Organizing Resources Archive

Security Recommendations

While there is no way to be completely immune from surveillance, following our advice below will keep you and your comrades much safer. We will be updating this page with more guidance on how to most effectively organize in an age of widespread electronic surveillance. Stay tuned!

To protect yourself, your comrades, and actions, we recommend everyone take the following minimum digital security steps.

  1. Install all available security updates for your phone and computer.
  2. Use Signal ( android | iphone | desktop [requires chrome] ) for text messaging and voice calls.
  3. Use the TOR Browser ( desktop | android ) to visit websites whenever possible especially for research.
  4. Use strong passwords ( explained here ) — a different one for each of your logins, using a password manager.
    1. Open source programs like KeePassX (mac/windows/linux) are always preferred.
    2. More feature-rich programs like 1Password (mac/windows) may be preferable: however, we urge strongly against syncing passwords over the internet (e.g., dropbox, icloud, or 1password teams). Run a WLAN server instead.
    3. NEVER give anyone your password.
  5. Encrypt all of your data!
    1. Your smart phone ( iphone | android ).
    2. Your computer hard drive ( mac | windows | linux ).
    3. Your computer backups ( mac | windows | linux ).
  6. Be aware of what you post to social media and whether it could put you & your comrades at risk.

Email security

Email is inherently insecure. Getting set up to encrypt your emails is not as hard as you might think. However, since the weakest link in any system is often the user, you should be sure you are using encryption correctly. We recommend deploying encryption using Thunderbird, an email client that works on mac, windows and linux. For step-by-step instructions on setting this system up, please see this document. Once you have set this up, folks will be able to send you encrypted emails and you’ll be able to send encrypted emails to anyone who is likewise set up. To be most useful, it is best to set up a group of people to all be able to communicate with each other. To request a training to help get your group set up with email encryption, please contact us.

Developing Good Digital Security Culture

The CLDC is excited to launch a new program: Digital Security for Activists. We believe that legal education and support cannot be fully utilized by political activists unless adequate security can be ensured as well. The CLDC team brings together computer scientists and experienced digital security trainers, who also have strong movement ties and understanding. We hope you will agree that this program is long overdue and will be a valuable contribution to movement solidarity and strength.

Questions, comments, or suggestions are welcome – contact us about Digital Security.

Good security culture is one of the first and most important things a serious activist should learn. The idea is to minimize the effects of infiltration, disruption, and surveillance through practices that help keep activists, groups, and networks safer. Importantly, it helps political activists prevent paranoia and dispels the unfortunate idea that they should just give up any effort to maintain confidentiality against State and corporate surveillance.

CLDC has been urging activists and their supporting attorneys to use due diligence to protect their communications from collection by adversaries. Uncompromising defense of ecosystems and the most vulnerable in our society often threatens established power structures. Liberation-focused activists who intend to succeed in their work should expect to face active disruption from well-resourced organizations. Repression takes many well known forms from “knock-and-talks” to militarized police brutality.

More insidious forms of suppression exist, however, for those organizers who enjoy access to instantaneous, global information sharing, social networking, and widely available GPS and digital cameras. Each of these tools incorporates complex computer systems that can be easy to use but very hard to fully understand. These tools can be, have been, and are turned against activists and systematically used to surveil and disrupt community organizing. At the same time, if activists spend too much time messing around with technology instead of actually organizing, their movements may be effectively self-neutralized.

So how do activist communities develop and implement good security culture with regard to digital tools, communications, and infrastructure? Resources and guides are available, but since software and hardware are continuously changing, it is difficult to keep up-to-date with recommendations for digital security. Even the 2015 edition of the EF! Direct Action Manual recommends using 8-character passwords; these can be broken within hours by a moderately equipped adversary.

Here at CLDC, we aim to provide advice and trainings to empower you to up your digital security game. Additionally, over the next few security posts, we will provide guidance for evaluating the tools, services, and software you use that we hope will stand the test of time (or at least a few years).

We will explore four aspects of digital security culture:

Trust: Can you trust the individuals or organizations that develop and maintain the software you use? Whose interests do they serve?
Authenticity: Is an email you received from who you think it is? Is the software you downloaded what you think it is?
Privacy: Are your communications private? If they are not encrypted, the answer is no.
Resilience: If you lose access to your email account, will your organizing work grind to a halt? Do you have backup plans? Do you have backups? If you suddenly lost access to social media, would everything be ruined forever?

Happy New Year!

Know Your Rights (Arabic)

CLDC stands in solidarity with targeted people and communities by assisting them with protecting their Constitutional rights through any legal avenue feasible (federal or state recourse), providing KYR trainings to those communities as requested, and by sharing a KYR resource that has been translated into Arabic by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG).

We encourage Muslim communities (particularly in the Northwest) to contact us for legal support and education. Please join us in ensuring the rights of all people are respected, particularly in times of political hysteria, fear and ignorance by sharing this training.

Download the NLG Know Your Rights training in Arabic.

Useful Links

Crime Statistics

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, which collects and publishes crime statistics, has developed an online database tool to make it easier to search for crime data going back to 1960.

