WEST FARGO-Leaders of North Dakota veterans groups declared they will not join a group called Veterans Stand for Standing Rock that have vowed to form a human shield to protect protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Russ Stabler, chairman of the North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council, an umbrella organization representing all of the state's leading veterans groups, called upon the state's veterans to stay away from the protest.
The Veterans Standing for Standing Rock has said they will mobilize 2,000 veterans, to assemble in platoons and company formations at the protest front line and have identified the Morton County Sheriff's Office and state police agencies as their enemy, Stabler said.
Although the veterans joining the dissent say they plan to peacefully protest, Stabler said the ongoing demonstrations near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where an oil pipeline would cross the Missouri River, if given final approval, have been "less than peaceful" over the past 100 days.
"Slaughtering livestock, throwing Molotov cocktails and assaulting our law enforcement officers is not the military manner in which our veterans behave and not the kind of assembly and actions veterans should be part of," said Stabler, an Air Force veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam. "Participating in this kind of assembly, even as a peaceful bystander or participant, will only mar the image of veterans in our nation."
Stabler and other leading veterans, including Lonnie Wangen, commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs, have tried contacting leaders of the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, whom they say have been "misinformed," and also urge them to be in contact with law enforcement before they join the protests Dec. 4 through Dec. 7.
The human shield plan coincide with the date when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, citing safety concerns, has ordered the evacuation of the primary protest camp. The corps has ordered protesters to leave by Dec. 5, but said it would not forcibly remove people from the land.
It is an insult to the nation's World War II veterans, Stabler said, that the dissident veterans plan to protest on Dec. 7-the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
Opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline have defaced the North Dakota pillar of the World War II monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and defaced the North Dakota state capitol, Stabler said.
"It is degrading to a veteran to see the American flag disgraced and improperly displayed and disrespected," he said, adding it is a daily occurrence at the pipeline protest sites. "Standing by those who conduct or have conducted this type of behavior cannot instill a good image on our veterans or our veterans community."
The North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council is comprised of the American Legion, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign War, and the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Protesters oppose the 1,172-mile, $3.8 billion pipeline project's path due to concerns that it crosses Standing Rock's ancestral lands and could endanger the tribe's drinking water source.