CINCINNATI -- The Greenpeace protesters who staged an elaborate public demonstration at the global headquarters of Procter & Gamble Co. Tuesday likely trained extensively for the carefully-orchestrated plot, according to former Greenpeace activists.
“They work sort of like a SWAT team,” said Pat Moore, a Greenpeace co-founder who cut ties with environmental group in 1986 after 15 years.
Activists hung a zip line between the company’s twin towers and unfurled two 60-foot banners from the buildings to protest what they claimed was P&G’s link to tropical deforestation with its use of palm oil in Head & Shoulders products. One of the activists was dressed in a tiger costume while hanging from the zip line.
The protest, although new to Cincinnati, was not a new Greenpeace tactic. The banner drop is a common attention-getting approach used by the worldwide environmental group, which often campaigns against issues like global warming, deforestation, commercial whaling and nuclear matters.
“The climbing thing has been going on for a long time—so have the animal costumes and so has the helicopter, the film crew. It’s a pretty stock demonstration and it didn’t require getting many people in the room,” said Moore, who recalled climbing buildings and smokestacks decades ago, too.
“They’ve got it down to an art….It’s worked for years.”
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After hours of questioning Tuesday night at police headquarters, the nine activists provided little information on how they managed to enter the building of the Fortune 500 company, but a P&G spokesperson said Wednesday that the protesters had help.
“Security cameras indicate that one protester gained illegal access to office space that P&G leases to a third party. The protester then improperly let the others in via a secured entrance,” said Lisa Popyk, who would not reveal where the activists entered the building.
Greenpeace, founded in 1971 and now an international organization with headquarters in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, has historically depended on insiders to successfully carry out its protests, said Moore. He said he and fellow activists depended on close connections while chasing the Russian Whalers around the North Pacific.
“We were given U.S. intelligence information from Washington D.C. through a late congressman from California who sympathized with us….He was sending us the position of the Russian factory Whalers on a daily basis…That’s how we were able to find them and confront them and film them killing the whales.”
Moore said the group would often assign a person to scout the location of a protest—gathering intimate details about building floor plans, employee schedules and other key clues of how to gain access inside.
“They have to have quite a bit of good intelligence on the nature of the building that they’re entering and what people are doing in there, what their hours are and all that so they can get the timing right,” he said. “They have to hire a helicopter and all that.”
Greenpeace hired a helicopter to film and photograph the P&G incident Tuesday, but it did not directly assist the activists, the owner of the helicopter company told WCPO.
The helicopter took off from Lunken Airport and the owner of the company the chopper belongs to said he was "duped" by Greenpeace.
Cincinnati Police Capt. Paul Broxterman said the activists made their way to the 12th floor, where they likely changed clothes and used pliers to break the locks of the windows of that floor, which is mostly vacant in the north building.
“They put pole jacks, or braces, against the windows from outside so you could not push the windows from the inside,” Broxterman said.
He said the protesters were tied to metal stanchions, often used by window-washers.
“They knew that these stanchions were up there, they knew about the balconies and everything else,” Broxterman said.
The equipment police seized filled the bed of a full-size police pickup truck, he said.
“They had everything from radios to helmets with cameras to rappelling gear with a harness, to – of course – the tiger suit,” said Broxterman.
Ground Crew Likely
Long before the nine protesters pulled off their elaborate P&G stunt, the group likely spent months planning for the best way to spread their message and delegated key tasks to people on the ground.
“They have very tight planning with timelines and everybody has their role to play,” said Moore.
A Greenpeace spokesperson declined to comment on how the group prepared for the P&G protest and how long they planned for the event. Molly Borozenski, a spokesperson for the environmental group, said Greenpeace is legally protecting the nine activists, who now face felony charges of burglary and vandalism in connection with the demonstration.
Greenpeace USA is a nonprofit 501 (c)(4) based in Washington, D.C. Its 2012 990 tax form listed the organization’s total revenue at $32,791,149, most of which came from its 348,782 members in the U.S.
