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Pipeline opponent falsely said to be part of antifa, lawsuit claims

Pipeline opponent falsely said to be part of antifa, lawsuit claims

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Shortly before a Mountain Valley Pipeline opponent was charged in 2018 with trespassing in a construction zone, a member of the project’s security force falsely targeted her as “affiliated with Antifa,” a lawsuit claims.

The charges against Nan Gray and two of her friends were later dropped by a prosecutor who said there was no evidence to support them.

Gray and Gordon Jones then brought malicious prosecution lawsuits against Mountain Valley and its security firm, Global Security Corp., in December 2018.

A lawsuit filed last week by a third person arrested, Hazel Beeler, alleges that a conspiracy to have the three Craig County residents charged was based, at least in part, on Gray’s supposed connections with antifa.

Duane Moriarity, a security coordinator with lead pipeline partner Equitrans Midstream Corp., told colleagues shortly before Gray was arrested that she is a “leftist biologist” who “consorts with and gives direction to Antifa,” according to the lawsuits.

“I hope she gets locked up,” the papers quote Moriarity as writing in a text shortly before Mountain Valley and Global Security officials obtained charges from a magistrate against Gray, Jones and Beeler.

Gray, a soil scientist and outspoken opponent of Mountain Valley, has never been affiliated with antifa, the lawsuit states.

Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is a movement of far-left activists who have protested against events such as a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and more recently taken part in clashes with police in Portland, Oregon.

Although President Donald Trump has called antifa a terrorist organization, his critics say it lacks a clear leader or defined membership.

By attaching the label to pipeline protesters, Mountain Valley is attempting to intimidate and silence them, according to Alan Graf, president of the Southwest Virginia chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

“They’re just trying to squash anybody that gets in their way, and that’s what this is,” he said.

Graf said he was not speaking for the Lawyers Guild, but instead was basing his opinions on what he has observed as an official observer of pipeline protests for the guild.

In lawsuits filed in Giles County Circuit Court, Gray, Jones and Beeler are seeking $4 million each in damages from Mountain Valley, Global Security and their employees. The two companies declined to comment Wednesday on the pending litigation.

John Fishwick and Cerid Lugar, Roanoke lawyers who filed the lawsuits, said in a statement that “this case seeks to protect citizens from malicious criminal prosecution.” Fishwick declined to comment further.

The lawsuits give the following account:

On August 24, 2018, the trio went to visit a cemetery in Craig County that is adjacent to a right of way for the pipeline, which is being built — amid intense controversy — through Southwest Virginia.

They had permission from the landowner and planned to pay their respects to a friend buried in the cemetery and observe the pipeline work nearby.

But after a dispute arose over how they got to the site and where they parked their vehicles, Mountain Valley and Global Security called for police. A Virginia state trooper responded but declined to file charges, in part because the right of way was not posted with “no trespassing” signs.

The companies then decided to pursue charges on their own. After two magistrates declined to issue trespassing warrants, officials approached a third one three days later and secured charges.

But they made no mention of the lack of “no trespassing” signs, the lawsuits claim, and omitted other relevant details in their sworn statements.

While Gray’s reputed antifa association was not mentioned in the criminal proceedings, Graf said it could have been used to justify the company’s actions — even though there is nothing wrong with being against fascists.

“That’s American,” he said. “That’s what we did with King George. We decided that we weren’t going to take any more crap, and we fought back.”

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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