Intimidation tactics

Threats reported

Threats fueled by heated emotions over the hog factory in Newton County have increased of late along Big Creek at Mount Judea. Two volunteer water-quality monitors, one of whom was with two members of the press, reported being harassed in separate instances while stopped along public roads near C&H Hog Farms in the Buffalo National River watershed.

University of Arkansas emeritus geoscience professor John Van Brahana has been working independently with a team of diligent volunteers for more than a year to measure water flow and quality around Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo. The creek runs adjacent or very near fields at Mount Judea that are being regularly sprayed with raw hog waste from the factory our state has permitted to keep up to 6,500 swine.

Brahana's dye testing has proven that groundwater from this area rapidly flows through the fractures created by karst limestone formations just beneath the surface. And that dye already has been discovered in some private local wells.

And now, the respected former professor (who recently had his own car tire slashed while it was parked in Newton County) said he's been told that two volunteers were recently accosted on public roads by angry men. As a result, he's reminded those in his group never to travel alone in the area.

"Here's the story as I perceived it," he said. "A local, apparently unbalanced and extremely agitated supporter of the hog factory followed a team member (along with a two-person TV crew), blocked their passage in several instances on public roads, screamed, yelled, and demanded they cease photographing.

"The story is similar in style to other confrontations that occurred previously, except this man is reported to be more than just a 'mouthy' individual, and based on the perception in the local community, willing to inflict a beating on any who he perceives to have done something he doesn't like," Brahana said.

Included in his diatribe, Brahana said, the agitated man warned the volunteer he knew who she was "and where she lived."

"The threat, 'we know who you are, and where you live' reminds us that the 'burn 'em out' mentality of those whipped into a frenzy ... should be viewed as dangerous, unstable, and are to be politely avoided." I'm told burning down homes is not a new approach to controlling those neighbors you don't like in parts of Newton County, and reflects the fear that generates reluctance on the part of the canoe outfitters, other tourist-related groups, and small-operation real farmers have in speaking out about the pig factory.

Brahana implored his team: "No matter what our emotions, we should be nonconfrontational, which we have always been. I encourage all who spend time in the field to fully document these adversarial encounters so we can share these in letters to Cargill and their suppliers along with the local sheriff and the county judge, who, by the way, is a relative of the owners of the factory and directed his staff to [continuously mow around] protesters' feet as they gathered last year near the Newton County Courthouse."

Another volunteer was in the process of filing a complaint with Sheriff Keith Slape at midweek after reporting that she, too, was accosted by a man on a county road near Mount Judea.

"I'd just passed an older red pickup truck and then met a spray truck in the road," she said. "I turned around and started following the spray truck, which then stopped. I also stopped and the red truck sped up and pulled in front of me, blocking my access forward.

"The guy in the pickup got out, screaming at me to not take any photos. I locked the doors, rolled up the windows and backed out. He ran to his truck, turned around, and tried to block me from leaving," she continued. " I was barely able to turn around in the road between the barbed-wire fence and his car. He started pounding his fist on my car! It happened so fast, I didn't have time to be scared or angry."

Sounds as if Sheriff Slape could well find himself a bit busier than normal if these kinds of needless threats and intimidation continues against law-abiding citizens.

Meanwhile, Brahana urged his volunteers to stand united.

"I encourage all of you to keep the faith, and to obey all laws and property considerations. We likely will see more bullying. But what we are striving for is a noble goal.

"Facts are facts," he added. "Truth ... needs to be shared openly with an informed community. Intimidation, fear, and the manipulation of politics for special interests need to be openly discussed."

Does it ever, professor. Sure hope this factory's sponsor, Cargill Inc. of Minnesota (and its PR department), is paying attention to what's unfolding here since it is inexorably linked in the court of public opinion to any consequences.


Mike Masterson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at Read his blog at

Editorial on 10/26/2014

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