This past Monday I watched some dramatic live coverage from Mandan, North Dakota on Democracy Now’s website. The coverage showed the celebration of the official dismissal of the trumped up legal charges against Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman for 1) criminal trespassing and 2) incitement to riot that followed her investigative journalistic efforts earlier this fall as she and the Democracy Now crew were reporting on the efforts of nonviolent indigenous “water protectors” who are trying to protect their sacred water from corporate usurpers. North Dakota’s response to the nonviolent action of unarmed people was embarrassingly uber-militaristic. The state mounted a Gestapo-like defense in support of a giant multinational corporation that thinks it has a right to do whatever it wants to do with the planet’s dwindling and increasingly polluted natural resources.
The corporation involved this time is called Energy Transfer Partners, and it is threatening the drinkable Missouri River water with its multibillion dollar Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL, aka, the “Black Snake” that is mentioned further below). Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and their wealthy/greedy investors are in cahoots with equally greedy, gigantic, amoral mining corporations, oil corporations and investment banks, all of which are quite willing to exploit and even permanently poison public land, public water, public air and, by extension, the people who depend on the purity of those resources – all for the love of the almighty dollar.
Such sociopathic behaviors by corrupt crony capitalist entities are occurring all over the planet, including here in northern Minnesota (Enbridge, and the penny stock companies PolyMet and NorthMet are just three examples of extractive industries that are threatening the purity of just the St Louis River estuary that supplies sustenance to points south, including Duluth, Minnesota and the Great Lakes.)
Giant corporations like ETP operate quite like sociopathic con-men, remorseless criminals and pathologic liars. Amoral corporate entities like EPT are only beholden to their shareholders and not to the public good. Sociopathic corporations operate quite like the mafia, with their well-paid lawyers, bribed politicians, corrupted judges and paid-off cops that allow them do business with impunity. They, just like the mafia, expect to receive whatever police and legal protection they need while they profitably poison the people and the planet.
And so they do whatever they can get away with to “enhance shareholder value” by making as much money as they can for their investors and management types, no matter if their actions are just unethical or actually criminal. The latter is why these corporations employ so many lawyers. And they never seem to lose. Until Monday, October 17, 2016, that is. On that date the forces of corporate evil suffered a small setback, despite the best efforts of North Dakota’s all-white quasi-Apartheid legal system that seems to defend every amoral mega-corporation that wants to do extractive business in the state stealing scarce natural resources – with no assurance that the scars and toxins left behind will be adequately dealt with.
It was a moment of triumph for the hundreds of DAPL “protestors” (preferably regarded by the tribal people that are on the battle line as “water protectors”) that were facing what appeared to be lethal SWAT teams in front of the Mandan County Courthouse. Thousands of viewers online were there with the protectors and Goodman’s Democracy Now crew, to hear about the unexpected honorable act from a North Dakota District judge named John Grinsteiner as he dismissed the ridiculous charges against Goodman, charges which were designed to intimidate her and other journalists. Those charges had been filed by the North Dakota State Attorney, Ladd. R. Erickson.
Erickson and a variety of ignoble North Dakotan governing elites should be ashamed of themselves for using such blatant intimidation tactics against nonviolent, altruistic water protectors and their allies who were just doing what they had a First Amendment constitutional right to do. I suspect that North Dakota’s plutocrats had no idea who or what they were dealing with. They probably hadn’t even heard about Democracy Now, since there are so few public radio stations in North Dakota and an even smaller number that host Goodman’s daily program. And I suspect that that ignorance also holds true for North Dakota’s militarized police force, its National Guard troops, and ETP’s private security forces (and their vicious dogs), all of whom were embarrassingly armed to the teeth like Star Wars Stormtroopers, as they faced the small band of unarmed and nonviolent protectors. And thus they misunderstood the soul force power wielded by the Standing Rock tribe and their supporters. The commanders of the armed forces at Standing Rock should be ashamed of themselves – and the elites behind the intimidation should be voted out of office this November.