The tax form describes Greenpeace USA as “an independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful, creative confrontation to explore global environmental problems, and to force solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.”
The organization does not take contributions from governments and corporations and does not endorse political candidates, according to the 2012 Form 990, the most recent year available.
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Insight from a former employee who worked for the company in the early 1990’s and still does work for the group as a contracted consultant today indicates that more people were likely involved in the protest than just those arrested on Tuesday.
“There’s all kinds of support roles,” said Nadine Bloch. “Purchasing the right gear to make it happen. People need to make banners—graphic designers. They need to sew it. Somebody needs to rig it so that it’ll be safe. People have to practice deploying it. There’s people on the ground doing media work, doing legal work. There’s people on the ground who are focused on what the issue area is.”
Bloch, who could only reference similar Greenpeace protests that she had assisted with in the past, said the environmental group has people on standby to handle the consequences of the public demonstrations.
“There are people who are going to get you out of jail and there’s people who are going to follow you to the police station,” she said.
According to its tax filing, Greenpeace USA had a total of 2,871 employees in 2012 and 3,608 volunteers. It spent more than $19 million on salaries, compensation and employee benefits that year and listed its total fundraising expenses as nearly $4.5 million. The tax form listed total travel expenses of $937,293 and net assets of nearly $1.2 million.
And for a protest like the one at P&G headquarters to actually work, Greenpeace activists must be highly skilled climbers, too.
"When I worked at Greenpeace, there would be specific actions that we would coordinate and there would be specific times that we might risk arrest but normally the person who was hanging that banner in the tiger suit may or may not even be a Greenpeace employee," she said.
Bloch said she has climbed several structures, like the Sears Tower in Chicago, to hang banners for Greenpeace's Nuclear protests. She also made banners behind the scenes.
She said Greenpeace often recruits activists who are already climbers, some who are specialized in climbing a specific type of structure. But some of the group's employees and volunteers must learn how to climb for the first time.
"Some people learn it on the job, so to speak," said Bloch. "I did learn how to climb working with Greenpeace."
Who Are The Greenpeace Nine?
After getting released from the Justice Center downtown Wednesday, just after 5 p.m., Greenpeace activist Tyler Sanville, said, “We were here because we want to get our message out; that Procter & Gamble is buying palm oil linked to rainforest destruction, which is destroying the habitat of endangered species like orangutans and Sumatran tigers.”
Tyler Sanville, activist, rallies others at another protest. (Courtesy of Tyler Sanville's Facebook Page)
It’s not the first time that many in the group have been involved in protests, especially about environmental issues. And Tuesday, they knew what they were doing—not only because of their past experiences but, also their extensive training with Greenpeace, according to records and their social media accounts.
At Greenpeace’s Action Camp, the group dubbed as the Greenpeace Nine, were likely trained like many other activists with Greenpeace.
On Greenpeace’s blog, they boast that the Coastal Canyons Action Camp, held in 2013, was the second annual direct-action training camp.
There activists learned to:
-Honed their climbing skills
-Practiced creating blockades [putting] their bodies on the line to “prevent environmental injustice when necessary”
“The skills that the activists learned at camp will be crucial tools,” as stated on the Greenpeace blog. “They’ll help a new generation of activists with Greenpeace and other groups confront environmental injustice at sea, on land and in the air.”
Cincinnati lawyer William Gallagher, who is representing the group of protesters, said none of his clients have criminal records, adding they are each law-abiding citizens with legitimate jobs—using 26-year-old activist Tyler Wilkerson, who is a former U.S. Marine, from San Diego, Calif., as an example.However, a review of public records indicates that several of the Greenpeace Nine had at least one other protest-related arrest.
Marcella Largess, 28, of Baltimore, Md., was dressed as a tiger at Tuesday’s P&G protest downtown. Her experience with protesting varies over the past decade.Largess, who also goes by ‘Koala’, was 19 years old when she was arrested during a 2004 protest in Washington, D.C. According to The Washington Post, she allegedly assisted two women in climbing onto the ledge of the John A. Wilson Building—in protest of a homeless shelter closing.
