A disturbing trend has been occurring in recent months, seeming to disproportionately affect reporters on the ground at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota to cover the #NoDAPL peaceful resistance: Journalists are being assaulted, arrested, jailed, and threatened with excessive criminal charges in the “land of the free” for committing no crime except for the unspeakable offense of attempting to do journalism. The bullying of independent and volunteer journalists in particular seems like an attempt to drive them out of business, forcing them to divert time and energy to deal with legal troubles that would have gone to covering the ongoing story, and draining their limited funds with wasteful legal fees until they can no longer afford to stay on the scene to report the story.
In the video at the top, two reporters for Unicorn Riot documented militarized police arresting reporters at Standing Rock on September 13, right before a police officer snatched away the camera and placed them under arrest. Both had been wearing their press passes to clearly indicate that they were journalists. Released 10 hours later each on a $250 bond, both have pled not guilty; and trial dates have been set for December 23rd and January 12th. Two more Unicorn Riot journalists were arrested in Lee County, Iowa, while covering the Mississippi Stand direct action campaign against DAPL, one on October 7th and the other on October 12. They were both released after being held on a $300 bond. This was the first known time that the Lee County Sheriff’s Department had issued a bond amount for a person arrested at the construction site. The journalists were all strip-searched while in custody, law enforcement’s way of humiliating and dehumanizing them. To the right, Congressional candidate and journalist Erin Schroede captures on video her getting shot by a rubber bullet in the middle of conducting an interview with a water protector.
The latest examples are an alarming escalation of what had previously been insignificant misdemeanor charges that carried a maximum threat of maybe a hefty fine at best. Now journalists are being charged with serious felonies for which they’re facing decades in prison, for nothing more than doing their Constitutionally protected jobs of documenting events to inform the public record.
The video shown to the left is of an excellent interview and conversation with filmmakers Deia Schlosberg and Josh Fox conducted by Wes Clark for The Young Turks (TYT) that should be watched in its entirety, though with a running time of nearly 50 minutes it’s pretty long, and understandably some people may not have that much time to devote their attention to be alerted to the direct threat on Americans’ freedom of information, plus the threat to the very life and liberty of journalists currently braving the intimidation, violence, and media suppression by heavily militarized police forces at Standing Rock.
On August 19, 2016, a “state of emergency” surrounding the growing protests against the Dakota Access was declared by North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, which triggered the ability of other states to offer help in North Dakota as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) signed by President Bill Clinton. It also enabled the swift, drastic militarization of police and ushered in the National Guard. In a press release announcing the emergency order, Dalrymple explains:
“The State of North Dakota remains committed to protecting citizens’ rights to lawfully assemble and protest, but the unfortunate fact remains that unlawful acts associated with the protest near Cannon Ball have led to serious public safety concerns and property damage.”
“This emergency declaration simply allows us to bring greater resources to bear if needed to help local officials address any further public safety concerns.”
Six states have deployed personnel to North Dakota, including Wisconsin, Indiana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Nebraska, according to an October 23 press release from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. This exorbitant display of unnecessary lethal force was assembled entirely in frantic anticipation of the formidable threat presented by mostly women and young children participating in a prayer circle.
Award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist Deia Schlosberg (pictured left) was arrested on October 11, 2016 in Walhalla, North Dakota, held for 53 hours in solitary and denied access to an attorney for the first 2 whole days. She is currently facing 3 felony counts of conspiracy with a combined maximum sentence of 45 YEARS. She was arrested and charged simply for standing on a public road at a modest distance to film and document for posterity environmental activists moving forward on the “Shut It Down” climate action, taken in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who are fighting against construction of the Wall Street-backed, $3.8 billion dollar Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).“Shut It Down” was a coordinated display of peaceful protest and direct action led by activist Ken Ward to “avert climate catastrophe,” which saw 5 activists all over the United States shut down 5 pipelines delivering dirty tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada in support of the call for International Days of Prayer and Action for Standing Rock. Activists employed manual safety valves, calling on President Barack Obama to use emergency powers to keep the pipelines closed and mobilize for the extraordinary shift away from fossil fuels now required to avert catastrophe. Schlosberg’s captured footage of the “Shut It Down” action was brusquely confiscated by the police at the time of arrest, and they have so far refused to return it to her.
Meanwhile, as she was filming at a related “Shut It Down” pipeline action in Skagit County, Washington, an independent filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon, Lindsey Grayzel, and her cinematographer, Carl Davis (both pictured right), had their footage and equipment seized and were held behind bars for an entire day by police. The two were filming environmental activist Ken Ward attempting to shut down the Trans Mountain Pipeline, and they now face 30 years in prison for a felony burglary charge, a felony “criminal sabotage” charge and a misdemeanor trespass offense.
On October 22, 2016, the Environmental Media Association (EMA) held its 26th Annual Awards ceremony on the Warner Bros. back lot in Burbank, California. Deia Schlosberg and Gasland director Josh Fox were the recipients of an EMA Award for their ambitious new documentary, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change. Schlosberg spoke about her arrest in North Dakota while she was “documenting the “Shut It Down” action to stop all [tar sands] oil from Canada coming into the U.S.,” she said:
“I didn’t want to be out speaking about First Amendment rights. I didn’t think that would be a necessity. If journalists aren’t allowed into those places to tell those stories, it denies everybody their right to know what is going on and to be informed citizens.”
