Anchor-chain activists face hefty fines

The Coast Guard has levied $30,000 in fines on two Bellingham climate activists. They will fight to have the fines dropped.

The Coast Guard has levied $30,000 in fines on two Bellingham climate activists. They will fight to have the fines dropped.

Combined, Chiara D’Angelo and Matt Fuller spent 88 hours last spring on the anchor chain of the Arctic Challenger. The vessel was docked in Bellingham Bay at the time preparing for a trip to the Arctic Sea, where it would support Royal Dutch Shell’s exploratory oil drilling operation.

In the coming weeks, the U.S. Coast Guard will try to extract its pound of flesh. Well, if not literally flesh then something just as unreasonable.

The Coast Guard fined D’Angelo, a senior at Western Washington University, $20,000 for violating the  safety zone of the Arctic Challenger during her stay on the chain.

D’Angelo, who turns 21 on Feb. 28, climbed on the chain on Friday evening, May 22, 2015, and didn’t come down until 66 hours later, on Monday morning, May 25. One hell of a Memorial Day weekend.

Fuller, 38, who accompanied D’Angelo on the chain for 22 of those hours, was fined $10,000 by the Coast Guard. Fuller is finishing his master’s thesis at the Evergreen State College and manages a new community radio station in Bellingham, 94.9 FM KVWV.

D’Angelo and Fuller will seek to have their fines thrown out. D’Angelo has a hearing at 10 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 29, in Seattle. She will appear before an officer who will hear her via video teleconference from Arlington, Va.

Fuller’s hearing date hadn’t been set as of Wednesday, Feb. 17. He has a March 4 hearing for a $2,500 fine he received for putting himself in the path of the Polar Pioneer in June in Elliott Bay, Seattle.

D’Angelo was the headline figure in the Bellingham Bay action, which she initiated to protest the danger oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea would pose to indigenous cultures there, and the more global threat of the climate change that would be induced by burning oil extracted from under the sea.

Her 2-day, 3-night ordeal was a signature moment of climate disobedience in 2015, and it got the attention of media all over the world. The photo of her in a life jacket and sandals, one hand holding a sign that read “Save the Arctic,” the other hand raised in a fist, is an indelible image.

The Coast Guard monitored D’Angelo and Fuller closely, from their ship maybe 100 yards away. At night, every time the two activists moved a muscle in their awkward positions, the Coast Guard shined a bright spotlight on them, disturbing what little rest they were getting.

Fuller, who was straining to find comfort on a cedar two-by-four, got down from the chain to better support D’Angelo, he said. They only had one hammock, and she should have it, he figured. Plus, he could relay her message and her goals to the support team on the shore.

After D’Angelo, exhausted and near-hypothermic, got down with the Coast Guard’s assistance, she didn’t think she would be fined at all. This was her recollection during an interview on Monday, Feb. 15.

“I really thought it wasn’t a good political move to fine me at my age,” D’Angelo said, suggesting that the Coast Guard would only come across as a bully for trying to extract its pound of flesh from a college student without a job.

“I wasn’t by any means expecting a $20,000 fine, especially after Shell had pulled out of the Arctic. I thought that was a sign the political climate had moved in our favor.”

D’Angelo said the exorbitant fine is intended as a deterrent.

“The (Coast Guard’s) goal is so I or no one feels inspired to do that again,” D’Angelo said.

“I don’t want people to be deterred. I wouldn’t have done it any other way. We have to start living by a moral principle, protecting … ecological systems that have known this earth so much longer than us.”

Fuller said his fine for the Polar Pioneer action was raised from $250 specifically because activist groups are fundraising to support payment of fines. Asked whether groups are raising funds for him and D’Angelo, Fuller would only say his intention is to have the fine dropped altogether.

“We didn’t do anything except what was necessary for preventing that ship from going up to the Arctic,” Fuller said.

It seemed more reasonable to Fuller and D’Angelo that Shell pay the Coast Guard for escorting the oil company’s ships from Puget Sound to Alaska.

