November 20, 2015
Dear Schuyler County legislators,
I write on behalf of the non-profit group We Are Seneca Lake, which opposes the expansion of methane gas storage in Seneca Lake salt caverns.
We are alarmed by a comment made on Facebook by Schuyler County legislator Philip C. Barnes on November 18. As a response to our posting a photo of gas storage protesters along with an announcement of a (peaceful and lawful) march through downtown Watkins Glen on Sunday, November 29, Legislator Barnes posted this reply beneath our photo:
“Remember Deer season starts Saturday.”
A screenshot of this exchange appears below.
Please note also that the link provided in our post explains that our march will take place on the eve of the climate talks in Paris and, as such, is one of thousands of climate marches that are taking place around the world on that date and show solidarity with the people of Paris. Due to a declared state of emergency, climate activists not allowed to march in Paris.
We feel threatened by Mr. Barnes’ warning and do not understand its intent. Regardless of what Mr. Barnes may have meant by his comment, we feel that his words may function as an incitement to others to consider violence against us.
At the very least, Mr. Barnes’s words are highly inappropriate for an elected official who is sworn to uphold public safety. To joke about climate protestors meeting with stray bullets on social media—in the wake of recent and ongoing events in Paris—is reckless and offensive.
It is not credible to us that Mr. Barnes merely intended his words as friendly advice. As we clearly noted in our post, we are marching through downtown Watkins Glen. Our route does not take us through the woods or in any rural area. Mr. Barnes could not possibly believe a reference to deer season is relevant to our plans.
We ask the legislature to censure Mr. Barnes for these comments. We further ask that Mr. Barnes both apologize to us and issue a public statement that makes clear that he condemns violence, as well as the making of violent threats, against peaceful protesters.
We request that these actions be taken as soon as possible and prior to our march on Sunday, November 29.
Here are the steps we have taken so far: We have blocked Mr. Barnes from commenting on our Facebook posts and hidden his comments to us from other Facebook users; we have registered a complaint about his comment with Facebook; we have contacted the Watkins Glen police; we have registered a complaint with Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn; and we have registered a complaint with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. An individual who felt personally threatened has also contacted the FBI.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions that you might have. This email also copies Sheriff Yessman.