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Lethal Force Against Pipeline Protests? Documents Reveal Shocking South Dakota Plans for National Guard

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Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has announced she is deploying 50 members of the South Dakota National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border at the request of Texas Governor Greg Abbott. In an extraordinary twist, the deployment is being paid for by billionaire Republican megadonor Willis Johnson, who lives in Tennessee. Critics say Noem is turning the National Guard into a private mercenary force targeting migrants, but the governor’s plans for the National Guard could encompass other activities. Water protector and land back attorney Bruce Ellison has obtained documents that indicate the same force could be deployed to suppress Indigenous activists resisting pipelines — including through “lethal force,” Ellison says. We also speak to Tara Houska, Indigenous lawyer, activist and founder of the Giniw Collective, who adds the Department of Homeland Security has also been involved in suppressing resistance to construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline in northern Minnesota.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara, I want to bring a second person into this conversation. I want to go from Namewag Camp, where you are, in northern Minnesota, to South Dakota. This week, the Republican governor there, Kristi Noem, announced she’s deploying 50 members of the South Dakota National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border at the request of Texas Governor Greg Abbott. But there’s a twist. The deployment is being paid for by billionaire Republican megadonor Willis Johnson, who lives in Tennessee. Some critics have accused Noem of turning the National Guard into a private mercenary force targeting migrants.

Our next guest obtained documents that indicate this same force, the South Dakota National Guard, will be deployed to suppress land and water defenders resisting pipelines. We are also joined by Bruce Ellison, water protector and land back attorney in Rapid City.

Can you talk about, Bruce, what these documents show, that you’ve gotten a hold of?

BRUCE ELLISON: Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having me on.

Essentially, what seems to be evolving is not just the militarization of our police forces, but particularly the active deployment and involvement of National Guard troops in the suppression of resistance to fossil fuel industry and other activities. And that’s aside from the private use that you referenced earlier. Where are we going with this?

Essentially, the documents that we got had to do with plans for the now-ended KXL pipeline and how the South Dakota National Guard was going to be the main force to ensure that the pipeline, 315 miles, was constructed and that they would be guarding not only construction operations, but also equipment and, interestingly enough, including the use of lethal force.

So, what we’re finding is, is that —

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, wait, wait. Can you talk more about what that means? The South Dakota National Guard can kill people to protect a pipeline?

BRUCE ELLISON: Essentially, yes, they can. They can be used to defense of others, of course, but also defense of property. And the standards have to do with, if other means cannot reasonably be used to stop destruction of property, or someone who’s leaving believed to have destroyed property, lethal force can be used.

What’s happening is that we look at an evolution from, say, Standing Rock, where the National Guard played a role — they manned checkpoints, they drove trucks around with food and other equipment — that has then evolved to current plans, for the KXL pipeline, which would be active deployment. I mean, these would be not only so-called civil disorder forces, but they would be backed up by regular troops who would be armed with automatic weapons.

This was deployed a little bit about a year ago around the protest near Mount Rushmore, when Trump was visiting, by land back people who were trying to raise issues, as I said, near Mount Rushmore. We saw that real first combination of the active use of the military, from being in the back to being in the front.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have the first news, that Governor Noem is boasting about, that she got a megadonor, Republican donor, billionaire donor, to pay for National Guards people to be sent to the border. Will these people, the National Guard used to protect pipeline and go after water protectors, be paid for by the company?

BRUCE ELLISON: Well, that’s an interesting question, because South Dakota established what they called a peace fund and have required TransCanada to put up to $20 million into this peace fund to be used for anything having to do with construction of the pipeline. It’s a slightly different form, but still we’re talking about the use of our National Guard to support multinational hazardous transportation and extraction industries in the United States, particularly the fossil fuel industry.

