MORTON COUNTY, N.D. - As actor Mark Ruffalo arrived to support their cause, protesters camping in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline braced Tuesday for action by a growing police and military force to the north after the pipeline company issued a foreboding statement saying trespassers will be prosecuted and "removed from the land."
"We believe they are going to try to take us," Vanessa Dundon of White Cone, Ariz., said as she manned a traffic checkpoint near the new "frontline" camp established Sunday to stop pipeline construction from crossing Highway 1806 and reaching the Missouri River.
About five miles away, a law enforcement staging area had grown considerably from the day before, with several buses and National Guard Humvees parked among military-style tents and emergency trailers. Officers from at least six states have answered Morton County's call for help in dealing with protest activities that started 11 weeks ago.
Morton County Sheriff's Department spokesman Rob Keller said Highway 1806 remains closed indefinitely to southbound traffic at Fort Rice. He wouldn't say whether authorities plan to evict and arrest the roughly 100 protesters entrenched in teepees, tents and campers in the pipeline's path.
"Those are tactical questions and we don't release any of that information," Keller said.
Pipeline developer Dakota Access LLC released a statement encouraging trespassers to "vacate the land immediately."
"Alternatively and in coordination with local law enforcement and county/state officials, all trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and removed from the land," the company said. "Lawless behavior will not be tolerated."
The subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners explained to the North Dakota attorney general's office this week that it purchased the land from a local rancher last month to enhance the safety of its workers and better manage access to the pipeline right-of-way.
Pipeline opponents say they have reclaimed the land under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, noting the Sioux never ceded that territory. The new camp lies across Highway 1806 from bulldozed ground that was the site of a Sept. 3 clash between protesters and pipeline security guards armed with guard dogs and pepper spray.
On Tuesday afternoon, Sam Wounded Knee from South Dakota's Crow Creek Sioux Reservation peered through binoculars and raised a defiant fist at two ATVs conducting surveillance of the frontline camp from atop a hill that shielded the pipeline construction from view.
He and other pipeline opponents voiced hopes that the pipeline would be stopped by President Barack Obama, who met with Cheyenne River (S.D.) Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Frazier was expected to ask Obama to order an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the pipeline, a more thorough review than the environment assessment already conducted, the tribe said in a news release.
"He told us if we all came together, he would help us," said Wounded Knee, recalling Obama's visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in June 2014. "Well, we're all together."
Ben "B.J." Kidder of Fort Yates said police action against the protesters would only add to a long history of U.S. government mistreatment of indigenous peoples.
"It's going to be a big clash," he said. "It's sad."
A few hundred yards north of the frontline camp, Dundon, a member of the Diné Navajo, and others were letting traffic through on Highway 1806 but were ready to quickly reassemble a roadblock of hay bales, barbed wire and logs lying in the ditch.
"We're very prepared," she said.
Actor Ruffalo arrives to support protesters
Pipeline opponents called for a "national day of action" Tuesday by asking supporters to share prayers and songs for 127 people arrested during protests this past weekend, which brought the total number of arrests to 269 since Aug. 10.
As part of the day, Ruffalo planned to take part in a panel discussion Tuesday night at Prairie Knights Casino on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
During a quick stop at the state Capitol in Bismarck, Ruffalo told Forum News Service the pipeline doesn't need to cross the Missouri River, which provides drinking water to millions.
"There's another route this could take," he said, adding, "What they're doing is they're putting money above the health of a whole group of people."
The actor-director, activist and co-founder of The Solutions Project, which promotes clean and renewable energy, planned to deliver solar trailers Wednesday to the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the main protest camp situated on Corps land just north of the reservation. More than 300 tribes have been represented at the camp, which currently supports an estimated 1,200 people.
Fed intervention sought
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II wrote a letter Monday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch seeking a Department of Justice investigation into potential civil rights violations by state and local government, citing the militarization of police, arrests of journalists and other First Amendment infringements, constant surveillance and police checkpoints.
"Too often these kinds of investigations take place only after some event regarding excessive force by the police has led to a well-publicized tragedy," Archambault wrote. "I hope and pray that you will see the wisdom of acting now in an effort to prevent such a tragedy here."
Former Vice President Al Gore also issued a statement saying he hopes Archambault's request is honored, calling the pipeline project "a dangerous project in blatant disregard of obvious risks to the Missouri River and with disrespect to the Standing Rock Sioux."
The Justice Department on Monday reiterated its call for Dakota Access to voluntarily stop construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorizes construction on roughly 1,000 feet of Corps land under and along the lake.
Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the pro-pipeline Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now Coalition, said the federal government has no authority to require an EIS on the entire 1,172-mile pipeline, which is largely completed and will move 470,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day to a hub in Illinois.
"We are seeing obstructionists call in every political favor and do everything in their power to thwart the lawful completion of the Dakota Access pipeline," Stevens said in a statement.
In Minneapolis, the Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light planned a rally for noon Tuesday, stating faith leaders and residents were "outraged" by Hennepin County Sheriff's Department personnel to North Dakota for "the hyper-militarized repression of peaceful demonstrations" opposing the $3.8 billion pipeline.