Benoit— Katrina “Scattered
People Instead of Bombs”
“This Katrina thing was handled as if it would have been Iraq. It was handled in a military way for resources; resources were the main focus, and the only difference is that the hurricane scattered people instead of bombs. There were people getting shot, there were bodies everywhere, there was destruction everywhere, and there’s oil coming out of the ground like it never has before. Remind you of something else? The only difference is that we didn’t have the equipment and the ability to fight back.”
Tab Benoit is a Cajun man, first and foremost. He loves his
country and is not afraid to say so. His pride in his heritage is only part of
what drives this popular up-and-coming Louisiana blues musician to fight
ferociously for a way of life and rich culture that
is destined to be eradicated by big oil,
big money, and big government . Billboard Magazine praises Benoit
for a “thorough command of contemporary
blues…splendid songwriting, gritty vocals and choice lead guitar work ,"
Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed were
a wake-up call to America, and Benoit wants to
use his celebrity voice to ensure that America hears and heeds the warning. Benoit is more
than driven— he seems possessed of a certainty that
he is destined to be one voice of and for the Louisiana wetlands. He told us
that many more voices were needed so that big government “cannot kill us all.”
We heard more than once from residents of South Louisiana that government “is
trying to kill us all.” We were also asked on several occasions whether
Louisiana was still considered to be part of the United States, so Benoit’s
statement did not surprise us.
Unhappy and unfulfilled as a pilot flying the pipelines,
wanted to contribute more to his town, state, country and the world ---and
says so in no uncertain terms. Becoming a professional musician gave Benoit the
opportunity to connect with a huge audience and tell them that, yes ; the wetlands will disappear in our
lifetime if we do not do something about it. Big oil and big government have a
vested interest in this happening. He tried to get his warning across in the IMAX film, Hurricane on the
Bayou, but feels his message was
diminished and co-opted by Shell Oil when Shell picked up cost overruns on the
The job of the journalist is to be a storyteller.
We do our job best when we get out of the way and let the truth unfold. Benoit has a handle on the truth
of what happened in southern Louisiana before Hurricane Katrina and after the
flood of 2005 devastated New Orleans. He spent
several hours on a bayou outside of Houma eloquent and knowledgeable
He echoes Naomi Klein’s assessment in her book, Shock Doctrine, that within days of Katrina and the floods that followed it was as if private contractors had recreated Baghdad’s Green Zone on the bayous.
Tab Benoit is a strong man,
but the passion in his tone gives one
the impression he has shed tears over what has happened. In future installations of this series, the results
of our investigations will support the truth behind Benoit’s
observations, but it is equally
important that the first voice readers hear
is that of
a local warrior for the environment.
e did not ask
questions. Instead, we
turned on the flash recorder and let Benoit roll
with his story —and he did not stop for almost
three hours. The following is his unedited
testimony and witness to the wetlands, a hurricane, an IMAX movie, and what we
all can look forward to if something is not done to change the chokehold of big oil,
industry, and Homeland Security on Louisiana.
We put in a few headers to headers and clarifying
notes to break up the narrative—and it is a stunning narrative--straight talk from a
plainspoken Cajun man.
On the Attitude of Big Government Toward the Citizens of Coastal Louisiana
“We get the feeling that they just don’t want us here.
“And my feeling is because of oil
. Because we’ve got a lot of it
here. And we’re the only state
that doesn’t get the off shore drilling money. We get our on shore money but
not from off shore and we’re the only state. So as we lose land and as that
becomes off shore, then the federal government gets the royalties from that.
“Three miles off the coast is considered off shore. I mean
just right here, right now, if I could take you up in an airplane and show you
this; you’d see that the
used to be 25 miles from
the Houma airport, now it’s three miles.”
“There are thousands of canals dug.
