Following President Donald Trump's executive order to facilitate completion of the Dakota Access pipeline, the FBI reportedly sent officers from the joint terrorism task force to investigate Standing Rock demonstrators.
Civil rights attorney Lauren Regan, who has provided legal support to DAPL protesters contacted by the FBI, told The Guardian that the investigation is "unwarranted."
"The idea that the government would attempt to construe this indigenous-led non-violent movement into some kind of domestic terrorism investigation is unfathomable to me," Regan said. “It’s outrageous ... and it’s unconstitutional.”
Regan explained that agents went to the homes of at least three activists, without warrants or subpoenas, in an attempt to engage in a voluntary interview. This tactic is referred to as a "knock-and-talk."
Regan did not identify the activists involved for their own safety and protection, but she added that all three individuals asserted their Fifth Amendment rights and refused to speak with the agents. Regan hopes that other demonstrators will do the same if JTTF agents appear at their front door, and she said she is worried they may not know that the best thing to do is remain silent and call a lawyer.
The purpose of the investigation is yet unknown. The FBI has declined to comment or answer questions regarding the nature of the investigation.
"We’re not in a position to provide a comment as to the existence of an investigation," FBI spokesman Jeffrey Van Nest told The Guardian.
Supporters of the Standing Rock demonstrators suggest that the investigation may be an attempt to silence those against the continuation of the DAPL as construction resumes despite legal challenges, while others argue that the protesters engage in dangerous or violent activities.
In August 2016, KFYR reported that the FBI would investigate claims that demonstrators had directed laser pointers toward observation aircraft.
That November, NBC News reported that a JTTF agent visited protester Sophia Wilansky in the hospital while she was facing the possibility of losing her arm to an injury sustained during a stand-off between Standing Rock activists and police.
Police suspected Wilansky might have been injured by homemade bombs that protesters intended to use against police, though Wilansky called that claim "completely nonsensical."
Her father added: "We have pictures of the grenades. There is no question as to what happened."