Four More Water Protectors Indicted on Federal Charges
Bismarck, ND -- The Department of Justice unsealed a federal indictment Wednesday charging four more water protectors allegedly connected to incidents on October 27, when riot police violently cleared the “1851 Treaty Camp” from the easement of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Water protector James White (aka Angry Bird) was arrested Wednesday and federally charged with felony civil disorder and use of fire to commit a federal crime. Federal agents are actively looking for three more water protectors. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.
The indictment naming White and four others was issued on February 1, but was only made public on Wednesday and comes just two weeks after federal authorities arrested water protector Michael Markus on January 25 for the same charges. Markus remains in federal custody awaiting trial.
The increasing repression comes as North Dakota House lawmakers advance several bills to crack down on water protectors’ nonviolent demonstrations. Legislators approved House Bill 1193, which creates a new Class C felony offense for causing $1,000 or more in “economic harm”, such as when water protectors caused construction delays by locking themselves to equipment. House Bill 1426 would elevate “instigating a riot” to a Class B felony, doubling the maximum penalties to 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.
On February 7, US District Judge Daniel L. Hovland on Tuesday denied the injunction filed by the Water Protector Legal Collective to restrain the Morton County Sheriff's Department from using harmful, less-lethal munitions and excessive force at the frontlines. Later that day, the National Sheriffs' Association met with President Trump to request federal assistance on the ground in North Dakota. Then, on February 8, the US Army Corps granted the final easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and construction has already resumed west of the Missouri River. Later in the day, the four indictments were announced.
These federal indictments were issued by a grand jury, though it is unclear whether it is the same federal grand jury that has issued at least one subpoena to a water protector named Steve Martinez. Martinez is refusing to testify regarding the case of Sophia Wilansky, the 21-year-old New York woman who nearly lost her arm during when Morton County officers used concussion grenades and a firehose to disperse a prayer ceremony on the Backwater Bridge. Many water protectors believe that grand jury was convened to avoid accountability for Wilansky’s injury by framing it as a result of alleged “improvised explosives” rather than a police munition.
Martinez has refused to cooperate with the grand jury, saying, "I will in no way condone or cooperate with this attempt to repress this movement here at Standing Rock." Martinez added that he'd be willing to go to jail if held in contempt for not answering questions. “My own freedom is a small price to pay."
Another water protector facing federal charges is Red Fawn Fallis, a political prisoner who has been detained since October 27. Fallis initially faced attempted murder charges which were dropped in a North Dakota courtroom, but is now facing federal charges for alleged possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. If charged, the maximum sentence is 10 years in prison.
The Indigenous Coalition on the ground at Standing Rock released this statement: “We are calling for global solidarity with Water Protectors who are facing charges, and intersectional resistance to efforts by law enforcement who continue to harass and intimidate us. We strongly encourage Water Protectors and their families to refrain from talking to law enforcement under any circumstances. Invoke your right to remain silent and ask to speak to an attorney.”
Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) and Freshet Collective work in coalition to provide on-the-ground legal representation and coordination for Water Protectors engaged in resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, in partnership with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). Support this work here, and donate to the legal defense fund here.