“I used to fly pipelines. I flew pipeline patrols where you
would go out in an airplane and fly pipelines to the marshes. You come to these
hubs and your line may come off
of that hub and come in another direction and…. it’s just like spider webs out
there. All of these canals were dug to bring these pipelines in and to do
drilling. And all of that costs money. The oil companies would rather not have
to do all of that digging and dredging to put a rig in there. It costs them
money. They would rather not go out and directional drill under the city to get
the oil that’s under
“I mean, come on, and let’s face it. Wherever there
a swamp , or
was a swam p, there’s
oil. It’s like that across the planet. It’s not just us. We just happen to live
on third largest delta system on the planet, which is the Mississippi River
Delta, which has been a swamp for eons and has been producing oil for a long
time. The fact is, we have a lot of oil here, and it’s a lot cheaper to get it
if you can just drill straight down into it, you know, part of the reason
they’re saying that New Orleans has sunk so much is because of taking oil from
underneath. And every time you take oil out of a hole, something’s gotta give.
got 4,000 rigs in the gulf . Compared
to 100 rigs in the rest of the gulf. There are 4,100 rigs
approximately in the entire Gulf of Mexico , Louisiana has 4,000. We’re not getting the money from the
off shore drilling. We’re getting the money from on shore. We get the state’s
given royalty rate from the on shore drilling but not from off shore. So it
doesn’t take a genius to figure out why there’d be 4,000 rigs in Louisiana
waters, and only 100 rigs outside of Louisiana waters that belong to the United
States. The federal government gets our (Louisiana’s ) share. It goes straight into the
federal fund. That’s been our big issue; we’ve
fought for it.”
Big Oil Money
“After Katrina it was like pulling teeth to get something
through Congress to give us some offshore royalty back, but they didn’t give us
a percentage. They gave us $20 million per year. It’s $20 million per year for
the first 10 years and then something else after that. And it’s not even a
percentage. The amount of money coming out of here you’d never know. Nobody
knows. I don’t think
allowed to know. Because it’s that much.
“Here’s where the oil port is. Just 20 miles southeast of
here is Port Fourchon, where all the imported oil and the
gulf oil comes in that runs through a
pipeline up to the refineries. I’ve been saying that we produce 60% of our own
oil but I’ve seen recently on the news that we import 60% of our oil now. So,
we only produce 40% of what we use. So if we’re importing 60% that means
Louisiana is that much more important because this is where the oil port is.
Because we have coastal oil refineries.
“MR. GO stands for Mississippi River
Gulf Outlet. It was a canal that was
dug just south of New Orleans, coming out of the 9th ward and St.
Bernard parish -- this
canal was dug to go straight out to the Gulf. But it runs to two major
refiners. What’s behind the 9th ward? Two major refineries. Those
things are running. The refineries are running. Nothing else is in the ninth ward. ( The
lower Ninth Ward, mostly black and poor, has been depopulated since Katrina ) What else do you need to know? There
it is. There are the answers.”
FEMA and Homeland Security
Rescues Oil But
“Those refineries were running before they even started
rescuing people. The lights were on over there before the lights were on
anywhere else. Because that was the concern. But if anyone would have gone to
these meetings where they were talking about this before the hurricanes…
believe me FEMA had plans for what was going to happen when New Orleans
flooded. And even
years before the storm they had Hurricane Pam. Which they made up—it was
“The drill had nothing to do with people. All of those meetings that I attended, that I listened to, I didn’t hear them talk about people once. That’s why I started Voice of the Wetlands (www.voiceofthewetlands.com) because we had no voice. Nobody was acknowledging that there would be people here. It was all about oil, and infrastructure. You know the first things were refineries and oil ports. Those are the first things on the lists of things to do. And that’s exactly what happened.
“I get very aggravated with people thinking that FEMA messed
up. Or that it was a
mistake. It was no mistake. This was a plan, they followed it to perfection,
they ended up coming out and blaming this Michael Brown cat, who wasn’t even in
New Orleans. He
wasn’t allowed in New Orleans until Homeland Security let him in. He was kept
in Baton Rouge, and he said that when he was testifying before a congressional
committee. The big problem was Homeland Security
---and what their agenda was.
there because they never had
to deal with FEMA. Down here we flood every three or four years from a storm
event. But New Orleans doesn’t flood as often, you know, when we hear Homeland
Security took over FEMA, it’s like “Oh my god --now what?”
“So I really started paying attention to things and how things were run. When Homeland Security is running it, that’s a whole different agenda. It has nothing to do with rescuing people. Homeland Security is not a rescue operation.
“I did an interview with more than one person from another country. One in particular was a guy from Canada… we had ordered 20,000 more body bags after Katrina, from Canada. Somebody was investigating. And because they were saying 1300 people died, and we had 20,000 body bags in New Orleans and they ran out, and had to reorder another 20,000 body bags.”