The EMA Honoree and main topic that night was actress and activist Shailene Woodley, pictured left in her booking photo at Morton County Jail, who also spoke about her confrontation with law enforcement at Standing Rock, where she was followed relentlessly by police before they surrounded and arrested her for trespassing. Apparently police had caught her documenting the action via live stream from her smartphone to roughly 40,000 of her Facebook followers who had tuned in to her “live” feed. Her arrest was captured at the tail end of the livestream event, filmed by her mother whom she had handed her phone over to. Shailene accused police of targeting her and singling her out, as she appeared to be the only one out of a group of hundreds of protesters at the same location to be arrested, strip-searched, and taken into custody, while the others were allowed to respectfully retreated without further action from police. She did later clarify that about 25 other activists had also been arrested. “It’s important to go green,” she affirmed, then continued:
“But what’s really important is standing up and making our voices so loud that they have no choice to ignore us.”
On September 8, 2016, a felony arrest warrant for and trespassing and participating in a riot s was issued by Morton County, North Dakota for widely renowned Democracy Now! journalist and producer Amy Goodman (pictured right), who was one of the first and few reporters on the ground to provide honest, extensive media coverage of the historic gathering of indigenous tribes and their supporters at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Sioux Nation, North Dakota. Over a thousand different Native tribes have made the journey north, in a powerful show of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who were being excessively brutalized and terrorized by police and private security mercenaries to protect a multibillion dollar pipeline that would carry filthy crude tar sands oil from Canada down to oil refineries in Texas before most likely being exported for profit to benefit its Wall Street financiers. The “black snake” was set to traverse multiple states as well crossing underneath the Missouri River, cherished as their primary (or in many cases, only) clean, natural water source for the Standing Rock tribe as well as millions of other Native and non-Native Americans. The water protectors are understandably alarmed by the great likelihood that the pipe will burst or some other reckless construction disaster will occur, resulting in dirty tar sands oil leaking into the pristine Missouri River, which would completely and irreversibly poison their only water supply.
Construction of the pipeline has already desecrated and ravaged sacred Sioux ancestral burial grounds, upon which Energy Transfer Partners DAPL viciously and spitefully rushed their construction workers to raze and demolish over a Labor Day Weekend in what can only be regarded as a purposeful hate crime. To add insult to injury, this land the Standing Rock tribe were being arrested for trespassing on, and which they were violently being shoved off, is clearly defined as Sioux territory in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, as evidenced by the presence of their ancestors’ remains on the site.
Upon hearing of this sudden surprise move to construction, the protesters, who prefer to be called “water pro-tectors,” rushed to the ravaged burial site in defense. Fortunately, Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman was on the ground, as seen pictured right, to capture vivid, extensive footage of the confrontation for a special report in which peaceful water protectors are seen being viciously assaulted and brutalized without provocation by private security contractors hired by Energy Transfer Partners DAPL using tear gas, rubber bullets, and violent attack dogs, which were unleashed by these untrained and unlicensed mercenaries to terrorize and attack the water protectors, resulting in 6 activists requiring medical treatment for bite injuries, including a child and a pregnant woman, as well as a horse. One of the dogs was shown with blood dripping from its nose and mouth, as the unidentified woman handling the canine blithely ignored questions concerning the attack dogs posed to her by Goodman.
The video, which went viral and was replayed on several mainstream cable outlets, revealed a stark contrast of reality from the state establishment narrative they had pushed that the protesters were violent and trespassing. The arrest warrant for trespassing and participating in a riot was consequently issued 5 days after the footage was shot, though charges were eventually dropped citing a lack of evidence. It is simply unconscionable that a serious, professional journalist was facing frivolous felony charges of inciting a riot for simply doing her job as a reporter – a job so important that it is explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution in its very First Amendment. Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein (shown above left), along with her running mate Ajamu Baraka, had visited the Standing Rock Reservation back in September to attend and participate in a demonstration against the pipeline construction. Stein is captured on video and photographed proudly spray painting a bulldozer alongside fellow environmental activists in an act of peaceful protest and extremely minor sabotage. Arrest warrants were subsequently issued by the state of North Dakota a few days later, charging both candidates with trespassing, and Stein with criminal mischief.
**UPDATE: Saturday, November 12, 2016**
As of November 7, 2016, charges have been dismissed against 2 of the filmmakers, Lindsey Grayzel (pictured right at her court hearing) and Carl Davis, though their seized footage has still not been returned. Skagit County prosecutors seemed to imply that the case was not entirely closed, however, and the filmmakers may not be completely out of the woods yet.
According to copies of the court dismissal notices, prosecutors had determined probable cause was found to support both cases, but, one prosecutor wrote:
“At this point in time, the undersigned attorney believes that the state and law enforcement require more time to complete investigation.”
Grayzel issued the following statement concerning the entire harrowing experience in conjunction to related arrests:
“Unfortunately, our arrests are not unique or isolated incidents. Recently, many members of independent media have been prosecuted for doing our jobs…. I call on everyone who values an independent press to decry this disturbing trend and call for the immediate dismissal of criminal charges for members of the media.”
Deia Schlosberg continues to be trapped in an absurdist Franz Kafka novel as its fated main character, facing an unfathomably lengthy prison sentence for simply doing her job, for which she has won some of the top awards in her field. The “Shut It Down” environmental activists are also still facing decades of prison time only for trying to save the planet. While they had expected and prepared to be arrested and charged by the authorities for their action, they had figured they’d only receive the usual light charge of trespassing or something similar, for which they would spend a day in jail at most then get released without further charges. None of them expected the insanity that was handed down – one of them is facing as much as 85 years in prison!
Unlike the celebrated filmmakers, the activists lack the resources, support, and media presence to publicize their story in the press. They could use YOUR help very badly. To show your support for Deia and the important work she does, not to mention standing up for the First Amendment in the US, and protecting the liberty of the free press, please share and sign the petition at http://howtoletgomovie.com. To learn more about the “Shut It Down” action and the motivation behind it, visit their website and if possible, donate to the legal fund to help the 11 activists (5 of whom are pictured below) fight the charges that could send them to prison for decades: http://shutitdown.today.