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Relevant Documents to Libel Threat

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It is past time to post the documents and links that are relevant to the threatened libel suit from Pacific International Terminals consultant Craig Cole against the Whatcom Watch. Other news media in Bellingham and Seattle have declined to even mention this very important news - and NWCitizen has been criticized by some news writers for breaking this story. Last Wednesday, we posted a basic summary of the issue.

Today, we post the relevant text of the threatening letter. And a couple of the supposedly libelous links. In my opinion, this threat is empty. The Watch did not libel Craig Cole. Not at all. He states in his letter that the Watch committed libel by linking the actions of local anti-Indian groups to Cole’s clients, Pacific International Terminals and Gateway Pacific Terminal, even though Cole has always been supportive of Native Americans. Cole’s name is not mentioned in the article. He also contends that the Watch is spreading the libelous writings of Taber against Cole merely by linking to articles by Jay Taber, and thus the Watch is further guilty of libel. It is interesting that Cole has not threatened to sue either Taber or Taber's publisher.

This appears to me to be a simple case of bullying and attempted intimidation of the Whatcom Watch by Cole. The Watch has been investigating Whatcom County groups and individuals who are saying the Lummi Indians should not have the right to interfere with building the coal port at Cherry Point. Cole is the local front man and public face for the large corporations seeking permits to build the coal terminal. This is what Cole does. So, gentle reader, hopefully you can see how the dots might be connected. But it is legitimate for the Watch to seek out possible connections. It is called journalism and the exercise of a free press.

I think the Whatcom Watch is a champion of independent journalism. I think they were getting close to uncovering what is happening in this county as the coal port project is pushed by huge corporations. Cole is a very savvy and experienced public operator and it is almost beyond belief he would have sent this threatening letter without the backing of his corporate clients.

Here are three clips of the relevant text of Craig Cole’s threat. You can download the entire letter as a pdf at the link below this article. Also linked is his second letter of Feb 9 wherein he makes clear that Jay Taber’s writings are upsetting to him. Yet there is no threat of a libel suit against Taber. Only against the local newspaper that is investigating and printing news about the proposed coal terminal. Bottom line, the Watch could be forced out of business because of the expense of a lawsuit.

Below also is a link to one of Jay Taber's posts, mentioned in Craig's letter. On the IC Magazine site you can find other articles by Jay Taber by clicking on his name as author at the linked article.

Related Links

About John Servais

Writer • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Gaythia Weis

Feb 26, 2014

I read the initial editorial by Sandra Robson back after that issue of Whatcom Watch arrived at my door without a thought in my head regarding Craig Cole, or even that the intention of the piece was to direct attention towards any one person individually.
The way in which the matter has been raised by Craig Cole, which seems to me to be based on his leap to the assumption that it must be directed at him personally, reminds me of the Carly Simon lyrics:

“You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this song is about you
Don’t you? Don’t You?”


I strongly agree with John Servais that “This appears to me to be a simple case of bullying and attempted intimidation of the Whatcom Watch by Cole”, and that ” the Whatcom Watch is a champion of independent journalism.”  It certainly seems to me that this libel suit belies the claim of Craig Cole in his letter that he actually appreciates “the need for open and vigorous public dialogue on issues of importance”.  I see this as an effort to stiffle a free press.  That is counter to our democratic principles.

Now that we do have direct evidence from the man himself as to the stuff Craig Cole is made of, I believe that the Bellingham community needs to rally in support of Whatcom Watch.  In my opinion, Pacific International Terminals ought to take heed of these actions by the man I now learn is apparently hired by them as a consultant to serve as their own public mouthpiece.  If they do not want to be associated with these actions, then I think that they ought to take direct action to disassociate themselves from Craig Cole’s assertions as contained in his letter, and to put public pressure on him to withdraw the letter and to apologize to Whatcom Watch and to the rest of us in the Bellingham community who value a free press and the processes of democracy.


Carol Follett

Feb 26, 2014

Thanks for keeping us posted on this. The Whatcom Watch is a precious resource of information put together by caring and selfless community members.

It appears that Craig Cole’s letter may be perceived as a threat of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) or an attempt to intimidate the good citizens who write for the WW. Perhaps this will encourage more people to pick up a copy of the WW and read it closely.

Anyone interested in techniques of intimidation may also be interested in reading the latest dispatch from Glen Greenwald, How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations at https://firstlook.org/theintercept/staff/glenn-greenwald/


Dick Conoboy

Feb 27, 2014

Gaythia, you hit the nail on the head with the song lyrics.  Could not have been better!  Mr. Coal’s letter is nothing more than a bunch of solipsistic hooey.

