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Leaks and Militarized Policing: The NoDAPL Water Protectors Keep Getting Proven Right

The water protectors’ efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline were a historic mobilization of Native American tribes from all across the country coming together in solidarity for the Standing Rock Sioux. The original route of the pipeline was moved from Bismarck, North Dakota, onto Standing Rock Sioux reservation land and sacred tribal grounds. Despite the overt violation of treaties between the federal government and the Standing Rock Sioux, the pipeline’s construction persisted while mainstream media outlets and Democratic Party leaders all virtually remained silent on the issue. The void in media coverage was filled by alternative media outlets and citizen journalists. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) were two of the small handful of elected officials willing to speak out on behalf of the NoDAPL fight.Throughout months of living at the Standing Rock camps, water protectors endured constant abuse, violence, and a propaganda campaign from the Morton County Sheriff’s Office and hired security contractors.

On May 27, the Intercept reported, “a SHADOWY INTERNATIONAL mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures, collaborating closely with police in at least five states, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept.” The leaked documents further corroborate claims from water protectors that militarized tactics and abuses were being used against them to suppress their peaceful protests. The water protectors were compared by the firm to jihadist protectors, a sentiment that local Sheriffs Departments shared. Sheriff Laney of Cass County told the Bismarck Tribune in a January 2017 interview, “It’s like it became the mecca for every eco-terrorist, I call them, every eco-person out there,” The documents revealed a mass operation conducted by TigerSwan that involved aerial, audio, and social media surveillance that several different state and federal policies agencies shared with one another, confirming claims from water protectors about the militarized and undemocratic manner in which their movement was being attacked by the police state.

The leaked reports also revealed that Tigerswan was involved in a propaganda and disinformation campaign to elevate and spread criticism of the protests. Morton County Sheriff’s Department engaged in this propaganda campaign as well, using their social media pages and press releases to feed narratives to media outlets willing to report solely on their accounts of events. In November, the Sheriff’s Department shut down their Facebook page after posting a highly insensitive and racist post mocking Native Americans on Thanksgiving. Before 2000 veterans traveled to Standing Rock to protest the pipeline, the Sheriff’s Department falsely claimed during a press conference “an element within the protest movement wants to exploit veterans with PTSD, arm them, try to trigger their PTSD and turn them aggressive.” The claim, demonstrated a disgraceful lack of understanding about PTSD. The department posted several videos on their social media accounts alleging, with no evidence, that they were being attacked by veterans. In all their accounts, the police tried to develop a narrative that water protectors were inciting violence and the sole perpetrators of it without ever corroborating their claims with actual evidence, while the water protectors and media outlets actually covering the protests provided evidence otherwise.

In October 2016, Democracy Now! reported that unlicensed attack dogs were unleashed against water protectors, many of whom were arrested, handcuffed with zip-ties, and locked in dog kennel cages for several hours. Democracy Now host Amy Goodman was one of several journalists arrested at the Standing Rock camps for reporting on the events occurring there.

Several water protectors suffered serious injuries at the hands of the police throughout the protests. In late November 2016, 21 year-old Sophia Wilansky, a Williams College student, was hit in the arm with a concussion grenade by police, nearly blowing her entire arm off. A 32 year-old Navajo woman, Vanessa Dundon, was hit in the eye with a tear gas canister and may be permanently blind in that eye for the rest of her life. Hundreds of other water protectors suffered injuries from rubber bullets, flash grenades, and tear gas fired upon them by police. In late November 2016, Police defended using water cannons against water protectors in sub-freezing temperatures, a violent act that contributed to public support for water protectors. A few weeks later, the Army Corps of Engineers finally halted the pipeline’s construction and ordered an environmental assessment to be conducted to find alternate routes for the pipeline. As anticipated, the Trump Administration rescinded that decision and the pipeline’s construction was allowed to be completed. But just weeks after construction ended, before the pipeline was even fully functional, the inevitable leaks that water protectors asserted would occur did.

So far, three separate leaks on the pipeline have been reported. The first leaked about 84 gallons at a pump station in Tulare, South Dakota, about 200 miles south of the Standing Rock camps. Two more leaks were later reported, one in Mercer County, North Dakota. The leaks spilled over 100 gallons of oil. The Associated Press reported the spills further corroborate claims from native tribes that oil leaks from the pipeline pose dangerous threats to the main drinking water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The pipeline is scheduled to be fully operational by June 1.

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Michael Sainato’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, Buffalo News, the Hill, Alternet, and several other publications . Follow him on twitter: @MSainat1

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