Politics & Policy

The New York Times Whitewashes Dangerous Anti-Pipeline Riot

(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

On Monday, June 7, a Minnesota protest aimed at stopping the construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline project turned dangerous. What may have begun as a peaceful march transformed into something entirely different when its participants created a roadblock, damaged property, and even tried to trap dozens of employees and contractors of the Canadian company.

The Enbridge pipeline is being constructed in an effort to both increase the flow of natural gas and limit the environmental risk posed by the older pipeline it would replace; its construction was even approved by the Obama administration. Indeed, Enbridge is actually required to replace Line 3 as part of an agreement it entered into with Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency in 2016.

Nevertheless, some groups have vigorously contested its construction, citing environmental as well as cultural concerns. Winona LaDuke is the executive director of Honor the Earth, a Native American and environmental advocacy organization that has emerged as one of the pipelines most ardent opponents. She’s criticized Enbridge for “work[ing] hard to seed division in our [Native American] communities, in our families, for the past four years” and insisted that “we want the jobs removing the pipeline, not putting it in” in comments made to the Twin Cities-based Star Tribune.

She’s also accused the Canadian company of “using Native people as a smoke screen to destroy the environment.”

That’s a reference to a letter signed by a number of Native American contractors outraged by the events of June 7 as well as by the efforts of activists like LaDuke to represent the Native position on the pipeline as being monolithically opposed. “Protests that disrupt work, damage property and threaten our employees while claiming to be on behalf of our Native people is creating additional tension and consequences within our tribal communities,” they wrote, also lamenting the “false narrative that there is no Native American support for this project and the economic impacts and opportunities it brings to our people.”

So what did happen on June 7? If you read the New York Times article on the subject, you have been given the false impression that there was a massive, unwarranted police crackdown on a run-of-the-mill protest for a worthy — perhaps the most worthy — of causes.  While the Times acknowledges that protesters “used an old fishing boat, bamboo and steel cable to blockade the road to a construction site off Highway 71 north of Park Rapids” and trespassed onto the worksite where they chained themselves to various pieces of equipment, its coverages also ignores the more egregious examples of criminal behavior that occurred.

Instead, the focus is on “police officers in riot gear,” who, according to an anti-pipeline activist, “broke through the steel fences” and  “just began arresting everyone.” Law enforcement is further blamed for “escalat[ing] their attempts to end the protest,” and the conclusion of the confrontation is described thusly:

“As the last of the police closed in, a core group of protesters made a stand at the boat. A lone voice shouted in the dark, ‘Water is life.’”

The remainder of the piece is spent articulating the emotional and political arguments of the protesters.

“Over the weekend and into Monday, some 2,000 people took part in drum circles and prayer gatherings” its authors report while oversimplifying the controversy by asserting that “Native American tribes see the construction as a violation of their tribal sovereignty, an issue that President Biden explicitly pledged to prioritize during his campaign.”

What local outlets have reported on — and Enbridge has provided evidence of — does not support the black-and-white picture painted by the Times. The company’s grievances amount to far more than the inconveniences enumerated by the paper of record. Protesters turned into trespassers, who quickly transformed into rioters.

Enbridge’s facilities were not merely occupied, they were attacked. Tires were slashed while engines had dirt, rocks, and other debris thrown in them. Electrical wiring  to various pieces of machinery was cut. Ironically, the rioters were also responsible for the “destruction of environmental safeguards intended to control erosion and protect water quality.”

Most disturbing of all were the efforts of the worst behaved rioters to trap dozens of Enbridge’s employees and contractors working on site in a room, attempting to make hostages of the mostly blue-collar workforce. Of the 44 workers and contractors who had to be evacuated, ten were with the Native American owned and operated Gordon Construction, only a small portion of the 500 indigenous contractors hired by Enbridge to complete the project.

Fortunately — and thanks to the efforts of the police — none were ultimately harmed.

The riot —dangerous to both people and the environment — came after “70 public comment meetings, appellate review and reaffirmation of a 13,500-page EIS, four separate reviews by administrative law judges, 320 route modifications in response to stakeholder input, and multiple reviews and approvals on the state, federal and tribal levels” per Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner.

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