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Meme with Wings: Are Western Anti-Fracking Activists Funded by Putin’s Russia?

1:08 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Anti-fracking banner on a march: "We Can't Drink Money"

The myth of Russian funding for anti-fracking activists keeps reappearing.

At a June 19 speaking event at London’s Chatham House, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen claimed the Russian government is covertly working to discredit hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the west from afar.

“I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas,” said Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark.

Rasmussen’s comments were relayed to the press by someone in attendance who apparently broke the “Chatham House Rule” by telling outsiders about the content of a Chatham House meeting.

But Rasmussen left out some key context from his presentation, which he said “is my interpretation” and did not further elaborate on his “disinformation operations” comments.

That is, while powerful actors have claimed on multiple occasions that western-based anti-fracking activists are funded by the Kremlin, no one has ever documented such a relationship in the form of a money paper trail.

Meme with Wings

Rasmussen’s allegation that western “fracktivists” are or might be funded by the Kremlin is a meme with wings.

In a June 2010 email revealed by Wikileaks, private intelligence firm Stratfor (shorthand for Strategic Forecasting, Inc.) speculated that Josh Fox, director of Gasland and Gasland: Part II, might be funded by the Russian government or the coal industry. According to a January 2010 email, Stratfor’s “biggest client” is the American Petroleum Institute.

Stratfor published a white paper titled “Shale Gas Activism,” an analysis of anti-fracking opposition groups and leaders, in December 2009.

Emails show Stratfor sent the white paper to Stanley Sokul, then-ExxonMobil corporate issues senior advisor and now XTO Energy’s manager of public and government affairs. Sokul formerly served as chief of staff and general counsel for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President George W. Bush.

Further, in the industry-funded documentary film FrackNation, climate change denier James Delingpole also stated that anti-fracking activists are likely funded by the Kremlin.

Most recently, climate change skeptic Bjorn Lomborg — whose Copenhagen Consensus Center was recently exposed by DeSmogBlog’s Graham Readfearn — also recently wrote that he concurred with his fellow Dane Rasmussen’s assessment.

“The accusations do not seem too far-fetched. Russia is very keen on dissuading Europe from exploiting its shale reserves,” Lomborg wrote in Forbes. “Moscow’s goal clearly is to keep the EU dependent on Russia.”

Memes Work

While in reality, U.S. oil and gas companies maintain close ties with Russia — including in the fracking sphere — the meme brought to the forefront again by Rasmussen is the one that has caught much more fire.

Originally conceptualized in scholar Richard Dawkins‘ 1976 book The Selfish Gene, one conclusion reigns supreme: memes work and can have a major impact.

For example, Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99-percent” is a meme. So too is “Global warming is a hoax.”

“In my opinion, the problem is not with the meme concept itself, but with some of the ways in which it has been used, and especially those that undermine the role of agency in [deploying memes],” Limor Shifman — senior lectureer at the Department of Communication and Journalism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of the book, Memes In Digital Culture — said in a recent interview on her book.

With loud megaphones and ongoing geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and Russia with no end in sight, one can rest assured Rasmussen will not be the last one to repeat this meme, just as he was not the first.

Citing DeSmogBlog Series, “FrackNation” Screening Cancelled by MN Film Festival

4:39 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

FrackNation,” the documentary film about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) with close conservative movement ties, recently had its showing cancelled at Winona, Minnesota’s annual Frozen River Film Festival (FRFF).

Citing DeSmogBlog‘s two-part investigative series published in May 2013 on “FrackNation,” FRFF Director Mike Kennedy told the Winona Post his rationale for cancelling the film is that it was, “pretty apparent they were paid to make these movies to counter Gasland [Part II].”

“DeSmogBlog.com appears to be the main source of allegations that ‘FrackNation’ was industry-funded,” wrote the Post. “DeSmogBlog claims connections between [film Co-Director Phelim] McAleer and conservative groups, industry groups help[ing] promote the film after its was made, and the fact that McAleer directed an industry-funded documentary in the past, as proof that ‘FrackNation’ is cut from the same cloth.”

The cancellation has caused a major kerfuffle in conservative media circles, covered by outlets ranging from Fox News, Fox BusinessThe Blaze TVTown Hall, Watchdog.orgHot Air and others.

FrackNation issued a press statement in response to the cancellation, spawning the conservative media backlash. 

“The film festival organizers seem to hate alternative points of view, they seem to want to quash diversity. They seem to be scared of the truth,” McAleer said in the press statement. “Basically the Frozen River Film Festival organizers have given in to bullying and taken the easy way out and censored a film that might offend environmental elites who think they know best.”

