With the help of celebrities and professional activists, protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota have attracted international attention. The shouting and violence have drawn sympathy from people who are hearing only one side of the story — the one told by activists. Were the full story to be heard, much, if not all, of that sympathy would vanish.
The activists tell an emotionally-charged tale of greed, racism, and misbehavior by corporate and government officials. But the real story of the Dakota Access Pipeline was revealed in court documents in September, and it is nothing like the activists’ tale. In fact, it is the complete opposite.
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A recent editorial published by the Grand Forks Herald exposes the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s tactics used to spread falsities about law enforcement and strengthen unity for their cause.
More recently, it’s clear that some protesters still want a villain to rally against. Some of their actions even seem designed to bring back the spectre of King George III and his Redcoats. Setting barricades on fire, charging police while on horseback and resisting arrest all look like efforts to make police use force. Then the idea is to put video that force on social media, where it’s likely to make police look bad.
Law enforcement has demonstrated a highly professional, restrained response to the increasingly violent anti-pipeline protesters. Authorities have been able to effectively handle a delicate situation without overreacting and playing into the hands of law breakers.
Thanks to this restraint, which comes at real risk to the officers’ safety, North Dakota officials credibly can refute protesters’ wilder claims. Arrestees were kept in “dog kennels”? No, they were held for hours—not days—in indoor chain-link-fence enclosures, simply because the local jails are full. Suspects had numbers inked on their arms, “like in concentration camps”? No; a mark from a pen is not a tattoo, and wanting to link people with their possessions—stored separately in numbered plastic bags—is a world away from genocide.
The Grand Forks Herald hit the nail on the head with this thoughtful analysis. Law enforcement have deserve both our respect and gratitude maintain order in a hostile environment.
The National Sheriffs’ Association sharply criticized President Obama’s comments on the Dakota Access Pipeline, saying that his decision to let “things play out” puts lives at risk. In a statement, NSA Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Thompson said the following:
Law enforcement is in the middle of a powder keg in Morton County, N.D., and last night President Obama said: “We’re going to let it play out for several more weeks…”
Law enforcement officers are protecting private property and the right to protest in Morton County. There have been 415 arrests in connection with the riots. Just 8 percent of are from North Dakota, while the other 92 percent are from 43 other states stretching from Vermont to Florida to California. This includes militant agitators with long histories of violence, including domestic assault, child abuse and burglary.
Protesters have allegedly fired a weapon and thrown Molotov Cocktails at law enforcement and President Obama is “going to let it play out for several more weeks.”
Mr. President, this is not a game. As we saw in Iowa this morning, where two police officers were ambushed and murdered, law enforcement is real life and, all too often, real death.
Sheriffs, Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven, Rep. Kevin Cramer, Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley have repeatedly called for assistance from the federal government.
Letting it play out, as the President has recommended, puts precious lives – protesters, workers, tribal members, ranchers, farmers and law enforcement – in danger. Unless the President can provide us with assistance and support, the President should be held partially responsible for the fear, terror, and damage caused by violent, militant out-of-state agitators.
Law enforcement officers are on the frontlines of this dangerous standoff and know firsthand that protests that protests have not been “peaceful and prayerful.” These brave men and women have put their lives on the line in the interest of upholding the rule of law and protecting law-abiding citizens. The President should be thanking these civil servants and hanging them out to dry.
In late October, a jury in Oregon acquitted Ammon Bundy and six codefendants for illegally occupying a building in the federal Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in a remote eastern part of the state. The protest, the subject of national news coverage in January, was in support of local ranchers given egregious five-year mandatory federal sentences for setting a controlled burn on federal land to protect their own property from wildfires. As soon as the acquittal was announced, there were howls of protest. The Bundy verdict was said to be a case of jury nullification. CNN, Vox, and other publications suggested in commentaries that the verdict was an instance of white privilege.
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The Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile oil pipeline that will safely transport crude from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to Illinois for domestic U.S. consumption, was for years a project no one could fairly call “controversial.” It proceeded through the regulatory process without incident. The company building it worked with landowners and local officials to address any concerns before construction began. The project was halfway finished when, suddenly this summer, a small group emerged to protest the entire pipeline.
