Pipeline protestor denied food could be at risk of ‘death or significant injury’, attorneys warn

Lawyers worry about “starvation and isolation tactics”.

There are many hand painted signs along the roads near Bent Mountain, Virginia to protest against the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project. CREDIT: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images
There are many hand painted signs along the roads near Bent Mountain, Virginia to protest against the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project. CREDIT: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Attorneys writing on behalf of a woman staging an anti-pipeline protest in Virginia say they are concerned she could die if authorities allegedly continue to deny her access to food and water. She is nearing one month living atop a 50-foot platform blocking construction of a natural gas pipeline.

A woman referred to on social media by the nickname “Nutty” is protesting the building of the Mountain Valley Pipeline intended to run through Jefferson National Forest in Giles County. Nutty, whose age is unknown, began her protest on March 28 in an effort to halt the pipeline.

Initially, supporters were able to hoist food and water to her using buckets and a rope, but a letter sent by two attorneys raises concerns that the Forest Service might be complicating those efforts. Officials have established 24-hour surveillance around her monopod, arresting at least two of the activists attempting to bring her food. It is unclear when that around-the-clock surveillance began.

Alan Graf and Tammy Belinsky, both Floyd County attorneys with ties to pipeline opposition groups who do not formally represent Nutty, warned Roanoke-based Forest Supervisor Joby Timm that such actions could be deadly. Graf works with the progressive National Lawyers Guild and Belinsky is involved in several anti-pipeline legal cases. Nutty does not appear to have any representation herself.


“The Forest Service’s actions in continuing to starve her out are tantamount to torture and contrary to human rights and international law,” wrote the two attorneys in a letter sent Wednesday, according to the Roanoke Times.

“Mr. Timm, you have a duty to protect the health and welfare of a United States citizen. The death or significant injury to the pod-sitter will be on your shoulders should that transpire,” read the letter.

Lawmakers are also beginning to chime in. Danica Roem, who serves in the Virginia House of Delegates, tweeted her condemnation of the Forest Service’s actions on Friday.

“Cutting off food and water to peaceful protesters over an eminent domain/land rights dispute is wrong,” she wrote. “There is no humane way to ‘starve out’ a human being who’s not hurting anyone.”

It is unclear in this situation which laws specifically cover Nutty’s case, the Forest Services’ actions, and her right to food and water. However the described actions being taken by the Forest Service, which would make it difficult to access food and water without Nutty risking arrest, puts the protester in a challenging situation.


“One thing that I absolutely will call out as wrong is people in power using their power to hurt people who are not in power,” Roem wrote on Twitter. “It’s an injustice to tell peaceful protesters they’ll get food & water once they come down when criminal trespassing charges await them when they do.”

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, funded by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, is meant to extend 303 miles from West Virginia to southern Virginia, transporting up to 2 billion cubic feet of fracked natural gas daily. A 70-mile extension into North Carolina has also been proposed.

Those who support the pipeline argue it will provide jobs in a region that desperately needs them. Supporters also say the effort has passed all necessary inspections and will cause little disruption for residents.

Meanwhile, environmental activists and local residents opposing the project have pointed to ongoing issues resulting from the pipeline.

At least one couple has been forced to leave their home of more then 40 years due to the pipeline and a number of community members have expressed concern over the initiative and its implications for areas like the Appalachian Trail. Opponents say the pipeline’s impact on the environment have not been fully assessed, in addition to arguing that the project’s necessity is unclear. But efforts by conservation groups, including Appalachian Voices, arguing that the pipeline will cause “irreparable environmental harm” have been met with little success in court.

When Nutty’s protest began almost a month ago, she indicated she was prepared to wait as long as necessary and assumed it would take “quite a while”, the Roanoke Times reported.

“I’ve got a massive amount of snacks,” she said at the time.

Part of Nutty’s protest began as an effort to help other activists hoping to stop the pipeline. Two other women, 61-year-old Theresa “Red” Terry, 61, and her daughter, 30-year-old Theresa Minor Terry, began a protest on April 2. The two women moved onto wooden platforms in trees on Bent Mountain at that time, blocking workers attempting to take down the trees to make way for the pipeline.


Roanoke County police have barred supporters from providing the women with sustenance for two weeks, according to the Washington Post. Following media reporting of the protesters’ dwindling supplies, police provided them with food, including pizza and bologna sandwiches, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Tuesday.

Timm, the Forest Supervisor, said no protesters were being denied food or water on April 6, although recent requests for comment from local media have gone unanswered.

Graf said Thursday that the Forest Service had yet to respond to concerns surrounding “starvation and isolation tactics” that the lawyers worry are being used against Nutty and other protesters like the Terrys. There has been no information given since the April 6 response, according to the attorneys Graf and Belinsky, who say they are seeking clarification on the issue.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) argued on Wednesday that the Terrys’ protest is “unlawful” and called the situation “unfortunate.”

While the governor is reportedly not ordering state police to interfere in their efforts, he indicated in an interview with the WTOP-FM radio station that the government is less than supportive of the protest.

“You know, the First Amendment is important, but also the safety of individuals in Virginia is important, so we hope that there’s going to be a resolution to this in the near future,” Northam said.

Coles Terry III — husband and father of the Terrys — said Wednesday that his family remained optimistic about their protest and committed to the cause.

“I’m glad [Gov. Northam is] concerned about that, but he should be concerned . . . that state and federal [environmental] agencies are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said.

Other tree sitters are engaged in similar protests around the area. At least one unidentified protester chose to vacate their spot last Sunday, the reasons for which were unclear. Activist group Appalachians Against Pipelines noted on its Facebook page Thursday that several protests, including Nutty’s, remain ongoing despite dwindling supplies.