Obama backs ac­tivists seek­ing to de­lay pipe­line

Oil project protests in North Dakota spi­ral out of con­trol

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has come un­der fire for align­ing it­self with ac­tivists fight­ing a North Dakota pipe­line project even as the protest at the 2-month-old en­camp­ment spi­rals out of con­trol.

An ex­treme fac­tion within the en­clave of 1,500 to 2,500 pro­test­ers camp­ing out near the Dakota Ac­cess pipe­line, or DAPL, is ter­ror­iz­ing the ru­ral com­mu­nity with threats, van­dal­ism and theft, as well as forc­ing road clo­sures and school lock­downs, ac­cord­ing to law en­force­ment.

“Our deputies talk to the farm­ers and ranch­ers, and many of them fear if they talk — and the me­dia re­ally wants to talk to them — but they fear re­tal­i­a­tion if they give their name or let their pic­ture be taken,” said Rob Keller, a spokesman for the Mor­ton County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment. “Be­cause we’ve had all kinds of re­ports of peo­ple defe­cat­ing in their drive­ways, of fences be­ing cut, of be­ing ha­rassed by masked pro­test­ers, shoot­ing at signs, pay bills be­ing stolen and be­ing run off the road.”

The height­ened law­less­ness cul­mi­nated Mon­day with the ar­rests of 27 ac­tivists, in­clud­ing ac­tress Shai­lene Wood­ley, on charges of crim­i­nal tres­pass and ri­ot­ing as the hun­dreds swarmed a pri­vate con­struc­tion site near St. An­thony.

Cass County Sher­iff Paul Laney said the melee was nei­ther “peace­ful” nor “prayer­ful” and that some pro­test­ers “say that, but they dis­guise their crim­i­nal be­hav­ior be­hind it.”

“While some would like to say this was a protest, this was not a protest. This was a riot,” Sher­iff Laney said at a press con­fer­ence. “When you have that many peo­ple en­gaged in that kind of be­hav­ior, in­cit­ing oth­ers to break the law, cheer­ing on oth­ers as they break the law, re­fus­ing to leave when they’re asked to leave, that’s not a protest.”

The ten­sion is es­ca­lat­ing as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion seeks ways to post­pone the project in sol­i­dar­ity with the Stand­ing Rock Sioux tribe and na­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, which have sued to stop the 1,172mile, four-state pipe­line over con­cerns about wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion and dis­tur­bance of sa­cred cul­tural and burial sites.

So far, op­po­nents are los­ing: A fed­eral ap­peals court dis­solved Sun­day temporary in­junc­tion on con­struc­tion along a con­tested 20-mile cor­ri­dor at Lake Oahe, af­ter a fed­eral judge ruled last month that the tribe had failed to prove its case.

In an un­prece­dented move, how­ever, the ad­min­is­tra­tion urged En­ergy Trans­fer Part­ners to pause work “vol­un­tar­ily” as agen­cies un­der­take a “se­ries of con­sul­ta­tions” and a “lis­ten­ing ses­sion” with tribes in Phoenix.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion also said it would not ap­prove an easement on a 1,100-foot stretch un­der­neath the Mis­souri River, the fi­nal au­tho­riza­tion needed to fin­ish the $3.7 bil­lion pipe­line, which is 87 per­cent com­plete.

“We con­tinue to re­spect the right to peace­ful protest and ex­pect peo­ple to obey the law,” said the joint state­ment by the Jus­tice De­part­ment, In­te­rior De­part­ment and Army Corps of En­gi­neers.

This week, Stand­ing Rock Sioux Chair­man David Ar­cham­bault II called on the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to in­ter­vene to stop the project, al­most all of which lies on pri­vate land but would run about a half-mile from the reser­va­tion at its near­est point.

“The court rul­ing in­cludes an im­por­tant ac­knowl­edg­ment that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion still has the power to deny key per­mits — a re­minder to us all of the im­por­tant role we each need to play in ask­ing Pres­i­dent Obama to use his power to right these wrongs,” Earthjus­tice, which rep­re­sents the tribe, said in a Mon­day post on Face­book.

Rob Port, a con­ser­va­tive ra­dio talk show host for 970 WDAY in Fargo who has tracked the protests, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion bears some re­spon­si­bil­ity for the in­creas­ingly un­sta­ble sit­u­a­tion by re­fus­ing to stand by its own per­mit­ting process.

“And who set this fire? Pres­i­dent Barack Obama with his ut­terly po­lit­i­cal ob­struc­tion of first the Key­stone XL project and now the Dakota Ac­cess line,” Mr. Port said on Face­book. “This is be­gin­ning to look less like ac­tivism and more like or­ga­nized crime.”

