Drunken nonsense: Is this what coal debate has become?

July 6, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.

The latest YouTube video to emerge from West Virginia’s coalfields isn’t worthy of being embedded in Coal Tattoo. Click here to watch it if you must. But beware it’s full of F-bombs and other language not appropriate for a family blog.

Apparently, a group of folks dressed as coal miners showed up Saturday afternoon on Kayford Mountain,  where mountaintop removal opponent Larry Gibson was hosting his annual 4th of July festival. They appeared to have had a little too much to drink, and decided to mark Independence Day by celebrating their freedom to look like idiots — cursing, threatening and flipping off the environmentalists who were trying to enjoy a little fellowship.

Luckily, it looks like it didn’t get any worse. I haven’t heard of any physical violence or of anyone getting hurt.  I put a call in to the West Virginia State Police, who apparently responded to a complaint about the incident. I haven’t heard back from the State Police, but I’m told things were pretty much over by the time they got there, and no arrests were made.

Back when Massey Energy first geared up for a bigger legal fight against the peaceful protesters who have been trying to shut down its mountaintop removal mines in Raleigh County, I wrote that the company’s lawyers were giving the protesters exactly what they wanted.  And when some protesters were accused by police of shoving their way onto a dragline in Boone County, I wrote that the protesters were giving the coal industry just what they wanted. (Though video released later showed that incident wasn’t nearly as rough as the local sheriff made it sound).So what now? Well, if those guys doing the cussing and flipping off up at Kayford on Saturday were coal miners, they sure gave the environmentalists something to toss around on the Internet to make their case.

West Virginia Blue has already blogged about this, embedding the video and headlining the story, Abusive coal miners crash Independence Day Kayford Fest.  Blogger Clem Guttata West Virginia Blue reader JK  commented:

This is what we’re fighting, folks.

That seems a little unfair. I wouldn’t want to paint all coal miners (assuming these guys were coal miners) with that broad of a brush.  My guess is that most of the miners who didn’t have to work Saturday wanted to rest, or fish, or just spend some time with their families

And I have to say a cringed a bit when I read my friend Paul Nyden’s story Saturday morning, in which environmentalists worried that some miners might show up at the Kayford festival and do exactly what they did — or worse. I can imagine a situation where a few miners who otherwise wouldn’t have even heard about the festival saw that story, read the environmentalists’ fears, and then had a few too many beers and set out to make the story come true.

Of course, I also cringed two weeks ago, when I saw that Massey Energy had allowed its employees and their families to gather outside the company’s Goals Coal Co. operation in Raleigh County to block anti-mountaintop removal protesters from trespassing onto Massey property. The whole setup looked like a recipe for people getting hurt. Luckily, the only real violence was the one Massey supporter who slapped protester Judy Bonds.

The night after that big June 23 protest down at Marsh Fork Elementary School, I wrote these words in reflecting on the face-off between anti-mountaintop removal protesters and Massey Energy workers and their families:

Maybe West Virginia’s political leadership wants this to be fought out in the streets — or, rather, along narrow, two-lane roads that wind through Boone, Logan and Raleigh counties.  Given that the issue has been on the front burner for more than a decade, with little movement toward resolution,  it’s probably understandable that both sides have reached this point.

So I say again: Are the images in this YouTube video really the kind of stuff that West Virginia’s political leaders — all West Virginians, really — want to see flying around the Internet as an example of how we deal with tough issues?

I hope not. This stuff is beneath us, and it’s certainly beneath the importance of the issues that confront us: Global warming, mountaintop removal, the future of coal, diversifying our economy … We ought to be working together to try to solve these things, not lobbing F-bombs at each other on the 4th of July. And our leaders should be taking actions that help resolve this debate, and help West Virginia move forward.

19 Responses to “Drunken nonsense: Is this what coal debate has become?”

  1. Nanette says:

    Thanks Ken, this truly is in the politicians lap. I feel that they have played political games on all of us. I hope that now they will realize that the games that they have been paying is coming to a head and they will be forced pay attention and do something. It is way past time for a resolution to this mess.

  2. WVJustice says:

    thanks for writing about this Ken.