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North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak recently confirmed that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe failed to participate in the state’s 13-month review of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Speaking with NPR’s Morning Edition, Fedorchak noted that tribal representatives never attended any of the PSC’s public hearings despite personal outreach urging them to weigh in.
“The Standing Rock tribe did not participate in our public hearings or, quite honestly, at any point throughout our 13-month review process,” she said. “Here’s the situation, though, we notified the tribes. We had a personal call go out to the tribes urging them to participate, and we had a hearing 45 minutes from Cannonball.”
Fedorchak further noted that, despite the tribe’s absence, hundreds of others did engage in the process. When asked about the agency’s review of cultural resources, Fedorchak stressed that the entire route was carefully examined by certified archaeologists.
“The entire route of the pipeline was examined on foot by certified archaeologists. They identified more than 500 different cultural resources that needed to be protected, and the pipeline route was altered 140 times to avoid cultural resources. So those include Native American resources, but they also include other historic artifacts.”
Meanwhile, Fedorchak has also refuted claims that the pipeline was originally supposed to cross the Missouri River north of Bismarck and not beneath Lake Oahe.
“The river crossing north of Bismarck was a proposed alternative considered by the [Dakota Access] company early in the routing process. This route was never included in the proposed route submitted to the PSC and therefore was never vetted or considered by us during our permitting process,” she said in an Oct. 27th statement. “The final permitted route follows an existing pipeline corridor that has been previously disturbed.”
The difference between a peaceful protest and criminal activity is obvious to honest observers. The problem with the Dakota Access Pipeline protest near Cannon Ball, N.D., is that honesty is in short supply. Or better yet, the definitions of “honesty,” as defined by the people caught up in the protest, are not the same.
Those realities will not be solved soon because they are rooted in historical imperatives that have been in conflict for generations. The stain of the nation’s treatment of American Indians and the conditions—some self-inflicted—in which native communities find themselves in the 21st century will not be resolved at an oil pipeline protest. Indeed, they are being exacerbated.
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With a few words to a reporter, President Barack Obama just took the rule of law, crumpled it up, and tossed along a riverbank in North Dakota.
Here’s what he told NowThis about the recent actions by his administration and the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline:
I think, right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline. So we are going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved.
This was “resolved” months ago, after state and federal agencies signed off on the project.
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In an editorial published today, the Bismarck Tribune supported the actions of law enforcement to remove protesters from private land, and to clear a roadblock from a public highway. According to the paper, “there were obvious violations of the law.”
The paper also correctly characterized the operation to remove protesters following their failure to comply with police orders to withdraw from private property; “To the outside world it may have appeared like a military operation, but law enforcement needed to protect themselves. Overall, the operation went smoothly with no serious injuries. It’s unfortunate the situation came to this, but some of the protesters refused to back off.”
This has been the case for several months now in North Dakota. Protesters have encouraged law enforcement to arrest them by failing to comply with instructions to come down off of equipment, to not cross fence lines onto private property, and to maintain a safe distance from public roads. Protesters often have failed to comply and put public safety and the safety of workers in jeopardy which has led to arrests. To then claim that they have been treated unfairly is a gross mischaracterization of police operations, which have taken place only to ensure the rule of law and public safety.
Physical resistance to law enforcement is mounting, and it has begun to divide the protest camps according to the Tribune, “There seems to be some discontent in the camps with dissatisfaction growing over the more militant factions. Some would like to see them evicted. Part of the problem is the reluctance of the protesters to admit to any wrong. They don’t want to concede that law enforcement encountered resistance, not just verbal but physical. During Thursday’s removal of protesters, Tribune video captured protesters arguing over tactics. One was trying to put out a fire while encouraging others to retreat. Another urged protesters to stand their ground and force the issue. He wasn’t seeking a prayerful response.”
Law enforcement has put themselves on the front lines to protect the community, and to ensure the safety of the public amid the increasingly violent protests. It is encouraging to see media like the Bismarck Tribune come out in defense of law enforcement, when so many other outlets appear only to be interested in telling the story from the side of protesters who continue to mischaracterize their own actions as peaceful, when they have only incited violence and lawlessness.