Des Moines, IA – Federal prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 96 months in prison for Ruby Montoya, admitted Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) saboteur, which includes a ‘terrorism enhancement’ that could tack years onto her sentence.
In November 2016, on the night of the election of Donald Trump, Montoya and Jessica Reznicek, who had become convinced that an escalation of tactics was necessary, began their arson and sabotage spree. In a press release shared on July 24, 2017, the two admitted to their direct action campaign.
“After having explored and exhausted all avenues of process, including attending public commentary hearings, gathering signatures for valid requests for Environmental Impact Statements, participating in Civil Disobedience, hunger strikes, marches and rallies, boycotts and encampments, we saw the clear deficiencies of our government to hear the people’s demands,” the pair wrote.
According to federal law (18 USC § 2332b(g)), a crime is considered an act of terrorism if it is “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct,” and is a violation of a federal statute.
“While stopping the DAPL may have been the immediate purpose of their unlawful conduct,” wrote Assistant United States Attorney Jason T. Griess in his memorandum to the court, “Reznicek and Montoya’s ultimate goal was to address ‘the broken federal government and the corporations they continue to protect.’ A federal government which they described as ‘more like a Nazi fascist Germany as each day passes.’”
Montoya’s sentencing has been delayed several times and a date for the hearing is not currently set. Meanwhile, Reznicek was sentenced to eight years in prison with a domestic terrorism enhancement on June 30, 2021. She appealed the enhancement, but it was upheld on June 6, 2022 by judges Ralph R. Erickson, David R. Stras, and Jonathan Kobes, on the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (All three judges were appointed by former president Donald Trump.)
In recent pleadings to the court, Montoya has sought to withdraw her admission of guilt, admitting to the campaign of sabotage against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but claiming that she’d been coerced into doing it. Her co-defendant Jessica Reznicek, members of the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community, her father, her mental health, and even an undercover federal agent were all to blame for her conduct, according to Montoya.
According to an article in The Economist, by the fall of 2020, Montoya had “agreed to cooperate with the FBI.” Although the contents of her meetings with the FBI have not yet come to light, such meetings usually involve providing information on other activists in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence. Montoya still denies cooperating with the FBI.
“She’s saying anything and everything to avoid going to jail and that’s a deflated position to be in,” said Frank Cordero, co-founder of the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community where Reznicek and Montoya lived during their sabotage campaign. “It’s just sad to see a person with such integrity and such hopes be destroyed like this. I pray for Ruby all the time.”
In a motion to the court last year, Montoya’s attorney, Daphne Silverman, pointed fingers at members of the Des Moines Catholic Worker, claiming that they had pressured Montoya into taking action against the pipeline.
“Ms. Montoya was then coerced by the activist community within the Catholic Worker Des Moines,” the motion reads. “This activist community offered the opportunity to engage in destruction but did not give Ms. Montoya the information and other tools she needed to evaluate what they requested.”
The allegation that other activists offered her the “opportunity” and “tools” to engage in crimes implies that members of the Des Moines Catholic Worker were aware of her ongoing sabotage campaign or had even encouraged or “requested” that she engage in it. Implicating others in serious federal crimes is a form of cooperation with law enforcement usually avoided by activists loyal to the movements they’re a part of.
Despite this breach of trust, Cordero said that for him, it’s the federal government and the pipeline companies that are to blame, not Montoya. “I feel sorry for her and I feel no resentment toward her,” Cordero explained.
“The real criminals are the ones running the government and creating the laws,” he said.
“The ‘justice system’ is hardly that,” Cordero continued. “The fear tactics that they use, piling charges on top of charges, that’s how the feds do it. Did you know that 95% of all criminal charges are pled? Rarely does anyone go to trial. The prosecutors lay on tons of charges and you are facing the possibility of never getting out of prison alive, so you plead. This is typical of how the justice system works.”
Cordero also pointed out that none of the actions claimed by Montoya and Reznicek caused harm to any living thing. “Jess is no terrorist, neither of these women did any violence,” said Cordero. “They did a great thing, trying to bring down an oil pipeline.”
In the sentencing memo to the court, the federal prosecutor performed the same sentencing guideline calculation that they’d performed for Reznicek prior to her sentencing. For Reznicek, the prosecutor sought a sentence of 180 months—15 years in federal prison—but sought only 96 months, or eight years, for Montoya “to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct.”
Whatever information Montoya has provided to authorities, it appears that it may not result in a lighter sentence.