    Just to be clear — this incident saw drunken mountaintop removal supporters disrupting a peaceful event and festival goers did not lash back at them. We weren’t lobbing F-Bombs at each other, we were trying our best to disregard their F-Bombs and get on with our good time. The threats of violence here are one way. It’s a very different thing to peacefully chain yourself to a machine than to challenge someone to a fist fight/threaten to slit someone’s throat.

    You’re right on that these people do not represent the average West Virginian — but are increasingly (in a very real way) becoming the face of the pro-mountaintop removal forces. The pro-mountaintop removal people who were at the June 23rd event, as you wrote, were completely sober when they disrupted speakers, yelled F-Bombs by the hundreds, and slapped Judy Bonds in the face.

  3. Clem Guttata says:

    Ken — Thank you for covering this story.

    By way of clarification, the comment “This is what we’re fighting, folks” was not made by me (thus the block quotes and introductory comment). It was made by reader JK (as received via a Facebook email).

    I did write the headline and accept full credit or blame for the accuracy of characterizing the video as such.

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Thanks to WV Justice and Clem Guttata for those clarifications … I’ve edited my post to reflect the following:

    1. Deleting the “at each other” part concerning lobbing F-bombs. As best I could tell from the video (I was not there), that stuff was one-way, at least in the portions of the video being shown on YouTube.

    2. The comment about “This is what we’re fighting, folks” was made by a W.Va. Blue reader, not by Clem.

    I apologize for not being more accurate and clear in both instances.

  5. WVJustice says:

    thanks for the corrections Ken!

  6. roaninky says:

    Thank you for posting this story. I have been afraid of this happening up in WV for quite a while. The conflict is brewing, and I am afraid more innocent people are going to be harassed, threatened, and possibly hurt or killed. So far, we’ve not seen a violent anti-mtr activist. All have kept their cool and withstood enormous pressures, and some violence, from the opposition and the police.

    I am deeply concerned about the priorities of the WV state police and the Raleigh Co sheriff’s department. I am sure they were aware of the gathering at Larry’s this weekend. They watch and monitor the movement very closely, so of course they knew. Non-violent protestors practice civil disobedience in WV? The police are on them in seconds, whether it’s carrying activists out by their arms at the state house http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jqENyow0cQ&feature=related or falsely accusing activists of shoving their way through for the dragline action.

    Where were the police this weekend? Two hours away? Why were they not protecting citizens at a private gathering from imminent threats of violence?

    At one point, I felt empathy for the woman who was saying, “you may have another way of living but we don’t,” feeling her concern and fear for a way of life that, though hard and unpredictable, is what she and her family have known. But then, she lost most of my empathy when she went on to say some VERY hateful, violent, and ignorant things, including that “she ought to show her A$$.” Which I think she did quite well, actually.

    Activists within the Mountain Justice movement and related work towards ending the destructive practices of mountain top removal have, time and time again, endured threats of violence and not fought back in a violent matter. Civil disobedience is very different from threatening to cut a parent and child’s throat, whether it comes from drunks or not.

    There are really three sides (maybe more) in this fight. The coal companies/execs/cronies, the environmental and community resistance groups, and the miners. I assume Massey is, as I type, coming up with some sexy press release to distance themselves from these angry miners who had way to much to drink.

    I fight for the end of MTR because I fear for the future of Appalachia, the lives of my neighbors and their children in southeastern KY, and because it is a supreme injustice. And by knowing so many of the brave souls at Larry’s this weekend, I know that many of the activists working on ending MTR in the coalfields will continue to work to bring jobs and better economic solutions to these communities.

  7. One Citizen says:

    Why do those so-called “miners” think they’re so special that West Virginia owes them a living? When any number of other industries here discontinued their operations, their laborers have moved on without threatening violence against their neighbors.

    Whether or not the government closes down the surface mine at which they’re now working is somewhat irrelevant, because eventually they, themselves will have extracted all of the coal from it, anyway. So come to think about it, it’s really no wonder these intruders had to get liquored up before they tried intimidating their neighbors. Taking it out on their neighbors for merely trying to save their environment seems almost as self-destructive as the act of strip mining itself. There are, after all, other ways to extract that same coal which are far less destructive.

