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Port: Peaceful protests don’t get enough headlines

By Staff | Nov 4, 2016

What we are supposed to see when we look at the protesters organized against the Dakota Access pipeline is a grassroots uprising. A coalition of indigenous peoples and environmental activists coalesced around resistance to a dangerous pipeline approved through an unfair regulatory process.

What really exists is a carefully choreographed sort of performance art.

However sincere the protesters may have been at the beginning, now that the usual list of celebrity activists and professional agitators have begun to show up things seem to be following a script.

One that requires the protesters to serve as cannon fodder for a political message. Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault II, who helped catalyze the protest earlier this year, seemed to tip his hand Wednesday night, Oct. 26, during an appearance on MSNBC. He complained that the protests only get an appropriate level of media coverage when “something bad could happen.”

Which is probably true given that old newsroom adage about things that bleed being the lead, but as Archambault spoke those words #NoDAPL protesters back here in North Dakota seemed prepared to force something bad to happen.

“I’m here to die if I have to. I don’t want to die but I will.”

Those were the words of Didi Banerji, one of the #NoDAPL protesters participating in an illegal roadblock of Highway 1806 and an equally illegal nearby encampment on private land.

“Do what you’ve got to do,” was the message to law enforcement from one protest organizer when they were asked to peacefully leave their unlawful roadblock and camp.

“This is a last stand right here,” the organizer continued. “We’re not going to move.”

In other words these protesters eschewed an invitation to end their unlawful activities peacefully, choosing instead inevitable conflict with law enforcement.

Because, as Chairman Archambault said, bad things get attention. So to get attention, you make bad things happen.

Which is a cynical and dangerous political tactic, not only for the protesters themselves but for the men and women of law enforcement who have a mandate to enforce the law.

It’s all the more cynical when you consider that the protesters who, at this point, seem willing to accept only conflict with authorities, have spent the last several months telling us theirs is a peaceful and prayerful movement.

I guess peaceful prayer doesn’t create enough headlines.

And distracting headlines are what the protesters need.

Their legal case against the pipeline has been smacked down in federal district court, and then again by a three-judge appeals panel. Were it not for the Obama administration’s political obstruction of an easement on about 1,100 feet of pipeline under the Lake Oahe reservoir, and physical obstructions in the form of obnoxious protesters locking themselves to construction equipment, the North Dakota leg of the pipeline could be completed this year.

These are facts the protesters need the public to ignore. So they posture themselves as martyrs. They instigate conflict and foment outrage to obscure an inconvenient reality, which is that they cannot win a debate over the pipeline based on the facts.

Imagine how scary this all is for the men and women of law enforcement. Imagine being asked to arrest an uncooperative and belligerent protester who is eager to provoke you into some sort of action that can be streamed live to the internet by nearby propagandists masquerading as journalists.

That’s the second act of this pathetic production. In the first act the protesters posture as victims. In the second act they paint law enforcement, which has no choice but to enforce the law, as the bad guys.

All in pursuit of an extremist environmental agenda.

Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator.

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