When asked to explain the severity of the fines, Coast Guard spokeswoman Amanda Norcross emailed a response:

“While the Coast Guard supports and defends the rights of the public to assemble peacefully and protest, prolonged violations of the safety zones tax Coast Guard resources and crews, and hinder our ability to quickly respond to mariners in distress or other life-threatening emergencies. The prolonged safety violations also unnecessarily put the protesters and law enforcement personnel at risk due to rapidly changing environmental conditions, fatigue and marine traffic.”

Looking beyond D’Angelo and Fuller’s cases, environmentalists appear to be the winner in their conflict with Shell. The oil company suspended its arctic drilling operation in September. Bloomberg Business reported at the time that the cratering price of oil had a lot to do with that.

The business website reported on Sept. 28 that Shell believed Chukchi Sea oil would be “competitive” at $70 a barrel, but Shell was hoping for more like $110 a barrel when full-scale Arctic drilling could begin, sometime around 2030.

Shell analysts reportedly were no longer optimistic about the $110-per-barrel projection. As of Wednesday, Feb. 17, crude was less than $35 a barrel.

Another reason Shell got out, Bloomberg Business reported, was to save money in the short term. Shell had already spent $7 billion just to get ready for the one season of exploratory drilling the Arctic Challenger was to support.

Compared to what oil companies have gotten used to in recent years, these are mighty lean times for Shell. It only netted $1.9 billion in 2015, an 87 percent decline in profits over the previous year.

Meanwhile, D’Angelo must contemplate paying the Coast Guard $20,000 -- only 0.001 percent of Shell’s 2015 profit, but an inconceivable sum to a student who is making ends meet by sleeping in a camper parked at a friend’s house.

"I think about my case almost nonstop. It's haunting,” D’Angelo said.

"Any time I think about it, it makes me feel sick."

Yet one gets a strong sense from the buzz around D’Angelo, both in person and in social media, that she’s not facing her problem alone. She and Fuller got a boost when lawyers from the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Oregon took their case pro bono.

"The generosity of the community is really beautiful," she said.

D’Angelo made the news a couple years back with a similarly long tree-sit in her home city of Bainbridge Island, but she said she would be happy to never do another such protest again.

“It may seem like this is my identity, but I’m not that,” D’Angelo said of those highly publicized actions. “I’m a full-time activist. I work full time on these issues.  … I would prefer not to do anything like this ever again. It’s just something I’m forced to do because of the political climate.”

About Ralph Schwartz

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since May 23, 2014

After writing for NWCitizen for five years, Ralph Schwartz helped launch a new Whatcom County newspaper, Cascadia Daily News, joining the staff in December 2021 as government reporter. Before the Daily [...]

Comments by Readers

Sam Crawford

Feb 18, 2016

If the Malheur occupiers get off with light sentences/restitution, then D’Angelo should be treated the same.

If the Malheur occupiers “get the book thrown at them”, then D’Angelo should be treated the same.

I see little difference in their civil disobedience/illegal activities. Both actions (the Malheur occupation and D’Angelo’s chain-sitting) resulted in public cost and some endangerment of the safety of those involved along the law enforcement responders.  The scale of restitution in each case of course should be on par with the public and private resources expended.

From that perspective, to me it’s premature to assume the $20K fine is “unreasonable”, as stated in the second paragraph of this commentary.

This also makes me wonder how D’Angelo pays for her education at WWU, which isn’t cheap.  If the fine stands, this really just means she’d take a year off from Western to work and pay the fine, then she can get her educational goals back on track. That seems entirely reasonable to me.


Dick Conoboy

Feb 18, 2016

The suggestion that there is some sort of moral or legal equivalency between the civil disobedience action of Chiara and the armed take-over of the Malheur refuge is monstrously ludicrous.  In fact, if she were to be fined, I will be the first in line with a check to donate to a fund to pay that fine. Hers was a heroic stand.  The Malheur occupiers were armed intruders.


Sam Crawford

Feb 18, 2016

In both cases, apparently one person or group’s criminal actions are perceived by others to be heroism. What’s the difference? My point is they both should be held accountable for restitution as well as any penalties the law may specify in their respective cases. Perhaps you’re arguing that a protest over a cause you agree with is more legitimate than a protest over a cause you don’t agree with? I hope the justice system is above taking sides on such matters.