In January 2021, Montoya signed a plea agreement admitting to ten acts of sabotage committed between November 2016 and May 2017. In each case, Montoya and Reznicek admitted to either setting fire to construction equipment associated with the DAPL project or using an oxy-acetylene torch to cut holes in the pipeline itself at various locations along its route.
“We began in Mahaska County, IA, using oxy-acetylene cutting torches to pierce through exposed, empty steel valves, successfully delaying completion of the pipeline for weeks,” the pair wrote in a public statement in 2017. “After the success of this peaceful action, we began to use this tactic up and down the pipeline, throughout Iowa (and a part of South Dakota), moving from valve to valve until running out of supplies, and continuing to stop the completion of this project.”
Montoya’s new oppositional stance toward her co-defendant and former movement allies worried many involved in climate justice and related movements, as did her new attorney’s series of sealed motions in court.
Despite her attempts to cast blame on others and her claims that she was not capable of fully understanding the consequences of her actions, in June of this year, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Ebinger rejected Montoya’s motion to withdraw her guilty plea, stating that Montoya had failed to prove that she’d received ineffective legal representation. Judge Ebinger also cited Montoya’s statements under oath that she understood her plea agreement and was satisfied with her legal representation. (Ebinger was appointed by former president Barack Obama.)
“Montoya confirmed she was not pressured in any way to plead guilty,” Ebinger wrote in her nine-page ruling. “On this record, Montoya cannot demonstrate a fair and just reason to withdraw her guilty plea.”
The 1,172-mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline, which now stretches from the northwest corner of North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, was heavily contested by Indigenous and environmental activists. Indigenous people and those fighting alongside them staged a yearlong direct action campaign in 2016 and 2017 in hopes of preventing the project’s completion.
Fierce battles with law enforcement and private security companies near the encampment on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota involved thousands of people and gained national support, but were ultimately unable to stop the project’s completion. On June 14, 2017, a federal judge found that the Army Corps review of DAPL’s potential impacts to wildlife, hunting and fishing rights, and the environment did not fulfill their obligations under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), yet the pipeline has remained operational.
In Montoya and Reznicek’s press release shared on July 24, 2017, they expressed how “the courts and public officials allowed these corporations to steal permissions from landowners and brutalize the land, water, and people.” They concluded that “the system is broken and it is up to us as individuals to take peaceful action and remedy it, and this we did, out of necessity.”
This prosecution unfolded in the Southern District of Iowa, which has played a key role in many probes of leftist groups since 2004, hundreds of pages of FBI records involving ‘domestic terrorism’ investigations obtained by FOIA showed. This included the 2004 and 2008 Republican National Conventions, a 2004-2007 Crimethinc investigation, and a 2009 grand jury in Davenport that held a Minneapolis resident without charges for four months.
- 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“.
- May 27th, “Dakota Access Pipeline Blockade Enters 2nd Month“.
- 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
- October 17, Four Unicorn Riot Journalists Face Charges For Covering #NoDAPL
- October 17, Water Protectors Blockade Highway in Bismarck, Some Charges Dropped
- October 20, As DAPL Construction Advances, Water Protectors Continue Direct Action
- October 22, Water Protectors’ Prayer Walk Ends up with 127 Arrests, Including Unicorn Riot Journalist
- October 23, Law Enforcement Attack Private Drone as Water Protectors Erect Blockade & New Winter Camp
- October 24, Mississippi Stand Blockades Iowa DAPL Drill Waste Site, Drilling Stops
- October 25, Records Release: Morton County’s Law Enforcement Mutual Aid Assistance Agreement
- Hundreds Flood Minneapolis City Hall to Demand Local Sheriff Withdraw from North Dakota
- October 26, Tensions Rise as Pipeline Construction Nears #NoDAPL Blockade
- October 27, Police and Military Attack Oceti Sakowin Treaty Camp
