Fed-up sheriffs and police chiefs in North Dakota have a message for President Obama: Thanks for nothing.
In a blistering letter to Mr. Obama released Monday, a dozen policing officials accused the administration of fanning the flames of the Dakota Access pipeline protest and then refusing to help local law enforcement stuck with trying to maintain order.
The letter calls for 100 Border Patrol agents and U.S. Marshals to assist with the “increasingly dangerous situation on federal land,” referring to protesters camped out on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property along the Cannonball River.
“The federal government’s response to the events in our community has been appalling, and it is abundantly clear they have no interest in helping the citizens of North Dakota,” says the letter dated Friday.
“Frankly, our federal leaders should be ashamed of their lack of response to a dangerous crisis currently in progress on their own soil,” says the letter. “Each day this lack of response continues only serves to empower criminal protestors and support lawlessness in the name of radical political agendas.”
The letter, signed by five sheriffs, six police chiefs and the head of the North Dakota Highway Patrol, comes with the ranks of protesters within the camps thinning but not disappearing as winter envelopes the region.
An estimated 1,000 activists remain in southern North Dakota. The Red Warrior camp announced last week that its members have left, while the Sacred Stone Camp has called for “self-sufficient” protesters to remain but for others to stay away as snowstorms and freezing temperatures blanket the area.
Sacred Stone leader LaDonna Allard asked Friday on Facebook for carpenters and builders to come and help construct winter-proof structures.
“Sacred Stone Camp is not leaving until the black snake is dead,” she said, referring to the oil pipeline.
In the letter, local law enforcement said that the Army Corps of Engineers has created a hazardous situation by first delaying and then denying a previously approved easement for the 1,172-mile pipeline while allowing protesters to use federal land as a “sanctuary” from police.
About 570 arrests have been made during skirmishes in which activists set fires, blocked highways and bridges, thrown rocks and feces at police, and hurled Molotov cocktails during protests.
Protesters have accused police of using “militarized” tactics against “peaceful” protesters, including rubber bullets, water hoses, tear gas and flash bangs.
In a Dec. 2 letter, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said she had offered “community policing resources” and made “strenuous efforts to open lines of communication” between police and protesters, but the sheriffs described the federal response to date as all talk and no action.
Without federal help, the sheriffs said the safety of law enforcement, protesters and citizens is at “grave risk,” citing “volatile” community sentiment against the months of near-daily protest actions.
“[T]here are too many discussions where local groups speak of the possibility of to take matters into their own hands,” says the letter. “We have repeatedly spoken out against these ideas, but genuinely fear emotions are running too high and this situation could lead to tragic consequences.”
The state has spent $10 million to respond to the protests, but the sheriffs said the administration has refused even to provide manpower to remove activists occupying federal buildings in North Dakota.
“[E]very time the offices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are protested, who is asked to respond? Local law enforcement,” says the letter. “When protesters take over the lobby of the William Guy federal building in Bismarck, who is asked to respond? Local law enforcement.”
The battle recently landed back in court: A federal judge on Friday called for Energy Transfer Partners and the corps to file motions by Jan. 31 concerning the company’s effort to override the administration’s Dec. 5 decision to deny the easement on a final 1,100-foot stretch in North Dakota.
The Corps has said it will prepare an environmental impact statement over the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s concerns about water quality and historic relics, while the company has refused to reroute the pipeline, arguing that the current route is the least disruptive.
The $3.8 billion, four-state pipeline, designed to transport about a half-billion barrels of oil per day from the Bakken field to Illinois, is more than 90 percent complete.