Protesters intent on halting construction of the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota faced off against a phalanx of armed police in riot gear on Tuesday.
Videos posted to Facebook by the Red Warrior Camp activist collective show a line of officers, at least one armed with what appeared to be a semiautomatic rifle, standing at attention to block protesters from entering the construction site, where digging machines have been upending earth to form a trench to house the oil pipeline.
On Twitter, at least two protesters were seen locking themselves into the industrial diggers, in an effort to physically halt their progress.
A release posted by the group claimed that 20 people were arrested at the site. According to the statement, “approximately 100 law enforcement [arrived] in riot gear and officers with semi-automatic rifles came up from behind water protectors as they pointed rifles at the heads of the unarmed persons.”
Tuesday's incidents came during a larger "Day Of Action" on the part of protesters at the construction site, and around the country. Among those standing with the activists at the Standing Rock Reservation were members of the Black Lives Matter movement, who released a statement expressing solidarity with the anti-pipeline protesters, describing theirs as "a movement for all of us"
Frustration over the Dakota Access Pipeline's construction has been building for months. Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the pipeline, argues that by transporting crude down from North Dakota's oil fields they are reducing the need for rail and truck transportation. But opponents contend that the pipeline and its construction violates Native American lands, and risks oil seepage into reservation water supplies.
On September 9, a federal judge declined to halt the pipeline's construction in a move seen as a major blow to activists' efforts. Almost immediately thereafter, however, the Obama administration called for a temporary stop to construction during which the Army Corps of Engineers "can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws."
In a September 13 memo to employees obtained by Fox affiliate KFYR, Energy Transfer CEO Kelcy Warren wrote that:
[Energy Transfer] appreciate[s] the work of local sheriffs and law enforcement to date. I have directed our team to work closely with local, state and federal officials to ensure the safety and protection of our construction contractors and employees, contractors’ equipment, private land and those whose right it is to peacefully protest. Together we must promote a peaceful discourse and path forward.
Tuesday's reported arrests do not appear to have diminished the focus of the Standing Rock activists. In its statement, Red Warrior Camp wrote that "Water protectors have pledged to defend the land and water for as long as it takes. The water protectors urge people to stay vigilant, informed and strong as these events unfold. They reiterate that they are non-violent and the only weapons they have are their prayers and bodies."
"They vow to stand in the way of the military and bulldozers and are preparing for the long haul."