He in­ter­viewed on air last week a for­mer pro­tester, D’Shawn Cun­ning­ham of Omaha, who is­sued a cri­tique of the demon­stra­tion’s “dark side,” say­ing his camp was plagued by is­sues such as mis­ap­pro­pri­ated funds, drug use, a lack of lead­er­ship and a fail­ure to deal with a sex­ual preda­tor.

An­other pro­tester, Linda Black Elk, chas­tised Mr. Cun­ning­ham on Face­book, say­ing, “We have a lot to work on and no one ex­pects things to be per­fect, but we are work­ing on it. It is a shame that there are a few who, like you, fo­cus on the neg­a­tive as­pects of camp.”

The Stand­ing Rock tribe has re­peat­edly called for pro­test­ers to re­main peace­ful. In a state­ment last month, it said, “Any act of vi­o­lence hurts our cause and is not wel­come here.”

Of­fi­cials in law en­force­ment said the uptick in vi­o­lence ap­pears to stem from a group of 200 to 300 out-of-state ar­rivals, de­scribed by Mr. Keller as “pro­fes­sional ag­i­ta­tors,” who have in­fil­trated the camps near Can­non Ball, North Dakota.

Ar­rest records show that about 85 per­cent of the 123 peo­ple ar­rested dur­ing the two-month span live out­side North Dakota.

“These are peo­ple with an ide­ol­ogy and an agenda that are not from here, and they’re bring­ing it here,” said Sher­iff Laney. “What started out as a North Dakota is­sue with North Dakota peo­ple like the Stand­ing Rock [Sioux] tribe has ex­celled well past that.”

In­deed, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dal­rym­ple said Tues­day that Mr. Arham­bault has ac­knowl­edged as much in pri­vate.

“I have spo­ken with [Mr. Ar­cham­bault] reg­u­larly, and it’s clear that he has reached a point where he wishes it would re­main 100 per­cent peace­ful, but he’s told me many, many times that he is no longer in con­trol in the camp or in any way over the pro­test­ers, and I think that’s sad,” Mr. Dal­rym­ple told KFYR ra­dio in Bismarck-Man­dan.

“It makes it very dif­fi­cult to deal with when there’s no com­mit­tee to talk to, there’s no coun­cil to talk to. This is just a ran­dom group of peo­ple that are act­ing very in­de­pen­dently,” Mr. Dal­rym­ple said.

Later, how­ever, Mr. Ar­cham­bault chal­lenged the re­port, say­ing he has stressed non­vi­o­lence in his con­ver­sa­tions with the gov­er­nor but “I never did tell the gov­er­nor I lost con­trol of the camp,” ac­cord­ing to Fo­rum News Ser­vice.

Those on the ground are brac­ing for the con­flict to get worse be­fore it gets bet­ter. De­spite the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s push for a de­lay, En­ergy Trans­fer Part­ners said Mon­day that it would pro­ceed with con­struc­tion on the 20-mile par­cel at the cross­ing of Lake Oahe and the Mis­souri River.

“They’re go­ing to push ahead, and it’s go­ing to get hot down there in terms of the protests,” Mr. Port said.

In a state­ment, the com­pany re­it­er­ated its “com­mit­ment to pro­tect cul­tural re­sources, the en­vi­ron­ment and pub­lic safety.”

“We echo the urg­ings of the North Dakota gov­er­nor, its two sen­a­tors, its con­gress­men and lo­cal en­force­ment of­fi­cials that any protests be un­der­taken in a peace­ful and law-abid­ing man­ner,” said the state­ment. “All con­struc­tion ef­forts will be un­der­taken in close co­or­di­na­tion with state and lo­cal law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, and we are hope­ful their law en­force­ment ef­forts will be sup­ple­mented by those of the fed­eral govern­ment.”

So far, how­ever, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has not pro­vided as­sis­tance to law en­force­ment, al­though sher­iffs in Wis­con­sin, Wy­oming and else­where have re­sponded to the emer­gency re­quest for help by loan­ing deputies to sup­ple­ment Mor­ton County’s 34-mem­ber force.

The cost of the ad­di­tional law en­force­ment runs about $100,000 per week, which is real money in a ru­ral county of roughly 31,000, Mr. Keller said.

“The gov­er­nor signed the emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion where we can take money from the di­vi­sion of emer­gency ser­vices to fund this, but that was only $6 mil­lion,” Mr. Keller said. “The land in ques­tion is Army Corps of En­gi­neers, which is fed­eral, but we have not re­ceived any fed­eral help at all.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Of­fi­cers clash with pro­test­ers try­ing to stop the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line in North Dakota. An ex­treme fac­tion within the protest en­camp­ment has been ter­ror­iz­ing the ru­ral com­mu­nity.

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