Energy Transfer Partners Was Willing to Risk a Native Tribe’s Water Supply but not Bismarck’s
As testimony to the racist/genocidal background of what is happening at Standing Rock, Energy Transfer Partners had recently abandoned plans for its Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River above Bismarck, North Dakota, when its citizens protested the plan because a spill or leak in the pipeline would have irreversibly contaminated the city’s water supply. So ETP, acknowledging the risk, decided to relocate the crossing of the Missouri River below Bismarck, instead crossing the river just above the Standing Rock Reservation land and water supply. After all, ETP thought, that tribe was non-white, small and politically weak. Or so they thought.
Within weeks the news of ETP’s cold-hearted efforts went viral and representatives of upwards of 200 different indigenous tribes from all over the western hemisphere had joined the battle intending to nonviolently decapitate the 1,100 mile long “Black Snake”. DAPL’s pipeline is supposed to carry the highly profitable and very dirty crude oil (plus toxic solvents) from the Bakken oil field to Illinois where a refinery is located that would eventually process and then sell the oil to world markets after transporting it (also via pipelines) to Texas seaports. Everybody agrees that the Bakken oil discovery has cursed North Dakota in a multitude of ways. It has disrupted local communities with sex trafficking, drug trafficking, de-stabilizing inflationary pressures on everything, over-building of ramshackle lodging and the permanent poisoning of the land and underground water supplies because of the use of highly toxic fracking chemicals. And of course, the stale old talking point promises of Jobs, Jobs, Jobs only provided temporary jobs to desperate, under-employed workers who mostly came from out-of-state locations. And they high-tailed it out as soon as they could. The area is now an economic wasteland. The Boom and Bust economy was mostly Bust for the Bakken, as is always true of industries like mining and oil exploration and extraction.
The story is being well told by Democracy Now but it has mostly been under-covered or actually suppressed by the corporate-controlled mainstream media. The following items expand on the story better than I can: An Excerpt From a “Red Warrior Camp ” Communique.
“We are a growing community of dedicated water protectors that have been peacefully defending sacred water from the impending construction/destruction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. We come from many nations and many struggles to denounce the violence done unto our sacred mother by resource extraction industries.
“As we fulfill our responsibility to protect this land and water for future generations we are constantly met with heavy-handed responses and state sanctioned repression from militarized government forces. Police harassment in the form of daily helicopter and drone surveillance of our home encampment, the threatened use of military grade weapons, illegal road blockades, and racial profiling are all fear tactics of intimidation intended to break our warrior spirits. Yet we still stand strong in prayer, always united in our collective vision to defeat this “Black Snake”.
“Pipeline investors are desperate to complete their $3.7 billion project on time and winters approach is making living conditions on the plains much harsher. We now must ask all Land Defenders, Water Protectors, and Strong Hearts to hear our War Cry and join us here in Standing Rock immediately. We are requesting reinforcements from skilled and trained Warriors prepared to evict the Dakota Access Pipeline and protect our homelands and ways of life. Let us kill this Black Snake once and for all.”
And here is a good summary of the issues from the American Civil Liberties Union:
The Surveillance State Descends on the Dakota Access Pipeline Spirit Camp, By Sabrina King and Will Munger, ACLU, October 10, 2016, original article here.
An MRAP (Mine Resistant Armoured Patrol vehicle) and police vehicles block a road in Morton County, North Dakota
For the past six months, at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, history has been made at one of the largest international gatherings of indigenous people in recent history. Representatives from well over 100 indigenous nations and thousands of people have camped, prayed, and taken action in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on and near the tribe’s sovereign land in North Dakota.
And for the past six weeks, history has repeated itself as the Morton County Sheriff’s Office has dramatically increased its surveillance of the gathering, militarized the county, and taken action to suppress the religious expression of the indigenous people gathered at Sacred Stone.
The use of surveillance, military-style force, and religious oppression against indigenous people has a long history in this country. Today, October 12, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and at a moment of surging indigenous power and strength, we bring light to the ongoing repression of the indigenous nations by Morton County and the state of North Dakota.