Largess was also part of a 2011 Occupy Baltimore protest, which discouraged victims from reporting assaults. A then 26-year-old told the Baltimore Sun that she only wanted to let victims know that there are alternative ways of dealing with an attacker, though she said she had once been involved in an abusive relationship and needed the police's help.
Largess said she wanted "the person who harmed me to work on issues and get the help needed to be a functioning member of society."
More recently, the punk-rock band singer and vegan was also involved in a 2012 Occupy Baltimore protest outside a juvenile detention center. Six were arrested and charged with trespassing, according to the Baltimore Brew.
Nima Shahidi, 29, of Fallston, Md., also a vegan, writes a blog, “No Ham Sandwich”, where he posts photos of demonstrations in which he claims to have been involved.
And, he too, according to media reports, was at the Occupy Baltimore protest outside the juvenile detention center, where Largess was in 2012, along with 75 others protesting against a proposed $100 million youth jail.
That same year, Shahidi was arrested in Maryland for trespassing.
Vegan Tyler Sanville, 28, of Washington D.C., writes for a Greenpeace blog, The EnvironmentaLIST, where she sounds off, in a commentary-type space, on environmental topics like GMO labeling.
Mike Herbert, 30, of Chicago, Ill., was arrested in 2011 during an Occupy Chicago protest.
In a SocialistWorker.org article, Herbert wrote, "The city of Chicago made more than 300 arrests at Occupy Chicago public assemblies held in Grant Park for violation of city-imposed park curfew ordinances. Since the arrests, the mayor has stepped up his efforts to circumvent the U.S. Constitution through municipal ordinances, beefing up an already unconstitutional parade law to better facilitate the shutting down of any and all political dissent in the city of Chicago. The stripping of civil liberties to serve the political interests of those in power is disconcerting."
"As you watch this on television, remember this: We are not hoodlums or criminals. We are members of your community who will no longer wait for the system to solve the problems it was designed to perpetuate. We are your teachers, your family, your neighbors and coworkers. Stand with us."
Denise Rodriguez, 20, of Corona, N.Y., was an intern for the National Activist Intern Network for Greenpeace in San Francisco from February to June 2013. Up until this year, according to what appears to be her Facebook page, she worked at Working Families Party, dubbed as New York's Progressive Third Party, touting: “Holding the politicians accountable to working families since 1998.”
Hailing from Queens originally, Rodriguez, who speaks English and Spanish, attended The Door in New York City. The Door’s mission is to “empower young people to reach their potential by providing comprehensive youth development services in a diverse and caring environment.”
Specializing in environmental issues, Sean O'Brien, 22, of Oakland, Calif., appears linked to The Holdout, which organizes events in a space called a “radical social center that supports community in struggle.” He may also have ties to the direct-action groups Unconventional Action (UA in the Bay) and Direct Action Against War.
Jesse Coleman, 28, is a Washington, D.C.-based researcher for Greenpeace. The Greenpeace blogger has been instrumental in oil pipeline, coal and chemical spill protests. He works heavily in environmental issues, including his research, which involved collecting samples of oil washed up by Hurricane Isaac on West Ship Island, Miss.
Greenpeace researcher Jesse Coleman takes samples of oil washed up by Hurricane Isaac on West Ship Island, Mississippi, part of the Gulf Islands. (Courtesy of Greenpeace)
Coleman also demonstrated at a National Oil Spill Commission hearing in Washington D.C. in 2010. In protest, he held a sign that said: “SAFE OFFSHORE DRILLING IS A PIPE DREAM”, in the background, while NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco addressed the commission.
Greenpeace activist Charles Long, 34, of Chicago, Ill., was also involved in the P&G demonstration.
Out on a $450,000 cash bond, the nine who were not remanded to Ohio, said after their release that they were headed to eat.
PHOTO: The Greenpeace Nine just after being released from jail downtown on Wednesday. (Courtesy of Kate Melges’s Facebook page)
WCPO reporters Kareem Elgazzar, Lucy May and Dan Monk contributed to this report.