U.S. Veterans' group criticizes vets joining Dakota pipeline protest
The Oceti Sakowin camp where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access pipeline is seen near Cannon Ball, N.D. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. (AP / David Goldman)
Dave Kolpack, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, December 1, 2016 4:09PM EST
FARGO, N.D. -- Some military veterans in North Dakota disagree with the 2,000 veterans planning to join a protest opposing the four-state, $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline.
The North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council has sent a letter to the "Veterans Stand for Standing Rock" group asking them not go to the southern part of the state where hundreds are camped out because it'll create more tension and increase the burden on law enforcement, council president Russ Stabler said Thursday.
The council doesn't have an opinion about the pipeline, which is mostly complete aside from a portion on federal land under a Missouri River reservoir that's been held up, and supports anyone who wants to protest peacefully. But, he said, the demonstrations have not been conducted in "the military manner in which our veterans behave."
He believes the veterans coming to Standing Rock have been misinformed and should not be supporting a movement that has "broken laws, destroyed property and attacked law enforcement."
But, he said, "They intend on coming anyhow."
There are a "lot of different emotions and opinions" about the protest, and the veterans from across the country aren't going to be swayed by the letter from Stabler, Veterans Stand for Standing Rock spokeswoman Ashleigh Jennifer Parker said.
"Our mission is to go and ask and offer if we can help and support the tribes that are already there," the Coast Guard veteran said. "Obviously there could be groups that say some negative things, but we're going to march forward without them."
Veterans Stand for Standing Rock plans to arrive at the reservation Sunday and stay for four days. Much of the trip will be funded through a GoFundMe.com page that as of Thursday afternoon had raised nearly $780,000 of its $1 million goal.
The main protest camp, Oceti Sakowin, has grown significantly since the summer and is on federal land. Citing cold and wintry weather, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said all federal lands north of the Cannonball River -- the camp included -- will be closed to public access on Monday and Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued a mandatory evacuation of the camp, though both have said that protesters will not be forcibly removed.
Police have made about 575 arrests since August during clashes along the pipeline route and in a couple of North Dakota cities. Protesters have complained about excessive force by law enforcement, including the use of water hoses during last month's confrontation in 30-degree weather. Another protester suffered a serious arm injury during that altercation, although it's not clear what caused the blast.
Stabler is especially upset that the vets' protest is slated to culminate on the anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
"It is an insult to the remaining World War II veterans from North Dakota," said Stabler, whose group represents more than 55,000 North Dakota veterans who are members of the American Legion, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Veteran of Foreign Wars, and Vietnam Veterans of America.
Also Thursday, the Morton County Sheriff's Department, which has been in charge of much of the law enforcement's response to protesters, released a video of a veteran who is critical of the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock.
Raymond Morrell, a U.S. Marine veteran, wants to know why veterans who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution would participate in what he considers an unlawful protest.
"Veterans within the state North Dakota, we really question that as to where their cause truly is," he said.