Standing Rock activists closing in on DAPL drill pad, law enforcement bring in an Avenger weapon system

By C.S. Hagen
– Inch by inch, coil by razor-tipped coil, Standing Rock activists near the Dakota Access Pipeline drill pad.  

During the past week marches launched from the main camp outside of Standing Rock targeted the east side of the pipeline near the Missouri River and Backwater Bridge, which is still militarized with razor wire, cement blocks, and recently the addition of an Avenger weapon system – a lightweight surface-to-air missile unit capable of being armed with eight Stinger missiles in two missile pods, courtesy of the North Dakota Army National Guard.

Avenger weapon system on hill over main camp (Avenger at right) – photo provided by Johnny Dangers

“We are getting to them,” an activist who goes by the name of Nataanii Means said on his Facebook page. “We began exerting our treaty rights when beginning to clear the bridge of unnecessary barbed wire. We were there in peace and prayer, although we know from months of interactions with militarized police, they will get violent against us even when we are unarmed.”

Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported activists came within 700 feet of the drill pad on Tuesday. In two days time, 37 people were arrested, bringing the total arrested to 624, according to law enforcement. Law enforcement were flanked repeatedly as activists attempted to gain access to the DAPL drill pad, and “less-than-lethal force” was used, Morton County Sheriff’s Department said. 

Bean bag rounds, pepper spray, impact sponge rounds, and riot control smoke was deployed. Six police officers and National Guard units were injured; one activist was hit in the face and was transported by ambulance to Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck. Charges against those arrested ranged from carrying a concealed weapon, criminal trespass, physical obstruction of a government function, and preventing arrest. 

Activists nearing DAPL drill pad – photo provided by Johnny Dangers

“Last night our officers faced the same type of hostility and aggression that we have been subjected to for the past six months, “said Mandan Police Chief Jason Ziegler.

“It is unfortunate that these protesters are now engaging in nightly riots that impede law enforcement’s ability to facilitate the important clean-up efforts requested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Morton County citizens,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier.

“These front liners don’t back down,” long time activist and attorney Chase Iron Eyes said. He has spent much of the winter so far at the camps assisting and organizing survival and water protection issues. “They are considered ‘illegal trespassers’ on their own treaty land and on a public right of way, which should be open. They have heart. Our kids look up to them as role models and I’m perfectly fine with that. May we always walk without fear.”

Backwater Bridge was investigated for damage by the Department of Transportation and was considered “structurally sound” on January 12. 

On Wednesday night, activists said North Dakota Army National Guard and law enforcement shot friends in the back and in the face as they were running away. 

“This is not a war,” Alisha Ali Vincent said. “Somebody should tell them that.”

Snowballs, ice, and razor wire Frisbees were used to taunt law enforcement, officials said. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department verified activists were making Frisbees out of razor wire taken down by activists. Video footage filmed by law enforcement also show activists shoving at the police line after removing protective razor wire. 

“Protesters cut through and removed security wire they then crafted it into circular, Frisbee shapes and were throwing it at law enforcement at the front line,” Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported. Deflating devices were also placed on Highway 1806 near Huff. 

“In response to rumors that an Avenger vehicle is in place to shoot down drones, the North Dakota Army National Guard does have an Avenger system employed in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest,” Morton County Sheriff’s Department said. “These systems are used strictly for observation of ungoverned encampments to help protect private property and maintain public safety in southern Morton County, ND.  The systems have no munitions; further, there is no authority to arm these vehicles with munitions.”

Activists said law enforcement and military personnel ambushed activists Wednesday night. Vincent was talking on the phone with a friend standing at Backwater Bridge when the offensive began. 

“After 40 minutes of peace and calm, those officers did not have to approach from both sides and from the back shooting people 500 feet away in the back, and in the back of the legs so they would fall down,” Vincent said. “Running after them and zip tying their hands and dragging them off. They didn’t deserve that.”

Activists on Backwater Bridge – photo provided by Johnny Dangers

Myron Dewey, an activist and a filmmaker from Digital Smoke Signals, saw footage of the marches. 

“An ‘aha’ moment came up of many of the actions that came before,” Dewey said. “When the police start to get violent like this, something is happening in the background. Morton County is like the Pinkerton oil police, they’re distracting what’s really happening at the drill pad. They’re getting desperate and they’re trying to distract us.

“These guys are going to rely on the Trump administration, and they’re doing certain things by trying to not have an environmental impact study done.” 

Dewey also told listeners through a video to be mindful of staying in prayer, and to evict anyone threatening violence. 

Testimonies at the state capitol in Bismarck on Wednesday pertaining to the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy showed the state is not stopping its hardline tactics against Standing Rock and supporters. The state borrowed more money from the Bank of North Dakota, making the total used so far $25 million, Senator Ray Holmberg, R-N.D., said. 

Razor wire Frisbee – photo provided by Morton County Sheriff’s Department

Governor Doug Burgum urged activists to leave the area, citing potential flooding concerns and strained relationships between the tribe and state. 

“The Dakota Access Pipeline protests began with a legitimate debate around issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, including protecting our valuable water resources and a desire for genuine government-to-government consultation,” Burgum said. “Those original concerns have been hijacked by those with alternative agendas.” 

Due to the lack of in-state public defenders for those arrested on charges related to the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, the North Dakota Supreme Court authorized out-of-state lawyers to represent pipeline protesters in criminal cases on Wednesday.

Additionally, this week North Dakota Legislature introduced House Bills 1203 and 1304 in what some state politicians deem a “knee-jerk” reaction to the controversy. 

House Bill 1203 states:  “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a driver of a motor vehicle who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway is not guilty of an offense.”

House Bill 1304 states: “An individual, with the intent to conceal that individual’s identity, may not wear a mask, hood, or other device that covers, hides, or conceals any portion of that individual’s face while…” on a lane, walkway, alley, street, road, highway, or public highway, on public property or appearing on or within public property, and during demonstrations.

Deflating devices on Highway 1806 – Morton County Sheriff’s Department

A violation would be considered a class A misdemeanor, according to the legislative submission.  

“Most outside of Morton County may think that because the cameras are gone and the celebrities have stopped showing up that everything has returned to normal here, but make no mistake, there remains a contingent of professional protesters still looking to escalate the ongoing situation in our county and make the lives of our citizens that much more difficult,” Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported. 

“Due to this criminal activity, the ND Highway 1806 roadway north of the bridge will remain closed until federal law enforcement is introduced into the protest camp to restore law and order.”