A coordinated anti-water protector propaganda campaign by police attempted to change public perception of police actions.
Documents revealed by the Intercept show unfaltering coordination between police and TigerSwan.
Law enforcement and private security used social media to avoid accountability for violent actions.
Water protectors were closely surveilled and likened to ‘terrorists.’
Water protectors in Standing Rock endured an hours-long assault by a seemingly cruel-intentioned multi-state police force overnight in late November, which nefariously included the use of high-pressure water cannons in the sub-freezing darkness — the use of which has never been punished, much less rebuked.
But recently disclosed documents obtained by The Intercept suggest a far greater transgression taking place behind the scenes while law enforcement launched perilously cold water, concussive tear gas grenades, rubber bullets, and seemingly every so-called less than lethal device available in their arsenal against the defenders of clean water.
That transgression being police and federal government agencies’ direct and thorough coordination with the internationally-disreputable mercenary security forces of TigerSwan — despite the private firm’s lack of a permit to work in North Dakota.
In the incident, lasting from the evening hours of November 20 through the wee hours the following morning, law enforcement effected a number of life-threatening injuries — at least 300 needed medical treatment — including the partial, permanent loss of eyesight for Native American water protector, Vanessa Dundon, known as Sioux Z, and the near severing of activist Sophia Wilansky’s arm.
With the all-out offensive in full swing, law enforcement and TigerSwan furiously exchanged emails and communications — mostly, in a desperate attempt to control inevitable repercussions from live video on the scene, depicting the violence in its raw, naked, and obliviously malicious form.
“Everyone watch a different live feed,” Bismarck police officer Lynn Wanner wrote less than 90 minutes after law enforcement escalated the incident to previously unimaginable proportions on Highway 1806’s Backwater Bridge, the Intercept reports.
Watch, they did — as did activists at the scene — and, although the Morton County Sheriff’s Department-led forces continued hurling everything but live rounds at the angry yet largely peaceful gathering, something else became patently evident.
Social media played a potent role in eviscerating the propaganda spewing forth from police on the ongoing conflict — originally stemming from opposition to construction of the now-operational Dakota Access Pipeline by the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Tribes, and their Indigenous and non-Native supporters.
Water protectors — and, later, Sophia’s father, Wayne Wilansky — claimed on social media to have witnessed the 21-year-old’s arm ripped to shreds by a police munition, likely a concussion grenade or similar device. However, law enforcement flatly denied having possession of, much less using, anything of the sort — going so far as to claim the young woman’s traumatic injury her own fault, since it happened when a lit propane device exploded as Wilansky rolled it to the front lines of combat to use against police, though no evidence has ever shown that correct.
Documents revealed by the Intercept — some through an unnamed employee of TigerSwan, others via a public records request — prove water protectors suspicions of being monitored on Facebook and other social media were founded in reality, after all, with the night in question a stunning example of militaristic spy tactics.
They also prove an FBI informant had infiltrated the ranks of prayerful protectors.
Reports the Intercept:
“Roughly eight hours prior to Sophia Wilansky’s injury, Bismarck police officer Lynn Wanner — who, records indicate, acted as a liaison between intelligence agencies and field officers throughout the anti-DAPL protests — alerted local, state, and federal law enforcement partners that an ‘FBI inside source’ was ‘reporting propane tanks inside the camp rigged to explode.’ Wanner’s email about the FBI informant echoes the story the Morton County Sheriff’s Department would later tell journalists about Wilansky’s injury.”
Ben Leingang, of the state Bureau of Investigation and Director of the North Dakota Fusion Center — one of dozens of hubs coordinating efforts between federal and state authorities in the name of combating terrorism which in actuality monitor protests and quash dissent — rightly admonished colleagues that night,
“We probably should be ready for a massive media backlash tomorrow although we are in the right. 244 angry voicemails received so far.”
TigerSwan also worried negative press would impale efforts of the coordinated forces to guard Dakota Access Pipeline, noting, “Protesters are claiming over 100 injuries associated with the demonstration and will surely contort video of the event into anti-DAPL propaganda.”
Indeed, in Part One of the Intercept’s three part series, documents show TigerSwan equated the largely Native American contingent opposing DAPL as akin to “terrorists” and “jihadists” — as if non-violently protecting water from inevitable future contamination with noxious fossil fuels would somehow a terrorist make.
Communication exchanges between TigerSwan, North Dakota officials, and police evince an immediate and enduring effort to inundate social and mainstream media with a narrative stripping the incident of law enforcement culpability — a propaganda campaign so insidious, eyewitnesses at the time were repulsed at its callous pompousness and brazen disregard for the facts.