Jehn needs to tell Craig to take a deep breath and chill.



Tip Johnson

Feb 27, 2014

I give no credence to any suggestion that Craig Cole is an anti-Indian racist.  Nor have I seen one made.  But I am likewise sure his corporate masters would not hesitate for one minute to take advantage of anything that might benefit their aims.  Time will tell if SSA/PIT/GPT had anything to do with CERA/CERF anti-Indian conference held last year at the Lakeway Inn.

Craig writes “on (his) own behalf at the advice of legal counsel”.  The threat appears on his own letterhead but he does not detail whether the advising counsel was his own or his clients’.  In either case, counsel’s advice usually appears under their own letterhead.  What’s really going on?

Nowhere is Cole called a racist.
Cole exerts himself to defend his corporate masters without specifically detailing where the alleged libel occurred. Instead, he calls out two entire articles, expressing outrage and a feeling that he has been damaged.  It is unmitigated malarkey.

Lacking any ostensible substance or rational cause, we might look for a deeper motive. And we can look at the immediate effects.

First, weeks later, none of the paragons of a free press we normally expect to defend against such threats has said a word, not the Herald, nor the Weekly much less the Whatcom Watch who has shrunk in fear of losing everything. If that is not a story, then…

Second, a professional journalist vaguely claims the first public airing of the issue is in error on his facebook page and invites a liberal mob to pillory the author.  Over 184 comments later, a substantial faction of the local environmental community have by default stood in support of Cole’s actions to defend a journalist that wouldn’t even report on the threat.

We are asked to believe that Cole brought a notoriously edgey journalist the story without making any request.  Sure.

We might look at SSA/PIT/GPT’s advertising money and notice that the mouths it has fed are the same that remain silent.

Judging by the effect, if Cole’s object was to silence the press and divide the environmental community, it has been a raging public relations success.

The problem with bullshit like that is there are always a few who will not swallow it.  No matter how many well-meaning liberal environmentalist will happily swallow and prove their lickspittle, lapdog characters by casting unreasoned aspersions, a few will stand and challenge, and eventually they will prevail.



John Lesow

Feb 27, 2014

I am a long time supporter of Whatcom Watch and recognize the growing value of independent print and online journals in keeping the citizenry informed on important community issues.  I don’t know Sandra Robson or Craig Cole, but the recent threat of a libel action by the latter against Whatcom Watch prompted me to re-read Ms. Robson’s article and Mr. Cole’s letter of February 5. I certainly gained a better understanding of Mr. Cole’s service to the Native American community in the attachments to his letter.

Any dispassionate review of the offending article would conclude that no libel has occurred.

  Ms. Robson’s articles are always well researched, as her footnotes to this and other articles demonstrate. Perry Eskridge’s letter on behalf of the Whatcom County Realtors, published in the same January issue of Whatcom Watch, and Ms. Robson’s reply are convenient examples of a lively, informed, and adversarial approach that ultimately leads to a better understanding of the issues on both sides.  I disagree with the allegation that Ms. Robson is “loose with the facts and manufactures sinister speculation”. 

The Watch published an article I wrote in 2005 criticizing the construction of the Northwood Casino in Lynden.  At the time, there were those that suggested the article be edited to soften any perceptions of anti-Indian criticism.  The Watch stuck by its guns and published the entire article, unedited.

I have always admired the contributors to the Watch and their advocacy for causes they believe in.  Any “chilling effect” on citizen journalism resulting from the threat of libel should be avoided at all costs. 


Tip Johnson

Feb 27, 2014

Taber weighs in on the liberal support for Cole



Tip Johnson

Feb 28, 2014

Jay Taber outlines some pertinent facts:

- Anti-Indian Tea Party leader Kris Halterman promotes CERA conference.
- Anti-Indian Tea Party leader Kris Halterman registers PACS.
- SSA coal consortium funnels funds into Anti-Indian Tea Party leader Kris Halterman PACs.
- Anti-Indian Tea Party leader Kris Halterman PACs fund Tea Party slate.
- SSA appoints Craig Cole to lead Team Whatcom support for Tea Party slate.

I would recap:

- Cole threatens legal action against one media outlet on grounds of libel that never occurred.
- Cole strenuously defends SSA against anti-Indian speculation, citing his own favorable involvement with local tribes.
- Cole contacts at least one other media outlet without threat of libel.
- Media outlets that receive GPT advertising revenue remain mute on the issues of anti-Indian organization and press intimidation.


