Dakota oil pipeline protesters are “armed, hostile, and engaged in training exercises” meant to “promote violence,” a North Dakota law enforcement official warned federal agencies Monday.
Protesters and members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe are illegally occupying vast stretches of private property in and around Dakota Access Pipeline construction cites, Mercer County Sheriff Dean Danzeisen wrote in a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Federal officials are refusing to evict those hunkered down at an anti-pipeline encampment near the highly controversial, $3.8 billion project. Officials 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.
The nearly 1,200-mile long pipeline has come under withering scrutiny from 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.
Protesters are refusing to budge, with some telling reporters that they will only leave once the “big black snake” is finally defeated.
It’s Danzeisen’s job to manage the situation.
“These rioters have left Corps and Standing Rock property on multiple occasions and travel several miles to enter private property to assault employees, private security personnel and damage property,” Danzeisen wrote.
Hostile reactions are coming to a head between protesters on one side, the company involved in building the pipeline on another, and locals seemingly caught in between.
Ranchers like Matthew Rebenitsch, who owns a farm near one of the encampments, told reporters he and his neighbors are worried about speaking out publicly for fear that they could be 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 said. “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.”
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.
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