Following the overwhelming interest in the newly formed group "Veterans Stand for Standing Rock", Reuters reports more than 2,000 U.S. military veterans plan to form a human shield to protect protesters of a pipeline project near a Native American reservation in North Dakota, organizers said, just ahead of a federal deadline for activists to leave the camp they have been occupying.
As we previously noted, the group has a strict no weapons policy but is stocking up on body armor and protective gear like gas masks to withstand potential attacks from the heavily militarized police, who have arrested at least 400 of protesters so far. According to on-site medics, hundreds of protesters have also been injured. Last week, a 21-year-old woman was reportedly hit with a concussion grenade, leading to a severe injury that may require her arm to be amputated. Though police have blamed protesters for what happened to her, at least one witness claims law enforcement’s version of events is untruthful.
“This country is repressing our people,” Wood Jr. said last week. “If we’re going to be heroes, if we’re really going to be those veterans that this country praises, well, then we need to do the things that we actually said we’re going to do when we took the oath to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic.”
With 2,100 veterans signed up to make a stand, it appears police will be forced to reconcile their aggressive behavior with the nonviolent show of veterans, who intend to march toward police on site.
The group has gained substantial financial backing since word of their mission spread. According to their GoFundMe page, they have already raised over $500,000 to fund their trip, which is planned for December 4 to December 7.
Notably, Reuters reports that this comes as North Dakota law enforcement backed away from a previous plan to cut off supplies to the camp – an idea quickly abandoned after an outcry and with law enforcement’s treatment of Dakota Access Pipeline protesters increasingly under the microscope.
State officials issued an order on Monday for activists to vacate the Oceti Sakowin camp, located on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, citing harsh weather conditions.
The state's latest decision not to stop cars entering the protest site indicated local officials will not actively enforce Monday's emergency order to evacuate the camp issued by Governor Jack Dalrymple.
Dalrymple warned on Wednesday that it was "probably not feasible" to reroute the pipeline, but said he had requested a meeting with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council to rebuild a relationship.
Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, a contingent of more than 2,000 U.S. military veterans, intends to go to North Dakota by this weekend and form a human wall in front of police, protest organizers said on a Facebook page. Organizers could not immediately be reached for comment.
"I figured this was more important than anything else I could be doing,” Guy Dull Knife, 69, a Vietnam War Army veteran, told Reuters at the main camp.
Dull Knife, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe from the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota, said he has been camping at the protest site for months.
Morton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Rob Keller said in an email his agency was aware of the veterans' plans, but would not comment further on how law enforcement will deal with demonstrators.
Local law enforcement said on Tuesday they planned a blockade of the camp, but local and state officials later retreated, saying they would only check vehicles for certain prohibited supplies like propane, and possibly issue fines. Dalrymple on Wednesday said state officials never contemplated forcibly removing protesters and there had been no plans to block food or other supplies from the camp. "That would be a huge mistake from a humanitarian standpoint," he said on the conference call.
Protesters, who refer to themselves as “water protectors,” have been gearing up for the winter while they await the Army Corps decision on whether to allow Energy Transfer Partners to tunnel under the river. That decision has been delayed twice by the Army Corps.