Dakota oil pipeline protesters are refusing to vacate public-land, leaving North Dakota locals worried the protests could spark violence and eventually devolved into a militia-like occupation.
Federal officials are not evicting protesters hunkered down at an encampment near the highly controversial Dakota Access Oil pipeline. They believe booting the protesters would harm free speech rights, despite the fact that the land is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Members of the camp are refusing to budge, with some telling reporters that they will only leave once the “big black snake” is finally defeated.
Instead, the Corps is “encouraging” anti-oil pipeline activists to relocate to areas where there is a permit.
“We don’t have the physical ability to go out and evict people — it gives the appearance of not protecting free speech,” she said. “Our hands are really tied.”
The nearly $4 billion project has been blasted by protesters and members of the Standing Rock Sioux, both of which argue the pipeline’s construction would trample on tribal lands and destroy artifacts. They also argue it could potentially poison waterways, including rivers such as the Missouri River and Lake Oahe.
The refusal to evict comes on the heels of a spat of violent uprisings among several areas housing protesters.
Morton County Sheriff’s Office said on Sept. 9 that four security guards not affiliated with law enforcement and two guard dogs were injured as several hundred protesters living in the Standing Rock Sioux reservation confronted pipeline workers at the site.
One of the security officers was taken to a hospital, while the two guard dogs were taken to veterinary clinic, according to law enforcement officials. She said there weren’t any reports of protestors being injured.
Altercations ratcheted up further on Sept. 28, when authorities in North Dakota told reporters 21 people protesting at two pipeline construction sites were arrested on charges including resisting arrest, criminal trespassing on private property and possession of stolen property.
Meanwhile, residents in the area told reporters that the situation is a powder keg waiting to explode.
Matthew Rebenitsch, who owns a nearby ranch, said he and his neighbors are worried about speaking out publicly for fear that they could me met with reprisals.
“To be honest, no one around here wants to say anything because we’re afraid they will come and threaten us,” he told reporters. “I’ll say this, every rancher around here is packing and people are locking their doors — and no one has ever locked a door in their entire life.”
Republican state Rep. James Schmidt, who also farm nearby, said the locals are more cautious.
“I’m starting to see a lot more guns in the back of pickup trucks. All it is going to take is one incident and emotions are going to overtake the situation,” he said.
Environmentalists’ reticence to criticize the Standing Rock Sioux protesters is startling considering the effort they gave toward lambasting another group of land rights activists in Oregon.
The Oregon militia protesters, led by Ammon Bundy, were armed and peacefully occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon for nearly a month. Bundy and his fellow cohorts were protesting the federal ownership of land they believed belong to a local community.
Kieran Suckling, the executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, repeatedly criticized those occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year, for instance. His seething invective came despite having been found guilty of criminal trespassing for occupying private property and refusing to leave as part of a political protest.
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