The online database contains crime offense statistics from 1985 to 2009 (the most recent reporting year) for city law enforcement agencies with populations of 10,000 and over, and for county agencies with populations of 25,000 and over. Estimated crime counts from 1960 to 2009 for national and state-level data are also included in the UCR Data Tool. (Because not all law enforcement agencies provide data, the FBI estimates some crime counts.) Figures for arson, which was added to the UCR program as a Part I offense in 1979, are not included in the database.

This service is provided to you at no charge by Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Lawyers, Legal, Courts:

Federal Government information:

US Dist Court for Northern District of California local rules: /

US Dist Court for Oregon local rules:

Federal Code of Regulations:

California Code:

Oregon Revised Statutes:

Oregon Courts:

Pacer: Federal Court Document Website:

Lane Co., OR Attorney Jail Visiting:

Comprehensive listing of legal news groups by topic:

Links and searchable databases on MANY legal topics:

Practice Areas: Asylum Law, Death Penalty:

Human Rights, Prisoners’ Rights:

Trial Lawyers for Public Justice:

National Lawyer’s Guild:

Know Your Rights and Protest Information:

Downloadable Know Your Rights Info

Federal Investigators and Your Rights:

General Protest Information:

First Amendment and Civil Rights

First Amendment library:

Free Speech Radio News:

Bill of Rights Defense Committee:

Watch List/ Travel Problems?

Homeland Security Complaints and Redress Procedures: DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP)

Privacy and the Sixth Amendment

Electronic Frontier Foundation:

General consumer privacy information:


ALEC: Corporate Interests Undermining Democracy in Our State Legislatures

Our state legislative bodies are in place to represent their respective constituencies, to uphold the democratic process, and work towards the needs of their citizens. What happens when a group that does not constitute represented individuals or work towards their interests in any way undermines this relationship between the people and their government? Recently, waves of bills have been introduced and passed in state legislatures that seem to contradict democracy rather than promote it: laws that cut off collective bargaining rights, roll back protective environmental regulations on businesses, and restrict voting rights, have all appeared in state after state. And if you suspect that such legislation was not drafted by your state lawmakers, you would be right: these bills are flooding in straight from the desks of corporate lobbyists of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)

What is ALEC?

ALEC is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 “nonprofit” organization that works to promote corporate interests in public policy and espouses principles of free markets, limited government, and federalism . Based in Washington D.C., ALEC is primarily a membership organization composed of hundreds of state legislators, and representatives of large corporations such as ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and Peabody Energy. Though it claims to be non-partisan, it works almost exclusively through Republican legislators and pass laws ideologically similar to the beliefs of its 1970’s founders- Henry Hyde, Lou Barnett, and Paul Weyrich, known as the godfather of modern conservatism and founder of the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and other ultra-conservative groups.

ALEC’s 990 form from 2010: 990 forms are IRS forms that non-profit organizations must fill out annually detailing their mission, programs, and finances.

Membership is highly selective and partisan, and is only offered to Republican legislators at a bargain of $100 biannually. ALEC does not publicly disclose the names of corporate members which account for 80% of ALEC’s funding (about 6 million dollars annually ). Unfortunately, in order to access a large majority of the information pertinent to documenting ALEC’s influence and model legislation, one must be a paying member.

In another direct strike to open government, it appears that one must be a member of ALEC to know who- and more specifically which of our elected representatives- are ALEC members. Legislators are often decidedly elusive when asked about involvement in ALEC. Recently representative Tom McMillan of Michigan answered “it doesn’t matter” when asked about his ties to the secretive corporate organization, though evidence from his recent voting record would suggest otherwise. One of the few known members of ALEC is Russell Pierce, an Arizona Senator responsible for pushing the recent unconstitutional Arizona anti-immigration bill, SB 1070, and who also has obscure connections to neo-Nazi separatist groups. Pierce was present at the ALEC gathering where SB 1070 was drafted word for word. Locally, ALEC recently met with Oregon legislators, though information on which representatives are actually members remains evasive. Keep your eyes peeled for legislation that exploits workers, health and safety, and the environment as ALEC continues to attempt to purchase legislation for its extremely wealthy corporate puppeteers.

Just a few of the approximately 300 corporations who are members of ALEC

American Plastics Council John Deere
American Express Microsoft
Bank of America Miller Brewing Company
Bayer Corporation Motorola
BP America Philip Morris Corporation
Center for Education Reform Pharmacia & Upjohn
Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America Chevron Corporation
Sprint Chrysler
State Farm Insurance Companies Coors
Texaco Exxon
Tobacco Institute General Motors Corporation
United Airlines GTE Corporation
Washington Times

Who runs ALEC?