Blackwater and Casualty Counts
“They found out that Blackwater was killing people. Blackwater was just in there eradicating. If you didn’t make it past the checkpoint and got to the dome or the convention center, or the bridge, or whatever, you were fair game.
“They were claiming that they would deputize to confiscate
guns. But they were told to shoot whenever they felt like it.
“ ( Truthout.org
reporters Jeremy Scahill and Daniela Crespo
quoted Blackwater operatives in September 2005: “They say they are on contract
with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to
use lethal force.”)
“Everybody here knows that there are more than 1300 people
dead. Everybody that actually got into the city and was trying to help, saw
bodies floating, saw bullet wounds. The coroner knows what’s going on, and he
ain’t talking. But he knows. Because I know for a fact from some other sources
that he was saying to somebody, probably on a private level, that those bullet
wounds were military or highly powerful wounds.
(Our investigation has heard
the same reports from multiple
Those were not
22 pistol. Or a
9-millimeter pistol. Let’s face it; criminals want to
save their lives too, in a situation like that. It’s not some free-for-all.
People are trying to get the hell out of there.”
Malaise and /or
“The way it was portrayed was
totally wrong. And from what I hear from outside of this country, which really
is embarrassing to me, is that our media doesn’t touch the stuff. I did an
interview with a guy and he was blown away every time he opens a new door, it’s
a whole other big story that nobody is covering. He said that this thing is
like the ten
“There is a story trying to go out on the A
right now about oil and how that is why we’re in the situation we’re in right
now and the guy has submitted it, ready
to go, and it’s really a big huge step, but it hasn’t been out
yet. This has been over a month that it’s been submitted and it hasn’t been out
on the wire, so, is he gonna print it? That’s a whole different thing. At least
someone is willing to listen. ”
People Like Bombs
“This Katrina thing was handled as if it would have been Iraq. It was handled in a military way for resources, resources were the main focus, and the only difference is that the hurricane scattered people instead of bombs. There were people getting shot, there were bodies everywhere, there was destruction everywhere, and there’s oil coming out of the ground like it never has before. Remind you of something else? The only difference is that we didn’t have the equipment and the ability to fight back. We didn’t have suicide bombers and the things that other people have.
“You get knocked out, and then you get killed. Look how easy this was to do. All the peoples’ records were wiped out. Their city hall, their courthouses, their medical records, and their hospitals—all of that is gone. How easy is it to start taking people out at that point? That’s the easiest thing in the world to be able to do.
“You hide it from the media, you keep the media focused on
the dome and the convention
center, and you keep giving opinionated stories about what this picture is, and
then you pull the wool over everybody’s eyes. I don’t know what we’re doing
outside of this country, but I know what I saw right here. This is a major,
major step into a civil war.
Starting right here. With these resources right here. We have the
biggest port in the country, the most important port, the mouth of the river,
it will always be that way, and we have the oil port which is the most
important port in the country. We have 40% of the oil refining capabilities in
the country, almost half of the refining is sitting right on top of us right
“I was on CNN to promote the film
. (IMAX Hurricane on the
Bayou ) The
interviewer asked me this five-part question, and I didn’t even finish
answering the first part. Her question was longer than my answer. I didn’t even
get to start getting into it, and they cut me off. I didn’t even talk about oil
or anything. As soon as the cameras go out, I’m talking to someone at the local
affiliate here, and they ask me “Is there anything down there we need to be
knowing about?” and I was like yeah, we’ve got a rig
in a neighborhood that was just blatantly in the wrong place.
“It’s a brand new neighborhood that’s going up, and there’s
a brand new house being built, and then there’s a
(oil ) rig right next to it. Right there in
the middle of a neighborhood. This is an expansion of a neighborhood that
already existed. It didn’t look right. We couldn’t fight it; they had police
protection around it… we didn’t know who these people were. There were unmarked
cars sitting around this rig. We’ve never seen that before. You can usually
walk right up to a rig and nobody is gonna stop you.
I don’t know if that meant China is drilling here or if it’s a Chinese drill drilling with another company, but there were no signs. That’s kind of unusual too. Usually when you see an oil company that has a rig up, they’re gonna have signs all over the thing.