A Brief History of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Water Protectors
Dakota Access, or DAPL, is a 1,168-mile long pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners. If finished, the pipeline would carry oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Oil Field through South Dakota and Iowa before ending in Illinois for refining. Proposed over two years ago, DAPL originally crossed the Missouri River north of Bismarck, North Dakota, but was re-routed due to concerns over Bismarck’s water supply. The new route placed the Missouri River crossing a half-mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, avoiding “official” reservation land but endangering the water supply for an entire sovereign nation if the pipeline leaked or burst.
The proposed 1,100 mile Bakken Pipeline would be the largest crude oil pipeline originating in North Dakota. Energy Transfer Partners says the $3.7 billion project could be completed by the end of 2016.
When construction on the pipeline began earlier this year, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and allies gathered at Sacred Stone and began a permanent spirit camp to pray and bring attention to the injustice of DAPL’s route and the risks it poses to land, water, and cultural resources. Over the summer, the camp grew, eventually spilling over into an overflow camp, known as the Oceti Sakowin camp, as well as several others in the same area. The camps have held, at times, thousands of people who come to pray and stand together in solidarity.
Native American protesters and their supporters are confronted by militarized private security forces with dogs during a demonstration against work being done for the Dakota Access Pipeline, Sept 3, 2016.
Starting around the beginning of August, and continuing today, many actions, direct and otherwise, have occurred along the pipeline route, mainly in Morton County. Participants in these actions — ranging from prayers and round dances in public areas to physical lock-downs on construction equipment — refer to themselves as “water protectors,” in deference to the core reason for the existence of the camp in the first place: to protect the water threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Ramping Up: Surveillance and Militarization in Morton County
At the front of the Oceti Sakowin camp entrance, a sign reads: “We Are Unarmed.” The same cannot be said for the government reaction to the indigenous nations’ protest. In response to ongoing peaceful actions, the Morton County Sheriff’s Office has activated the one of the most militant responses ever in North Dakota’s history.
In mid-August, Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency for southwest and central south North Dakota in response to actions taken by the water protectors. Despite the governor’s and the local sheriff’s verbal commitment to allowing constitutionally protected lawful protest, the result of the state of emergency has been a vast suppression of the right to protest and a dramatic increase in police surveillance around — and above — the camp.
Surveillance starts early every morning with near-constant low overflights of the camp by both plane and helicopter. One morning alone, on October 2, surveillance flights were recorded at 7:15 a.m., 7:45 a.m., and again at 11:25 a.m. These surveillance flights continue if there is any perceived action coming out of the camp. Water protectors are followed on county roads by both state and private security helicopters as they drive on public roads in Morton County.
Police have set up numerous road blocks and check points around Morton County. As many as six to eight police vehicles are stationed around the clock south of the camp, and a permanent police operations station is set up less than a quarter mile from the camp itself. Additional police vehicles are stationed at the turnoffs on various roads leading to pipeline construction sites. It is now common to see 20 or more police vehicles within a 10-mile radius of the camp.
Police have used the roadblocks as an excuse for unwarranted stops to ask drivers and passengers where they are staying, why they are on the road, and where they are going. They also regularly check IDs and license plates of anyone driving through one of the roadblocks — people in Morton County can expect to be stopped for simply driving down a public road. And they aren’t just bringing out police cars.
Military vehicles are being used at roadblocks and at checkpoints and are regularly brought out during peaceful actions to intimidate water protectors. A BearCat and an MRAP have appeared at nearly every action over the past two weeks, despite water protector’s public position of nonviolent direct action. Early in September, Gov. Darlymple activated the National Guard, and they have been recorded driving out the riot squad to nonviolent direct actions taken by water protectors.
In addition to on-going surveillance, harassment, and regular ID checks, water protectors who have been arrested report a series of civil liberties violations. The right to counsel and the right to free association don’t go away under a state of emergency. Despite that fact, protectors report being interrogated — without a lawyer present — by a gang intelligence unit from the North Dakota Department of Corrections and asked questions about where they are camped and with whom they are associated.
