The difference between a peaceful protest and criminal activity is obvious to honest observers. The problem with the Dakota Access Pipeline protest near Cannon Ball, N.D., is that honesty is in short supply. Or better yet, the definitions of "honesty," as defined by the people caught up in the protest, are not the same.

Those realities will not be solved soon because they are rooted in historical imperatives that have been in conflict for generations. The stain of the nation's treatment of American Indians and the conditions-some self-inflicted-in which native communities find themselves in the 21st century will not be resolved at an oil pipeline protest. Indeed, they are being exacerbated.

But what must be curtailed is the lawlessness that has infiltrated the protest camp and spilled onto lands near the site, even as far away as the state Capitol building in Bismarck. There is nothing peaceful about illegal weapons and illegal drugs. There is nothing peaceful about cattle theft and slaughter, and the destruction of fences and the torching of construction equipment. There is nothing peaceful about blocking public roads and bridges, and intimidating motorists or children on school buses. There is nothing peaceful about defacing the Capitol with motor oil.

Certain ivory tower scholars, elitist humanitarians and adherents of the mantra that American Indians can do no wrong dismiss even the suggestion that law and order must be re-established in order to find a pipeline compromise. It's not about law and order, they lecture. It is.

Without law there is chaos. Without order there is anarchy. Without constitutional limits on law enforcement, we invite vigilantism and enable a banana republic-style police state.

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Nothing is easy about the situation. The state is spending millions of dollars in an effort to contain the protest and minimize confrontation, thus far with mixed results. The federal government has been mostly AWOL, having ignored federal court rulings in favor of the pipeline, thus giving protesters false hope and, among some elements within the encampment, license to commit crimes. Tribal leaders have lost control, with at least one elder telling out-of-state agitators to leave the protest sites, and others negotiating a move of the protest from public lands to tribal lands, also with mixed success.

The violence and vandalism are not helping the tribe's cause, which, by many assessments is legitimate. Water quality and sacred sites are not to be dismissed. But those issues are losing their luster in the dark light of criminal behavior. As a result, support for the protest is losing ground.

Editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.