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U.S. Government Might Use Counterterrorism Tactics Against Keystone Pipeline Protesters, Documents Show

The federal government is preparing an aggressive tactical response in anticipation of renewed Keystone XL Pipeline protests—similar to the response to direct action in Standing Rock, where activists fought efforts to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline—documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Montana show.

In Standing Rock, camps set up to resist the pipeline were heavily surveilled and law enforcement used concussion grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets against activists. Last year, leaked documents revealed that Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, hired a security firm called TigerSwan to oppose water protectors in collaboration with police in at least five states, The Intercept reported. Now, it appears activists are preparing for a similar, aggressive response if the Keystone Pipeline moves forward.

One document showed the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency organized a “field force operations” training to prepare for “riot-control formations” and “mass-arrest procedures.”

The Trump administration renewed orders last year allowing construction of the Keystone Pipeline to continue. The pipeline would carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil daily, running near a number of Native American reservations.

Remi Bald Eagle, who is the intergovernmental affairs coordinator of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, told the Guardian that based on “the level of [law enforcement] violence” residents saw at Standing Rock, “There’s a level of anxiety and fear because we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“Terrorism” and “extremism” have long been used by the US government to criminalize different forms of protest. In the past year, leaked FBI documents labeled anarchists as “domestic terrorists” and black leftists as “Black Identity Extremists.” Just this month, the president suggested in an interview with the Daily Caller—Fox TV anchor Tucker Carlson’s conservative outlet—that protests should be illegal.

“In light of the government’s excessive and violent responses to pipeline protests at Standing Rock, we are very concerned about the specter of government and law enforcement officials plotting to silence opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana,” Caitlin Borgmann, the executive director of the ACLU of Montana said. “We don’t want to see that kind of governmental overreach and abuse in our state.”