  8. To be clear, most of the people on Kayford Mountain this Fourth of July did not display such vile behavior and threaten to slit little kids’ throats. Some were actually running interference and some were friendly.

    The coal companies want neighbors fighting neighbors because that’s part of how they maintain control of this mono-economy–divide and conquer.

    Coal’s going to either run out or its combustion be banned before long, so it’s in everybody’s interest if we work together now to transition to a more diverse economy that’s neither destructive nor plagued by the swings of the boom-and-bust cycle.

  9. Janet says:

    Thanks for posting this, Ken. Unfortunately what we are seeing is what I liken to a phenomena I read about in a book called “Games People Play.” This game is called “Let’s You and Him Fight.” Miners who are frightened that their jobs are at risk (and we all know down the road there will be no more coal to mine), are taking their anger and frustration out on community members and others who are trying to protect their homes, their streams, their community, and mountains from the horrendous impacts of mountaintop removal. While neigbor is pitted against neighbor, the coal companies make their profits, the politicians get re-elected and keep propping the companies up with lame environmental “regulators.”

    The environmental agencies have been asleep at the wheel–issuing mining permits that should never have been issued in the first place. The agencies and the mining companies have set the miners up for failure in the first place. (And coal companies don’t think twice about replacing a man with a machine or laying someone off if the market for coal is down.)

    If both groups (miners and people who want to end mountaintop removal) focused their energy on the perpetrators, i.e., state & federal agencies that issue illegal permits, politicians who stay in office because their political campaigns are “funded” by the coal industry, and coal companies that somehow have believe they are above the law and regulation–then maybe, the people, all the people, could find a greater measure of justice and prosperity. Why aren’t more miners being employed to heal the land? How many would that put to work? Why hasn’t the state government provided economic diversity in southern West Virginia? While I abhor everything about mountaintop removal–absolutely everything, the miners are also victims of a corrupt system–coal is almost the only game in town in the southern part of the state. Likely, it’s the only job that pays enough to raise a family in some comfort with a limited education. That being said, the behavior in that Youtube video was over the top. One has to wonder why Gov. Manchin is missing in action…

  10. Julie says:

    Let’s look at the real picture, what are we trying to protect? The mountaintop, the graves that are falling over the mountain because of mountaintop removal. Mountaintop removal is affecting so much of the southern part of West Virginia that the appearance of WV is disappearing. Knowing that sludge is seeping off of the mountains, the mountains are not being replenished when mountaintop removal is completed (as the commercials have stated) and the fact that Massey and other coal companies have enough deep pockets that if they want something done, whether it is to disturb a persons family 4th of July celebration or slap a woman during a protest the company is going to make sure that nothing will happen to their workers. As far as the police not being around, well these coal companies pretty much own everything from the road up to a persons front door, if they want to own the police in these towns, they will find a way to do that as well. It’s all about politics!!!

  11. Scott 14 says:

    While I certainly don’t condone threats of violence, what do you expect. When you threaten a persons livelyhood any man worth his salt is going to fight back. When most of what you see in the paper is reports of permit lawsuits and illegal protests on mine sites,what do you expect. Im sorry that Mr Ward cringes when coal miners practice there first ammendment right to peaceful protest while embracing anti coal protesters illegally entering private property. As for Mr Webb’s comment above. I am my own man, I belong to no company or UNION. If the Green economy brings a job as high paying as mtr then I will be the first in line to apply. Until then if a few moutains must be shot and pushed into a stream to provide a good living for my boys, then so be it. The well being of my family is my side in this struggle, if my intrests and a coal companys intrests turn out to be the same then I will support OUR cause until our intrests conflict then I will move on.

  12. blue canary says:

    I’m not sure what about that video would be considered “peaceful protest.” Was it when they shouted obscenities and expletives at people trying to listen to music? Or when the fat guy threatened a parent and child?

    I understand you are trying to provide for your children, Scott14, but what about the children live below these sites, who fear flash floods and mudslides? What about the children who have to drink poisoned well water? Who have respiratory illnesses and learning disabilities from the pollution in the air and water? Do those kids not count?

  13. Nanette says:

    Scott14, Mr. Ward plays no favorites. I cringed at the language and the threats to a child. I cringe at violence period. First Amendment speech? Well you have had your say and Mr. Ward left it up. I know of two comments that he has taken down. So don’t think for one minute that Mr. Ward is one sided. He is not.