But an email exchange** provided by film festival organizers to DeSmogBlog shows, far from a case of censorship, “FrackNation” did not agree to the standard operating procedure for screening the film. In turn, festival organizers decided they wouldn’t screen it.

“FrackNation” Rises to Prominence

Co-Directed by Magdalena Segieda, Ann McElhinney and McAleer, “FrackNation” came out a few months before the release of Josh Fox’s “Gasland: Part II” and around the same time as Gus Van Sant’s Hollywood film critical of fracking, “Promised Land,” starring Matt Damon.

Since its release, “FrackNation” has done many screenings nationwide for state-level Americans for Prosperity (AFP) groups. AFP is a front group founded and bankrolled by the Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch. It’s also done many screenings for oil and gas industry trade associations.

“FrackNation” also played in front of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in February 2013, which Dave Weigel of Slate reported ”around 40 Republican staffers and members of Congress” attended.

In contrast, Josh Fox was arrested at the same Committee’s hearing a month earlier while filming for his then upcoming film for “unlawful entry.”

Missing Context: “FrackNation” Snubs Festival Screening Terms

McAleer’s claim is that “FrackNation” has been bludgeoned into silence by the FRFF organizers.

“What country am I living in?,” he asked rhetorically in an interview with the Winona Post. “I thought that this was America. I thought that people actually appreciated dissent.”

But that’s not the whole story, according to FRFF organizers, who said it’s the festival’s standard operating procedure that film representatives come for post-film discussions and question-and-answer sessions.

“Upon original acceptance we stated that a filmmaker attend with the film and join in a moderated public forum, as engagement is an important part of our mission,” reads a press release they posted on Facebook about canceling the film’s screening. “We offered to pay travel and lodging to anyone from the film who could attend. They declined to send someone, so we will not be screening the film.”

FRFF provided DeSmogBlog the email exchange between Festival Director Crystal Hegge and “FrackNation” co-director Magdalena Segieda outlined in FRFF’s press release.

“Is there anyone associated with the film that could come to the festival?,” Hegge asked in a December 19 email. “If no one from the film can come to the festival I may have to rethink my arrangement because there will be a lot of dead time in this particular theater without a Q&A or panel.”

Segieda responded, but didn’t address the possibility of the “FrackNation” screening being canceled if a film spokesperson couldn’t attend the festival.

“Unfortunately, no one from the FrackNation team would be able to come,” wrote Segieda in a December 20 email. ”Let me know when you set the the time, I will wait for your laurel to start promoting the screening.”

FRFF told DeSmogBlog it had a local frac sand industry sponsor give $1,000 to the film festival to support a member of the “FrackNation” team coming to the film festival.

But after Segieda informed Hegge that “FrackNation” couldn’t comply with FRFP’s request that they participate in a post-screening panel and after “FrackNation” asked for $10,000 from the sponsor according to Kennedy, the sponsor pulled out. From there, it was game over for screening the film at FRFF.

Initially, Kennedy envisioned a “Super Bowl” of fracking documentaries to take place at FRFF, with a debate between to ensue between McAleer and Fox. Fox couldn’t make it out.

But in his place, Calvin Tillman — the former Mayor of Dish, Texas featured in the second “Gasland” — will be on-site as a representative and speaker for the film, according to Kennedy. 

Film Fest Organizers Not Backing Down

Despite the backlash by the “FrackNation” team, FRFF organizers say they won’t back down.

They told the Winona Post, “true documentaries are independently funded,” pointing out that its role model film festivals, Telluride Mountain Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival have both also snubbed “FrackNation” and concluded, “there is a growing national consensus that the film does not qualify as a documentary.”

In place of screening “FrackNation,” FRFF is hosting a forum titled “Documentaries Today: My Fact Your Fiction,” which will center around the fine line between factual documentary film and propaganda documentary-style film.

Asked if he thought the post-cancellation was manufactured and deceptive, Kennedy told DeSmogBlog, “let’s just say it was likely well thought out and coordinated and leave it there.”

**Update**: In an email interview with “FrackNation” Co-Director Magdalena Segieda, DeSmogBlog has learned additional emails were exchanged (published here with Segieda’s permission) after December 20 between the film festival coordinators and Segieda.

These emails weren’t included in the initial batch sent to DeSmogBlog by the festival organizers. In a January 7 email, Film Festival Director Crystal Hegge informed Segieda the film screening would be at 10:00 AM on January 26.

“Thanks – do you have a laurel by any chance so I can start promoting the screening on our social media?,” Segieda wrote in response to Hegge’s email.