They’re proud of their logos. The people around here were kind of blown away but couldn’t do anything about it.”
“Local government… there’s no government in Louisiana. There
is no such thing. As long as we have this much oil coming out of the ground,
there is no such thing as government here. And it’s been like that since we’ve had oil
coming out of the ground. Since the Texas oil companies bought this whole
“Oil companies don’t need protection. They need to fork money over to us and fix the areas that they’ve destroyed.”
Hurricane on the Bayou
“The IMAX film wouldn’t let me say anything. They wouldn’t let me touch oil.
“The first levies built around the Mississippi river were to
protect farms. Channeling the river all the way to the
gulf was not to protect farms from
flooding. That was about choking the river down to make it deeper, blowing the
sediment out, blowing it off the continental shelf, so that they could get big
ships into there. ( see
http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2006/1195/htmldocs/intro.htm for an explanation of sedimentary
deposits on the continental shelf)
“We need to bring the levies down, we need to raise everybody’s houses like we used to be, we have to expect flooding and kind of wish for it. There was a time here when we used to pray for floods when it was dry, when they needed the ground to be replenished with that new topsoil and things like that, when we were over-farming it. Before technology, flooding was a major part of this area and a necessary part. This is what built this area, flooding. So let’s go back to where we used to be. Let’s expect a flood every now and then. It’s Mother Nature. If you’re going to live in the swamp, you have to live with the swamp. When you build levies you give everybody this false sense of security that they can build on the ground, and they’re gonna be able to live there forever, and nothing’s ever gonna happen.
“Well, why do people in New Orleans even think that? It should be common knowledge by now that most of New Orleans is below sea level. It wasn’t always, but it is now. They’re reliant on levies right now, every day, to survive there. You break a levy down right now; the city fills up again like it did after Katrina. Then take a hurricane and do it. All it takes is a broken levy. High tide and the south wind blowing could do it. A boat running into one of those walls….
“For about two years I was flying over New Orleans every day. I’d look down, and you’d see the levies that are big massive levies, and those are the river levies. All of the other levies are not. Look at the river levies. They have held. There has not been a breach in one of those river levies. Look how substantial they are. If you’re going to build a levy out of dirt, you have to go wider as you go higher. And then you have to have some kind of lining in the inside. Especially around the city, the river is bulkheaded there. When you take the Highway 310 Bridge, you’ll see that there is concrete around the inside of that levy. That’s how you build levies, if you’re going to build levies, and those are the levies that work. The problem is that those are the ones that need to come down. We need to let that river come down here, some kind of way, if we’re going to stay here. That’s the only thing that’s going to fix this.
is not far. It’s right there. It’s twenty miles closer to the airport than when
I was a kid. That’s unbelievable amounts of land going. Swamps where I used to
go camping and think, “look how beautiful this is, the natural bayou with the
live oaks and on the other side of the banks there’s lush green Cyprus swamp,”
I just thought it was the most beautiful place in the world. “You have to stay pretty far north now
to see Cyprus swamps. There’s miles and miles and miles of it that are dead. I
can guarantee we’ve lost, in my lifetime, I’d say 70%.
(Pontchartrain ) is now open to the Gulf.
The lake is the Gulf.
“You have to be realistic right now here. Optimism is thrown
out the window. Now we’re in survival mode. We actually have been for a long
time, but Katrina just exaggerated it and accelerated it. So there is no more
optimism here. And understand where you stand and understand what it takes to
fix it, and go out and try to fix it if you want to stay here.
“The biggest thing we have right now
is just educating people on what needs to be done and why it needs to be done
and how it was done in the first place.”
of : The Covert Resources
War Behind Katrina –
“Wetland Economics 101”
George W. Bush
instituted a “zero tolerance” for looting in the aftermath of the flood, even
if someone was “looting” “food or water.” Louisiana’s governor, Kathleen
Blanco, added a “shoot to kill” order to Bush’s “zero tolerance” proclamation.
(see various media reports from BBC, ABC News, CNN et al) When National Guard
troops from other states made entered New Orleans five days after Katrina,
troops aggressively pointed their rifles at black survivors who approached them
while seeking aid. (People’s Hurricane Relief Fund www.peopleshurricane.org )