Hundreds of military veterans will act as human shields next week in North Dakota as part of a three-day event aimed at protecting protesters who are attempting to halt a company’s plan to build an oil pipeline in the region.
Organizers for Veterans Stand For Standing Rock said 2,000 veterans will arrive on Dec. 4 at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Until at least Dec. 7, they will stand beside protesters who oppose the 1,200-mile, four-state Dakota Access pipeline in the first of what is expected to be a series of similar events.
Veterans aim to defend protesters from what organizers described as "assault and intimidation at the hands of the militarized police force and (Dakota Access pipeline) security." Organizers encouraged participants to wear some part of their old uniforms, although they discouraged people from wearing their full uniforms or rank signifiers.
In an operations order created for the event, organizers emphasized the need to stay peaceful, despite the increasingly contentious clashes between protesters and police.
A woman from New York suffered serious injuries to her arm last week and faces the possibility of losing the limb after an explosion went off during a run-in between authorities and protesters. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the woman's injury.
Multiple protesters suffered hypothermia as a result of the clash, after law enforcement officers used a water hose on the opposition despite freezing temperatures, according to medics based at Standing Rock. Protesters on Monday filed a class-action lawsuit against multiple law enforcement agencies, alleging that they used excessive force on the night of the protest.
"We are there to put our bodies on the line, no matter the physical cost, in complete non-violence to provide a clear representation to all Americans of where evil resides," organizers wrote in the Veterans Stand For Standing Rock operations order. "We are the cavalry."
People have gathered for months at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to oppose the Dakota Access pipeline, which is being built to carry oil from western North Dakota to a shipping point in Illinois. Critics say it threatens drinking water on the nearby Standing Rock Sioux reservation and cultural sites, although the company behind the pipeline insists it will be safe.
Citing "safety concerns" as wintry temperatures set in over the region, government officials ordered protesters to vacate their camp by Dec. 5. Protest organizers with the Standing Rock Sioux have said they will not leave.
"We are wardens of this land. This is our land and they can't remove us," protester Isaac Weston, who is an Oglala Sioux member from South Dakota, told The Associated Press. "We have every right to be here to protect our land and to protect our water."