“As another day passed,” the Intercept continues, “U.S. Attorney’s Office National Security Intelligence Specialist Terry Van Horn sent an email to members of various federal agencies noting the FBI’s claim that ‘a source from the camp reported people were making IED’s from small Coleman type propane canisters.’ Van Horn added that Wilansky ‘was witnessed throwing an IED while on the bridge, it detonated early and caused the below injuries.’
“Less than an hour later, Van Horn emailed to the thread the text of a Facebook post from the page Netizens for Progress and Justice. ‘This wasn’t caused by law enforcement, it was caused by dumbass ‘direct action’ protesters that think they are doing the right thing without any consideration for the safety and welfare of honest protesters nearby that are caught up in things,’ the post read, going on to describe a theory of the injury that conflicted even with law enforcement’s propane tank theory.”
Netizens for Progress and Justice served as a bullhorn for propaganda ostensively favorable to TigerSwan and unforgivingly critical of Standing Rock water protectors — and disseminating fabricated narratives from the Backwater Bridge incident did not stray from that unstated mission.
“So much of it is totally factually incorrect,” Lauren Regan, an attorney for Wilansky, said of Van Horn’s account of the night, in a phone call with the Intercept.
“There has never been any evidence I have seen or heard of that gave any credibility to the allegation that propane tanks were being rigged as explosive devices. To me, the timing of that revelation, in light of their having just basically blown a white woman’s arm off, always seemed extremely dubious.”
Beyond the official account of what occurred at the Backwater Bridge that night, exceedingly pertinent questions now arise in unhindered coordination by private security firms, state and federal agencies, and law enforcement.
Under the innocuous guise of protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure — roughly 85 percent of which is owned by private interests — a surreptitious enmeshment of private security and governmental authorities has taken place, highlighted in the aforementioned fusion centers, to the ultimate peril of the right to free expression, free assembly, free association, free speech, and even the free press.
“The insidious thing is that the role of private-sector entities in fusion centers has grown up without any specific legislation authorizing it,” asserted former FBI Special Agent Michael German. “Instead, the development of these techniques and relationships, such as the one involving TigerSwan and North Dakota law enforcement, has occurred within the closed-off world of law enforcement.”
Movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter have also been on the receiving end of closed-door logistics planning by the U.S.’ various fusion centers — the former, having ultimately failed as a result of oppressive surveillance, overly dramatic and falsified propaganda, and infiltration initiated by the hubs.
“TigerSwan’s status as a private company has enabled it to operate with virtually no transparency or oversight. The North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board confirmed in an email to The Intercept this week that TigerSwan still has not obtained a license to work as a private security firm in the state despite nine months on the ground. The company’s close collaboration with law enforcement, to which it has regularly fed intelligence, raises serious questions,” write Alleen Brown, Alice Speri, and Will Parrish for the Intercept.
Nonetheless, whatever doubts linger on such coordination cannot soon be answered, given persistent legal ambiguity on the topic.
In fact, because private firms like TigerSwan aren’t crucially beholden to protect constitutional rights, massive protest movements like Occupy and Standing Rock have become experiments in testing legal and constitutional boundaries — and, it would seem, chances for the government to toe the line with public tolerance for the evaporation of rights.
Thus, TigerSwan — known for deplorably violent mercenary tactics — became, in essence, the government’s de facto vigilantes, despite employment by DAPL project owner, Energy Transfer Partners.
“The guidelines are one thing, but the legal baseline for what’s constitutional and what’s not constitutional is another,” Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York School of Law, told the Intercept.
“You have these privatized actors that are performing what are commonly understood to be government functions — whether or not we’ve agreed that these are acceptable government functions. Private corporations are taking these actions on a scale that is unheard of before — this isn’t your local private eye investigative service, we’re talking about tactics that the military uses overseas.”
Now, those sometimes barbarous tactics — and their tangential questionable propaganda — have permanently destroyed any historic claims by the United States government that constitutional protections stand at the heart of any freedom-loving quasi-democracy.
But, then, anyone believing the U.S. remains a constitutional republic with the will of its people a guiding, moralistic beacon of hope for the world, clearly never watched the live streams and video recordings from November 20 and 21.
Because — while swaths of the U.S. populace ruled brutal tactics justified — the rest of the world watched in horror as modern-day colonialism and the devaluation of Native American lives played out in a wholly unjustifiable battle of Cops versus Indians, with water cannons and tear gas raining down upon the unarmed.
As if switching up the weapons and parties employed could somehow erase the haunting specter of the Battle of Wounded Knee — playing out on the same beloved land stolen from the Indigenous Americans centuries before — instead of reviving support for embattled Tribes in their fight to reclaim innate rights, including disallowing a fossil fuel pipeline to traverse what should be considered sovereign land.
Image credit: Amy Claire Nelson.