Since April 1st, 2016, Unicorn Riot has been covering the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, and the subsequent #NoDAPL movement, to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) underneath both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
Over three hundred tribes have come together to say no to the Dakota Access Pipeline. We’ve lived in a camp alongside these nations, sharing their culture and traditions and standing united in what some have called the largest gathering of Native people since 1898.
Over the last month, various law enforcement agencies, private mercenary organizations, and other DAPL assets, have expanded their aerial surveillance, “information” checkpoints, and use of heavily armed riot police backed by MRAP‘s and Bearcat armored vehicles. Amidst the militarized crackdown on demonstrations against the pipeline, hundreds of people have been arrested, including four Unicorn Riot journalists.
The first two arrests of Unicorn Riot journalists covering the #NoDAPL movement were in North Dakota during a direct action on September 13th. The other two arrests occurred in Iowa, on October 7th and October 12th, while covering the Mississippi Stand direct action campaign against DAPL. All four Unicorn Riot journalists have been charged with criminal trespass, while documenting various actions taken by water protectors to stop pipeline construction. Our journalists were also strip-searched during their arrests.
All four reporters currently facing charges were actively engaged in reporting breaking news at the time, and would have continued documenting and broadcasting if not directly prevented from doing so by their arrests.
Arrests in North Dakota
During a September 13th direct action at a DAPL construction site, two Unicorn Riot journalists were targeted and arrested while reporting during a live broadcast. Our reporters were both wearing their press passes and stating “I’m press” at the time of their arrests.
While they were held in the Morton county jail in Mandan, an individual who called to ask about the status of our reporters was told “we arrested them because they were with the protesters.” Below is a video of the arrests.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) September 15, 2016
This was one of the first actions that featured such a large police response. Watch the video below spotlighting the reason for the action, the response to the action, and the arrest of two Unicorn Riot journalists:
Both journalists were released 10 hours later on a $250 bond. Both have pled not guilty; and trial dates have been set for December 23rd and January 12th.
Arrests in Iowa
As the pipeline construction expands across the mid-western United States, encampments resisting the pipeline grow in both North Dakota and Iowa. In early October, Unicorn Riot journalists traveled to Iowa to document the horizontal drill boring under the Mississippi River and the actions from water protectors were taking to stop construction.
On October 7th, in Lee County, Iowa, after live streaming an action (from a tree perch outside DAPL property) during which two women locked themselves to a horizontal directional drill, another Unicorn Riot journalist was arrested and charged with criminal trespass.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) October 12, 2016
They were released after being held on a $300 bond. This bond being the first known time that the Lee County Sheriffs had issued a bond amount for a person arrested at the construction site.
Our Mission to Report Continues
Part of Unicorn Riot’s mission as an independent educational media source “is to amplify the voices of people who might otherwise go unheard, and broadcast the stories that might otherwise go untold, as we further understanding of dynamic social struggles.”
These four arrests present a clear pattern of arrests and criminal charges against many independent media organizations covering resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Tying journalists up in court by trespassing them from covering events, issuing warrants, bogging them down with criminal charges and paying fees, effectively guarantees the media has less resources to cover ongoing historical events.
There are press freedom issues in the law enforcement response to #NoDAPL protests that have far reaching consequences. Local authorities have repeatedly refused to even acknowledge journalists in their roles as press. The McLean County (ND) State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson claimed that Amy Goodman wasn’t a journalist, because…
“She’s a protester, basically. Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions.” – ND State Atty Ladd Erickson
By attacking Goodman’s content in the media, Erickson rejects a basic principle of settled First Amendment law. As Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote for the Supreme Court in 1972’s Police Dept. of City of Chicago v. Mosley:
“…above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content. Cohen v. California, (1971); Street v. New York, (1969); New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, (1964), and cases cited; NAACP v. Button, (1963); Wood v. Georgia; Terminiello v. Chicago; De Jonge v. Oregon, (1937). To permit the continued building of our politics and culture, and to assure self-fulfillment for each individual, our people are guaranteed the right to express any thought, free from government censorship. The essence of this forbidden censorship is content control. Any restriction on expressive activity because of its content would completely undercut the “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” – Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall
A similar disregard for the press was apparent when a Lee County, IA sheriff deputy told Unicorn Riot staff “you don’t have a journalist“, after we inquired about our reporter who was currently being held in jail.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) October 13, 2016
The repeated arrests of reporters cost time, energy, and funds, which would otherwise be put directly into continuing to report on this ongoing story.