Dick Conoboy

Feb 18, 2016


Your reasoning is specious and is attractive to those who react with little information and pitiful lack discernment.  The difference between an unarmed 20 year old who protests the government through an act of civil disobedience and a band of aggressive armed men and women who take over federal property with threats of violence is immense. The cause has little to do with it.  The methods are telling.

Furthermore, Chiara had nothing to gain personally from her selfless act.  The occupiers of Malheur were there for selfish reasons of money and personal gain that was cloaked in the language of individual rights to appropriate the commons for their own profit.  These appeals (at Malheur) are to adolescent and narcissistic urges that have no place in adult behavior.


Walter Haugen

Feb 18, 2016

Uh Sam? In the one case you have 1) a committed small number of people who are 2) taking great risks of personal injury 3) for the greater good and 4) doing something to SLOW DOWN rapacious actions. On the other hand, you have 1) an organized group 2) engaging in very little risk and 3) doing so for a small number of greedy ranchers who are pissed off that their feeding at the public trough is ending, all the while 4) proclaiming that rapacious use of natural resources must increase.

Really Sam? As those of us who have actually thought about it often say:

“What do the rightwing whackos do when they get together?” They blow up mosques, fire their guns and generally act like assholes.

“What do the leftwing whackos do when they get together?” They have a potluck.


Dick Conoboy

Feb 19, 2016

See more comments on this article that have been cross-posted on the Whatcom Hawk.


Sam Crawford

Feb 19, 2016

Do the crime, do the time. Malheur or Bellingham Bay, it’s all the same in the eyes of the law.

I remember the time several years ago the occupiers chained themselves to the railroad tracks in Bellingham, then showed up at the county council meeting the following week to complain about the inconveniences of being booked into jail.

(Below from the Bellingham Herald, June 2015:)

“Each person could face up to $40,000 in fines for each time the safety zone was crossed or each day they spent inside the zone. The safety zone was put in place because interference with the ship had the potential to result in serious injury, death or pollution in the highly sensitive ecosystem, according to the Coast Guard.

“The Coast Guard supports and defends the rights of the public to assemble peacefully and protest; however, prolonged violations of the safety zones tax Coast Guard resources and crews hindering the Service’s ability to quickly respond to mariners in distress or other life-threatening emergencies,” said Capt. Joe Raymond, commander of Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound and captain of the port. “Most importantly, prolonged safety violations unnecessarily put protesters and law enforcement personnel at risk due to rapidly changing environmental conditions, fatigue and marine traffic.”


Walter Haugen

Feb 19, 2016

Sam - You said, “Do the crime, do the time.” Really? That is the kind of thing you hear in prison or in second-rate Hollywood movies (Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman - Family Business 1989). How about this one, “The law is just politics by another name.”

How about what you hear in law school? Things like “Law is politics by another means.” (Clausewitz) Or how about “Politics by Other Means: Politicians, Prosecutors, and the Press from Watergate to Whitewater,” (2002) by Benjamin Ginsberg, Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins. Or how about “Politics By Other Means: Law in the Struggle Against Apartheid, 1980-1994 (After the Law),” (1995) by Richard Abel, law professor at UCLA.

You know Sam, it is quite insulting to those of us who actually have an academic background AND who have studied these kinds of questions for decades, for you to come up with these naive homilies based on substandard knee-jerk thinking. How in the hell can you sit on the County Council for years and still be so naive?

Like many of the rightwing whackos, you are just mad that someone else might actually get to say something under the aegis of free speech that you disagree with. Then you want to throw them in jail. Meanwhile, a bunch of welfare ranchers pissed off that their time at the public trough is ending pick up their guns and engage in a violent confrontation that actually destroys artifacts and landscapes. Your logic is STILL badly flawed.

As a side note, think about how naive Robert ‘LaVoy’ Finicum was to get out of his truck after trying to run over an FBI agent, spin around with guns drawn on him and then reach into a pocket. Of course they shot him dead! He should have known they would do this. In fact, this is just the scenario he envisaged. Was he trying to commit suicide or was he just naive and/or stupid? This is the same kind of naivete you and the other rightwingers exhibit on a daily basis. You rail about government interference and make a big disturbance and THEN you are surprised when you get stomped on. I can think of NO leftwing activists who are so naive.