Alex McLean

Feb 28, 2014

All of my friends smoke meth. I dress like a meth-head. I buy meth, and—sure—sell it too. Given any opportunity to support the activities or actions of my friends and peers in the meth-loving community, I will eagerly do so. I love meth, after all, even though I don’t personally inhale. Not very often. Maybe on Tuesdays, for sure, but not on the other days that aren’t part of the weekend.

Regarding an article you wrote recently describing someone who may look and act just as I do is as “a meth-loving meth-head,” well, please note that my lawyers will be in touch. Me and my 17 other split personalities are deeply offended that you would attack us in such a way, even theoretically, and we just can’t handle such abusive threats to our stellar reputations.


Rev. Cracky Pipe-Crackerson, III
Deep Smoke Consulting, LLC


Rod Brock

Mar 01, 2014

Delusion, thy name is Craig Cole. I should think an individual threatening a libel suit ought to be named at least once in the document alleged to be libelous, in principle. Cole’s is not. Now, one could always claim that careful analysis of the substance of the article leads overwhelmingly to the name “Craig Cole,” but this isn’t the case at all, as has previously been noted by Ms. Weis, et al. If anything, I think Mr. Cole feels a sense of guilt by association, i.e., if those he represents as a spokesman have engaged (or plan to) in intimidating tactics or have shown less than full respect for Lummi tribal sovereignty, then in his mind this implies that he has done the same (he says as much in his letter). But this is not the case; his role in project public relations does not automatically imply that he adheres to the beliefs of his masters; he is not the policymaker, but the mouthpiece. However if he feels that strongly conflicted, maybe he needs to look for another job.

What it comes down to is that a retraction of the content of the article, on Whatcom Watch’s part, amounts to retracting statements and positions that aren’t simply trumped up lies; they are matters of public record: specfic statements made and positions advanced by specific individuals in specific public venues.  And if some of these statements and positions seem to be patently “anti-Indian” then Cole’s statement that “....The company feels that, in the end, tribal and project interests can be harmonized….” is just a hollow platitude. Especially considering that the Lummi Nation has made it fairly clear the matter is non-negotiable: “not for millions” [of dollars] is a pretty resolute and straightfoward stance, and one supported by the sovereignty awarded to Native Americans by the U.S.government treaties and the Constitution. Thus, the corporate standard of throwing lucre at problems to make them go away becomes futile. In that case you either recognize the sovereignty or you try to undermine it….

Sound familiar?


Tip Johnson

Mar 01, 2014



Sandy Robson

Mar 01, 2014

In reading one of Tip Johnson’s comments above, I too, was surprised by some of Cascadia Weekly editor, Tim Johnson’s comments in his Feb. 20th post on his Facebook page about NW Citizen’s first article covering the Craig Cole letter sent to WW; some of his comments were directed at John Servais and some even seemed to be supporting Craig Cole.

Tip Johnson mentioned Tim Johnson’s Facebook comment that generated 184 comments. What surprised me is that some of Tim Johnson’s comments in that FB thread seemed to be perpetuating the idea that Craig Cole was called a racist (but never clarifying by whom or what was specifically said), and seeming to lend support to Mr. Cole’s allegations in his letter. At the bottom of this post, I copied and pasted my comment to Tim Johnson which I posted on that FB thread, and his response to me in which he said that he does not think that I libeled anyone or anything in my article. He also says he feels sorry for me that I was caught up in this and he feels bad that I felt threatened and maligned and my reputation harmed.

It was nice of Tim Johnson to acknowledge how Mr. Cole’s letter, and the ensuing fallout from it has affected me. I appreciate his empathy, but I’m still not sure why he made the comments appearing to lend support to Mr. Cole’s allegations in the first place in such a general manner without any clarification, thus leaving readers who read those comments with the perception that Mr. Cole’s allegations of being called a racist are valid. And Tim Johnson’s logic as he explained it in his response to me was, “I don’t believe that by NOT referencing something and by not specifying anything I am in fact referencing and specifying something.” I’m not sure what that even means, but I know he is a well-respected and experienced newspaper writer/editor so I’m sure he understands the importance of clarification of statements. . .even in a Facebook post.

It seemed reasonable to expect that Tim Johnson would have revised those unclarified comments after I respectfully requested that of him, but so far, he has not, and it makes me wonder. . .why not? And why was he “not referencing something and not specifying anything” thus leaving his comments open to a misunderstanding or an incorrect assumption when he is commenting on a serious subject like libel allegations?

