Mary Annette Pember
An increasingly militarized police presence is cracking down via video and other technology to identify and arrest water protectors at Dakota Access pipeline construction sites—even when they're not present.

Militarization and Mistaken Identity: Police Crack Down on DAPL Protectors

Mary Annette Pember

Water protectors opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) construction near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota may be covering their faces with good reason—to keep from being identified by the increasingly militarized police, who are using facial-recognition technology to spot people so they can press charges.

But the technology isn’t foolproof, as Greg Grey Cloud of the Crow Creek Tribe in South Dakota can attest. He was arrested on September 28 after voluntarily surrendering himself to North Dakota State investigators at the Morton County jail. He traveled to North Dakota from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota after learning that there was a warrant for his arrest alleging that he had committed criminal trespass during the now famous September 3 confrontation between DAPL security guards and their dogs, and the water protectors opposing the pipeline.

RELATED: Manning: ‘And Then the Dogs Came’: Dakota Access Gets Violent, Destroys Graves, Sacred Sites

Although Grey Cloud, a well-known activist and co-founder of Wica Agli, a traditional Lakota men’s society created to protect and support women, has traveled to Cannon Ball and visited the water protector camps, he was in Rosebud at a family barbecue when the September 3 action took place.

Lindsay Wold, special agent with the North Dakota bureau of criminal investigation, issued the warrant based on surveillance video footage. Grey Cloud and his attorney, however, were surprised to learn that the warrant contained a “no bond” stipulation requiring Grey Cloud to remain in jail overnight until his case could go before the judge later the next day.

“I think they are targeting Indians unfairly,” he said.

It wasn’t Grey Cloud’s first time behind bars for asserting Native rights. In 2014 he was arrested and charged with disrupting Congress and disorderly conduct after he broke out into a traditional Lakota honor song when the Senate voted down legislation attempting to push through the Keystone XL pipeline without federal review. His case was later dismissed.

RELATED: Greg Grey Cloud’s Honor Song Case Thrown Out of Court

The North Dakota criminal trespassing warrant was also dismissed in Morton County Court on September 29, though “without prejudice”—meaning that authorities can revisit the warrant at a later date if they choose, according to Grey Cloud.

The Wica Agli office issued a statement saying they were “appalled” at the actions of North Dakota’s bureau of criminal investigation and that such false accusations can negatively affect the organization’s ability to receive funding used to serve clients. The group further noted that Wica Agli works closely with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Violence Against Women.

“It is this type of institutional racism and racial profiling that is at the core of the struggles currently happening in North Dakota,” Wica Agli said.

Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Dakota has issued a statement of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, calling upon North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple to demilitarize the state’s response to peaceful protesters and actions against the Dakota Access pipeline, and decrying the governor’s decision to declare a state of emergency in response to the protests.

On September 28 Amnesty International USA sent a letter to Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier asking him to investigate the use of force by private contractors, remove blockades and discontinue use of riot gear when policing protests and protesters.

RELATED: Amnesty International to Morton County Sheriff: Investigate Use of Force Against Protectors at DAPL

The various camps near Cannon Ball appear to be under almost constant surveillance from helicopters and planes. The aircraft also follow protectors during actions carried out against the pipeline.

Law enforcement in North Dakota professed no knowledge of who might be paying for the cost of the two helicopters that are an almost constant presence, although North Dakota Highway Patrol (NDHP) spokesperson Sgt. Tom Iverson said the plane is a part of the NDHP and has air-to-air communications with the choppers. Both Morton County spokesman Rob Keller and Iverson said the aircraft are not directed by law enforcement.

Georgianne Nienabor claimed otherwise in an October 3 article for Huffington Post. After filing a Freedom of Information Act request she learned that helicopter owner Arnold Johnson Jr. had admitted to investigators that the registration number on one of his aircraft had been altered “due to threats made against registered owners of aircraft being flown supporting law enforcement during the pipeline protests near Bismarck,” according to Nienabor’s story.

“Flying with false registration is a serious violation of FAA regulations,” Nienabor noted.