Joy Gilfilen

Feb 19, 2016

Sam Crawford, please use common sense and check your facts before you make claims that are not true and do not add up logically.  Stop promoting excessive punishment.  Let me ask you:  Could you honestly pay off a $20,000 fine in a year working full time?  Maybe you make enough profits and extra income, but most people in America in the working class could not do that. 

Take a minute to do the math for an average student:   

1)  If a person was employed full time working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks they would only have 2080 hours they could get paid, assuming they don’t miss one day of work all year.   

2)  Assuming they make minimum wage (which is $9.47 an hour in Washington State) and you multiply that times 2080 hours, the total gross salary earned is only $19,697.60 in one year.  That is not take home salary.

That is $302.40 less than what would be needed to pay the fine…even if there is no interest charged in the first place.

That means, that it just doesn’t add up for a reasonable argument. Especially if you figure out how much she would have available for take home once the state and federal fees and charges against the wages are taken out.  Then you are asking her to not eat, pay rent, pay for gas or car insurance, or for any medical costs, clothing, or anything a normal person needs just to stay alive.

Just because she is exceptional because she was able to outperform most any person I know by sitting on a chain in miserable conditions for 66 hours under duress and extreme fear…doesn’t mean she is superwoman and could also perform that economic feat.

So please don’t dishonor people with stupid statements, and stop dissing people you don’t agree with.


Jim Kyle

Feb 19, 2016

Read back through these posts.  There is some name-calling and dissing going on, but it is not coming from Sam Crawford.


John Servais

Feb 20, 2016

Actually, this thread is still within civil bounds regarding ad hominems.  You can call someone ‘naive’ without crossing the line.

I’ve watched Sam in public processes for years and the fellow is quite smart.  He knows the difference between innovative non threatening civil disobedience and armed revolt.  He is trolling a bit with his blanket statements - and perhaps some commenters are feeding the troll.  He is rewarded.

The comment thread is whatever we define it to be.  Sam can be ignored and liberal informed citizens can add important information to Ralph’s outstanding article.  Or someone can ask to do a guest article and then carefully dissect Sam’s comments.  I am open to good guest articles.  Maybe Sam would like to write one that carefully explains his position.  I disagree with him but he represents a genuine and heart felt perspective from the right.

There is still much we need to know about Chiara’s legal dilemma.  Will the Coast Guard make the hearing closed to the public and press?  Is that even constitutional?  Are the claims by the CG that she cost them money and resources exaggerated?  Greatly exaggerated?  Absurd?  (I think so). 

Personally I think Chiara’s impulsive action of going out and hanging on the anchor chain of a ship for three days was one of the most creative, non-intrusive and effective civil actions I have ever seen in my life.  It got world wide attention to the attempts to drill for oil in the Arctic.  Besides, that ship was not going anywhere anyway.  So, of course right wingers feel compelled to equate that benign act with armed rebellion.  They cannot let it stand as a noble patriotic act in the best traditions of America, starting with the Boston tea party. 

Sam only recently signed up to comment.  He has just exited being a county council member and is more free to comment without political consequences.  I welcome him.  We liberals and progressives have an opportunity to contrast our thinking with his. Either effectively rebut him or do not let him sway you from providing important additional information about this issue. 

Some partisans on the left and right do not like civil discourse on important political issues.  There are leading Democratic party operatives who have quietly dissed NWCitizen to liberals and urged them to not comment here.  They have tried for 10 years now to marginalize this site into not being part of the local political discourse. This from the left. You can find them on different Facebook sites.  Sam, through his comments, does not ignore this site.  And truth be told, many on the right see Sam’s comments as spot on - even if Sam might know them to be exaggerated. 

Anyone living locally who wants to comment can.  You must use your real actual name - and we verify first.  Using ones own name creates accountability.  Sam is taking accountability for his comments.  Let us give him that respect.

- John Servais, publisher of


Tip Johnson

Feb 21, 2016

In the most abstract sense both acts share a similarity: The law was broken. Both knew there were potential consequences.

However, after that there are only differences. 

