More demonstrators were arrested Saturday for infiltrating the Dakota Access pipeline construction site as law enforcement warned about a coterie of activists with lengthy criminal records inside the protest camps.
The Morton County [N.D.] Sheriff’s Department reported closing down Highway 1806 and arresting 83 people on rioting charges after about 300 protesters marched three miles into private property at a construction site for the pipeline project.
Officers used pepper spray against some activists after they tried to break the police line, during which one protester grabbed a canister and sprayed an officer in the face.
“Today’s situation clearly illustrates what we have been saying for weeks, that this protest is not peaceful or lawful,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier in a statement. “It was obvious to our officers who responded that the protesters engaged in escalated unlawful tactics and behavior during this event. This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with specific intent to engage in illegal activities.”
The latest arrests bring the total to more than 200 since the protest began in August against the 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline led by the Standing Rock Sioux and national environmental groups.
On social media, supporters of the #NoDAPL action insisted the protesters were maced by law enforcement as they attempted to pray.
“Berserk police indiscriminately mace peaceful Water Protectors!” said a post on the Sacred Stone Camp Facebook page.
Days earlier, Sheriff Kirchmeier urged protest leaders to guard against lawbreakers after an investigation revealed that 43 of those arrested so far have troubling criminal records, including a combined 276 citations and charges for robbery, burglary, domestic violence, child abuse and driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
“The individuals who want to legally and peacefully protest should be concerned about the safety inside these camps and make sure those get reported to the proper authorities,” said Sheriff Kirchmeier in a video posted on Facebook.
“The leaders of the protest camps down there should just be careful about who they’re letting into these camps and make sure those get reported to the proper authorities,” he said.
Authorities point out that the activists have upended the rural community with frequent protests, road closures and school lockdowns.
The Sioux County Sheriff’s Office is investigating ongoing attacks on cows, horses and bison near the camps at Cannon Ball, North Dakota, including shootings, mutilations and the disappearance of 30 head of cattle.
“The crimes against livestock in this area over the last few weeks have been appalling,” said North Dakota Stockmen’s Association chief brand inspector Stan Misek in a Wednesday statement after a horse valued at $3,000 was found shot and butchered.
The Obama administration has lent support to the protesters, asking Energy Transfer Partners to stop work voluntarily, but so far has issued no response to pleas by North Dakota officials to help with the escalating costs of local law enforcement.
The Bismarck Police Department had to rescue a team of filmmakers from one of the camps Tuesday after their vehicle was surrounded by dozens of protesters wearing bandanas to cover their faces who refused to allow them to leave.
Phelim McAleer, whose documentaries include the pro-fracking film “FrackNation,” released footage showing him trying to stop a man from taking his microphone, as well as shots of protesters surrounding his vehicle and shaking it.
Mr. McAleer said he had been allowed access to the camps and had conducted interviews without incident the day before, although a camp spokeswoman said the Irish filmmaker did not have a media pass and had tried to film children, which he denied.
Shortly before the confrontation, he said asked protesters about opposing the fossil-fuel pipeline even though they traveled to the camps by cars and trucks, and used tents made of plastic, a petroleum-based product.
“I asked about this contradiction and the reaction was vicious,” Mr. McAleer said in a statement.
Cody Hall, a spokeswoman for the Red Warrior Camp, suggested that the filmmakers may have had it coming.
“If you had the intention to kind of stir the pot, you’d better be able to take the steam as well,” he told the Bismarck Tribune.
Sheriff Kirchmeier said that some local journalists have been threatened while trying to cover the story, although protesters were outraged when anti-pipeline radio host Amy Goodman was charged in September with engaging in a riot as she covered a protest on private property.
The charge was later dismissed in what Ms. Goodman, the host of “Democracy Now!”, described as a “huge vindication of the First Amendment.”
In an interview posted Saturday with MSNBC, Ms. Goodman described the protest as “this epic struggle of native Americans and nonnative allies taking on a massive pipeline and the fossil-fuel industry dealing with nothing less than the fate of the planet, climate change.”
The tribe has argued that the pipeline, which runs about a half-mile from the reservation at its nearest point, would imperil water quality and endanger sacred burial and cultural sites.