I braved the dark winding road from Bismarck to the Prairie Knights Casino on Saturday, November 26, 2016. Since Highway 1806 leading directly to the casino was now closed, I wanted to understand the impact on the Standing Rock Sioux owned casino standing just a few miles south of the protest camp on the Cannonball River. My ulterior motive was to experience the exceptional steak available at the Hunter’s Restaurant within the casino complex and to donate hard earned money to the Tribe via the numerous slot machines and table games. Arriving at Prairie Knights, I was struck by the significant number of cars in the parking lot. Rarely has the casino experienced a level of attendance that would necessitate vehicles parking on the grass adjacent to the lot but this was the case this night. I noted a number of protestor vehicles in the lot bearing the requisite bumper stickers and signs describing their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the significant number of license plates from out of the area attached to these vehicles. Moving through the darkness were waves of people in native and hippie garb with the required feathers, No-DAPL shirts, western hats and enough scarves to make Steve Tyler of Aerosmith jealous. Dred locks were the order of the day for many and the tie died shirts captured whatever ambient light emitted from the mercury vapor lights over the parking lot. The gas station owned by the Standing Rock Tribal Chairman, David Archambault, the closest to the protest site, was as busy as can be as protestors filled up on gasoline, firewood and Hostess Twinkies in anticipation of the weather change that has now filled their camp with heavy snowfall.
Entering the casino, I noticed that the concert hall was open and filled with supporters of the anti-pipeline movement. Seeing the need to keep the protestors warm and motivated as winter approached, the campers were invited to use the facility for a protest event. Moving through the crowd surrounding the entrance, I entered onto the casino floor and was equally amazed by the lack of gamblers utilizing the facility. Few, if any, protestors were gambling and instead crowded around the doorways leading to the hotel area. Based on these observations I could only conclude the protest camp was shifting to the only facility in that area that could provide showers, a warm bed and warm food. There was a strong sense of camaraderie amongst those using the shelter for the night and I sensed an air of entitled arrogance emitting from the crowd. Protestors appeared delighted to be on the front lines of an event that was getting worldwide press coverage and were emboldened by their ability to access their new clubhouse, Prairie Knights Casino. So many imagining themselves as warriors for the cause of water protection and feeling the adoring eyes of the world on their every move, I became acutely aware that they had transcended any semblance of objectivity in their quest for fame. The discussions I heard revolved around upcoming events designed to gain more publicity and to bring sympathetic support from their many constituents throughout the world. Their now debunked foundational arguments continued as anti-pipeline folks parrot the talking points put forth by the professional protestors who have flocked to Standing Rock. If they claim to have been wronged by the pipeline builders, then it must be true. Truth is measured by the decibel meter in the world of protestors, not the fact base.
The cherry on the top of the sundae came as I enjoyed a steak in the Hunter’s Restaurant. The food was as good as ever, however, the crowd was clearly different than my past visits. The late dinner crowd was made up of activists and progressive journalists who felt secure in this intimate setting. My appearance did not raise alarms and I heard the unedited voices of protestors speaking to protestors. Moving from table to table, spreading the talking points, these protest leaders carried on a misinformation campaign in front of my very eyes. I was at first interested in the sociology experiment playing out before me but then I was sickened by the realization that this protest would continue based on false pretenses, draining additional resources from local communities forced to fund the overtime paid to law enforcement personnel. Businesses would continue to be impacted, movement of tax paying citizens of North Dakota would remain restricted and the potential for violent clashes between locals and the protestors would increase.
My belief that the facts would win the day were dashed by the complete disregard for reality exhibited by protest leaders. I realized that extortion has many faces and I was witnessing the most insidious form. Protestors who make unfounded claims that are emotional in nature can convert a lot of people to their cause. By keeping the emotional appeal in the press, they can navigate past any annoying legal actions and rulings that fall on the side of the pipeline builders. Ultimately, the end game will be to get concessions from war-weary oil companies that are unable to gain the sympathy of a very liberal media. It is cheaper and more expeditious to surrender rather than hold on to a belief that they have the facts on their side. The courage of the business leaders is never going to be enough to overcome the onslaught of protestors willing to say or do anything to get their way and until monies are paid to silence their critics, they will continue to be portrayed as evil industrialists intent on destroying a brave culture that stands in opposition to their goals. Until protestors are held accountable to the facts by the very press that allows their voices to be heard, our world will continue to decline and the level of propaganda will increase until we don’t even recognize our own country anymore.