National Chairman
Rep. Noble Ellington, Louisiana
First Vice Chairman
Rep. Dave Frizzell, Indiana
Second Vice Chairman
Rep. John Piscopo, Connecticut
Rep. Linda Upmeyer, Iowa
Rep. Liston Barfield, South Carolina
Immediate Past Chairman
Rep. Tom Craddick, Texas
Private Enterprise Board Chairman
Mr. W. Preston Baldwin, Centerpoint360 (2011 Chairman)

To further demonstrate the power of the corporations and related groups that constitute ALEC:

Victor E. Schwartz, a Shook Hardy* partner and head of its Public Policy Group, chairs ALEC’s Civil Justice Task Force; Tom Moskitis, the American Gas Association’s Director of External Affairs, chairs the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force; Bob Williams, founder and senior fellow of the corporate-funded Evergreen Freedom Foundation, chairs the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force; Bartlett Cleland, director of the corporate-financed Institute for Policy Innovation, chairs the Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force, and Emory Wilkerson, associate general counsel for State Farm Insurance, chairs the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force ( state-legislatures).

*Shook Hardy is a large law firm based in Kansas City, MO that has represented many pharmaceutical companies as well as other corporations such as Microsoft, Sprint, Ford and most of the major Tobacco companies.

What does ALEC do and why should you care?

ALEC’s main function is to draft “model bills” and to “educate” legislators about the issues it wishes to promote. These bought-and-paid-for-bills often re-emerge word-for-word as law. Past examples include: many state and federal laws and draft regulations that gravely roll-back environmental protections, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, laws limiting rights to collective bargaining, and anti-immigration laws such as SB 1070 in Arizona. Cuéntame, a public interest organization, released a YouTube video explaining the connection between ALEC and the law ( Recently, around 1,000 ALEC bills have been introduced annually into state legislative bodies with around 200 of these bills becoming law . In 2010, 115 of 826 bills proposed passed in state legislative bodies . This number is likely to grow with the increase of Republican legislators elected in 2010. The laws are usually introduced in waves in the hope of overwhelming legislative staff and public interest watchdog groups. A recent example of this includes the upsurge in ALEC-influenced bills introduced in Tennessee ( The bills introduced in rapid succession included a “call to repeal the federal health care law, laws to weaken unions, and a divisive bill to ban Islamic Sharia law which even its sponsors admitted to not reading before filing.”

ALEC is able to do this ghostwriting because it acts under the veil of “organizing to educate lawmakers about public policy issues.” Most of these bills are written at the tri-annual ALEC conferences, gatherings where the group sponsors golf tournaments and lavish parties at night.

Legislators can attend these events without acknowledging their corporate sponsorship because they are hosted as ALEC events. If this were interpreted as lobbying, as it should be, ALEC would lose its status as a tax-exempt federally recognized non-profit group pursuant to Internal Revenue Service regulations.

Our legislative bodies are not supposed to gather in such a secretive and non-public manner, and are not supposed to be unduly influenced by corporate funding in the form of corporate campaign donations–yet ALEC leadership justifies this by arguing that “legislators…will ask questions much more freely at our meetings because they are not under the eyes of the press, the eyes of the voters. They’re just trying to learn a policy and understand it. ” Often times, this means that the head of a corporation with a vested interest in the passage of a bill in a state legislature will be present and heavily influential regarding the drafting of a “model bill” at an ALEC gathering. Pathetically, the “model bill” later reappears verbatim as law.

Recently, ALEC has been behind extreme and unconstitutional legislation, such as the aforementioned Arizona anti-immigrant bill that became known as SB 1070. The Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the US and an ALEC member, were present at the ALEC meeting where the Arizona immigration bill was drafted . ALEC was also found to be a driving force in the recent betrayal of the people of Wisconsin by governor Scott Walker, as evidenced in a report by a respected University of Wisconsin- Madison professor, William Cronon . After writing a popular blog post exposing ALEC as central in the appearance of bills in the Wisconsin legislature (laws that limit democracy as opposed to alleviating fiscal challenges), the Republican Party of Wisconsin unabashedly demanded to inspect records of Professor Cronon, specifically any of his e-mails from 2011 related to the governor or ALEC. ALEC has also produced a guide for state legislators on how to try to repeal the recent federal health care bill signed by President Obama .

Why is this bad for democracy?

ALEC undermines the public interest in what is supposedly a democratic country where all people are created equal. That is, until someone bribes legislation to the contrary in the interest of a group representing the nation’s largest corporations. ALEC buys the influence of our legislators and uses them to push forward laws that further the interests of corporate America, and in doing so, strips “we the people” of the constitutional freedoms that make up our democracy.

ALEC is a group promoting the interests of large corporations, not the people. This group consistently works under the radar of the media and journalists and has received little public review or criticism considering the gravity of its actions. ALEC uses shady tactics, including only allowing high paying organizations to be members or to access its model bills, not allowing interviews, or disclosing which legislators are members, and keeping much of its “work” behind closed doors. ALEC essentially lobbies through the guise of “educating” legislators on “best practices.” This “education” also takes the form of lavish ALEC gatherings where legislators get “scholarships” from unknown sources. These tactics are impermissible for a tax-exempt organization, which adds further concern as to why the IRS has not investigated these blatant violations. (You can bet if a lefty non-profit engaged in these same actions they would be investigated, fined and shut down.)

