October 27, 12:40 p.m.
Acrid black smoke billows skyward from tires set ablaze, part of a blockade across Highway 1806 devised by the protectors, aimed at keeping the police forces from advancing and taking Front Line Camp.
As the day progresses, the constant buzz of a helicopter circling low overhead, combined with the rumbling of a small plane occupying the air above it, is abruptly overtaken by the crushing boom of an exploding concussion grenade, forcing hundreds of bodies to instinctively contract inward as one. With a quiet swoosh, a Taser releases its electrified metal barb into the cheek and hip of a young man; inches away, the liquid flush of pepper spray is felt long before it is seen; a searing and biting sting that forces eyes and throats to immediately lock shut. Rubber bullets smack into flesh; and a burst of police tackle a youth causing skin and bone to whack and tear against pavement. Shouts of fear, pain, anger, and resistance follow, interspaced with periods and areas of a relative calm that is balanced on a pin waiting for the next prick.
Top: Police from multiple states and agencies, National Guardsmen, and armed private security forces working for Energy Transfer Partners gather on Highway 1806 to remove Native American water protectors and their allies from the Front Land Camp and barricades on Highway 1806, on October 27, 2016. (Photo: Antonia Juhasz) | Bottom: Police guarding land to the west of Highway 1806 which Standing Rock Sioux have deemed a sacred burial ground, and on which the Dakota Access Pipeline is currently under construction, on October 27, 2016. (Photo: Antonia Juhasz)
Top: Police SWAT team preparing to clear Front Line Camp. (Photo: Antonia Juhasz) | Bottom: Police clearing Front Line Camp. (Photo: Antonia Juhasz)
“This camp is the frontline,” says Kandi Mossett of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, and a native of Fort Berthold. “This is all that’s protecting the Missouri river a mile away,” she says, pointing to the east, where the water is clearly visible. She then points to the west, to a field on the other side of the highway, where construction of the pipeline is actively underway. It is an area of land deemed a sacred burial ground by the Standing Rock Sioux and where on September 3, a violent confrontation between Dakota Access Pipeline private security guards using dogs and pepper spray against protectors was filmed by Democracy Now!
Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle, a pediatrician on the reservation, stands nearby wearing her white doctor’s jacket and holding a banner reading, “We are here to Protect. Water is Life.”
“In this state, our health has already been subjected to the consequences of fracking and flaring,” she says. “A rupture of the pipeline could release Benzene, which is cancer causing and impacts reproductive health.”
As we watch, a group of protectors takes to this field. Just as quickly, an armored Humvee and line of police fill the area, pepper spray canisters as large as fire extinguishers and batons at the ready, repelling the protectors with intimidation and arrests.
“They’re treating us like we’re at war, like we’re in Iraq right now. We’re in the United States of America. We’re in Indian country. And it’s not right.”
Medics pass out bright orange ear plugs. I later learn from Lyle Jeremy Rubin, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan, that the source of the high pitched screeching siren occasionally blasted at us is a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). He wrote about the device after it was deployed against protests in Ferguson, Missouri: “It is sonic weapon that my psychological operations (PSYOP) friends could probably discuss more intelligently,” he writes. The shrill sound, also used to keep pirates at bay and regulate the movements of wildlife, can over-stimulate the heart, resulting in agitation among those targeted.
Today, the LRAD is fitted to a black armor plated International MaxxPro Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle designed to withstand Improvised Explosive Devices, which sits next to a massive tan armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (a.k.a. Humvee), which holds court front and center on the highway. Numerous somewhat smaller models are arrayed near it, throughout the fields, and on surrounding hill tops, where many remain to this day.
“Don’t worry, the snipers have him in their sights,” I overhear a police SWAT member say. Photos later confirm that the snipers are perched within Humvees, their heads poking out of turrets at the top, rifles pointed and ready. The SWAT teams carry M4 rifles, a standard issue for the army and marine corps, and are dressed in full camo “battle rattle,” approximately 50 pounds of gear, including a flak vest, Kevlar helmet, gasmask, ammunition, and weapons.
A force flanks to the right, moving into Front Line Camp. ATVs rush several protectors as the police begin a standard “sweep and clear” mission, lifting tepees and tents, securing, sweeping, clearing, and moving on. They are slow, methodical and practiced.
Lorrena Alabeda, a Dakota Sioux from South Dakota and an Army veteran who served 16 months in Iraq, saw pictures and video of the day’s events at home and immediately travelled with her mother to lend support and offer prayer and healing. With tears streaming down her face, she describes the hurt and shame she felt at seeing the exact same equipment used in Iraq deployed on her homeland. “They’re treating us like we’re at war, like we’re in Iraq right now. We’re not in Iraq! We’re in the United States of America. We’re in Indian country. And it’s not right.” “Eee ya ya” she and her mother say in Dakota, They should go. They shouldn’t be here at all.