After Hegge told Segieda all she had was a “generic laurel,” on January 10, a week passed. Then, according to the email exchange provided to DeSmogBlog by Segieda, Hegge emailed Segieda to say they had to cancel the screening a week later on January 17.

“I am writing to inform you that we will not be showing FRACKNATION during our 2014 festival,” Hegge wrote. “Due to the high quantity of films at the festival we have decided not to show this feature film without a filmmaker attendant. Thank you for your submission and please consider us in the future.”

It didn’t take long for Segieda to respond.

“But we have already published and promoted the screening with time and address to thousands of our fans on our social media,” Segieda wrote less than ten minutes later in a response email. “I have also just finished create (sic) a promo poster attached here and was going to push it out over the next couple of days.”

Asked about the discrepency in the story versions between the two camps, Phelim McAleer provided this statement to DeSmogBlog:

It is unfair that the Frozen River Film Festival has cancelled the FrackNation screening and misrepresented the true situation in the media. I think its clear that they have caved to political pressure and as a result there will not be diversity of opinion and ideas at the festival. This is not what a film festival should be about.

Astroturf Documentary FrackNation Is Tea-Party Backed Attack on Gasland 2

9:57 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Big Oil has deployed the “Tobacco Playbook” once again, this time in response to the release of Gasland 2.

Gasland Promo image

Gasland Part 2 is under fire from an astro-turf competing documentary.

It comes in the form of a documentary film titled, FrackNation, whose co-directors’ funding in the past came from Donors Capital and Donors Trust, referred to by Mothers Jones‘ Andy Kroll as “the dark money ATM of the right” and a major source of funding for climate change denial.

Both Gasland 2 and FrackNation cover hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drilling process via which unconventional oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins around the country and world. Co-produced and co-directed by Irish couple Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, FrackNation purports to be “funded by the 99 percent to combat the misrepresentations by the 1 percent of urban elites who want to tell rural Americans how to work and live.”

McAleer and McElhinney also say they are independent journalists working independently of corporate funding. McAleer was referred to by the San Francisco Chronicle as “climate denial’s Michael Moore” and both McAler and McElhinney are listed as “experts” by the climate change-denying Heartland Institute.

FrackNation is an independent film and we want to remain independent of the Gas industry and be funded by ordinary people,” it says on its KickStarter page that it used to raise $212,265 from 3,305 backers of the film between February-April 2012.

This isn’t the first dip in the “doubt is our product” pond for McAleer and McElhinney. In the past, they co-directed and co-produced a pro-mining documentary titled Mine Your Own Business and a climate change denial documentary titled, Not Evil, Just Wrong.

Both McAleer and McElhinney have made a living in recent years deploying the “Tobacco Playbook,” mutating settled scientific debates on energy and climate catastrophe into false two-sided affairs, which corporate-funded news media take and run with as “he-said, she-said” stories. 

Filmmaker’s History of Tobacco Playbook Deployment

FrackNation made its public debut in Jan. 2013, coinciding with the release of Promised Land, a Hollywood drama starring Matt Damon.

“It’s time Hollywood celebrities and environmentalists were asked some difficult questions about their anti-fracking activities and ideologies. And that’s what FrackNation does,” McAleer said in a press release announcing the world premiere.

McAleer and McElhinney are now singing a similar tune about Gasland 2, as it approaches its July 8 HBO release date.

Mine Your Own Business

Countering popular environmental struggles and luminaries is the modus operandi for McAleer and McElhinney, with a track record of doing so dating back to the mid-2000′s. Their first public foray into the world of “marketing doubt” came with the release of their Mine Your Own Business: The Dark Side of Environmentalism.

Released in 2006, the film was produced in response to the anti-mining protests that popped up against Gabriel Resources proposed open-pit gold mines in Romania, slated to be the largest in Europe. McAleer said it was “the world’s first anti-environmentalist documentary.”

One key funder: Gabriel Resources. This moved local Romanian citizen Eugen David to write that the film was pure propaganda.

“Because the gold lies squarely under and around the village of Rosia Montana, Gabriel needs to move out the local population — roughly 2000 people all in all. But it’s not only the people that will need to go,” David wrote in Jan. 2007. ”Gone also would be our mountains, pastures, rivers and our churches, cemeteries and school – our community with its social fabric and traditions.”

The purpose of the film was obvious: complicate the narrative on the proposed mine through ad hominem attacks on environmentalists, rather than addressing environmental issues associated with the mine itself. David and fellow citizens living in the proposed mining area didn’t buy the bluff.

