While the fight against the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline has largely moved from the plains of North Dakota to the courtrooms of Washington, D.C., recent revelations on just what was going on behind the scenes at Standing Rock have shed new light on the length law enforcement was willing to go to discredit those fighting the oil project.
As local and regional police units worked to intimidate, constrain, and, in many cases, violently subdue the protesters amassed at Standing Rock, newly uncovered emails show that authorities were also coordinating with several PR firms with direct connections to the George W. Bush White House in order to smear the activists.
According to the environmental site DeSmog.org, the PR firms Delve and Off the Record Strategies were contracted to work with the National Sheriffs’ Association—which was coordinating an influx of out-of-state law enforcement units sent to augment the local forces—in order to craft talking points to be used against the protesters. In emails obtained by DeSmog, the spin specialists instructed authorities to refer to the protesters as “out-of-state agitators” with connections to radical, and even criminal groups. They also sought to highlight the activists’ connections to pro-Palestinian movements, and helped facilitate outreach efforts to conservative or otherwise Dakota Access-friendly media outlets.
As DeSmog notes, Delve is a political opposition research firm run by former Bush official and Republican National Committee figure Jeff Berkowitz. Similarly, OTRS, is the brainchild of founder and president Mark Pfeifle—a national security advisor and communications specialist for President Bush, who spearheaded the administration’s media blitz to sell the Iraq War “surge” in 2007. In 2009, Pfeifle was even awarded the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Medal for “dramatically improved communication planning and strategies” in support of the war.
News of the PR spin effort comes several months after a report from The Intercept revealed that Energy Transfer Partners—the firm behind the Dakota Access pipeline—had hired private security firm TigerSwan to work with local law enforcement in their anti-protest efforts. According to documents obtained by The Intercept, TigerSwan saw the NoDAPL protesters as “generally [following] the jihadist insurgency model while active.”
“We can expect the individuals who fought for and supported it to follow a post-insurgency model after its collapse,” the firm wrote.
After its founding in 2007, TigerSwan was responsible for providing security during mine-sweeping operations during the Iraq war.