Activist Gets Two Months for Blocking DC Beltway During Protest
The 60-day jail sentence a Montgomery County, Maryland, judge imposed this week on a climate activist appears to be part of a trend among courts to get tough on environmental protesters as they become more aggressive.
William Regan, 43, received the sentence after he joined other members of the activist group Declare Emergency in blocking traffic on the Inner Loop of the Washington, D.C., Beltway. Six other people also were arrested.
They were demanding that President Joe Biden declare a climate emergency that would allow him to use his broad executive powers to bypass normal legislative procedures for addressing national emergencies.
The Beltway protest was one of several that erupted in the United States and internationally in recent weeks.
In Oakland, California, last week, climate activists rallied outside a Chevron gas station while demanding a cap on big oil profits. They said oil companies are driving up fuel prices to maximize their profits but also adding to climate change.
Protests in Europe have been more violent, sometimes including defacing major works of art to draw attention to protesters’ concern about global warming. Some activists tried to interfere with normal operations in public gathering places by gluing their hands to the floors.
Like the legislatures in Europe, more than a dozen U.S. states have passed laws to increase the penalties on disruptive protests. Typically, the state laws say that trespassing or impeding the operation of pipelines, power plants or other critical infrastructure can result in felony convictions.
In the Montgomery County case, Regan pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order and of obstructing or hindering passage.
On Oct. 10, he was one of about a dozen protesters wearing neon vests who sat in lanes of the Beltway to block traffic. Others walked around carrying protest signs.
A Declare Emergency statement said the protest was “an act of nonviolent civil resistance by Declare Emergency supporters to demand that President Biden declare a climate emergency and stop fossil fuel extraction on federal and Indigenous lands.”
Regan, a computer scientist, said, “Acting in nonviolent civil resistance to save the planet is the only way I can truly be able to look myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”
In addition to the 60 days in jail, Regan was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation. The next court date for the other six defendants is Dec. 13.
Tom can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @tramstack.