- November 1, #NoDAPL Solidarity Rally & Sit-In in Minneapolis Prods Sheriff into Removing Deputies
- November 1, DAPL Resistance Continues Despite Advancing Construction
- November 2, Police Attack Water Protectors Defending Sacred Sites
- November 5, DAPL Construction Nears US Army Corps Land While Still Lacking Permits
- November 6, Water Protectors Attempt to Reclaim Sacred Burial Site, Demonstrate in Cemetery
- November 8, Dakota Access Announces Plan to Drill Under Missouri River Within Weeks
- November 11, Dakota Access Pipeline Work Stopped As Water Protectors Storm Site; 30+ Arrested
- November 14, #NoDAPL Water Protectors March on ND State Capitol after Caravan Disrupts Construction
- November 14, Mississippi Stand Goes Inside Pipeline and Shuts Down DAPL Construction
- November 14, Army Corps Delays DAPL Easement
- November 15, "No More Stolen Sisters" Demonstration Blockades DAPL Man Camp; 25+ Arrests
- November 16, Despite Army Corps Statement, DAPL Moves Horizontal Drill to Missouri River Crossing
- November 17, Demonstration in Bismarck-Mandan, Cass County Deputies Beat Man Bloody
- November 20, Police Attack Unarmed Water Protectors w/ Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas, and Water Cannons; 300+ injured
- November 21, Land Defense & Water Protection Actions Ripple Across Turtle Island
- November 22, Hundreds Target U.S. Army Corps Building in St. Paul w #NoDAPL Message
- November 22, Anonymous DDOS Munitions Vendor After Sheriffs Attack #NoDAPL
- November 22, #NoDAPL Water Protector Faces Possible Loss Of Her Arm After Police Attack
- November 24, Water Protectors Bridge onto Turtle Island; Mandan Thanksgiving Street Feast
- November 25, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Announces Intent to Close Oceti Sakowin #NoDAPL Camp
- November 29, Excessive Force Lawsuit Filed Against Morton County Sheriff for November 20 Bridge Assault
- December 1, Direct Action Continues To Disrupt Dakota Access Pipeline Construction in Iowa
- December 3, Divest from DAPL; Three Wells Fargo Locations Targeted in Minneapolis, Eight People Locked Down and Two Arrested
- December 4, Army Corps Denies Dakota Access Pipeline Easement
- December 8, Veterans Apologize for Genocide & March to Backwater Bridge in Blizzard
- December 8, Nebraska Supplied State Troopers, Surveillance Aircraft to North Dakota Under EMAC
- December 12, #DivestFromDAPL Action Disrupts Wells Fargo Branch Grand Opening, Doors Secured with Bike Locks
- December 19, First Water Protector Trials Set for January as Another ND Pipeline Leaks
- January 2, Massive #DivestFromDAPL Banner Unfurled During Vikings Game at US Bank Stadium
- January 5, Interview: Water Protector who Scaled Vikings Stadium to Drop “US Bank DIVEST #NoDAPL” Banner
- January 15, Indigenous-Led Pipeline Resistance Camps Spread Across the USA
- January 24, Hundreds of Minnesotans Protest, Take to the Streets on Trump’s Inauguration
- January 25, Trump Pushes Forward DAPL & KXL Pipeline Approvals; Resistance Continues
- January 30, Denver Joins Global Prayer Action to #DefundDAPL
- February 7, Army Corps Grants Easement as Repression Continues at Standing Rock
- February 17, Eviction Threats Loom as Hundreds Remain at #NoDAPL Camps
- February 22, Militarized Force Executes Eviction of Main #NoDAPL Encampment
- February 23, North Dakota Dismantles #NoDAPL Oceti Camp
- February 27, Three Unicorn Riot Journalists Face Trial This Week From DAPL Coverage
- March 2, Three Unicorn Riot Journalists Have #NoDAPL Arrest Charges Dropped
- March 11, Rise With Standing Rock: Native Nations March on Denver
- March 22, Dakota Access Pipeline Sabotaged in Several States, Authorities Claim
- April 5, One Year Sacred Stone Celebration
- April 16, North Dakota Sheriff Advising South Dakota and Nebraska on Keystone XL
- April 16, North Dakota Sheriff Advising South Dakota and Nebraska on Keystone XL
- May 10, Dakota Access Pipeline Spills at South Dakota Pump Station
- May 29, DAPL Security Leak Shows Coordinated Surveillance and Repression of Water Protectors
- June 1, Dakota Access Pipeline Begins Commercial Operations
- June 14, Federal Judge Says Dakota Access Pipeline Environmental Review Was Inadequate
- July 24, Two Women Claim Responsibility for Sabotage and Arson Attacks to Stop DAPL
- July 24, Sheriffs’ Association Secretly Waged “Information War” on #NoDAPL Movement
- January 16, Red Fawn Fallis Enters Non-Cooperating Plea Agreement
- January 22, #NoDAPL Water Protector ‘Rattler’ Takes Non-Cooperating Plea
- January 22, Judge Accepts Red Fawn Fallis Plea Agreement
- September 3, Ruby Montoya Seeks to Withdraw Guilty Plea, Citing Coercion, Entrapment and Mental Health