Conspiracy Theories About State Response to Dakota Access Pipeline Protest Turn Out to Be Mostly False


TOM STROMME/Tribune The Seven Councils Camp is in a scenic area of Morton County along the Cannonball River and North Dakota Highway 1806.

As the state has struggled to respond to a very large, and often illegal, protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation there have been a number of unflattering rumors circulating about the state’s response.

Some of the claims are:

  • That the state has been using airplanes to inhibit cell phone coverage at the protest sites.
  • That the state cut off water for the tribal community.
  • That the state refused to allow maintenance crews in to service portable bathrooms at the protest ties.

The folks at Snopes – that website famous for debunking internet hoaxes – took a look at these claims and found them to be false.

It turns out that there were some issues with cell phone coverage in the protest area, but that wasn’t because anyone was blocking phones. It was because there was a sudden surge of thousands of people into a very rural area with limited coverage. Far from blocking cell signals the state actually reached out to cell phone providers and had them set up a repeater tower to increase coverage.

I wrote about the water issue earlier today, and while it still puzzles me why the state would provide any resources to any sort of a protest at all, it turns out that state-owned property like water tanks and trailers were initially given to the tribe to be used at a legal protest site on tribal land. When that property was moved to an illegal, unpermitted protest on federal land the state came and took back their property.

As for serving the portable bathrooms, it seems there wasn’t a grain of truth to that rumor at all:

Fong also said related rumors held that access to the site by persons attempting to provide maintenance to portable sanitary facilities had been restricted by the state, but she maintained that NDDES had investigated those rumors to ensure the facilities remained in adequate condition and learned that no maintenance personnel had attempted to pass through a checkpoint during the period of time in question.

Seems someone may have been just making stuff up.

One thing that has confused a lot of observers of the protest is that there are actually two protest sites. One is on tribal land and hasn’t caused any problems according to state officials. But the other is illegally occupying federal land, and that’s where the trouble is.

One of the protesters interviewed by Fargo Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki actually alluded to the split camps a few days ago, noting in his own words that one camp was peaceful while the other is…something less than peaceful (emphasis mine):

“You have the pacifists and then you have the people who feel something should be done, and they’re camped across the river from each other,” said Jesse Stevens, 32, a member of Wisconsin’s Menominee and Oneida tribes.

Stevens and two other men from Keshena, Wis., left Friday evening and arrived Sunday night, delayed by a broken water pump on his GMC Jimmy. While they set up camp on the “peaceful” side, Stevens said he felt like he should be across the river.

“My point in coming out here was some kind of action, regardless of whether it’s life-threatening or not,” he said. “This is our land, our people.”

I don’t think anyone has a problem with protesters who are assembling peacefully and lawfully. I know I certainly don’t (though I do not agree with their position on the pipeline). But what’s unacceptable are the protesters who are trespassing and creating danger for themselves, the pipeline workers, and/or law enforcement.