Environmentalists and civil rights activists across the country celebrated September 9, 2016 when the Obama administration overrode a federal judge to halt the controversial $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline. The reprieve came just days after security workers used trained dogs to attack peaceful protesters, leaving several wounded and bloody. A key aspect of the story has escaped much of the media coverage, though: Governor Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency nearly two weeks earlier and activated 100 National Guard troops on September 8, one day prior to the decision, effectively turning a peaceful protest into a hostile, military affair.
The shutdown is being celebrated as a victory in the saga of the North Dakota pipeline protest, which has pitted native Americans against corporate interests for weeks. The pipeline was planned to carry oil from just north of land owned by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota to Illinois, where it would hook up to an existing pipeline and route crude directly to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast. The protest brought members of 200 or so tribes together in an unprecedented show of solidarity, and the movement was peaceful until the security firm working on behalf of the oil company began attacking protesters with trained dogs on September 3.
By then, law enforcement were already working under an emergency declaration. Dalrymple issued the declaration on August 19, citing public safety as the motivation to tap into as much as $1 million in additional funding for local law enforcement agencies over the course of several weeks. The protest site did see an increase in uniformed officers, but police were nowhere to be found when the oil company’s private security firm used trained dogs to viciously attack protesters on September 3. In fact, the local police refused to acknowledge that security dogs had injured anyone.
The concern now has shifted, as the fight’s primary objective is no longer to defend the environment but rather to protect civil rights on the most basic level, including the freedom to peaceably assemble and protest. The freedom of the press has also been drawn into question, as North Dakota authorities issued an arrest warrant for Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, the independent reporter who interviewed protesters on the front lines more than a week ago and captured dog attacks on video. She now faces charges for criminal trespassing, a Class B misdemeanor, as authorities say she crossed onto private property while covering the event. One protester has also been charged, in a double-whammy attack against the free press and freedom of speech from individual citizens.
Learn more about the Dakota Access Pipeline in our guide here.