Although the roadblock south of Mandan that had detoured drivers around highway 1806 near the protectors’ camps has since been downgraded to an “informational checkpoint,” the presence of fully armed National Guardsmen who stop and question motorists traveling south is unnerving for many here.

RELATED: Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II Calls for Peace as Dalrymple Activates National Guard

North Dakota Governor Activates National Guard, Tribal Leaders Respond

In fact law enforcement is collecting information on each vehicle that passes the checkpoint and is creating a database, said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Iverson said that a license plate reader has been utilized at the traffic information point but that he’s unaware of its capabilities or how any data is stored.

Dalrymple chaired a state panel on September 21 that voted to borrow up to $6 million from state-owned Bank of North Dakota to support policing efforts related to the DAPL protests, reported Forum News Service.

“The problem that we have, of course, is that these public safety needs are imminent every day,” said Dalrymple, complaining about the lack of federal financial support for the efforts. “We really have no choice but to protect the public with law enforcement.”

According to Keller, local residents fear the protectors and have reported crimes such as theft of hay, trespass and fence cutting. He was unable, however, to provide a listing or number of reports, describing them as unofficial.

“These are not formal reports,” the deputy wrote of the alleged crimes. “Locals are not willing to give their identify for fear of retaliation.” Instead he provided a document describing examples of intimidation as gathered by “a Morton Country Deputy who is making visits with area residents.” Complaints included reports of stolen hay, cut fences, blocked roads and fear of going out alone on the roads.

Despite the lack of substantiated reports, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier has asked for help in policing from the National Sheriff’s Association, a move that, according to the Association’s past president Danny Glick, is unprecedented.

“When we get a call from Sheriff Kirchmeier, we will be ready to assist,” said Sheriff Glick of the Laramie County, Wyoming, sheriff’s department, to the Bismarck Tribune.

Indeed, fear seems to come easy these days in North Dakota for longtime residents as well as the many water protectors who have come to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Much of the trepidation seems fueled by speculation, rumor and fear of the unknown.

When ICTMN contacted a non-Native North Dakotan who also opposes the pipeline, the woman refused to comment for fear of losing her job and insisted that her name not be used. A woman who answered the phone at Rusty’s Saloon and Bar in the unincorporated town of St. Anthony said she and her family live in the area because they like the peace and quiet.

There is plenty of peace and quiet to be had here. Neighbors live miles apart in this great expanse. St. Anthony is located near the pipeline, and like many towns here, has no paved roads. It’s a place where a line of more than three cars provokes comment.

Patrons of Rusty’s stepped outside on September 28 to watch a line of about 75 cars pass by after drivers participated in an action against the pipeline. The bystanders appeared grave and concerned as the dust churned up by the unwelcome visitors settled over them.

“Certain things have been happening to some of the neighbors,” said the woman who had answered the phone at Rusty’s. “An elderly lady was frightened by protesters in her yard that refused to leave. A guy on horseback rode onto our land and declared that this was his land. Ranchers are having a tough time getting out to cut their silage because the roads are blocked. Everyone has a right to have their say, but getting everything into a big uproar doesn’t help anything.”

Some residents are boycotting the casino, the woman said. She stated she was not the owner of the bar and that she preferred to remain anonymous.

On the protector side, rumors also feed a sense of unease. For instance, many insisted that the crop duster plane that dropped liquid during an action opposing the pipeline on September 28 had contained nerve or other dangerous gas. Authorities reported that the plane actually dumped vegetable oil as a means to let other aircraft know it was in the vicinity.

The woman from Rusty’s expressed concern about all the newcomers.

“They [the tribe and camp organizers] keep asking people to come,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

She added that she just wants “the whole thing to be over.”

Meanwhile, as those in the Oceti Sakowin, Sacred Stone and Red Warrior camps settle in for winter on Treaty land, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said that it won’t evict them, the Associated Press reported. In fact the Corps has granted a special use permit so that the protectors could exercise their First Amendment rights, according to a September 16 statement

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