More than 2,000 veterans have signed up to protect protesters on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation trying to prevent the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Protesters supporting the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have organized a months-long campaign to protest construction of the 1,170-mile Dakota Access Pipeline, which would cross the tribe’s primary water source. In addition to beliefs that the $3.7 billion pipeline could contaminate local drinking water, the tribe also fears the pipeline will harm sacred burial and prayer sites.
Michael Wood Jr., a Marine Corps veteran and former Baltimore police officer, and fellow veteran Wes Clark Jr. have organized a group called Veterans Stand for Standing Rock to provide “a peaceful, unarmed militia” to bolster support for protesters at the DAPL, the Independent reports.
Wood and Clark organized Veterans Stand For Standing Rock to protect protesters from instances of police violence, according to The New York Times. The veterans initially called for 500 veterans and $100,000 for their efforts, but had to cap sign-ups after 2,000 veterans volunteered to participate. The group's GoFundMe page to finance the movement has already surpassed $650,000 in donations, paying for travel costs, winter camping, communications and money to post bail for protesters, Inside Climate News reports.
Anthony Diggs, a Marine Corps veteran who is acting as a spokesman for the group, told Stars and Stripes the veterans can offer both a structural and symbolic resource to the protesters by providing experience operating in extreme weather conditions and emergency situations.
“There is a lot of power in veterans from all over, from all branches of the military, coming together to create a protecting front against the police, who are militarized themselves,” Diggs said.
During November, protesters were targeted with “less-lethal” weapons such as rubber bullets, pepper spray and water cannons in freezing temperatures. Local law enforcement has been criticized for its treatment of demonstrators, allegedly using harmful police tactics that put protesters’ lives at risk.
The veterans' group has been warned of such opposition from multiple state police agencies, and instructed volunteers to come equipped with “body armor, gas masks, earplugs AND shooting mufflers ... but no drugs, alcohol or weapons,” The Daily Dot reports. The group of veterans also intends to provide other help, bringing along lawyers and health care professionals.
“Basically, we’re prepared for whatever it is we’re going to have to deal with when we arrive,” Diggs said.
On Nov. 24, the Army Corps of Engineers announced orders to evacuate the Standing Rock Sioux encampment to establish “free speech zones” instead, saying anyone at the camp after Dec. 5 could be charged with trespassing. Wood has said the veterans intend to begin demonstrating on the land Dec. 4, and will “keep contingency of 500 veterans there at all points in time” despite relocation threats.
North Dakota State Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Thomas O. Iverson told The New York Times that law enforcement officials are aware of the veterans’ efforts, and “If the group remains lawful and refrains from blocking the roadway, there will be no issues.”
Woods said protesters are not the party that Iverson should worry about being “lawful.”
“We are going to stay calm. We are going to be disciplined. We are not going to be the one that is going to break across the line,” Woods said. “[The police] will. They have been doing it the whole time. There is no reason to believe anything else will be any different.”