple traffic statistics alone, that during the 40-year life of the proposed mine, some of those trucks will have accidents resulting in sulfur spills. Sulfur poisoning resulting from these spills can cause diarrhea, a burning sensation on the skin, coughing, lung irritation, and blurred vision. And, sulfur exposure can kill animals.

Other forms of violence the mine would produce include ripping up nearly 6,000 acres of old-growth sage brush steppe to dig 400 feet into the ground in search of lithium as well as burning around 11,300 gallons of diesel fuel per day for on-site operations, and nearly as much again for off-site operations. Meanwhile, carbon emissions from the site would total more than 150,000 tons per year. Also, Thacker Pass is an area that has been used by Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone people for many generation. The mine could destroy invaluable cultural sites including obsidian gathering areas and burial sites.

There is, of course, still time for these BLM cops to prove they truly are concerned about violence at Thacker Pass. I like to think many of them became cops precisely because they wanted to protect their community. I have interacted with them and they seem genuinely concerned about the safety of the camp. I appreciate that.

However, if BLM cops want to protect their community, they should join the opposition to Lithium Americas mine. They should refuse to turn their guns on unarmed water and land protectors when they are ordered to. They should refuse to show up to Thacker Pass armed to confront campers about exercising their rights to free speech. If they are truly concerned about violence at Thacker Pass, they would not threaten fines and arrests for unarmed folks working to protect local communities; they would work to ensure the water local communities require isn’t poisoned; they would work to ensure the water local communities require isn’t over-allocated; they would work to ensure that Lithium Americas could not give children diarrhea, could not irritate the lungs of the elderly, and could not kill the animals human communities near Thacker Pass depend on.

The Protect Thacker Pass camp is truly concerned about violence. We do not seek to cause violence – we seek to stop it. If BLM cops are genuine in their concern about violence, here, then they should join us. We aren’t armed. The only people carrying guns around here are BLM cops. Put the guns down. Refuse to follow orders. Be better than “just doing my job.” Do this, and we can stop the violence in Thacker Pass.