“After a first unannounced test screening in Bucharest, Gabriel Resources had to stop the film after 15 minutes because people were so revolted by what they saw,” he further explained.

Mine Your Own Business, however, did have a loyal fan base: the right-wing echo chamber.

Steve Milloy, a tobacco industry front man-turned-fossil fuel industry front man, wrote two favorable reviews for Fox News. The Salt Institute and Atlas Society (named after Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”) echoed Milloy’s efforts.

Not Evil, Just Wrong

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“Gasland 2″ Grassroots Premiere in Illinois Highlights Industry PSYOPS and Ongoing Fracking Fights

11:10 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

 

Gasland Promo image

Gasland Part 2 continues documenting energy industry spin and climate change.

Gasland 2 screened yesterday in Normal, IL and DeSmogBlog was there to gain a sneak peak of the documentary set for a July 8 HBO national premiere.

Josh Fox’s documentary played at the Normal Theater, the second-ever screening since the film officially premiered on April 21 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City

The movie builds on Fox’s Academy Award-nominated Gasland, further making the case of how the shale industry’s hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom is busting up peoples’ livelihoods, contaminating air and water, polluting democracy and serving as a “bridge fuel” only to propel us off the climate disruption cliff. 

A central theme and question of the film is, “Who gets to tell the story?” That is, industry PR pros and bought-off politicians utilizing the “tobacco playbook” and saying “the sky is pink,” or families directly injured by the industry? Fox explains how the industry has gamed the system, ensuring the communities have their voices drowned out. The Gasland films seek to tell some of the victims’ stories. 

Another theme is the bread and butter of following any big industry’s influence: following the money. In depicting the financial clout of Big Oil, Gasland 2 shows that the oil and gas industry has gone to the lengths of deploying warfare tactics – literally – on U.S. citizens to ram through its agenda. 

PSYOPs Use by Gas Industry PR Flacks Featured

Much of the content in Gasland 2 has also been covered on DeSmogBlog over the past few years.

Robert Howarth’s and Anthony Ingraffea’s prominent “Cornell Study” receives some good play in the film. Howarth and Ingraffea demonstrated that from cradle to grave, fracked gas has a more dangerous global warming effect than coal, a death knell to the “natural gas as a bridge fuel” meme. President Obama’s deployment of American Petroleum Institute “jobs” talking points for fracking is in there too.

Former head of the Dept. of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush and Republican Gov. of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, also takes a beating in the film. His appearance on “The Colbert Report” is righteously roasted, the same appearance in which he lied to U.S. citizens and declared he was “not a lobbyist” even though he was registered to lobby at that time for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Tailsman Terry the Fracosaurus,” which demonstrates the industy’s willingness to utilize propaganda on young children, receives a similar round of ridicule in Gasland 2. Fox also explains the oil industry’s use of Big Tobacco’s Playbook through interviews with Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt, a major theme of our coverage of both the shale gas industry and the Tea Party

Steve Lipsky, who was left in the dust by Range Resouces and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is one of the central characters of the film. The major villain of that tale is former PA Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who helped derail and censor the EPA’s fracking groundwater contamination study motivated by Lipsky’s water contamination in Weatherford, TX.

While the prospective shale gas export boom is covered in some depth in the film, so too is the concept of the government-industry revolving door, particularly as it pertains to Pennsylvania. The Public Accountability Initiative’s study “Fracking and the Revolving Door in Pennsylvania” is featured in the film, a study we also covered.

Last but certainly not least, Gasland 2 devotes an entire section to the industry’s admitted use of psychological warfare tactics (PSYOPs) on U.S. citizens, as we first revealed in Nov. 2011.

The Houston PR conference referred to in the film is one I attended and covered in some depth. It was a gathering of industry public relations executives talking among friends about how to best manipulate mainstream media journalists, divide and conquer anti-fracking activists, and intimidate local communities to go along with fracking operations that endanger their health and drinking water.

Gasland 2 presents the audio of Range Resouces Director of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Matt Pitzarella revealing that Range hires PSYOPs Iraq War veterans to use their skills to pressure local communities. The film also features Anadarko Petroleum External Affairs Manager Matt Carmichael advising gas industry PR pros to read the Army “Counterinsurgency Field Manual” and “Rumsfeld’s Rules,” because “we are dealing with an insurgency.”

Both audio clips were obtained by Earthworks’ Sharon Wilson at the conference and provided to media by Earthworks and DeSmogBlog. CNBC first broke the story on Nov. 8, 2011.

Illinois Fracking Fight Wages On

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