Front Porch Blog

Peaceful Mountain Keepers Festival disturbed, tensions flare on 4th of July

Every year, Larry Gibson, CNN Hero and founder of The Keepers of the Mountains Foundation, welcomes community members to a peaceful, alcohol-free weekend of fellowship, camping, live music, good food and great company at what remains of his family’s homeplace on Kayford Mountain. Sponsored by The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OHVEC) and the West Virginia chapter of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), it is traditionally a time for families, friends and neighbors who stand on both sides of the mountaintop removal mining issue to come together to celebrate and give thanks for the beauty of the Appalachian mountains and those who call them home.

However, the 27th Annual 4th of July Music Festival, or “Mountain Keepers Festival” as it’s come to be known by many locals in southern West Virginia, was interrupted this year by a small group of seemingly-intoxicated, angry people wearing miner stripes, the standard uniform for employees on Massey Energy mountaintop removal coal mine sites. Before finally leaving the mountain, they shouted obscenities and threats of violence and death to festival-goers. You can watch the video here. [Please note that this video is not suitable for children and contains obscenities and death threats].

Despite reported threats that the celebration would be disturbed and an article in the Charleston Gazette addressing these fears on Friday, Gibson said he was unable to get protection from law enforcement. In fact, it took police over two hours to respond to calls when the belligerent group showed up and started making threats to the crowd, which included several miners who had put aside differences for the day and were attending the festival in peace. “Not all of the mountaintop removal supporters exhibited such vile and immature behavior. Some ran interference and even kicked the worst of them off the mountain,” festival goer Jen Osha said.

“Out of the twenty people who disrupted our event, only two were actually miners. Other than that they were just people who wanted to interrupt a peaceful gathering to try and cause violence. I’m glad they didn’t succeed,” said Gibson. “The only thing they did was to make the miners of West Virginia look bad; I’m confident that real miners would not have come up with such an irresponsible action,” he added, noting that the point of their antics was to scare people away. “The whole intent of this thing was to intimidate the people who came to my place and the fact that if they intimidate them, they won’t come back and support what I’m trying to do here.”

Fighting to save his land from mountaintop removal since 1986, Larry has become a hero to thousands of local citizens and families who are forced to live with the impacts of mountaintop removal on their homes, the air they breathe and water they drink.

Luckily, violence was avoided and no one was hurt. “We’ll hold steady and we’ll hold back and the violence will not come from the keepers of the mountains and the people who live in them,” said Gibson. “We will win this war. We fought a battle this weekend and we won because they didn’t get any violence from us.”

Gibson was also quick to point out that this behavior is not representative of all miners in southern West Virginia. “I really don’t think this is a mindset at all of people who work in the mining industry as far as working people,” he said. “I think it’s just a handful of rogue miners who refuse to understand that there’s a better way to do this.”

Dana Kuhnline of Charleston, WV said, “Overall I was impressed with the dignity and bravery of those getting harassed. I know that some people felt unsafe and headed home — but it was also pouring rain by this point and it was during the last act of the day, so people were able to enjoy the whole day and probably would have headed out because of the weather.”

This threatening act is not the first attempt of intimidation by mountaintop removal supporters. The June 23rd Protest at Marsh Fork Elementary saw hundreds of mountaintop removal supporters shout obscenities and threats of violence at local families and saw one peaceful protester slapped in the face by a woman in miner’s stripes. A number of personal threats have also been made to local community members who want to see an end to stop mountaintop removal mining.

The big question for many residents in Southern West Virginia, is whether or not their government officials will address the escalating harassment and threats.

“We call upon Governor Manchin to take action and immediately stop the threats and harassment now. This is the second time that we have asked the coal companies and our government to tone it down,” said Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch. “This behavior makes all miners look bad.”

Once again the people of “Wild and Wonderful West Virginia” turn to their Governor for help. Will Joe Manchin take immediate action to bring people together for a peaceful dialogue about what is truly best for the future and prosperity of the families living in the coalfields, as well as “outsiders” who like to visit the region for its beautiful land and people? Or, as Ken Ward wrote on July 6th, will he sit back and let this be fought out in the street, as it was during the coal wars at the beginning of the 20th Century?





Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Comment