- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2016

Activists threw rocks, burned tires, set blazes, lobbed Molotov cocktails and even fired gunshots as officers in riot gear moved to clear protesters Thursday from a camp illegally blocking the Dakota Access pipeline route.

The confrontation saw 141 protesters arrested as they tried to stop law enforcement from removing the blockade on private land, hours after thick black smoke rose from a flaming barricade along Highway 1806 near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Meanwhile, the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services reported that a protester pulled out a .38 caliber gun and fired three shots at law enforcement, narrowly missing a deputy, while a driver was run off the road by protesters and shot in the hand.

“Protesters have started two fires on the Backwater Bridge and are throwing Molotov Cocktails at law enforcement,” said department spokeswoman Cecily Fong in a late Thursday statement.

Officers used pepper spray against protesters who hurled projectiles, including rocks, and refused to comply with orders, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said the department was left with little choice after activists set up tents and teepees last weekend in the path of the pipeline project and refused repeatedly to leave the property, which is owned by the pipeline developer.

“Law enforcement has been very methodical in moving ahead slowly as to not escalate the situation,” said Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney. “However, the protesters are using very dangerous means to slow us down. Their aggressive tactics include using horses, fire and trying to flank us with horses and people.”

Meanwhile, the protesters, who insisted they were unarmed and peaceful, decried what they described as the heavy-handed police response, which included an armored truck, sound cannon and bulldozer.

The occupiers have argued they are legally within their rights after declaring Sunday the parcel “unceded territory,” that according to an 1851 treaty belongs to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Actor Mark Ruffalo, who joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson in a Wednesday trip to the encampment to cheer on protesters, called on President Obama and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple to intervene.

“[T]he world is watching! We’re calling on you to stop the police escalation at #StandingRock now!” Mr. Ruffalo said on Twitter.

The specter of anti-oil protesters burning tires drew criticism from North Dakota radio talk-show host Rob Port, who said in a post, “You can’t make this stuff up” and noted that burning tires comes as a violation of state air-quality law.

“Why is this sort of thing illegal? Because burning tires and stuff is bad for the environment,” said Mr. Port on his Say Anything blog. “You’d think that would be the sort of thing a bunch of environmentalists would be sensitive to.”

The dramatic confrontation ramped up pressure on the White House to weigh in on the 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline project, which has been the source of tension for 10 weeks despite a judge’s ruling against the tribe in September that cleared the way for construction.

The Obama administration has been accused of holding the project hostage after halting work last month on a 1,000-foot stretch of Army Corps of Engineers land, even though the pipeline had already won federal and state approval.

The conflict spilled into the presidential race Thursday as young tribal members flooded the campaign headquarters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, demanding that she break her silence on the pipeline.

“By refusing to stand against DAPL, Hillary is putting our environment, wildlife, culture and land at risk,” said 16-year-old William Brownotter in a Greenpeace statement.

The tribe and national environmental groups have raised concerns about water quality and sacred tribal burial and cultural sites along the pipeline route, which comes within about a half-mile of the reservation.

The protesters were told repeatedly Thursday that they were “free to go” and would not be arrested if they left the blockade and returned to a nearby camp, the sheriff reported.

Several protesters attached themselves to vehicles at the roadblock using devices known as “sleeping dragons.”

Sheriff Kirchmeier insisted Thursday that he has no interest in pipeline politics but must uphold the law and protect public safety. More than 250 activists had been arrested before Thursday, primarily on trespassing and rioting charges.

“Morton County has entrusted me to uphold the law and that is exactly what I intend to do,” he said in a statement.

“Yet I am being asked by outsiders and millionaire Hollywood actors to let agitators and rioters walk onto private property, destroy equipment, and endanger lives. And, so-called environmentalists are asking me to turn my head and allow this to happen.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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