The agenda of ALEC also undermines the rights of real people in its legislative goals, in which it:

seeks to make it more difficult for people to hold corporations accountable in court; gut the rights and protections of workers and consumers; encumber health care reform; privatize and weaken the public education system; provide business tax cuts and corporate welfare; privatize and cut public services; erode regulations and environmental laws; create unnecessary voter ID requirements; endorse Citizens United; diminish campaign finance reform and permit greater corporate influence in elections (“ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests In State Legislatures,” People for the American Way).

ALEC is a highly influential group in our government and the people deserve to know how it is shaping our laws and how to contest the presence of corporations in private back rooms with our elected representatives. ALEC effectively constitutes the antithesis of democracy. It is contrary to buy or bribe representatives to legislate laws intended to benefit a particular industry or corporation without disclosure or checks and balances. Why are non-ALEC legislators not screaming and yelling about this? Why don’t we as constituents know more about ALEC?

What can you do?

First, you can ask your elected representatives if they are ALEC members and implore them to consider the needs of their constituency above those of a giant corporate interest group. Below is a template letter to send your legislator to find out more about ALEC in your state and to tell them that you oppose ALEC and its bills supporting industry and think that it is bad for democracy.

Click here for the template

If there is a bill pending in your state that you know or suspect has ALEC behind it, send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or other local news publication to let the public know who ALEC is and why its bills should not be supported. Below is a template letter to the editor to start, just add the details of the specific bill that you are writing about.

Click here for the template

ALEC’s 38th annual meeting is being held at the Marriott in New Orleans from August 3rd-6th. Press is screened through ALEC and previous registration is required. For more details, visit:

Sources on ALEC

Sources for Researching Conservative Groups

Additional Resources



Railroads, Ports, and Utilities Legal Primer

This legal primer is intended to be a basic legal resource for activists and legal observers involved in protests at or around railroads, ports, and energy facilities.

Train Bock

Train Bock

Use this guide to help you understand what you are getting into before taking any action. If you are arrested, you are obligating yourself to the federal and/or state criminal legal system, which may have consequences that include a conviction, jail, and/or probation. Act accordingly. If you are not able to deal with the consequences of an arrest and stand in solidarity with your community against government repression, don’t risk arrest. Activism can take many forms, so be honest with yourself about how you can be most effective in fighting for climate justice.

**Please be aware that this primer is not legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship.**

Download Railroads, Ports, and Utilities Legal Primer as a PDF for printing.

This Primer is meant to supplement Know Your Rights training from the Civil Liberties Defense Center and does not include a discussion of the most common charges and punishments that activists will face from criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, etc.

Each State has different laws that may apply to actions on railroad, port, or energy facility property. This primer focuses on Washington and Oregon and is not meant to replace diligent research by campaigns in these or other states. Do your Research!


Railroad tracks, and usually the land extending up to 50 feet on either side, are private property of railroad corporations. Railroad police have interstate jurisdiction and can investigate and enforce all state law crimes against the railroad whether or not the officers are on railroad property.

What are the risks?

There are special state and federal charges that may be brought against protesters interfering with railroads and trains.

  1. Federal charges typically involve the use of violence, but many non-violent actions may face serious charges. Federal charges dealing with railroads include:

Terrorist attacks and other violence against railroad carriers and against mass transportation systems on land, on water, or through the air (18 U.S.C. § 1992)

This is a big charge. It covers lots of non-violent behavior that’s not usually considered “terrorism.”

Disabling, wrecking, or derailing any on-track equipment or vehicle, as well as making tracks, depots, bridges, tunnels, signals, warehouses, etc., unusable or unworkable, qualifies as a “terrorist attack” under this statute.

You may also be charged under this statute for removing, damaging, or impairing a dispatch, crossing, or control signal, as well as interfering with drivers, engineers, or conductors with a reckless disregard for safety.

It’s also important to note that collecting information, surveiling, photographing, videotaping, or diagramming railroads or equipment to assist in any of this behavior may also qualify as a “terrorist act,” as does attempting, threatening, conspiring, or conveying false information about an attempt to do any of the above.

This is a Class C felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or fines.

(Note: this charge applies to trains or mass transportation carriers involved in interstate or foreign commerce, or to individuals who cross state lines to commit the acts.)

Destruction of national-defense materials, national-defense premises, or national-defense utilities* (18 U.S.C. § 2155)

Despite its name, this charge covers lots of railroads. Injuring or destroying national-defense material, premises, or utilities is a crime, as long as you have the intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct national defense. It’s also a crime to attempt to do so.

“Materials, premises, and utilities” include any railroad that might carry defense materials or troops — which could be most railroads.

This is a Class C felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or fines.

Entering train to commit crime (18 U.S.C. § 1991)

It’s a crime to enter a train with the intent to injure property or a person, whatever that injury might look like.

This is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in prison (injury to property or person) or a Class C felony punishable by up to 20 years (robbery or murder), and/or a fine.

  1. State Charges also exist for railroad-specific behavior.

In Washington, charges exist for:

Obstructing or delaying train (RCW 81.48.020)

This charge is pretty broad and criminalizes obstructing, hindering, or delaying a railroad car.