    The thousands of underground men that were put out of work when the companies sold out to surface operations did not act like this. This sort of behavior is uncalled for. Those thousands of men had families to feed too, but the surface miners did not care, nor did our state government. The underground men went on, some went back to school or found work elsewhere. Nobody starved to death and it was not the end of the world, and those men did not act like animals because people like the person in that clip took their jobs.

    To ask people to understand this sort of behavior because their jobs are at stake isn’t going to wash. It is intolerable under any circumstances. I know, our family was one of the many thousands of underground families that had to learn a new way of life when my husband’s job disappeared and Mountain Top Removal took over.

    Mr. Ward I understand if you take my comment down.

  14. wvcitizen says:

    Why didn’t we hear more about this in the News??? We are always hearing about those “awful” MTR protestors who are trying to sink WV.
    This makes me ill.
    Thanks Ken Ward

  15. Bobbie Mangus says:

    I left a voice mail for the Gazette asking why I couldn’t find this article when I googled the incident. I found it in many other locations by a Google search for “Kayford Mtn July 4th 2009″. Neither the Gazette nor any local News station came up in my search. I stand corrected Mr. Ward I know my voice mail sounded disgruntled and I was upset that I didn’t hear anything on the TV news nor did I read it in the paper. When he returned my call he was very angry that I left the voice mail accusing him of not covering the story. He said he doesn’t control Google or Internet searches and he that if I had googled Gazette tattoo the article would come up. Sorry, I was wrong he did cover it. However to google the words Gazette tattoo??? Not in a million years would I would have ever thought to google those words. So now I’m informed however in my opinion burying it in what I consider a weird Internet search and not one article in the newspaper itself is strange to me. I feel this leaves the average unaware person out and these are the people that need to hear about these situations so they can wake up! Again, my opinion. In Mr. Wards defense from the comments on this page I guess others found it. I’m just a regular person wanting the facts……. So Mr. Ward I will continue to google your articles and I hope that the follow up to this first glimpse on what happened is followed up by the facts of who was this person is that shouted “I’ll slit your throat” directing it towards a child and his father? Is he indeed a miner? Did extra pay come his way? Should Massey fire him if indeed he is an employee? Who Bought the alcohol that ignited the spark? I would love to hear the investigative side, lets really get into the who of this story. These are the hardcore facts I want to know. The who and also if he was paid the who that is pushing buttons behind him! I look forward to the follow up.

  16. roselle says:

    It should be noted that it was a few Massey employees that escorted the belligerent man off of Kayford Mountain and diffused a very uncomfortable situation. Afterward cooler heads prevailed and there was some conversations between the two sides of the MTR debate. I’d like to thank those who intervened.

    I didn’t make the barbecue because I was responding to threats that someone was going to burn my house down that night, and a few other neighbors were doing the same. We have gotten used to paintball attacks, loud obscene drive bys and other threats, but we were on alert. The law enforcement agencies told us that no officers would be patrolling route 3 that evening.

    Of greater concern was the decision made by higher ups in the State Police that allowed the Massey employees to infiltrate our peaceful rally and assault several people, both physically and verbally. We were told just the day before that the two groups would be separated, and evidently local law enforcement were over ruled on this at the last minute. At one time during the middle of protest the State Police even asked that we end our rally before all of the speakers had had a chance to talk and just go home or their would be violence. I believe someone wanted this peaceful event to erupt into a riot in order to discredit or intimidate the movement against mountain top removal. It didn’t turn out that way and we are all thankful that no one got seriously hurt. However, I would like to know who overruled the local State Police and why.

    I would also like to thank all my neighbors who stopped by our place in Rock Creek that night to show their support and eat some barbecue with us. Most of the people we meet on the Coal River are very polite and encouraging, and share with us a desire to protect the mountains from being destroyed for short term profits. We may be outsiders, but we are all in this together.

  17. Bob Kincaid says:

    Ken,

    I respectfully disagree with your assertion that the people on Kayford were atypical of Mountain Removers, and here’s why: when you see any gathering of Mountain Removers, this is the type you see. Big, loud, vulgar and filled with hate and ignorance.

