North Dakota Is Burning and President Barack Obama Is to Blame


Police use a water cannon to put out a fire started by protesters during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

“The September decision by the Obama administration to delay final approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline was intended to give federal officials more time to consult with Native American tribes that have faced dispossession from lands for decades,” Reuters reports today. “But the delays have also caused increased consternation among company officials and led to growing violence between law enforcement and protesters, with both sides decrying the actions of the other in recent days.”

There is some truth in that lede, but its’s not the full story.

Not only has President Barack Obama contributed to the increasingly violent rioting here by delaying the final easement for the pipeline to cross the Lake Oahe reservoir, for what appears to be political reasons born of his hostility to fossil fuel development, but his administration has largely denied North Dakota the federal resources to keep law and order.

Governor Jack Dalrymple, among other state elected leaders, has been pleading for federal assistance to back up state cops who are being run ragged by well-funded, indoctrinated #NoDAPL activists from all over the country. There have been 503 protesters arrested in connection with anti-pipeline riots and protests, according to data compiled by the National Sheriff’s Association, a group which has been helping coordinate law enforcement assistance from other states. Just 9% of those protesters are from North Dakota, while the other 468 are from 45 other states.

Protester Map
Map created by the National Sheriff’s Association

Far from some citizen uprising, these riots are the result of professional activists literally training protesters all over the country in how to clash with police and make headlines before they’re deployed to south central North Dakota.

In his column today former Democratic Lt. Governor Lloyd Omdahl suggests that these calls for federal assistance are a cop-out. “It isn’t enough for us to shirk our responsibilities by blaming the federal government for not pulling our chestnuts out of the fire,” he writes. “This is happening in North Dakota, and North Dakota has a responsibility for the outcome.”

But that’s a myopic, thoroughly partisan perspective. Omdahl seems more intent on scoring political points on Republicans who are generally suspicious of federal powers than recognizing the complexities of state law enforcement dealing with protesters camping illegally on federal land, organized by a federally-recognized Native American tribe, and using delays in issuance of a federal permit to create headlines for their cause with acts of vandalism and violence.

It’s not just a question of resources, though the state’s capacity for law enforcement is being stretched to its outer limits, but a question of jurisdiction. Our state officials do not have jurisdiction on the Standing Rock reservation. They do not have jurisdiction on U.S. Army Corps land without express permission of the federal government.

These limitations have created a vacuum in law enforcement authority that hundreds of anarchists and extremists are filling with violence. President Obama has to be aware of this. It’s made national news. It just seems he doesn’t care.

Meanwhile much of the media coverage of this rioting has come from reporters who treat cops with skepticism bordering on outright contempt while credulously regurgitating every wild claim and accusation from the #NoDAPL activists hasn’t helped either.

“There are some of those media outlets out there who seem to want to concentrate on the out of state agitators and giving them a voice and giving the criminal agitators a voice. That’s not appropriate,” Lt. Tom Iverson of the North Dakota Highway Patrol told me recently (audio).

He’s right to be frustrated.

Unfortunately, I think we can expect more rioting and more violence enabled by the Obama administration’s delays and withheld assistance until President-elect Trump takes over and issues this permit.

Maybe then the extremists will find some new cause somewhere else, and North Dakotans can assess the damages.