veterans

Police Are Now Targeting Veterans, Just for Heading to Standing Rock

Two groups of veterans were pulled over without explanation on the way to Standing Rock

  • Two were arrested and charged for the medical cannabis they use for PTSD

  • VeteransRespond’s executive director believes this is blatant targeting

  • Vets had all their winter gear confiscated

Police have now filed charges against two veterans on their way to Standing Rock — and telling details on their arrest and treatment by law enforcement seem to indicate purposeful targeting of anyone heading back to the camps for the final stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Officers in South and North Dakota have stopped and searched at least four veterans recently — after asking for their destination — charging two with medical cannabis violations, seizing one’s car, and confiscating what authorities deemed “protester gear” — including camping supplies.

“Matthew Crane, one of five founding members of VeteransRespond [and chief operating officer], was pulled over last Friday night when he was arriving to Standing Rock with two other vets and a fourth passenger,” the Guardian reports. “The group got lost on a closed road, he said, and they were trying to find officers to get directions.

“When they encountered police, officers eventually searched the vehicle and their luggage and found Crane’s bag of marijuana. He was charged with possession of marijuana and paraphernalia, since cannabis remains illegal in North Dakota.”

Officials had little explanation for the incidents, as the Guardian notes, “According to the Morton County news alert, South Dakota police performed a traffic stop ‘for a Michigan-plated vehicle’ and that during the stop, an officer ‘recognized signs of criminal activity’. Having an out of state license is not a violation, and it’s unclear what activity the officer observed.”News of the stop comes on the heels of an announced return to Standing Rock by several veterans groups, including VeteransRespond, whose executive director, Mark Sanderson — an honorably-discharged, 10-year veteran of the U.S. Army, who was awarded the Purple Heart — spoke with The Daily Haze on Tuesday.

Sanderson, who is directing Standing Rock and other VeteransRespond operations from home because his wife is near term, explained the telling details of tickets and arrests evince law enforcement specifically targeting vets on their way to water protector camps.

“It’s totally targeted. It’s 100 percent targeted,” Sanderson told The Daily Haze by phone.

“You know, it’s just part of the propaganda machine that they [have] going on up there,” he explained of negative attention encountered by a previous, unaffiliated deployment of vets to Standing Rock, and public misperception groups returning to camps would employ violent tactics.

“The people of North Dakota, they’re complaining about the traffic there, they’re complaining about a lot of things going on there,” Sanderson continued, noting there isn’t much justification for the local contention, as the vets’ sole goal is to provide assistance in the Standing Rock camps.

He says the vets surmise, “‘Well, we’re a veterans group. We’re a voluntary veterans organization; we’re coming in to provide humanitarian aid.’ And you know, they’re just targeting us. But it’s not just the police. The police have all these sub-Facebook groups that are like quasi-news organizations that they present themselves as — that the police pump pictures and stories to — and they’ve been attacking us all week.”

But, as Sanderson points out, “one thing that doesn’t really work out for people is when they attack veterans — especially veterans that are just trying to do a good cause for people we signed up to protect.”

Despite veterans viewing their mission at Standing Rock as a duty to protect the water protectors, law enforcement lumps the two groups together — oppressing both — as if they don’t deserve constitutional protections. That brought up a telling comparison for Sanderson.

“To be honest … what we’re facing right now in North Dakota,” he explained, is akin to “what some of the Freedom Riders faced during the Civil Rights movement.”

Activists in the 1960s were targeted in the same way outsiders — Indigenous and non-Native, alike — have been subjected to increased scrutiny and harassment in Standing Rock and surrounding areas.

Besides this group of veterans, countless water protectors have reported being targeted for everything from property damage to arrest. However negative the veterans’ reputation might unnecessarily be, Sanderson insists their overarching three goals have only to do with human rights and compassion.

“The first one is to provide humanitarian aid to the people in camp, feeding them — if you go to [the VeteransRespond] Facebook page, you can see the videos of stuff we’re doing. It’s very clear that we don’t advocate direct action activism.

“Our second mission is we’re taking care of veterans that are left behind — right now, we’re feeding about 30 veterans per day.

“And our third mission — as an organization, environmental stewardship is … our Number 1 value — so we’re helping to develop more environmentally sustainable solutions moving forward. As an example, the kitchenware that are used on camp right now are still plastic cups, plastic bowls, plastic spoons. So we’ve been in contact with Klean Kanteen and CRKT [Columbia River Knife & Tool, Inc.],” which produces non-disposable spoons — “just trying to get more sustainable solutions to stop producing as much trash as [the camp] seems to produce.”

Hardly the stuff of eco-terrorism, as those who condemn the Native American-led movement against Dakota Access — including law enforcement — would have you believe.

“Everyone is trying to slander a service organization,” Crane, who was ticketed but not arrested, said in an interview cited by the Guardian. “It gives me a sick feeling in my stomach that veterans are being attacked.”

Crane purchased the approximately one gram of medical cannabis in Washington, D.C., when the group attended protests over Inauguration weekend, and lives in New York, a medical cannabis-legal state.

What is particularly alarming about the encounter with police, is the department publicized not only with the news of what had happened, but the identities of the individuals charged. This highly unusual — and arguably rights-crushing — action, further enraged Sanderson and those charged, since the cannabis found was for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and other maladies.

As he told The Daily Haze, “I don’t know about you, but here in Texas, if someone gets a ticket for marijuana, they don’t usually put out a press release naming who they work for and saying that they’re getting a ticket.”

North Dakota even has medical cannabis legislation technically ‘on the books’ — making the incident even more suspicious — particularly given what Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier told the media:

“I don’t know if it’s my place to comment on what it [the veterans’ medical cannabis] was being used for. All I know is what the law says, and it’s not legal in North Dakota, prescription or not.”

And while Morton County officials have whined about the voluminous garbage present in camps, it might not be widely known North Dakota does not have a public recycling program. Sanderson said those coordinating the cleanup attempted to find a recycling service, but discovered that hindering and pertinent fact, and have been painstakingly sorting through trash to save anything reusable. They’re seeking some sort of chipper to break down recyclables and ship to an out-of-state company and alleviate the burden on North Dakota dumps.

Of course, county workers have been hauling away piles before cleanup crews have the chance to fully rummage.

As with any controversial issue, when corporate media proffers a narrative painting a one-dimensional and particularly nasty portrait of one side, it’s safe to assume you aren’t getting the whole story — even if that narrative appears unbiased.

Veterans aren’t arriving in Standing Rock to cause violence and mayhem, they’re coming to the aid of the civilians they swore an oath to protect — ‘against all enemies, foreign and domestic’ — because, when it comes to enemies, corporate government-backed Big Oil is as formidable as it gets.

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About Claire Bernish

Claire Bernish is an independent journalist and activist who relentlessly criticizes censorship of the press and champions free speech. Her works have appeared on many alternative outlets, including TheFreeThoughtProject.com. To keep updated, follow Claire on Facebook or Twitter, and check The Daily Haze for more.

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