The conflict at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation can be seen thru many lenses: white vs red, colonial vs indigenous, rich vs poor, violence vs non-violence, corporations vs grassroots, old energy vs new energy, male vs female, material vs spiritual. The list could go on, and there’s much to say about each one. When looking at the militarized police forces and where they come from, another dichotomy is evident: red vs blue.
Indigenous people and environmental activists from around the nation (and world) are not the only ones making the pilgrimage to Standing Rock. Seventy different law enforcement agencies have responded: 43 county sheriff’s departments from seven different states, five state level agencies, and 22 municipal police forces (16 from North Dakota and six from Indiana). Despite requirements for tribal consultation for any federal action that impacts a tribe, there is a sizable federal component to the militarization as well: US Border Patrol personnel, a federal no-fly zone (using a post-911 anti-terrorism law) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, and a generous supply of US military surplus equipment to many of the local agencies. Furthermore, much of the conflict has been on US Army Corp land with their full permission. US military veterans, just now arriving to support the tribe, are on-line pointing out “up-armored Humvees” and other equipment they’d used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Private security guards complete the array which has unleashed a shocking show of force against unarmed demonstrators (called “water protectors” to emphasize the sovereignty of tribal lands). Most of the time, the demonstrators were over a mile away from the pipeline construction site. To date, military tactics have included:
- extensive use of pepper spray, mace, and tear gas, sometimes at people standing in water, another time at a crowd trapped on a bridge;
- extensive use of a water cannon against people in 25F weather (and later lying about it, saying they were putting out fires, until video coverage proved otherwise);
- extensive use of rubber bullets, deliberately aimed at the face and groin, causing many injuries;
- deliberately throwing concussion grenades at people, in one case resulting in a severe injury;
- laughing and joking at suffering people (documented several times on video);
- blocking access for emergency vehicles, thus requiring long journeys to hospitals;
- using attack dogs that bit several people, including women and children (on Sept 3);
- deliberately destroying canoes on federal lands (at Turtle Hill);
- keeping detained people, including elders and women, in dog kennels;
- subjecting detained women to complete strip searches;
- shooting down drones filming the attacks;
- deliberately targeting people with cameras, telling them to stop filming;
- using military equipment to scramble cell and internet connection to the outside world;
- deliberately targeting medics who were clearly identified, while they assisted injured people; and
- urinating and defecating on confiscated gear and belongings (at the Treaty Camp after its removal on Oct 27).
Focusing on the 40 county sheriff’s departments currently involved, they are decidedly from right-wing counties. All but three of them went for Trump in the recent presidential election, with an average vote of 66% for Trump. Of the 24 North Dakota counties participating, the average vote for Trump was 73%, a full 9% above the statewide tally, suggesting these troops are being sent from the reddest counties in a very red state. Also striking is the number of counties from conservative white suburbs of large cities. This includes several units from the Indiana side of Chicago and one sheriff’s department from a white suburb of New Orleans. It appears they are using this conflict as an opportunity to test their new US military equipment.
The Standing Rock Indian Reservation, by contrast, is in Sioux County, where Trump received on only 22% of the vote. This is typical of indigenous enclaves in the United States. They are often blue dots in a sea of red.
There were three counties that originally sent detachments but have since withdrawn their forces due to public outcry. They were:
- Dane County, Wisconsin; 23% for Trump
- Hennepin County, Minnesota; 29% for Trump
- Gallitin County, Montana; 45% for Trump
That is to say, most of the blue counties that sent troops have withdrawn them. If this trend holds, very few others will be leaving.
Considering the Third World poverty associated with Indian reservations, the conflict begins to take on the specter of a proxy war, where outside forces arrive like moths to a flame while impoverished minorities host the battle and suffer.
Previous posts about Standing Rock:
Time for pressure: What you can do for Standing Rock now (about banks to protest, and Obama’s limited options)
The Dakota Access Pipeline doesn’t make economic sense anymore (about the rapid decline in Bakken oil production, making the pipeline unnecessary)
Standing Rock: America’s War Zone (about the militarized state of affairs in the area)
Standing Rock Update: Non-violence vs 7-State Army (about the removal of the Treaty Camp on Oct 28)
Upside-Down Flags, Standing Rock, and the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest: Background and Basic Facts (with lots of historical context)
Havoc, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Dogs of War (about parallels to the use of dogs by conquistadors of the past)