While I appreciate Tim Johnson’s empathy which I do feel was sincere, what I would prefer he do, is to revise his specific comments I pointed out to him to clarify that he does not believe that Craig Cole was libeled or called a racist in the article I wrote which was published by Whatcom Watch in Jan. as he wrote in his response to me.

Until he would make that clarification in his actual comments they continue to give people reading those a potential wrong impression, which could reflect negatively on me, and on Whatcom Watch, and could then continue to be potentially disseminated by those who read those comments. Readers would have to get all the way down that comment thread to comment #182 (assuming that they even read all the way down to the end of the thread) before seeing Tim Johnson’s response to me. I mean no disrespect to Tim Johnson with my comments here, and I wish him well, as he had said to me in his response comment.

Below is my comment to Tim Johnson and his response:

Sj Robson
Tim Johnson: While I don’t know you personally, I have respect for your work with Cascadia Weekly and your participation on many various issues in the community and your reputation. I would appreciate it if you would revise your posted FB comments in this FB post so as to clarify them because it seems as though you could be referring to me in terms of the Jan. WW article I wrote. It could be however, that you are referring to Jay Taber who wrote an article after mine, and he has written articles prior to mine, which of course I am not a part of. I am not responsible for his actions or how he or anyone characterizes what I wrote.

Your FB posts I’m referring to are those you posted last Thursday for example:
“It irks him [Craig Cole] to be called a racist.”

Or when you said: “He [Craig Cole] wants the casual allegations of racist motives to stop, and I can’t say I blame him.”

Or when you said, “Does a vigorous defense of a perceived wrong (being called a racist and being annoyed by that) = bullying or media intimidation? That’s the litmus.”

Or when you said, “Craig didn’t like being called a racist or an associate with racism, even through oblique inference—and, weirdly, I understand that.”

I do not believe what you said in the quotes above is correct, if you are indeed referring to me and my Jan. article published in WW. If you are referring to something Jay Taber wrote, then I hope you would clarify that as that has nothing to do with me.

Otherwise it seems a bit irresponsible of you to perpetuate this idea Craig Cole has claimed; that he supposedly been called a racist or associated with racism when you write things like: “Craig didn’t like being called a racist or an associate with racism. . .” when in fact, I never mentioned Craig Cole in my article, nor did I claim that SSA/PIT (the company Cole consults for) is racist. That characterization by Cole, and now being repeated by you, is simply not true, if you were indeed referring to me and my writing in your posts.

Of course you are entitled to defend Craig Cole and his perceived claim that he is being associated with racism, but when you do, I ask that you then clarify who exactly you are referring to, because if you are referring to me, I believe you are sorely mistaken. If you are referring to Jay Taber’s writing, or anyone else’s, then please stop confusing people by not specifying that important distinction as to who.

And lastly, I believe the letter that Craig Cole wrote contained much more than what you characterize above as “a vigorous defense of a perceived wrong.” I believe that Mr. Cole, in writing some of what he did in his 4 page letter to WW, actually attacked my reputation, which is something I never did to his.

Tim Johnson
I don’t believe that by NOT referencing something and by not specifying anything I am in fact referencing and specifying something. But perhaps this is wrong. I don’t believe anyone or anything has been libeled. IMO Jay has not libeled; you most certainly have not libeled. Period. I don’t believe Craig’s warning has merit. Period. I understand, perfectly well, that your article never once mentioned him. Period. Shall I repeat that? I know your article never once mentioned Craig Cole. I am sorry for you, Sandra, that you’ve been caught up in this, and I feel badly that you have felt threatened and maligned and your reputation harmed. Your article was fine as far as I am concerned, and my best to you.


Tip Johnson

Mar 01, 2014

Not a racist


Tip Johnson

Mar 01, 2014

Of course, no one is ever a racist anymore and it obviously can’t happen here.




“And there is evidence that the Klan in Bellingham helped pioneer intimidation practices that paved the way for anti-communist witch-hunts in the 1940s.


Gaythia Weis

Mar 04, 2014

Jennifer Karchmer now has an excellent post up on libel and the role of journalists here: http://www.jenniferkarchmer.com/9/post/2014/03/defamation-libel-censorship.html

I am cross posting my comment there below.