Attacks on media organizations create an environment where the actions of DAPL security and law enforcement cannot be properly documented by the press. This makes it possible for state (or corporate mercenary) forces to commit serious human rights violations while avoiding accountability for their actions.
Despite these attempts to restrict the freedom of the press, Unicorn Riot’s all-volunteer, educational, non-profit, media collective will continue to provide front-line independent coverage of the ongoing resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
To support our volunteer-operated, horizontally-organized, non-profit media collective please consider a tax-deductible donation:
Here is our early summer reports of the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline struggle: March 29th, “Tribal Citizens Prepare to Blockade Bakken Oil Pipeline“; April 3rd, “Tribal Citizens Build Camp in Path of Oil Pipeline“; May 5th, “Sacred Stone Camp Resists Dakota Access Pipeline“; and May 27th, “Dakota Access Pipeline Blockade Enters 2nd Month“.
To see Unicorn Riot’s media from August until present, see below:
- After covering the camp in the spring of 2016, Unicorn Riot returned to Standing Rock Reservation on Wednesday, August 10th, when Standing Rock tribal members and allies blocked the entrance to the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site.
- On Thursday, August 11th, a dozen or so people were arrested blocking the construction site entrances.
- Day 3, Friday, the fight to protect land & water intensified around the construction sites of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
- On the 4th day, the pipeline resistance encampment swelled and prepared for more action.
- Monday, August 15th, land defenders stormed the construction site halting construction, and the next day construction was halted as well.
- August 17th saw State Police begin checkpoints, roadblocks, and psyops as protesters united to defend water.
- August 24th, camps prepared as Federal injunction hearing looms.
- Camps Organize to Stay as Injunction Postponed.
- On August 31st, Non-Violent Direct Action Stopped DAPL Construction for Over 6 Hours.
- September 6, indigenous water protectors swarmed Dakota Access Pipeline site, stopped work
- September 7, Uŋpa Nuŋpa was interviewed about ongoing #noDAPL actions
- North Dakota highway patrol refused to release email correspondence with Energy Transfer Partners
- September 8, ND National Guard took over Dakota Access Pipeline checkpoints
- Friday, September 9, US Govt. overruled federal judge and requested pipeline construction halted at Lake Oahe
- Meanwhile, cultural activities continued at #NoDAPL camps despite more arrests/warrants
- September 13, 20 were arrested during #NoDAPL lockdown, including 2 Unicorn Riot journalists
- September 14, direct actions continued against Dakota Access Pipeline while legal repression intensified
- On September 16 a federal judge dissolved the unconstitutional temporary restraining order Dakota Access, LLC had filed against Stranding Rock tribal members
- September 19, as solidarity protests spread nationwide, the federal appeals court ordered construction temporarily stop on Dakota Access segment as Solidarity Protests Spread Nationwide
- September 21, #NoDAPL noise demo demanded freedom for jailed water protector Olowan Martinez
- September 22, water protectors disrupted the annual meeting of the North Dakota Petroleum Council
- September 25, water protectors planted trees on DAPL construction site
- In Iowa on September 26, a non-violent direct action from the Mississippi Stand camp stopped DAPL construction for the day
- September 26, a caravan of water protectors stopped work at DAPL site
- September 27, militarized police arrested 23 water protectors in DAPL work stoppage
- September 29, a #NoDAPL solidarity action took place at MN Enbridge office
- October 3rd-4th saw the “Toxic Tour,” Governor debate disruption, and water protectors attend their court arraignment
- October 4, we learned North Dakota Governor Dalrymple’s email inbox was full of support for #NoDAPL
- October 5, Buffer Zone Holds as Caravans Continue to Disrupt DAPL – New Felony Charges
- October 7, 6 Arrested in Iowa #NoDAPL Action, Including Unicorn Riot Journalist
- October 8, Iowa Water Protectors Blockade DAPL Drill Site Twice in 24 Hours
- October 9, Federal Appeals Court Rules to Allow DAPL Construction
- October 10, 27 Arrests After Water Protectors Pray at DAPL Site on Indigenous People’s Day
- October 12, Lockdown Stops DAPL Construction in Iowa, 3 Arrested, Including Unicorn Riot Journalist
- October 14, Emails Show North Dakota Budget Bureaucracy Behind #NoDAPL Policing
- October 16, Direct Actions Continue to Stop DAPL Construction in Iowa and North Dakota