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The Saboteurs

Posted on Dec 1, 2013
AP/Mike Groll

A protester raises a fist during a rally against hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, N.Y., in 2012.

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, accompanied by private security agents hired by the oil companies, spent millions to investigate and attempt to halt the sabotage. Ludwig’s farm was occupied by police five times and searched for incriminating evidence. The police and Encana Corp. infiltrated Ludwig’s tight community with an agent provocateur who, to prove he could be trusted, blew up a well owned by what was then Alberta Energy Corp., now Encana. The explosion, although orchestrated by the police and Encana, was publicly blamed on Ludwig. The oil company also brought in a “terrorism expert” from Toronto to speak at local town hall gatherings—York captures one of those talks in his film—and the expert warned residents of the rising “terrorism” of religious cults led by fanatic, charismatic leaders.

Ludwig was undeterred. “People are talking here that maybe someone should be shooting guys in pinstripe suits to get them to stop,” he said.

Ludwig, whose knowledge of the terrain allowed him to outfox hundreds of police officers, was never caught in an act of sabotage, but he probably had a hand in damage at hundreds of remote well sites estimated at $12 million. The federal government in Ottawa, in desperation, considered sending in the army. Ludwig was finally arrested in 2000 on five counts of property damage and possession of explosives and imprisoned for 18 months. He spent his time in prison reading a treatise in Dutch on the nature of hell.

Ludwig referred to the biblical story of David and Goliath in justifying his struggle against colossal forces, saying “the war is won before it is fought.” He believed that if you fought for righteousness you always were ensured spiritual victory, even if you were defeated in the eyes of the world. “It’s not size,” he said. “It’s whether a man is right or not. The fight is won on principle.” In his home he kept a poster of activist and journalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian hanged in 1995 after he campaigned against Shell Oil’s exploitation of his country. The poster read: “The environment is man’s first right. Without a clean environment man cannot exist to claim other rights be they political, social or economic.”


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Ludwig once invited visiting civil servants who worked for oil and gas regulators to dinner. He fed them homemade cheeses, preserves, jams and wild cranberry wine. The pièce de résistance, which Ludwig unveiled with his usual flair, was the skull of a horse killed by sour gas. “It’s just a symbol of all the death we’ve had around here,” he informed his startled guests.

On another occasion he dumped noxious sour crude on the carpet in the office of local regulators to see if it “bothered” them.

The sabotage did not end with Ludwig’s 2012 death. There are reports of ongoing sabotage along the path of the XL pipeline and in the Alberta oil fields.

“I’d also say that sabotage in the oil patch is one of the oil and gas industry’s dirty little secrets,” York said. “It is widespread, and to many landowners it is a natural consequence of the industry’s attitudes and behavior to those whose land they are occupying. The industry doesn’t make a big fuss because they don’t want to encourage the response.”

But violence begets violence. And the more Ludwig blew up facilities the harsher became the intrusion of the state.

“Meeting industrial violence against livestock and families with more industrial violence against oil and gas installations is not the answer,” said Nikiforuk. “It is an act of frustration as well as a reflection of the captured state of regulators. And it submits an entire community to a reign of industry- and state-sanctioned terror. A second war broke out in the bush in the 2000s during an intense period of hydraulic fracking. Six bombings occurred at Encana well sites in northern British Columbia just 50 kilometers from Ludwig’s farm. The government sent in 250 officers to investigate. They treated rural citizens like members of the Taliban. The campaign ended as mysteriously as it began and had all the earmarks of Ludwig. It did not change industry practices.”

Ludwig’s gravest mistake was his decision, or the decision of someone in his small community, to fire on two trucks carrying rowdy teenagers. The sons and daughters of oil and gas workers roared through the group’s compound at about 4 a.m. on June 20, 1999. Karman Willis, a 16-year-old girl, was fatally shot by someone on the farm, and a second teenager survived a wound. York in his film shows Ludwig family members repeating like automatons that they thought they were under attack because the backfiring of the vehicles sounded like gunshots. No one on the farm took responsibility for the shooting, and no one was charged. The killing of the girl saw the neighboring communities cut off Ludwig and his band in revulsion. Local businesses put up signs that read: “No Service for Ludwigs.”

Ludwig, before he died at age 71 after refusing chemotherapy for esophageal cancer, turned away from violence. The renunciation came a year or two after his final bombing campaign. He would read, with his family, Jacques Ellul’s 1969 book “Violence: Reflections From a Christian Perspective.” Ellul, like Ludwig’s Dutch father, had fought in the resistance against the Nazis in World War II.

“What constantly marked the life of Jesus was not nonviolence but in every situation the choice not to use power,” he wrote. “This is infinitely different.”

“The Christian should participate in social and political efforts in order to have an influence in the work, not with the hope of making a paradise (of the earth), but simply to make it more tolerable—not to diminish the opposition between this world and the Kingdom of God, but simply to modify the opposition between the disorder of this world and the order of preservation that God wants it to have—not to bring in the Kingdom of God, but so that the Gospel might be proclaimed in order that all men might truly hear the good news,” Ellul wrote.

Ludwig said: “We feel weak in all the things we are fighting. I think the match is very unequal. But it’s all right. Instead of griping about it, we might as well give ourselves to it.”

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