Earlier this year, I was in southeast Texas, taking pictures of an oil refinery for a report about air pollution and the harm it causes to lower-income communities like Port Arthur, Texas.
As I stood on a public roadway, a private security guard pulled up behind my car and demanded to know who I was and what I was doing. I showed him my driver’s license and patiently explained the environmental journalism project I was researching. He reported me to the FBI as a potential terrorist.
My wife was startled when an FBI agent showed up at our house in Baltimore to investigate. I provided the agent with a detailed, written description of the report about air pollution I was working on. That seemed to satisfy the FBI, although it sent a chill down my spine.
I told my story to Alleen Brown, a reporter with The Intercept who has been investigating the increasing coordination between oil and gas companies, their private security firms, law enforcement – and efforts to smear and intimidate environmentalists.
“Yeah, actually that story doesn’t surprise me at all,” Brown said.