    Like you, Ken, I was at Marsh Fork Elementary a couple of weeks ago and I have scores of photographs of more people just like the half-naked, berserk man in the video (not name-calling; he WAS half-naked and he was most assuredly berserk).

    At that rally, I, my wife, my son and my daughter were subjected to a variety of vile, filthy and vulgar slurs and imprecations. My wife was even punched from behind by one of the Massey-ite wives.

    While you assert that the coal workers at the Marsh Fork rally were sober, I got close enough to smell no small amount of “liquid courage” emanating from a number of the Mountain Removers. I also witnessed one trying to break the eardrum of a musician by blasting a portable compressed air horn at his ears.

    Even at the Senate subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., the supporters of Coal showed up wearing cut-off jeans, flip-flops, ballcaps inside the halls of the Senate and even shirts with ripped off sleeves. The disrespect they showed for the government of “We, the People” was quite shocking and stood in stark contrast with the grandmothers and grandfathers, youg people, mothers and fathers who stood in line patiently and respectfully for three hours for a chance to attend the hearing.

    Watch them at any peaceful rally in support of safe communities and preserved mountains, Ken, and you’ll realize this IS the face of Mountain Removal in West Virginia. Please understand that it grieves me to say so, but I cannot evade the facts as they exist.

    Massey employees have been terrorized and radicalized by their employer far more than any protests by the people they call “treehuggers.” The terror among the Massey employees is visible in the hate in their eyes and the shrieks in their and their wives throats, as they scream obscenities at any and all.

    The conduct of typical Mountain Removers like the ones on Kayford Mountain is a function of a broken society and a nearly-erased culture, coupled with a state of terror created by certain out-of-state employers. All of those factors may certainly be attributed to the destruction that Mountain Removal inflicts on the little communities that dot our hills and hollers.

    A broken culture, stemming from depopulation, economic stagnation, a mono-economy and a wrecked educational system can’t help but breed terrified, belligerent, bullying individuals like those at Kayford who have been put on display for the world via YouTube.

    Finally, you think Blankenship cringes at this stuff? I don’t. I think he grins from ear-to-ear and cackles like a hen laying eggs. He’s worked hard to create this tension. It suits his purposes and his purse.

  18. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Thanks Roselle for that comment …

    I think your questions about the way the State Police handled things at the ballfield at Marsh Fork school are good ones. I’ve tried to get answers to those myself, and haven’t been able to get much to pass on to readers. I’ll keep trying.

    For Ms. Mangus:

    A Google News search for the words Gazette Kayford turns up this link to the Public Radio story:

    http://www.wvpubcast.org/newsarticle.aspx?id=10317

    Which, if you read it, cites the Gazette coverage in the last paragraph. (Though they did not provide a link — come on PBS … )

    A search for the words gazette kayford mountaintop removal turns up the link to this Coal Tattoo post

    (http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2009/07/06/drunken-nonsense-is-this-what-coal-debate-has-become/).

    My point to you is that the Gazette has no control over the system that Google uses — over the fancy computer formulas that determine what turns up when you search for certain search terms.

    Unfortunately, our internal Web site admin system does not currently integrate our blogs into a search of our Web site (I mean the “search” box that is on wvgazette.com, not google) … It’s my hope that will be added at some point in the not-too-distant future.

    I’d advise against relying on a Google search to find our news.

    You’d be better off if you’re interested in coal news to bookmark Coal Tattoo (http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/) or to follow us via an RSS feed. Click early and click often.

    I’m sorry you hadn’t caught on to Coal Tattoo yet. We’ve been running ads in our print edition and on our website that explain what Coal Tattoo is and does. And just about every print and online story includes a reference to reading more in Coal Tattoo and provides the link. I think we’ve done just about all we can to direct readers to this blog.

    Welcome it, and thanks for reading and commenting.

    Frankly, I don’t plan on following up on this drunken nonsense and giving it any more attention. I think it got more media coverage already than it deserved.

    Ken.

  19. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    OK, folks … Coal Tattoo is moving on from this one — I’m going to cut off the comments. I think we’ve had a wide range of opinions expressed. But we all have more important things to talk about than a few trouble-makers.

    Ken.