Just days after police turned water cannons on activists protesting the Dakota Access pipeline in freezing North Dakota weather, new reports suggest local police may have attempted to ban area hardware stores from selling certain items to Standing Rock activists hunkering down in the cold.
According to a messages shared across social media Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, an unidentified law enforcement agency allegedly contacted at least one local Ace Hardware store, and asked that they "refrain from selling materials that could be used as incendiary devices."
A screenshot posted by singer Neko Case shows an apparent Ace Hardware response to inquiries about the alleged ban—complete with incident identification number—in which an employee identified as "Camillia H." states that the local stores' decision to accept the police's request "is not a reflection of any corporate viewpoint on the pipeline project."
On Wednesday afternoon, activist Kevin Gilbertt posted a video which showed him calling what appeared to be that same Ace Hardware employee, who seemed to confirm that some local stores had approved a police request.
It's important to note that while police on hand at the Standing Rock have accused activists of using propane tanks to create crude explosive devices, the same equipment is widely utilized to fuel the heaters keeping protesters warm. In other words, as the temperatures drop across North Dakota, lack of access to propane tanks could very well mean the difference between life or death to those reliant on them for heat.
Fusion has been unable to independently verify law enforcement's request for stores to refrain from selling certain equipment. Repeated calls to the Morton County Sheriff's Office—the agency largely spearheading the police response to the #NoDAPL protests—were unsuccessful.
Nevertheless, frustration over the company's perceived stance prompted an immediate backlash, with more than 10,000 people signing an online petition demanding that Ace Hardware reject the apparent police demands. Across social media, Standing Rock activists and allies called for a boycott of the company.
By Thursday morning, Ace Hardware's corporate offices issued a tacit acknowledgement of, if not the request itself, the confusion surrounding the issue.
"We understand the concerns that have been shared with us regarding product sales related to the recent protests in North Dakota and have been working very hard to gather all of the facts from our locally-owned Ace stores that operate in the area and local authorities," a statement from the company explained. "To be candid, we've been working feverishly to unearth all of the facts, which have been cloudy at times."
"In an effort to clear any misunderstanding and/or misinformation, Ace Hardware can now confirm that there is no ban on the sale of products at our locally-owned Ace stores; customers should feel free to check with their local store for inventory availability."
The company also released a photograph of propane tanks purportedly being sold at a Bismarck, ND store.
Calls to Ace Hardware's corporate office to clarify whether their stores had, in fact, at one point stopped selling the items specified by police have not been returned at this point. If and when Ace Hardware responds, I will update this story accordingly.