Police with shotguns advance as armoured vehicles lurk in background (on left a BearCat and on right an MRAP (Mine Resistant Armoured Patrol vehicle) – Sept 28, 2016.
The situation in Morton County is tense enough with the presence of local, state, and national police and military force. But to make matters worse, the state militarization is supplemented by the presence of G4S, the notorious private “security” organization that profits off of private prisons around the world. G4S has been hired by Energy Transfer Partners as a private contractor, but their employees have blocked people on public roads, hit horses with their trucks, and appear to be working with government forces to coordinate against water protectors when they come out of camp, flying a helicopter to surveil cars as they drive along public roads near construction sites.
All of this comes at the same time the Morton County is increasing fees on water protectors and the sheriff is heating up his rhetoric in the press. At a press conference on October 6, Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier announced he would request help from sheriff’s offices around the country and practically encouraged local ranchers to keep firearms with them at all times. The sheriff’s office regularly accuses people at the camp of harassing and intimidating ranchers, breaking windows, and cutting fences. These accusations are not backed by evidence, but they are being made to sway public opinion against people at the camp and to stoke tensions between water protectors and those who live in Morton County. This is a classic example of trial by media, an attempt to convict peaceful water protectors of things for which they are not guilty in the court of public opinion.
Religious Oppression: Denying Indigenous People the Right to Pray
The mobilization of military-style force against indigenous people in this country has a long and terrible history. So, too, has the history of religious oppression of those same people. And while in North Dakota history repeats itself with military force, so too is it repeating itself with religion.
The Sacred Stone camp started and maintains itself as a spirit camp. Prayer is the starting point for all opposition to the pipeline, and many — if not most — of the actions occurring around construction sites are occurring in public spaces and are prayers. The spiritual nature of the camp and DAPL resistance has been at best ignored by Morton County and, at worst, has been suppressed before it can even begin.
On September 27, five people were arrested at an action at which the majority of people were on the side of the road praying. On October 3, a group of water protectors left camp to travel to the site of pipeline construction with the intent to pray. At the small town of St. Anthony, the cars were greeted not with an open public road but a police roadblock with over 30 police in riot gear, armored military vehicles, and police surveillance. Ironically, the sheriff’s office reported blocking the road out of fear that emergency vehicles would not be able to get through to St. Anthony because of the water protectors driving through. But what prevented any emergency vehicles from getting through wasn’t the protectors — they stood on the side of the road — but the police roadblock itself.
Jennifer Cook, policy director for the ACLU of North Dakota, stated in an Inforum.com article that “It’s highly problematic and is not a proper use of law enforcement resources. … Additionally, the use of militarized armored vehicles, riot gear, and tactics by law enforcement at protests that consist of peaceful prayer and nonviolent direct actions is a blatant misuse of these tools and will likely encourage police to use force against citizens when force is not necessary for the situation.”
The Time to Demilitarize Is Now
The Sacred Stone Camp and the water protectors are peaceful, nonviolent, and led and directed by indigenous people who for too long have experienced oppression by government agencies, both state and local. The time for demilitarization is now — before the heated rhetoric of the sheriff’s office and the on-going police presence create a situation that ends in violence.
Our country has a long way to go in our relations with indigenous nations. We can start now in North Dakota by demilitarizing, ending the surveillance of the camp and water protectors, and starting to listen to the prayers of those who are protecting the water for us all.
The ALCU is calling on the state of North Dakota to stop its suppression of the right to protest and to demilitarize Morton County. Sign our petition at https://action.aclu.org/secure/nd-standing-rock-sioux-tribe?ms=web_160920_aff_ND_free_speech and learn more about Sacred Stone Camp and how you can help at https://action.aclu.org/secure/nd-standing-rock-sioux-tribe?ms=web_160920_aff_ND_free_speech