More than 127 anti-oil pipeline activists calling themselves “water protectors” were arrested for trespassing on land near the construction site of a hotly contested oil pipeline in North Dakota.
The protesters trespassed on private property three miles west of a state highway running parallel to the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department said Sunday. More than 127 were arrested on charges of reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, engaging in a riot, and assault on a police officer.
Law enforcement officials and protesters disagree vehemently as to the protesters’ motivations.
“The intimidation by militarized police in riot gear and unlawful arrests are an attack on the First Amendment rights of the protectors, and we again ask the Department of Justice to send observers to the area to ensure that constitutional rights are protected,” Standing Rock Chairman Paul Archambault told reporters.
He added: “Thousands of people have come to Standing Rock in prayerful protest of the pipeline and millions more support the Tribe in our efforts to protect our sacred places and water.”
Cultural surveys conducted in September tell a different story – they determined the pipeline initially had 149 eligible sites, with 91 of them containing stone features considered sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribes. Government regulators determined no tribal sites had been harmed.
Still, activists continued their assault on the property, setting up roadblocks on state highways, ultimately leading to its closure. They said they were trying to take back land based on treaty rights.
The nearly 1,200-mile long Dakota Access Pipeline has lit a firestorm of controversy, culminating in protesters and members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe holding up camp near pipeline construction site. They argue the project will trample on tribal lands and destroy artifacts and poison waterways, including rivers such as the Missouri River and Lake Oahe.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said the protesters were actually violating private property and assaulting the people.
“Today’s situation clearly illustrates what we have been saying for weeks: that this protest is not peaceful or lawful,” he said. “This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities.”
Federal officials, meanwhile, are still refusing to evict members of the tribe and protesters hunkered down in campsites near the pipeline’s construction site. 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 federal government’s hands-off approach to the situation has resulted in an increase violent incidents in and around the campsites.
Law enforcement officials said on Sept. 9 that security guards and two guard dogs were injured as several hundred protesters living in the Standing Rock Sioux reservation confronted pipeline workers.
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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