One group brandished weapons and threatened force in hopes of achieving specific, self-interested ends.  The other took personal risks, absent threats, to communicate a message of global significance. 

One group damaged property, the other didn’t. 

One group challenged the laws of the land, the other asserted the laws of physics.

In a land of laws, both actions deserve scrutiny but - as Gilbert and Sullivan offered in the Mikado - the object oh sublime that we should achieve in time is to make the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime.

And thanks, Sam, for having the courage to weigh in.  Welcome and have at it!


Sam Crawford

Feb 21, 2016

“The flat monotony and lack of any big interest or motive of any kind is hard to bear – but I’m not complaining because, of course, I knew what the price was before I incurred the debt.”

—Louise Olivereau


Doug Karlberg

Feb 21, 2016

America has a long, and often proud history of civil disobedience. Some of the biggest and best changes in our society have come through civil disobedience. (Civil rights, ending wars, womens rights). Many of these issues politicians had either refused to solve issues, or were otherwise incapable of taking action (lacked courage)

Having said this though, those who chose to break existing laws should not be naive enough to expect that the government will not prosecute them, or otherwise abuse them for having the audacity to not treat the government with the respect they believe they deserve. Disrespecting the government always has real risks.

Because of this, we often look at people who are so committed to break the law for a cause are held out a heros for their individual courage. Also often this knowlege that people respect them is the only solice they will have while cooling their heels in the crowbar hotel.

The government does not like people who disregard laws, and especially want to punish these people in order to deter others from following these leaders with more civil disobedience.

Not all civil disobedience is popular or changes anything. Think nutcases. It is always a gamble and the time to think about the risks are before one acts, not after.

This thread though in my opinion suffers from personal bias. If one reader thinks the cause is noble, then the person who breaks the law is a hero. If they personally disagree with the cause being protested, then the person is an idiot and deserves to have the book thrown at them. In the case of the protesters in Oregon there are those on the left which actually celebrated the murder of the rancher. The only true difference was personal bias.

In other words, ones political outlook determines right or wrong.

This is a bad method of determining right or wrong. In most of these incidents whether it is the right wingnut ranchers or the left wignut environmentalist, there are legitimate issues that have simply not been listened to.

Maybe we should listen to those whom we initially disagree.

The original two ranchers in Oregon are sitting in a Federal prison for the next four years. They were non-violent, and our government went after them. Initally charging them with 19 counts of violations. Eventually charging them with 9 counts. The jury listened and found them guilty of only two counts which the jury found caused less than $1,000 dmage. The government in order to convict them coached a mentally retarded man on his testimony. The jury and the judge saw through this “coached” testimony and not a word was belivable, but our government is powerful and when they get you in their cross haris, real injustice can happen. Most on the left have never taken the time to get the facts as to the actual factual conditions of these two ranchers. The injustice was so bad, that the trial judge testified that it shocked his conscience.

Coming to conclusions without obtaining the facts is a sure sign of bias.

There are two good hard working Americans, sitting in Federal prison for the next five years, while their neighbors take care of their families and farm. In reality their crime was to disrespect government regulators who were throwing their weight around. Intially charged with 19 cries, but the jury only found them guilty of two, and the total damages the jury found were $1,000. Actually one government witness stated the damages might have actually been zero.

Let’s hope that Chiara does not suffer this fate, but we have to be careful what we cheer on for political reasons, as when the political winds change, the government could get any of us in their sights.

Our government does not like to be challenged, and likes making examples of those Americans which show other American courage, in the face of governmental actions. Gotta keep citizens in-line.

When citizens quit fighting with eachother, and come together on issues, the government gets real nervous. It is our choice.

Good luck.


Walter Haugen

Feb 22, 2016

You cannot equate an armed takeover with sitting on an anchor chain. It is a specious argument. You can make all the tortured analogies you want, spin Wobbly anecdotes 180 degrees, bring in legal mumbo-jumbo, or even cite legal precedent. It is still mere sophistry.


Doug Karlberg

Feb 22, 2016


Thank you for your comment. Some of the words you used, I don’t know what they mean. I don’t have a dictionary handy, but I will assume they are complimentary. Thank you.

I am going to keep writing. I hope you enjoy my writing.

Once again, thank you for the compliments.

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