What’s unique about the current situation with the private donor is, according to the Rapid City Journal, our local paper, he called up Kristi Noem and said — asked her if she wanted to send National Guard troops to the border, because they have similar attitudes about Brown and red people who were seeking asylum or who were refugees, and offered up to a million dollars to help that happen for a 30- to a 60-day deployment.

And there’s discussion now about they’re going to only be using volunteers. Who are the people within the Guard who are going to volunteer and want to go down on the border and engage in these kinds of actions to prevent people just seeking a better life or even their own survival?

And so, it’s a very dangerous precedent: right-wing agenda, privately funded use of our National Guard essentially as cheap mercenary troops. They’re not even being paid what security contractors normally get, that $150,000 tax-free. They’re being paid their normal minimum wage jobs, but they’re working for a billionaire who has an agenda, like our governor, who has the same agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: So, from South Dakota up to northern Minnesota, Tara Houska, is this the first you’re hearing of this? Does it surprise you? And can you talk about not only the National Guard being used, but the role of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in dealing with the Line 3 water protector protesters?

TARA HOUSKA: I have to say, I’m not super surprised. Actually, there was just a bill, H.R. 1374, the Energy Policy and Security Act, that just passed the House, and it essentially provides both a method for private actors, private industry, to directly work with states and create “energy security” policy, and it also provides federal funding for states to create energy security plans specifically around critical infrastructure, which includes pipelines and extractive industry.

It seems like it’s basically, like, responding directly to situations like the Enbridge corporation here in Minnesota, which is engaged in a public safety escrow trust, where it’s paying our police directly to — I mean, it’s incentivizing our police to target, harass, surveil water protectors, and reimbursement for all the costs of doing so. That’s why we see 50, 60 squad cars here on a dirt road blockading us in our driveway. I mean, they’re getting paid by the company to do it.

And as far as the National Guard in all of that and the militarization goes, I mean, we’ve seen Customs, Border Patrol drones over our camp for years. There’s been Customs — you know, Department of Homeland Security helicopters over protests. There’s been Department of Homeland Security helicopters over our private property, our encampment. It’s something where you’re seeing a very concerted effort to surveil, harass and target Indigenous-led movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Before I ask you a slightly different question about what has happened throughout Canada, yesterday being the Canada Day protests, let me ask you about these sex trafficking charges. What do you know about them, two men working on the Enbridge Line 3 charged with sex trafficking?

TARA HOUSKA: I know that it’s the second sex trafficking ring that’s been busted that’s had Enbridge employees in it in the months that they’ve been here in our territory. I know that we told and warned the state, we warned the governor and lieutenant governor, Peggy Flanagan, that this would happen. And it did. A 30-minute training or even a day training to employees is just not enough.

These people are here in our state. They are mostly from out of state. There’s 5,000 mostly out-of-state workers here constructing Line 3. They are growing increasingly aggressive. Actually, yesterday at the demonstration, one of the workers attempted to drive a vehicle running over protesters on sight. These people are here to destroy the territory. They are not interested in developing relationships or being accountable to our communities, because they’re not.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the protests all over Canada Thursday on Canada Day, following the recent discovery of graves and remains of First Nations children at government-run schools. Tara, you are Ojibwe from the Couchiching First Nation. Can you talk about this?

TARA HOUSKA: It is a — it’s a gut punch that I think a lot of us already knew, but it’s hard still to see those numbers and to know all those lives and all those generations that are missing, all those voices and people that belong to us that were taken by the residential schools and by the boarding school era.

I mean, I think it’s a very stark reminder of what we have to come to terms with in terms of looking at the treatment of Indigenous people both by Canada and the United States and around the world, the attempts to eradicate us, and the continued efforts to do so through out-of-home placement of children and destruction of our land, our territories, theft of so many different aspects of our people.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska, I want to thank you for being with us — that does it for our show — Indigenous lawyer and activist, founder of the Giniw Collective, and also Bruce Ellison, water protector and land back attorney. I’m Amy Goodman. Have a good weekend. Be safe.

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