Militarized Police Officers Were Not Why the #NoDAPL Protests Were Violent


A protestor pours gasoline on a fire blocking North Dakota Hwy. 1806 on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, north of Cannon Ball. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Were the #NoDAPL protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline violent because they were perpetrated by political extremists who pick fights with cops as a way to draw attention to their case? Or because the cops equipped themselves thoroughly against that threat?

A lawyer for the activists says it’s the latter in response to an Associated Press report detailing some $600,000 spent on riot equipment by the State of North Dakota during the protests:

“Having police officers show up looking like Stormtroopers, seems in many ways only exacerbated clashes that did occur,” said Lauren Regan, founder and executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, which is part of the lawsuit. “When police officers anonymize themselves, when they put on all that Rambo gear and face shields and no one can identify them, it tends to incite that mob mentality.”

At least some law enforcement officers did remove their name tags while working the protests, as I confirmed with the North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department last year, but there was a pretty good reason for it.

Protesters were using personal information about officers for harassment. In fact, the decision to remove name tags was occasioned by threats against officers. “There were some specific threats naming specific officers,” Lt. Tom Iverson, then a spokesman for the NDHP, told me in August of last year.

As for the equipment, remember that violent #NoDAPL protesters repeatedly trespassed on private land and vandalized pipeline construction equipment. They harassed pipeline workers. They completely closed down North Dakota Highway 1806 for days on end and only moved on when a veritable army of officers, wielding the aforementioned equipment, moved them off the road.

When officers set up a barricade across the backwater bridge, denying the protesters access to the pipeline construction area from their (dirty, disgusting) camps, the activists launched violent attacks on it even using a semi truck in an attempt to rip the barricade down.

The protesters set fires. They used a dead pig to mock the cops. They instigated one violent confrontation with law enforcement after another for months on end, yet we’re supposed to believe all of that happened because the cops would “show up looking like Stormtroopers?”

Give me a break.

It was the protesters and their violent, unlawful tactics which created a need for that gear. The cops had a duty to protect public and private property, not to mention the lawful construction of the pipeline. The protesters were in the wrong, and this “militarized police” argument doesn’t change that.

The #NoDAPL protests were violent in so far as the protesters themselves used violence as a tactic.