This is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

Malicious injury to railroad property (RCW 81.60.070)

Tampering with any railroad equipment or structure is a crime in Washington. Railroad structures include embankments and culverts. Technically, you have to tamper in a way that endangers the safety of the property or people. Also note that throwing a “dangerous missile” at a railcar is covered by this statute.

This is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in state prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

Sabotaging rolling stock (RCW 81.60.080)

“Rolling stock” means something rolling along a railroad track. If you take, remove, damage, alter, or interfere with any part of a railcar, and you intend to injure the railcar or deprive its owner of it, you may have committed this crime.

This is a Class C felony punishable by up to 5 years in state prison and/or a $1,000 fine.

  1. Some states do not have any special charges dealing with railroads or trains, but railroad protests may still attract special legal attention.

In Oregon, entering or remaining on railroad yards, tracks, bridges, or rights of way automatically constitutes Criminal trespass in the first degree, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine of $6,250.

Interfering or obstructing the service of a railroad, or using, rearranging, manipulating, or damaging railroad property automatically constitutes Criminal mischief in the first degree, a Class C felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or $125,000 fine.

Other States have different statutes or laws; make sure to research your state laws.

What we’ve seen so far in Railroad actions…

  • In a series of labor protests in 2013 at the new EGT grain station in Longview, WA, a strong union town, union members broke down fences, blocked trains and even released the grain cargo during their protests. The most common charges that were pursued against the activists were Criminal Trespass and Obstructing or delaying train (see above). Most of the other charges (such as disorderly conduct, obstructing a police officer, malicious mischief) were dismissed, and the others ended in plea deals or trials (with some juries refusing to find guilty verdicts). Punishments mostly consisted of community service and fines. *Special rules apply to union labor struggles and actions.
  • In September of 2013 and April 2014, 5 to 20 activists in Missoula, MT blocked the path of a coal train by standing close enough to the tracks to make it unsafe for the train to pass. They were given a warning to clear the tracks and told that those who remained would be cited. Those who were cited primarily faced charges of trespass and disorderly conduct. The train was slowed, but it was not stopped.

Note: Across the country, Criminal trespass remains the most common charge for activists involved in railroad actions. Keep in mind that, as in other types of actions, protesters may also be charged with criminal trespass, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, or public nuisance.

Probation terms and restitution are common punishments for climate justice actions, but they are not often reported.


You should know

Ports are considered separate municipalities chartered by the state (like a city or a town). Port property is likely either owned by the port municipality, a corporation, or private individuals. State law applies in ports, but some federal charges may also apply because ports are considered critical infrastructure of commerce. Ports, like other municipal entities, have their own police forces to investigate and enforce laws concerning port property, which may include inland port property.

Port Block - Portland (Photo Credit: Portland Rising Tide)

Port Block – Portland (Photo Credit: Portland Rising Tide)


What are the risks?

As with railroads, there are special state and federal charges that may be brought against protesters conducting actions at ports.

  1. Federal charges typically involve the use of violence, but many non-violent actions may face serious charges. Two federal charges are worth noting:

Boarding vessels before arrival (18 U.S.C. § 2279)

Boarding a vessel before it has completely moored—that is, before it has come to a rest at port—is a crime.

This is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and/or a fine.

Destruction of national-defense materials, national-defense premises, or national-defense utilities (18 U.S.C. § 2155)

We saw this one under railroads, too. The charge covers injuring or destroying national-defense material, premises, or utilities, which can include port facilities. You have to have the intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct national defense. It’s also a crime to attempt to do so.

“Materials, premises, and utilities” covers docks, wharves, piers, bridges, dams, canals, locks, boats, or buildings that could potentially be involved in moving defense material or troops.

This is a Class C felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or fines.

  1. State Charges are less common for port activity. Some states may have different statutes or laws, be sure to research your state laws.

In Washington, a charge exists for:

Obstructing navigation (RCW 88.28.050)

This charge covers obstructing the navigable portion or channel of a harbor, bay, river or stream in any way.

This is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $300.

Note: some states, like Oregon, do not have any special charges dealing with ports. But, again, protesters may face typical activist charges such as criminal trespass, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, or public nuisance. Also, if you enter a boat or building with the intent to commit a crime, you may be charged with felony burglary. Research the laws in your state.

What we’ve seen so far in Port actions…

  • On December 12, 2012, Occupy activists successfully shut down the Port of Portland. There were no charges for activists at the shut-down itself (others were arrested away from the protest site for unrelated crimes).
  • Two people locked down to equipment and delayed the departure of Megaload shipments at the Port of Umatilla on December 2, 2013 (on inland port property). They faced charges of disorderly conduct.
  • The labor action described above under Railroads took place on port property in Longview and Vancouver, WA.


Seneca Protest - Eugene (Photo Credit: Cascadia Forest Defenders)

Seneca Protest – Eugene (Photo Credit: Cascadia Forest Defenders)

You should know

Utilities, public utilities, or energy facilities are the infrastructure producing or transmitting energy to the public, or the companies that own such infrastructure. Electricity, gas, oil, water, and sewage are all utilities. Although usually privately owned, utilities enjoy special legal protections because of their importance to the general public.