I am one of the people who commented on one of the NW Citizen Blog posts of John Servais, and thus I feel I am likely to be one of the people described by journalist Jennifer Karchmer as “readers who weighed in”.  I think that the analysis she gives, directed at journalists, is excellent.
We need a similar analysis, directed at understanding the role of corporate spokesperson.  The role of the corporate spokesperson is to convey a message as “We the corporation” in a manner credible to the audience.  Effective spokespersons are, of course, most needed in highly emotionally charged situations.  There is a tough balancing act involved in this role.  The spokesperson is using their professional expertise, their own (hopefully) engaging and likeable personality and even personal community connections to convey a corporate message in a believable fashion.  They have to expect criticism.  Their job, if done well, involves effectively defending the actions of the corporation and diffusing as much of the negativity directed at the corporation as possible.  The spokesperson should not have their personal ego involved.  Ideally, the spokesperson is acting with integrity and their own personal values are closely aligned with those of the corporation.  Not infrequently, members of the audience may call the corporate spokesperson out with very personal, specifically targeted, and exceedingly angry pointed comments. This is something to be anticipated, and something a professional corporate spokesperson should be able to handle in a professional fashion.


Sandy Robson

Mar 19, 2014

—More information relating to Craig Cole, Gateway Pacific Terminal, and the Lummi Nation—

Below is Craig Cole’s response to a question from an audience member attending the October 2013 Tea Party Gateway Pacific Terminal debate/forum in which Mr. Cole was the sole featured presenter. At 44:52 minutes into the almost 2 hour video, the following question was posed:
“Craig, what are the tribes using to argue against the terminal. . .what are the issues. . .?”

The text of Mr. Cole’s 2:33 minute long response is below:

“Um, we, uh, the—it’s kind of important to say—it’s hard to do this from what you read in the papers. But there are uh different tribal opinions, and uh, so sometimes when they’ll say tribal leaders it may actually be tribal individuals. Uh, not actually the Tribe itself, the Lummi Tribe. . .the Lummi Nation so, uh and so it gets very confusing. And it’s uh the uh, there are a lot of people, a lot of environmental interests, uh that are non-tribal that are working those guys over. And, um within the Lummi Nation of course there will be differences of opinion on this project as there would be in any community.”

“We are continuing uh courteous discussions, uh constructive discussions with the Lummi Nation. We believe we can address all the issues that have to do with their uh treaty rights which have to do with fishing in their usual and accustomed places. And, um so we are uh optimistic that we can uh address those issues—I want to make one thing very clear. You’ve heard a lot of chatter that somehow there was some clearing that was done that disturbed a burial ground. That’s not true. Uh, there was a small disturbance. There’s a one inch borehole that went through an Indian midden and it’s a one inch hole. . .and soils test and it tuned out to be a midden, an Indian midden which is where uh the traditional, the historic villages would dispose of things like shells and other things. There were no human remains disturbed. You hear people say, ‘Oh they were disrespectful to the tribal burial grounds—they disturbed them’. . . it’s not true.  But people who are against the project will make up almost anything. So that’s the issue. It’s the uh treaty rights and uh trying to find a means by which the uh, the Lummi Nation and others affected will feel that this project appropriate.”

I took the above quote from the audio/video and tried to document it word for word as closely as I possibly could. If you want to view/hear it for yourselves, the full video of that Tea Party GPT one-man debate/forum event you can use this link: (As of today’s date this is viewable online)

If you want to simply view/listen to the 2:33minute long response to the specific question referenced above you can use the link above and then scroll forward to 44:52 minutes into the video which is where that specific question and subsequent response from Craig Cole is located in that video recording.


Sandy Robson

Mar 20, 2014

I wanted to add this to my March 19, 2014 comment I posted yesterday on this article, and now I am not able to add the information into that comment. Here is what I wanted to add to my March 19, 2014 comment:

It should be noted for context in terms of Mr. Cole’s response quoted above, that the Lummi Nation submitted an official EIS scoping comment to the Army Corps of Engineers on January 15, 2013 stating that the Lummi Indian Business Council [the elected governing body for the Lummi Nation] has adopted a formal position to oppose the proposed projects [GPT and Custer Spur Rail Expansion projects] during 2012. The EIS comment stated, “Both of these projects will result in significant, unavoidable, and unacceptable interference with our treaty rights and irreversible and irretrievable damage to our spiritual values.”

Additionally, it should be noted that on July 30, 2013, the Lummi Indian Business Council submitted a formal letter to the Army Corps of Engineers expressing the Lummi Nation’s, “unconditional and unequivocal opposition” to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal and inter-related Custer Spur Rail Expansion projects at Cherry Point. The July 30, 2013 letter went on to say, “The Lummi Nation cannot see how the proposed projects could be developed in a manner that does not amount to significant impairment on the treaty fishing right and a negative effect on the Lummi way of life. Please recognize this letter as a clear statement of opposition to these projects from the Lummi Nation.”

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