The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is reportedly investigating political activists involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline protest movement in North Dakota.
The Guardian revealed that agents from the task force have sought to contact at least three activists involved in efforts to block construction of the oil pipeline.
The scale of the task force’s inquiry is unknown and it is unclear what the purpose of the officers’ investigation is. FBI officials declined to comment.
"The idea that the government would attempt to construe this indigenous-led nonviolent movement into some kind of domestic terrorism investigation is unfathomable to me," Lauren Regan, an attorney who has supported protesters contacted by the FBI, told The Guardian. "It's outrageous, it's unwarranted ... and it's unconstitutional."
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Regan explained that the interactions between the officers and demonstrators took place without a warrant or subpoena. FBI agents turned up at their addresses and tried to persuade them to provide information voluntarily.
Two of the people were contacted in North Dakota and the other person outside the state. All three incidents have occurred since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, who took action in his first week in office to help the pipeline project proceed.
Police have arrested around 700 protesters in North Dakota since the summer of 2016.
"From the very beginning, local law enforcement has attempted to justify its militarized presence ... by making false allegations that somehow these water protectors were violent," Regan added.
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Regan has advised anyone who is contacted to assert their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and to get in touch with a lawyer.
"This is history repeating itself," said LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who founded the first camp opposing the pipeline. "I keep on thinking, how we did come to this point? ... When did Americans lose their rights? When did America stop following the law?"
The U.S. has a history of turning Native American protesters into political prisoners, The Guardian notes.
News of the alleged investigations emerged a day after Sioux organizations launched two lawsuits in an attempt to block construction of the pipeline.
"This administration [of President Donald Trump] has expressed utter and complete disregard for not only our treaty and water rights, but the environment as a whole," the Standing Rock Sioux tribe said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.