What are the risks?

There are special federal charges that may be brought against protesters interfering with utilities.

  1. Federal charges typically involve the use of violence, but many non-violent actions may face serious charges. Federal charges include:

Destruction of an energy facility (18 U.S.C. § 1366)

Contrary to its name, this charge covers more than just “destruction.” It’s also a crime to damage a facility involved in the production, storage, transmission, or distribution of energy, or to attempt to do so. This includes pipelines, whether or not they are under construction or operational.

If this damage causes a significant interruption in the facility’s production (or if you cause over $100,000 in damage), this is a Class C felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine.

It’s a Class E felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine if you cause up to $5,00 in damages and no significant interruption.

Note: this charges applies even to facilities that are not functional — either under construction or off-line.

Destruction of national-defense materials, national-defense premises, or national-defense utilities (18 U.S.C. § 2155)

We saw this in the railroad and ports sections. The charge covers injuring or destroying national-defense material, premises, or utilities. You have to have the intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct national defense. It’s also a crime to attempt to do so.

“Materials, premises, and utilities” includes electric plants, lines, gas mains, pipes, poles, buildings, or structures supplying energy to national defense premises or armed forces. There are lots of national defense premises and lots of armed forces, so this includes a lot of utilities.

This is a Class C felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or fines.

Criminal penalties for damaging a pipeline or facility(49 U.S.C. § 60123)

Damaging or destroying an interstate gas or hazardous liquid pipeline facility, or a pipeline used in interstate commerce — meaning it must cross a state line, which most pipelines do — is a crime. So is attempting to do so.

This is a Class C felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or fines.

  1. States may not have special charges dealing with utilities.

However, in Washington, causing an interruption or impairment in utility service by physically damaging or tampering with utility property automatically constitutes Malicious mischief in the first degree, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $20,000.

Causing a substantial risk of such interruption or impairment by damaging or tampering with utility property automatically constitutes Malicious mischief in the second degree, a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

In Oregon, interfering or obstructing the service of a utility, or using, rearranging, manipulating, or damaging utility property automatically constitutes Criminal mischief in the first degree, a Class C felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or $125,000 fine.

What we’ve seen so far in Energy Facility actions…

  • In Asheville, North Carolina in February 2012, Greenpeace members climbed fences to access a Progress Energy Facility, locked down to equipment, and hung a banner from the top of an inactive smokestack. Sixteen people were arrested and charged with trespass and a few with breaking and entering.
  • In July 2012, the Oakridge 3 cut through three fences at Y-12 Nuclear Storage Facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and vandalized the outside of a building. They were charged with a variety of crimes but were ultimately convicted of damaging national defense premises (see above). One of the activists, a nun, received 3 years in prison. The two others, who had longer criminal histories, were sentenced to 5 years.
  • Some of the Green Scare activists were charged with 18 U.S.C. § 1366 (Destruction of an energy facility) for a sabotage action that toppled Bonneville Power Administration power lines in December 1999. They were not convicted of this crime because plea deals were made.

Note: It’s worth repeating: in addition to the charges listed above, protesters may face typical activist charges such as criminal trespass, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, or public nuisance.

Always remember that it’s hard to predict what charges prosecutors will bring. Just because they didn’t pursue a certain charge this time doesn’t mean they won’t in the future.

Understand what conduct is illegal

Recognize that actions such as making plans, scouting, threatening, attempting, and conveying false information are often covered by the charge.

Do your legal research in advance of any potential arrest scenario.

Assert your Rights.

Know Your Rights

What to Do When Interacting with the Police

Basic Tips

  • You are not allowed to lie to cops, but they are allowed to lie to you (and you should expect them to do so).
  • Keep your hands visible and don’t make quick movements.
  • Don’t go anywhere with a cop unless you are under arrest.
  • Stay in well-lit areas and where witnesses are present.
  • Assume that you are being recorded by the cops.
  • If possible, record the cop or have someone else do so. It is legal to record cops in a public place if you inform them that you are recording and you aren’t interfering with their business.
  • Be polite but firm about asserting your rights.

The police interfere with people’s rights in three distinct ways: Conversation, Detention, and Arrest. Identify your situation so you know your rights, and note that if a cop gives you a warning or an order and you disregard it, you may be arrested. Anything you say can and will be used against you, so stay calm and in control.

Level I: Conversation

Police officers have the right to approach and ask you questions, but absent any reasonable suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity, an officer cannot detain you. You do not have to answer any questions. You do not have to provide identification to an officer at this level unless you are driving a motor vehicle; this includes non-US citizens. Minors (under 18 years of age) do not have to answer any questions by police unless a parent or attorney is present. Determine if you are in a Level I situation by asking if you are free to leave. If you are free to leave, leave.

“Am I being detained?”

