Anti-Dakota Access oil pipeline protesters sent a signal to police by carrying a decapitated pig’s head on a pike as about 1,000 activists spent Thanksgiving locked in multiple standoffs with officers.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier described the pig’s head, featured in a protest that saw about 200 activists block an intersection for two hours in Mandan, North Dakota, as a “method of law enforcement intimidation.”
Two people were arrested after they refused to leave, but there were no arrests made during two other protests Thursday, during which hundreds of activists blocked the Backwater Bridge and built a makeshift bridge in an attempt to cross a creek and occupy Turtle Hill.
The protesters, who said they wanted to reclaim “sacred sites,” eventually dispersed and returned to their camps, some of which are located on federal land.
“Today’s multiple protest events on Thanksgiving day were no surprise to our law enforcement team,” Sheriff Kirchmeier said in a statement. “The energy these paid agitators and protesters exerted to try and draw our law enforcement into confrontations did not work. We will respond in kind to any advances protesters make on our line. It’s their decision, and they can bring an end to this.”
The Thanksgiving Day protests came with activists urging pipeline foes nationwide to shut down banks and demand the withdrawal of local deputies as part of Friday’s “global day of action,” dubbed #NoBlackSnakeFriday.
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“We are calling for actions against banks and sheriff departments that are risking our lives for private profit,” the Sacred Stone Camp said on Facebook. “Find a target and make a plan.”
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has asked the Obama administration to halt the 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline, which is about 87 percent complete, over concerns about water quality and historic relics. The pipeline passes about a half-mile from the reservation.
Meanwhile, Energy Transfer Partners is fighting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to delay a previously issued permit for the final 1,100 feet in North Dakota.
The tribe has called for peaceful protests, but some activists marching in Mandan carried holsters, slingshots and gas masks, while officers on the scene at Turtle Hill saw activists wearing body armor and masks, the department said.
The sheriff said the bridge was being constructed by the Red Warrior Camp, viewed as the most militant of the half-dozen protest camps, even though the tribal council voted at its Nov. 1 meeting to ask the camp to leave.
A drone operated by a protester was confiscated after it buzzed law enforcement, flying “so low that an officer was able to knock it out of the sky with his hand,” the release said.
Activists say they are using the “media drones” to watch law enforcement and the pipeline construction sites, while the sheriff said the operators “continue to violate federal regulations by using drones to harass and surveil law enforcement, endangering those below the device.”
“Protesters also continue to target law enforcement aircraft with laser beams, which is a federal offense,” the sheriff’s department said.
One protester arrested in Mandan were booked on “physical obstruction of a government function” and “disorderly conduct,” both misdemeanors, and the other for “reckless endangerment,” a felony.
About 530 people have been arrested since Aug. 10, mainly for trespassing and rioting, but nearly all have been bailed out thanks to more than $1 million collected on crowdfunding sites as well as donations raised by national environmental groups.
In the most violent clashes with police, protesters have set fires, thrown rocks and flaming debris, and lobbed Molotov cocktails, while officers have tried to hold back activists with pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and water hoses.
North Dakota lawmakers have urged the Obama administration to provide law-enforcement help with the protesters, even as the ACLU and others have called for a Justice Department investigation into the “militarized” police response.