Last week, the feds declined to force protesters against the Dakota pipeline to leave federal property they are currently occupying. Via The Associated Press:
Federal officials say they won’t evict the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires camp, due to free speech reasons, even though it’s on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers that many Native Americans believe is still rightfully owned by the Standing Rock Sioux under a nearly 150-year-old treaty.
“We’re not leaving until we defeat this big black snake,” camp spokesman Cody Hall said of the pipeline.
Normally, this wouldn’t be much of a newsworthy event. However, when less violent protests took place on a different patch of federal land in 2015, the administration wasn’t quite so…generous:
Compare this to another recent protest on federal land — the 2015 rancher protest in Oregon. Armed like many of the pipeline protesters, ranchers took over federal land in order to make a statement against increasing federal land grabs, in support of Cliven Bundy, who regularly trespassed on federal land laws in protest. In contrast to today’s protests, the ranchers engaged in no violence. Yet law enforcement agents began arresting them after just 24 days. The crackdown resulted in the death of one rancher, Lavoy Finicum, when he left the wildlife refuge to drive to a nearby town. Although the ranchers were armed, they were peaceful, and Finicum was killed after police fired on him despite no dangerous actions by the rancher.
The above is written by my Stream colleague Rachel Alexander. Rachel also noted that some high-ranking people are taking note of the protesters and their non-peaceful activities:
Mercer County Sheriff Dean Danzeisen of North Dakota sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch expressing his concerns about their guns. “They are armed, hostile, and engaged in training exercises which can only be intended to promote violence, whether on Corps property or elsewhere.” Dealing with the protesters also costs law enforcement extra money for overtime.
North Dakota’s sole US representative, Republican Kevin Cramer, says the encampment is illegal and accuses the feds of looking the other way. “If that camp was full of people advocating for fossil fuels, they would have been removed by now,” he said. “There is some discretionary enforcement going on.”
While it is true that protesters aren’t entirely the aggressors — both the company that owns the pipeline and protesters have acted illegally and uncharitably — in key respects this is a situation little different than the one in Oregon. Yet the administration isn’t upholding the same federal laws it did there.
As Rachel and Cramer noted, it sure seems like there is some purposely haphazard enforcement of the law going on.