After a weekend of mass arrests, people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline are preparing for another clash with a growing and increasingly militarized police force near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. On Sunday, demonstrators set up a new camp, called Winter Camp, in the pathway of pipeline construction, on what they consider unceded territory belonging to them under the 1851 Laramie Treaty. But Dakota Access LLC, the pipeline developer, said in a statement that they would be “removed from the land,” which the company purchased from a local rancher last month. Police said on Wednesday that they are prepared to carry out that threat. “It’s obvious we have the resources, we have the manpower, to go down there and end this,” Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said in a statement.
As the prospect of a raid on the Winter Camp looms, human-rights groups are increasingly concerned about law enforcement’s use of force against peaceful pipeline protesters (who call themselves “water protectors”), as well as journalists and legal observers. Demonstrators reported being pepper sprayed, beaten with batons, and strip searched in custody during the weekend’s arrests. Journalists were also arrested, and had their equipment confiscated.
In a Facebook post, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier described Saturday’s demonstration as a “riot,” and wrote that the “situation clearly illustrates what we have been saying for weeks, that this protest is not peaceful or lawful.” But it wasn’t immediately clear what he meant by a riot: The photo that accompanied the Facebook post showed protesters walking calmly through a field carrying banners and signs. Video footage showed people standing together, backing up as police approached. The only supposedly aggressive acts that the sheriff’s department described in any specific form included that two arrows were shot towards law enforcement, one officer was spit on, and that a drone that protesters were using to monitor police activity “attacked” a helicopter.
On Sunday, the Morton County Sheriff called for additional law-enforcement personnel from outside North Dakota. Officers from at least six other states—Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Indiana, and Nebraska—have arrived so far. In his call for more resources, the sheriff cited “escalated unlawful tactics by individuals protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.” State and local officials also requested, and received, temporary flight restrictions from the Federal Aviation Administration in a seven-mile radius around the protest camps, which may be an attempt to keep away news helicopters, as it was during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri.