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Collateral Damage: DAPL Protestors at War With the Citizens of Bismarck and Mandan

A protest focused on stopping a Texas-based company from building a pipeline through federal land in North Dakota seems to have been re-aimed at communities that have no real impact on the outcome of this conflict. In the quest for headlines, the protest has shifted its venue to Bismarck and Mandan, North Dakota, impacting local businesses and citizens, blocking traffic, bringing overworked local law enforcement personnel into the limelight and generally making life more difficult for all involved.

Why have these two communities ended up in the cross hairs of what has become a national and international event? Simple, if protestors become isolated after closing down the roads surrounding the protestor’s camp, they need to go find a fight to remain visible. The curse of being 45 miles from any semblance of civilization means it is very difficult to create events that garner headlines. Without the requisite confrontation video showing the angst of protestors who have been on the receiving end of pepper spray or were doused with firehoses in the 20 degree temperatures, there is simply no sympathetic response or outcry from supporters. It is “Protesting 101” to look for a fight and if the enemy will not engage, go find another enemy.


Much has been written about the elements of a successful protest movement and the DAPL Protest seems to be following an outline that has been used successfully by Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and other recent movements that have captured the attention of the media. The first element of the successful protest is to find a cause worthy of media attention. The image of a downtrodden group of people standing in defiance of corporate greed makes for exceptional television. Place the protest in the heart of a land taken from Native American’s in the 1800’s and you have a real winner in the eyes of any editorial staff intent on promoting a progressive agenda. Paint a picture of construction crews plowing through ancient burial grounds and sacred sites, disturbing the ancestors of the protestors and you have a real bonanza. Whether the claims are real or not are secondary to the emotional pleas of those making the claims.

Once you have captured the hearts and minds of the media, it is important to develop a “brand” and begin to create talking points. The narrative coming from the Protestors needs to have some consistency and the visuals they create should support the talking points. Through this concept the “Water Protectors” were born and the signs, banners and flags quickly found a level of uniformity to make sure they were immediately recognized by supporters cruising through the local and national news coverage.

Once the brand is developed, the need for a show of support to promote the brand take place. Celebrities, civil rights activists and liberal politicians arrive to play their part in the development of a movement. Showing unity by wearing Native American garb and walking arm in arm with protestors, the celebrities, so intent on being non-conformists, quickly conform to stereotypes made famous by Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Bono and others who like to gain publicity by stepping into the protestor’s limelight.

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Then resources are solicited and a war chest developed. Organizers reach out to our nation’s many professional protestors who spend their days traveling from place to place to support the next big cause. The search for political support begins and legal claims are reviewed. If these fail to stop their opponent, alternate ways to achieve their goals are pondered. To show their commitment and to gain press coverage, the protests increase in frequency and infringe more and more upon the rights of others. Law enforcement is called in and news crews arrive to attempt to capture the inevitable conflict on camera. Force is utilized in some form and the cries of civil right violations fly in from every direction. The resources of the cities, counties and state are deployed and budgets are thrown out the window as the costs mount with every additional day of protest.

If the protest fails to stop the progress of the DAPL, then more aggressive actions are taken by the protestors. Calls for national and international shows of support go out and events are held in large cities all over the world. Unfortunately, the attention span of the typical supporter is short and each event provides diminishing marginal return unless the intensity of the protest is escalated. Protestors begin to seek out confrontation and look to leverage potential violence to gain sympathetic support and funding for their cause. Unfortunately, this strategy causes collateral damage to those who stand too close to the fray.

The citizens of North Dakota are paying a price for the development of a movement. Funding to provide law enforcement resources are running out. Businesses are being forced to shut their doors while protests take place nearby, locals avoid areas that are frequented by protestors and crime rates go up in rural areas located near the protestor camps. When locals counter-protest the Water Protectors, they are branded as racists, deplorable’s, white-power advocates and other stereotypical descriptors made famous by the race baiters of the world. It is a predictable, nasty and inevitable outcome.

As a citizen of the State of North Dakota and the City of Bismarck, I am growing weary of the constant conflict and want it to end. I have heard the points and counter-points and know that there is truth on both sides of the protest. I have had the business I work for shut down on three different occasions due to protest activity. Streets have been closed all around my workplace and warnings about potential violence have been heard frequently. The protest is headed for a train wreck that will benefit no one except the leaders of the movement and their sponsors.

Give us back our law enforcement personnel, let us use funds diverted to paying overtime to fill potholes, provide educational resources and to support small business and return our cities to the nice, quiet, healthy communities that we’ve become accustomed to. End the protest before someone gets hurt or killed.

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