Level II: Detention

If an officer reasonably suspects you have been involved in a crime, they may detain you for questioning. You must identify yourself upon request at this level (name, address, D.O.B.). In most states, you do not have to produce an ID card unless you are the driver of a vehicle. Giving false information is a crime. Do not consent to a search, but if the police have probable cause or a warrant (which you should ask to see), they do not need your consent. But never verbally consent. Repeat: “I do not consent to this search.” Police may pat down your clothing if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are carrying a concealed weapon; do not physically resist but make it clear that you do not consent to any further search. Do not talk to the police. Say: “I invoke my Fifth Amendment Right to remain silent. I want a lawyer.” Police are allowed to lie to you, and anything you say (as well as complete silence) could be used against you and provide the police with probable cause to arrest you. Don’t run away even if you believe what is happening to you is unlawful; this may lead to your arrest and injury. Remember officers’ names and badge numbers, and write down everything about the incident as soon as possible.

Level III: Arrest

Ask for an attorney immediately upon being taken into custody. Repeat this demand as often as necessary. You have the right to remain silent—wait for your attorney before saying anything. In most circumstances, if you refuse to provide a name and address while in custody, you will not be eligible for release or a court-appointed attorney.Within a reasonable time, the police must allow you to make a phone call to your attorney and may not legally listen to that call (but assume they will!).Do not talk to fellow arrestees regarding the circumstances of the arrest; you never know who might be listening/recording or if you’re actually talking to an informant or undercover officer. You must be provided adequate medical care while in custody. If you are on medication, inform the jail of that fact immediately and repeatedly, in writing if possible. If you have dietary restrictions for health or religious reasons, the jail may be required to provide you with alternative meals. Inform the jail of your dietary needs as soon as you arrive. If the jail fails to accommodate those needs, begin the grievance process immediately. Transgendered people have the right to be safe while in custody. Inform jail staff of issues of concern.

What Happens Next?

Either while in custody, or shortly upon your release, you will be required to appear in court for an arraignment hearing. Plead NOT GUILTY to all charges. Apply for a court-appointed attorney if you so choose. You will receive a future court date to appear. Make contact with your attorney as soon as possible. It is your responsibility to remain in contact with your attorney; this may be frustrating, but will be essential to your defense! If you choose to go to trial, it may be your responsibility to locate and secure witnesses on your behalf. If you are found guilty at trial, or elect to later plead guilty, you are allowed to delay sentencing at least 48 hours. At the sentencing hearing, you may be ordered to serve jail time, so be prepared to report to jail immediately. Probation requires you to obey all laws. A subsequent arrest while on probation could result in a separate probation violation case and additional punishment including jail.

Security Culture Basics

Don’t Brag: You’re engaged in activism to protect the planet from further destruction, not to get cool points. Bragging about actions—past, present, or future—puts you and your community at risk. The government may use bragging to gather information about you, your comrades, and actions, and it may also decide to target you for getting more information. This applies to “real life” as well as electronically. Government agencies closely monitor email, Facebook and other websites, cell phones, and all electronic communications.

Don’t Gossip: Like bragging, gossiping creates a weak link through which the government can gather information about a community to use against it. Additionally, gossip opens up opportunities for the government to exploit or even create disagreements and tensions between activists. Even if the government doesn’t use your gossip to do damage, you may do that anyway; gossip can easily lead to good activists dropping out of movements. Online gossip can be especially damaging to individuals and communities, and most issues that arise within activist communities don’t need to be broadcast to the public and the government.

Operate on a “Need to Know” Basis: Only share information with others that NEEDS to be known, and only share the information with the people who NEED to know it. Any further sharing creates the unnecessary risks of information getting shared with informants, people who will snitch, and people who did not want the responsibility of knowing information. Furthermore, when you are sharing sensitive information with select individuals, be aware of who—and what—is around you. Don’t share information in the presence of anyone who does not need to know it, or in the presence of any electronic devices, security cameras, places that could be wired, etc.

Not Who You Think They Are

Infiltrator: one who enters into a group or territory with hostile intent, usually with backing from a government agency or corporation.

Informant: one who provides information about an individual or a community to a government agency or corporation.

Provocateur: one who is employed by a government agency or corporation to create problems in a community and/or to encourage a community or individual members to engage in violent actions.

Snitch: one who turns their back on their community and takes on one or more of the above roles.

What to Do

Assume that infiltrators, informants, and provocateurs are within any given activist community and respond accordingly. Be on the lookout for suspicious behavior from others, and adhere to security culture practices to help reduce the damage that these unwelcome parties can cause. If someone seems to have come out of nowhere, asks too many questions, stirs up unnecessary dissent, creates harmful gossip, pressures others to engage in violent activities, or behaves in other ways which suggest that they do not care about what is best for the cause, other activists, and the community—don’t trust them. They may be working for the government or a corporation that is eager to gather information about activists and to try to make effective groups fall apart.

In addition to being cautious about the danger posed by people who’ve been paid to work their way into activist communities, you should be careful about trusting people who may one day snitch. If for any reason you think that someone would not be able to withstand pressure from the police, FBI, or other government agency—or you think that someone would be tempted by offers of reduced sentences or money for turning on their comrades—don’t freely share information with them.

For a video of our Know Your Rights training for activists go to:

Contact CLDC to arrange a training or series of trainings for your community.

