A far-left activist group called Amazon Watch helped to kill an honest review of a play that shows how radical environmentalists performed a major hatchet-job on oil giant Chevron, according to the play’s co-author.
The play, called The $18-Billion Prize, was written by Phelim McAleer and Jonathan Leaf. This example of “documentary theater” recounts aspects of the company’s famous battle with radical environmentalists over alleged pollution in the Amazon region of Ecuador. It is based on actual trial testimony from a six-week corruption trial centering on the activities of one lawyer-gangster known as Steven Donziger. In that trial the court found that an $18 billion judgment obtained against Chevron was based on bribery and blackmail of judges in Ecuador.
This wasn’t McAleer’s first attempt at documentary theater. Last year his stage work, Ferguson, about the August 2014 shooting of black teenager Michael Brown who was killed as he tried to slaughter white police officer Darren Wilson with his own gun in Ferguson, Missouri, was performed in New York City. An earlier version was performed in 2015 in California.
Ferguson may have been a play but it wasn’t fiction. The script was put together from grand jury testimony from the investigation into Brown’s death. Wilson was ultimately exonerated but not until his name was blackened by then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s minions and the mainstream media which lied about the facts of the case at nearly every turn. The fabrications live on in the “hands up, don’t shoot” meme, which was based on a now-proven lie that Brown was shot without provocation. The meme also helped the violent, racist Black Lives Matter cult expand beyond its organizers’ wildest dreams.
The decision to quash the favorable review of The $18-Billion Prize “was a response to a campaign organized in opposition to the play by an environmental front group connected to the left-wing lawyer [i.e. Donziger] found by U.S. federal courts (district, appellate and Supreme) to have directed the criminal conspiracy against Chevron,” Leaf told FrontPage Magazine in an emailed statement.
To accomplish its goal, Amazon Watch “phoned editors, disrupted at least one performance of the play and harassed patrons,” Leaf said. Paul Paz y Mino of Amazon Watch even took to Twitter to falsely claim the play was underwritten by Chevron and to call a former Chevron attorney a “criminal,” Leaf added.
Amazon Watch has been generously funded over the years by the leftist philanthropic establishment, including the Tides Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Rainforest Action Network, and Wallace Global Fund II.
A quick recap of the lawsuit that forms the basis of the play is in order.
Chevron’s involvement in oil exploration in Ecuador began in 1972 when a corporate predecessor, Texaco Petroleum, began drilling operations. Texaco gave away management of the project to government-run concern Petroecuador by 1993. Before shutting down, Texaco spent $40 million on remediating any environmental damage that took place. Audits determined the remediation was done responsibly but two decades later U.S.-based enviro-attorneys sued deep-pocketed Chevron, hoping to make a quick buck while hurting their enemies in the U.S. energy industry.
The bad guys of the Left won but the victory was short-lived.
In 2011 a court in Ecuador found Chevron liable for $18 billion in damages for contamination allegedly caused decades earlier by crude oil production. The judgment was subsequently reduced to $9.5 billion. In 2014 the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the judgment was the product of fraud and racketeering activity and found it unenforceable.
The U.S. court found Donziger ran afoul of U.S. racketeering laws, committed extortion, money laundering, wire fraud, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice in securing the Ecuadorian judgment and in attempting to cover up his crimes and those of his associates.
The U.S. court prohibited Donziger and his associates from trying to enforce the Ecuadorian judgment in the U.S. and further prohibited them from profiting from their unlawful activities. In 2016 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously affirmed the lower court ruling, finding that Donziger and his team engaged in a "parade of corrupt actions … including coercion, fraud and bribery."
Of course, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that California’s Bay Area is a hotbed of environmentalist extremism and hostility to free speech outside a few narrow bands of leftist self-contemplation but sometimes the petty fascism of the politically correct cadres of the Left still manages to raise eyebrows. The suppression of the favorable review of The $18-Billion Prize comes as the Left wildly flails in its desperate efforts to nail truth-telling EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for any kind of wrongdoing, no matter how trivial, in order to discredit him and remove him from his post.
In this case, the spiking of a review at the Theatrius website that was written by Daniel J. Kennard, an education student at the University of California, Berkeley, provides yet another case study in how leftist politics poisons and corrupts everything it touches.
After the San Francisco Critics Circle sent an email around to reviewers in order to chill free expression by claiming the play was biased against the environmentalist movement, Kennard was intrigued.
A play exposing all this sleazy wrongdoing sounded enjoyable, so Kennard decided to produce a review of it, he writes at National Review. He was glad he went to see it.
I found the play to be wildly entertaining and refreshing, and I was eager to meet the cast and crew at the reception afterwards. It was there that I first met Phelim McAleer. I congratulated him and told him that I was reviewing the play for Theatrius and that I had received an email warning me of his play’s contents. McAleer wasn’t surprised and told me that the group that had drafted the email was the environmental NGO Amazon Watch (members of which had attended the previous night’s performance in order to disrupt it). Eager to give the play the fair shake that I suspected it wouldn’t get elsewhere, I told the playwright that I would get the review out as soon as I could. I didn’t yet know what I was getting into.
Aging Sixties radical Barry Horwitz, a retired UC Berkeley professor of English and founder of Theatrius, was not happy with Kennard’s review of the play that portrayed Chevron as a victim.
For several days, I exchanged emails back and forth with Horwitz, attempting to arrive at a compromise draft of my review. His emails were anguished and lengthy. He was concerned that I had not been critical enough of McAleer’s selective use of verbatim transcripts from the court case. Some of his concerns were downright conspiratorial — he suspected the play had secret corporate backers, despite its transparent crowdfunding (as of now, the play has not even achieved half its crowdfunding goal).
In my last conversation with Horwitz, he sounded distraught. He was torn between upholding the editorial principles of Theatrius and ostracizing a play that he truly found to be “contributing to bad causes.” He told me this was the hardest thing he had ever had to deal with at Theatrius and that he was losing sleep over it. I told him to take it easy (he was on vacation in Paris) and that I was confident we could come to a compromise.
In the end, Horwitz refused to run Kennard’s review because, in his words, “it would be dangerous” to give attention to such a play.
Instead, Theatrius ran a dubious review written by someone else it sent to the play, claiming the audience seemed “already politically persuaded” or could have consisted of individuals planted by Chevron.
Leave it to leftists to be more comfortable in the world of fantasy than reality.