Native American protesters claim that threats of fines and criminal charges, many which later unravel in court, are designed to silence their efforts
In what appears to be a concerted effort to deter people from joining the Standing Rock protests, North Dakota officials are pursuing serious criminal charges and threatening to levy hefty fines against Native American activists.
Despite state and federal evacuation orders, a government roadblock, escalating police violence and aggressive prosecutions that attorneys say lack basic evidence, thousands of veterans are preparing to travel to Cannon Ball this weekend to support the growing movement to stop the Dakota Access pipeline.
Since the demonstrations against the $3.7bn oil project began in April, law enforcement have made more than 500 arrests, with state prosecutors filing serious charges, including rioting and conspiracy, against many of them.
The militarized police response, mass arrests and felony cases are part of what critics say is an unconstitutional strategy to silence and bully activists, who argue that the pipeline threatens the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s water supply and sacred grounds.
“This is a way of harassing everybody,” said Ron His Horse Is Thunder, a member of the Hunkpapa-Lakota Oyate tribe, who was accused of conspiracy to endanger by fire or explosion. “The message is ‘don’t bother going out on the frontlines or we are going to hit you with felonies.’”