If you appreciate activist resources like this primer and our Know Your Rights trainings, please consider becoming a member of the Civil Liberties Defense Center or make a donation to support CLDC’s work. Check out for more information about how you can help.

Demand of Rights

  • I will not talk to you or anyone about anything.
  • I demand to have an attorney present before I speak to you or anyone.
  • I will not answer any questions, or reply to any charges, without my attorney present.
  • I do not agree to perform any test, consent to any searches, or participate in any line-ups.
  • I will not sign anything unless my attorney agrees I should do so.
  • I will not waive any of my constitutional rights.


* For explanatory purposes: “The words “national-defense material” include arms, armament, ammunition, livestock, forage, forest products and standing timber, stores of clothing, air, water, food, foodstuffs, fuel, supplies, munitions, and all other articles of whatever description and any part or ingredient thereof, intended for, adapted to, or suitable for the use of the United States in connection with the national defense or for use in or in connection with the producing, manufacturing, repairing, storing, mining, extracting, distributing, loading, unloading, or transporting of any of the materials or other articles herein before mentioned or any part or ingredient thereof.

The words “national-defense premises” include all buildings, grounds, mines, or other places wherein such national-defense material is being produced, manufactured, repaired, stored, mined, extracted, distributed, loaded, unloaded, or transported, together with all machinery and appliances therein contained; and all forts, arsenals, navy yards, camps, prisons, or other installations of the Armed Forces of the United States.

The words “national-defense utilities” include all railroads, railways, electric lines, roads of whatever description, railroad or railway fixture, canal, lock, dam, wharf, pier, dock, bridge, building, structure, engine, machine, mechanical contrivance, car, vehicle, boat, aircraft, airfields, air lanes, and fixtures or appurtenances thereof, or any other means of transportation whatsoever, whereon or whereby such national-defense material, or any troops of the United States, are being or may be transported either within the limits of the United States or upon the high seas or elsewhere; and all air-conditioning systems, dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, water and gas mains and pipes, structures, and buildings, whereby or in connection with which air, water, or gas may be furnished to any national-defense premises or to the Armed Forces of the United States, and all electric light and power, steam or pneumatic power, telephone and telegraph plants, poles, wires, and fixtures and wireless stations, and the buildings connected with the maintenance and operation thereof used to supply air, water, light, heat, power, or facilities of communication to any national-defense premises or to the Armed Forces of the United States. [From 18 U.S.C. § 2151]



In a groundbreaking case, a federal court in Eugene, OR agreed with CLDC that police need probable cause or a warrant to search your camera.

Copwatching, sometimes called Police Watching, in its current incarnation is believed to have started in the early 1990’s in Berkeley, CA, but citizens have had their eye on cops throughout history. The group in Berkeley remains an authority in the area and they put together a handbook

Berkeley Copwatch has a list of resources to assist any potential Copwatcher. Other Copwatching groups exist in towns and cities across the United States and Canada, many of which have websites and databases of incidents. Copwatching groups are intended both to promote public safety and to ensure that police officers remain accountable for their actions. They are almost exclusively organized and operated by volunteers promoting citizen action.

Copwatching is somewhat less technical than Legal Observing and anyone can join a Copwatch group. Copwatchers are on the lookout for police brutality at all times, not just when a demonstration or protest is taking place. However, the goals of decreasing police brutality and keeping cops accountable for their actions against citizens are the same. They also practice careful documentation of any incidents.

Copwatchers also usually refrain from becoming physically involved in police-citizen altercations, but may use non-violent tactics to help assert the rights of a detained individual.

Resources and links for some of the more active Copwatch groups in the larger West Coast and Southwest cities can be found below.

Portland, OR Copwatch
Berkeley, CA Copwatch
Phoenix, AZ Copwatch


Outreach Materials

Look through these LINKS to find materials that you may need:

Basic Know Your Rights Information

Know Your Rights Brochure (English)

Know Your Rights Brochure (Spanish)

Other Know Your Rights Information

Activist PowerPoint

Grand Juries PowerPoint

Immigrant PowerPoint (English)

Immigrant PowerPoint (Spanish)

Immigrant Teen PowerPoint (English)

Teen Brochure

Teen PowerPoint

Transdermal & Subdermal Piercings

Unhoused Brochure

Unhoused PowerPoint

Resources Created by the CLDC

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)

Copyright and Trademark Information – Using Corporate Logos

Demand of Rights

FBI Script 1

FBI Script 2

Grand Juries are an Abuse of Power

Legal Flow Chart

Practical Security Handbook

Silencing Dissent

Videotaping Police During Political Demonstrations


Other Resources

Abolish the AETA!

Blueprint for Inclusive Health Care for Transgender Workers


Dealing With the Police

Green Scared

Guide to Corresponding with Prisoners

Tasers and the Police (English)

Tasers and the Police (Spanish)

Transgender Direct Action Guide

Your Right to Demonstrate & Protest

783 Grant Street, Eugene, OR, Suite #200
tel: 541.687.9180  |  fax: 541.804.7391